Sunday, May 23, 2010

A New Way to Inner Peace

I made some New Year’s resolutions this year-

1. Find inner peace
2. Tidy my home office
3. Finish my book

I arranged them in that order of importance, but it seemed like I couldn’t find any inner peace until my office was tidy. I definitely couldn’t get much writing done until my office was tidy.

Actually, I couldn’t even find the chair underneath the papers. So I set to work on the office first. You wouldn’t believe what I uncovered. Tidying up the office opened up a whole new world of lists-

1. Return borrowed books
2. Pay overdue bills
3. Organize notes for book in progress

Then I realized that I should read the borrowed books before returning them. And I had to change the credit card to pay the bills. So the list got longer again. Meanwhile, none of the book got written and inner peace got moved off list.

Finally I realized that I was going to need to get creative. So I made a new list with just one item-

1. Find somewhere else in the house to write a book about inner peace

It worked like a charm. Amazingly, as soon as I stopped trying to find inner peace, I immediately tidied my office and the book flowed like water out of a tap. It seems odd when you think about it – trying so hard to find something that is all about not trying so hard. It seems bass-ackwards to struggle for peace, doesn’t it? We go to war in ourselves trying to find peace. It’s like Lilly Tomlin says, “The problem with being in a rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

A New Way- Stop Striving

One of my favorite stories, and this story really means so much to me, is the story of the Mexican fisherman. An American investment banker was on vacation in Mexico. He met a Mexican fisherman who was cleaning up a couple of fish he had just caught. The American businessman asked him how long it took him to catch the fish. He said, “Not long.”

So the American asked him, “Why don’t you stay out longer. You could catch more.”

The Mexican replied, “This is enough to support my family. Now I have time to play with my children, take siestas with my wife, and drink wine and play guitar with my amigos in the evening.”

The American said, “You should consider spending more time fishing. You could buy a whole fleet of boats, and open your own cannery. Eventually you could move to America and list your company on the Stock Exchange.”

The Mexican said, “How long will this all take?”

The American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“What then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You will become so wealthy you can stop working. You can move to a coastal fishing village, sleep late, play with the grandkids, take siestas with your wife, and drink wine and play guitar with your amigos in the evening.”

Do you see the point? Everything you need, you already have. The best way to find peace is to stop looking for it. This is one of religion’s most oppressive traps. You think you have to do so much to get to heaven. You have been told that heaven is the gold watch for a job well done, the retirement to beat all retirements. Give up the struggle, and discover the peace that was there all along. You think that you can only find peace through the sacrifice of a man 2000 years ago. The truth is you have peace already. You’ve just forgotten. It’s a whole new way of thinking that takes place when you liberate yourself from the old religious way of thinking. As soon as you let go of the striving for peace, peace is yours.

One of my favorite texts in the Bible comes from Isaiah 43;18. It says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”

Isaiah had a vision for a completely new reality, one marked by effortless peace, self responsibility and social harmony. Because the Hebrew people expected to find their peace in a temple, via priests, the way it used to be, Isaiah had to make clear that this was going to be a new way of experiencing peace. There was no temple and no sacrifices were necessary. The new way involved an inner path of acceptance and self awareness. Everything that religion had previously held at arm’s length from them, they now had immediate and direct access to – forgiveness, peace, enlightenment, heaven…

It’s a beautiful vision because, even though the new way is unfamiliar, it’s completely free and easy. It has no punishment or exacting standards. It’s about being completely authentic and human. Once the Hebrew people could see that there was more to be gained by following the new path than staying with the familiar old path, they would catch the vision.

A New Thing at C3 Exchange

The incredible truth about the new thing that Isaiah describes is that it’s there whether you perceive it or not. It’s the nature of God to do new things. Because the nature of life is constant change, all things are new all the time, therefore God is all there is. Or else you could think about it this way – every time you perceive the new thing that is happening, you experience God. The easiest way to experience newness is to drop your nostalgia and assumptions that the old way is all there is.

Like scales falling from your eyes, your beginner’s mind will open up crystal clear perception of the new thing.

