What is “Peace”?


Dr. Wayne W. Dyer via Hay House Daily Affirmations
Affirm: I attract only peace into my life. I say this silently to myself as an absolute truth with unbending intent on my part, and it works for me all the time.

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What is peace?

Is it the absence of conflict?

Is it a tension-free state of imperturbable external comfort and ease?

Or is it a state of nearly unflappable inner comfort?

Is it the ability to stay comfortable and centered and balanced in any situation, especially tense situations?

Is it the ability to deal with any difficulty with equanimity, inner evenness of mood and emotion, and not be run off the road by fear or derailed by stress?

What is peace?

Whitman wrote:

“There are those who teach only
the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.”

 

And Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (via Hay House Daily Affirmations) wrote:

“Affirm: I attract only peace into my life. I remind myself of this affirmation many times on a given day, particularly with my children and other more distant relatives. I also practice this in grocery stores, when greeting flight attendants, when visiting the post office, and while driving my automobile. I say this silently to myself as an absolute truth with unbending intent on my part, and it works for me all the time.”

Not only does Dr. Dyer’s take on “peace” puzzle me, so does what motivated it.

Think about it.

What would motivate Dr. Dyer to need this sort of affirmation—what’s he really telling us?

Dr. Dyer projects, sells, and markets this aura of new agey grandfatherly bliss and radiant peace to a generally fairly affluent crowd. He peddles his wares in Hawaii, London, Vancouver, San Jose, on 10-day Mediterranean Cruises with rooms running from $2,650 to in excess of $10,000.

So I’m trying to understand what would motivate this jet-set guru to be in need of this sort of affirmation out of all possible affirmations.

I could understand a “Lord do not let this go to my head” affirmation, or a “do not let me lose touch with the little people around me” affirmation, or even a good ol’ fashioned “life is suffering affirmation” or “there but for the grace of God go I” affirmation.

But this “attract peace only into my life” affirmation is puzzling. It seems a little, well, indulgent to me, even decadent—

Affirm: I attract only peace into my life. I remind myself of this affirmation many times on a given day, particularly with my children and other more distant relatives. I also practice this in grocery stores, when greeting flight attendants, when visiting the post office, and while driving my automobile. I say this silently to myself as an absolute truth with unbending intent on my part, and it works for me all the time.”

Not I want to sow peace into my life and the lives of those I interact with, but I attract only peace.  The “Law of Attraction” running amuck, making the ego even more self-absorbed.  What’s in it for me? et cetera. . . .

I just don’t see this as something the Dalai Lama would come up with, or the Buddha, or Pema Chodron, or Thomas Merton. I can see these spiritual biggies coming up with something along the lines of “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” or “Make me an instrument of inner peace.”

But not this.

So is Dr. Dyer secretly on the brink of war with all mankind—or at the very least with his children, distant relatives, flight attendants, and those unfortunates who dare to be in the grocery store or post office when he’s there? Is he about to go postal? Is Dr. Dyer telling us that beneath his carefully manicured exterior there secretly lurks the cold dead heart of a misanthrope? . . .

What’s really going on in Dr. Dyer’s mind that he needs this sort of affirmation to get himself through the day?

I know that when I go to a grocery store or visit the post office, I generally have it together well enough that I am either in a decent (happy) mood or at the very least a neutral mood. I may be in a bit of a hurry and I may not want a to chitchat and mingle much with my fellow humans, but I am not in danger of going off on them—I am not going into a grocery store or post office with a chip on my shoulder, looking to pick a fight or vent my foul mood, waiting (hoping) for someone to tick me off or annoy me so I can let ‘em have it.

So I’m wondering if there is not some sort of rage that lies beneath the surface of Dyer’s carefully constructed smile and that has brought his life to this—to having to remind himself—MANY TIMES, no less, on any given day—to attract only peace into his life—and especially in regards to his children and flight attendants! (Yes, I know what you mean, flight attendants piss me off too! lol)  Is he hot tempered? Cannot he not handle not getting his way or not being the center of attention or having to wait in line like the rest of us common folk? Baaaaaah. Does he secretly just want to punch chirpy flight attendants when he sees them happy and smiling at him? Can he not stand their manufactured cheerfulness because it reminds him unconsciously of his own façade?

I know if I were to pray for peace, I would be praying for inner peace and for more inner capacity to better deal with the very few and far between difficult people in my life.

Or I would be praying for peace for myself as well as those I interact with.

So I have to wonder if perhaps Dr. Dyer might not be tapping into something else?

So many people seem to crave a very facile and escapist version of peace. They crave the simple absence of conflict and stress. They’re not interested in developing the ability to deal with stress and difficulty with grace and without being thrown off balance or knocked out of their center; they’re just seeking the absence of anything external that will stress them too greatly and send them over the edge or into a mommy or daddy meltdown.

And so perhaps Dr. Dyer is capitalizing on this. Perhaps this is a case of A-B-C, baby—Always Be Closing, always be making a sale and pushing product. Get busy selling or get busy dying. If his latest book is selling 2 mill he’s just trying to move 3.

Meaning that maybe Dr. Dyer actually doesn’t say his “peace” affirmation many times daily. Maybe he says it rarely. But—but—he knows that other people need it, that they need to be told 50 or more times a day to take a chill pill, relax, not sweat the small stuff, not seethe under their breath at people in front of them in line or not angrily storm out of a movie theater because someone 20 rows away was chewing popcorn with his mouth open!

And so perhaps Dr. Dyer is a genius. He knows that the vast majority of human beings hate being advised what to do (you know—human ego and all, no one likes anyone who remotely seems to have it all together or to be overbearing, et cetera), but if he (Dr. Dyer) pretends to be subject to the same lack of perspective and occasional idiocy and tantrum as his minions, and that this “peace” affirmation works “every time” for him, then by extension his readers and followers will be more likely to also want to do the same thing as he—this clearly great man—is doing and will want to see if it works its magic for them as well.

He is trying to lead by example—share what works for him—what works for him “many times” a day. The problem is he probably doesn’t even need this stuff. He knows that his readers and followers do. but he has to work around their egos, and so he has chosen to do so by this little “here’s what works every time for me” ruse.

But the bigger problem is that what he seems to be offering is little more than a superficial Band-Aid.

I’m assuming what he’s trying to counter is the tendency for others to explode into rage, be rude, discourteous, vent on others, be impolite, if not downright hostile, mean, et cetera. And so what Dr. Dyer would like to help create is a more kind and gentle world where people interact nicely with each other and play well together. And that is admirable. There’s nothing wrong with that. The Dalai Lama is trying to do the same.

But Dr. Dyer didn’t pray that he be more lovingly-kind to others, or more forbearing, or more compassionate and understanding. He affirmed that he wanted was peace. As in the world revolves around him. If daddy’s not happy, then nobody’s happy. Spread the misery and pain around. Dr. Dyer didn’t pray or affirm that he be peaceful necessarily to others, just that he attract only peace—that wherever he goes, that peaceable interactions only ensue for him. No conflict, no disagreement, no hostility, nobody pissing him off or pushing his buttons, just peace only. That is what Dr. Dyer wants for himself and expects out of us—or at least out of those who dare cross his path everyday or visit the post office on the same day that he does: that others be as peaceful to him as he leads on that he is in general.

But what is peace? What does Dr. Dyer mean by “peace”?

If I were to write an affirmation for all mankind and Facebook that sucker, I don’t know if I would be able to shorthand it down to “peace.” I would certainly want some measure of peace—some measure of inner composure and self-control. Maybe a lot of that. And I wouldn’t want it just for myself, I would wish it for everyone (even though I can only control me).

But I don’t know if I would want a lot of tension-freelessness. I don’t know if I would want a lot of strife-freeness, a lot of comfort and ease.

I think—know—I would want more than that—more that that sort of facile peace.

Yet is this not the very type of peace that most people want and that most people seem to mean when they invoke the word “peace”—the absence of conflict? Smooth sailing?

To my mind, to equate peace with this sort of lack of conflict and with the presence of less external stressors is to wish for death. Not death of the ego, but actual physical death. It’s to wish to live as though one is dead. Life is dynamic, life is tension, life is friction, life is full of challenges and difficulties and immensities. (“Life isn’t pleasure, it’s constant struggle driven on by relentless tension.” – Richard Rose). Life is about learning how to swim and survive amidst churning roiling waters—even amidst the occasional class 5 and 6 rapids. That’s the type of peace I would pray for or affirm—and what I would wish for everyone—the type of peace and confidence and composure and grace and courage and equanimity that comes from having learned how to swim well in choppy swollen seas with 30 to 40-foot waves occasionally crashing all around and over us.

Because true peace will never come from sitting on the beach in life, avoiding the water, avoiding challenges and difficulties.

Such a peace will always be a fragile and tenuous peace. We will always be secretly fearing the next wave, the next hit, the next difficulty. And that fear will wear on us, make us small, make us weak—

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

– Rilke, “The Man Watching”

Yet what so many people seem to want is to immure themselves in a safe small secure life of little victories and little comforts and pleasures. So many people say “peace” and what they are really saying is “avoidance” and “comfort”—they’re pleading for an easier less stressful life.

And they do seek this easier life without ever really considering whether what they need most is not less stress but better ways of dealing with stress and better ways of managing themselves and their emotions and fears and anxieties.

To me, this is what “peace” is shorthand for—the desire to rise to the occasion and become a better and more skillful mariner, it’s not a prayer for smoother and easier seas.

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for lighter loads, but for a stronger back. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” – Phillips Brooks

Don’t wish things were easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom. For things to change, you have to change. For things to get better, you have to be better.” – Jim Rohn

Real peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to deal with conflict maturely and squarely and without being knocked out of our center. This is the essence of differentiation.

If we attract only peace (as in the absence of conflict) daily into our lives, soon we will atrophy and soften into a puddle. We don’t gain physical strength or future strengths by attracting only peace or ease or comfort into our lives but by taking on difficulties and by finding a proper balance between pushing and exerting ourselves and resting and recovering.