Paul Tillich was one of the pioneering theologians of the 20th century. This is his interpretation of Isaiah 43-

“Nothing is more surprising than the rise of the new within ourselves. We do not foresee or observe its growth. We do not try to produce it by the strength of our will, by the power of our emotion, or by the clarity of our intellect. On the contrary, we feel that by trying to produce it we prevent its coming. By trying, we would produce the old in the power of the old, but not the new in the power of the new. The new being is born in us, just when we least believe in it. It appears in remote corners of our souls which we have neglected for a long time. It opens up deep levels of our personality which had been shut out by old decisions and old exclusions. It shows a way where there was no way before. It liberates us from the tragedy of having to decide and having to exclude, because it is given before any decision. Suddenly we notice it within us! The new which we sought and longed for comes to us in the moment in which we lose hope of ever finding it. That is the first thing we must say about the new: it appears when and where it chooses. We cannot force it, and we cannot calculate it. Readiness is the only condition for it…”

Pause and reflect on the new thing that is happening in the world. You are no longer ruled by the old religious principles. You don’t have to pacify an angry God to get to heaven. You don’t have to look outside of yourself to some future time for peace. It’s all right here and right now, right within you. I am not directing you to heaven in the sky, in some unknown future, but to the heaven that you create every time you find peace with the new thing that is happening.

Like Isaiah’s vision, it is a whole new way of being community. Each person is valued because of who you are – your spiritual value and not your economic or utilitarian value. It’s a radical new vision for global community based in celebration of diversity. It’s even a radical new way of being activists in the world. You don’t have to solve all the problems of the world, or suffer for joy. Just do what you love and that will make all the difference. Do what sends shivers down your spine and your joy will send a shiver up the spines of other people. You will transform the world with a single shiver.

Regaining Perspective

This is important. It’s easy to replace the old salvation system with a new guilt trip. No guilt is necessary. The new guilt trip might be pressure to live in the moment, or pressure to make a difference in the world. If you find yourself feeling guilty that you don’t have enough inner peace or you aren’t getting arrested for fighting injustice, then remember that there is no guilt. There is only authenticity. You find your peace and do your justice when you realize that the cost of living the old way is far greater than the rewards of living the new way.

The only requirement is your participation in the moment. There is a well known image in the Bible about putting your hand to the plow and not looking back. It backs up the idea from Isaiah 43. This isn’t a new commandment, as if you will be punished for looking back. It’s just that if you want to see the new thing, look right where you are. And believe me you don’t want to miss the new thing.

There is an important word in the verse that completely changes the meaning. We usually read the verse as, “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not FIT for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:62]. You could be forgiven for hearing this as a new guilt trip. “Not fit” sounds like not worthy, or not good enough. Actually the word “fit” is more accurately translated as WELL PLACED. In other words, the best place to see God, manifest heaven, or experience inner peace is with your hands to the plow, eyes forward.

A perfect illustration of this point is the arrival of the Pilgrims in America. They nearly starved, even though they had arrived in an abundant land, because they expected to find the same food they were accustomed to in England. They looked around for a good English pub and some bangers and mash, and when they didn’t find it they didn’t know what to do. They almost missed the beauty and the bounty that was right in front of their eyes. The Native Americans taught them about corn, and before long the Pilgrims had their hands to the plow. The rest is history.

Keep your hands to the plow. It will keep you well placed to see the beauty that surrounds you. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from a direct engagement with the present newness and all its opportunities for self awareness and inner peace. Don’t look back, where the past lures you into ancient beliefs about not being good enough or needing a savior from outside of you. Don’t stand on tippy toes looking forward as if the future holds heaven. Stay here now, and all treasures will be revealed to you.

Just in case you feel anxious that you won’t see the fulfillment of the great vision in your life, remember the words of Reinhold Neibuhr who said, “Nothing worth doing is completed in your lifetime”, and keep your hands on the plow. Just do what you love, and your joy will be its own reward because you will be well placed to experience God.

Nothing is ever truly completed in any case. All is new and evolving at all times.

Do you remember the chant from the early years of the women’s movement?

Sisters, there is no path. 
We make the way by walking. 
Move, sisters, move.

They seem like fitting words for us today, women and men on a new journey. There is no road, either more taken or less taken. There is no path. There is no template for being a new community of self empowerment and spiritual diversity. We are making the way as we walk forward, hands on plows, eyes ready for the new thing that we are co-creating. If we wait for someone else, some other group, some other sky God, to forge the path, the moment will be lost. Now is the time, and we are the people.

You and I have an exciting vision. We will make mistakes, and get lost from time to time. We will misstep and miscommunicate. But we will pick up and move on. The rewards of staying present to the new moment far outweigh the costs of looking back. Move people move.

The spirit of newness in me honors the new thing that is emerging in you, and in the world. Namaste.

For Further Reflection-

In what ways do you find yourself struggling for peace?

When and how do you experience newness in life?

How do you stop yourself from looking back and dwelling on the past?