Attracting peace, in the sense of comfort and ease, sometimes, and as part of a balanced spiritual diet makes sense. But attracting peace nonstop 24/7 in the way that Dr. Dyer seems to be using the word, amounts to spiritual escapism. It’s the psychological and spiritual equivalent of wanting to munch on Twinkies 24/7.

And that does not a skillful sailor or spiritual warrior make.

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What Does it Mean to Be “Asleep” in Life?


What does it mean to be “asleep” in life?

Simply put, being “asleep” means being blind to ourselves, being blind to who we are, why we are the way we are, and what it’s like to be on the opposite end of an interaction with us.  It means being ignorant of or unconcerned with all of this and why we do what we do. 

Why do we—or some of us, or the vast majority of people—do this?—sleepwalk through life?  Why do we—so many of us—live like this?  Why are so many of us content to live like this?

What’s the payoff? 

A supposedly easier life?  A supposedly less painful and stressful and anxious life?

Aside from the obvious answer that “everyone else” is doing it and living the same way (asleep), maybe it’s because we’re too full of pride to be willing to look at ourselves honestly (especially if our life is not something shiny and lustrous to behold).  Or maybe it’s because we’re too ignorant and unintelligent and so we lack the cognitive capacities to look at ourselves (which is not likely for most people, especially “educated” people).  Or maybe it’s because we’re uncourageous because we suspect that we might be too weak to stomach emotionally looking at ourselves and our mess squarely, and so because we intuitively sense/imagine how stressful and painful doing so will (likely) be, we protect ourselves (self-protect) and refuse to face ourselves in an objective and fair and honest way.   We remain cloudy and asleep rather than clear and awake and piercingly honest.

When we’re asleep in life we’re not self-aware, we’re not self-conscious.  Thus we’re certainly not metacognizing—thinking about our own thinking or examining our own programming and paradigm and looking at our own behaviors.  And it’s highly likely that our conscience isn’t very active either—honesty likely isn’t a big concern, nor is doing our best or being our best or growing toward (in the direction of) becoming our best or constantly learning and improving and maturing as a person throughout life. 

In short, being asleep means leading an unexamined life.  A life where we’re ignorant of our own biases and double standards and hypocrisies and conditioning and underlying psychodramas. 

If the unexamined life truly is not worth living, then every moment spent dishonestly or deceptively with ourselves, or ignorant and unaware of our own real motivations and deeper needs and potentials, is life wasted.  And conversely every moment where we are contemplatively aware of ourselves or where we are correcting our biases, hypocrisies, self-deception and self-deceit is a moment of life worth living.

When we’re asleep, we’re on auto-pilot and living in ego-mode, we’re lost in our projections and transferences and daydreams and biases and double standards, we’re lost and asleep living a me first “looking out for number one” life where others aren’t “real” and where we’re running around constantly empty and unhappy and lost and trying reactively to get our wants and needs (love, validation, safety, security) met and inner-emptiness filled, trying to feel good, living impulsively, and taking the path of least resistant as often as possible, which means as much immediate gratification (damn the future consequences) as possible.

When we’re asleep we’re certainly not engaged in a 24/7 process of constant and never-ending self-surveillancing of ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors and the underlying reasons for doing what we do and saying what we say.

Blissful  ignorance is the goal when we’re asleep.  Not knowing is the goal.  Not being disturbed or perturbed or awakened is the goal.  Undisturbed and uninterrupted sleep and self-numbing is the goal.  Living for the moment, living for fun, living for the next satisfaction or good feeling or psychological high or thrill is the goal.

But not constant self-surveillance.  Not truth.  Not looking at ourselves, examining ourselves, examining our own thinking, really scrutinizing it, really asking why, really being as honest and courageous and straightforward as possible.  These are not the goal.

Why? 

Probably because they’re painful and disquieting and uncomfortable and not “fun.”  They’re not gratifying.  They don’t relieve or lessen tension—at least not in the short-term!  In fact, if anything, they cause/create more tension, more unease, more anxiety, more depression, more distress, more stress, more confusion.  Truth doesn’t make us feel good.  Seeing ourselves as we are, with no softeners or buffers, doesn’t make us feel good, especially if we’re a bit of a hot mess or if we’ve made a hot mess of our lives.  So why do it?  Why look at honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Most of us are still very simple creatures—seek pleasure, avoid pain; seek comfort and security, avoid danger and duress.  We run on very simple programming: what tastes or feels good must be good for us, what tastes or feels bad must be bad for us.  Many people, many of us, live in many areas of our life on the autopilot of these sorts of basic, unconscious (unaware) assumptions and patterns.

But waking up means waking up from the sleep that such a way of life engenders.  It means waking up from the sleep of avoiding pain and seeking only pleasure, automatically avoiding challenge and difficulty and adversity and seeking comfort and security and familiarity.  It means waking up from the sleep of living and reacting automatically. 

Waking up means asking why.  Waking up means examining ourselves constantly morning noon and night, and starting to spot our discrepencies and inconsistencies and underlying patterns and notice these.  It means learning to ask, in relation to what we do, what we say, what we like, what we prefer, what we avoid, the question “why,” and to do so almost constantly—why am I doing this?—what do I really want from this?—why do I really want this?—what will the long-term effect of doing this or getting this or eating this be for myself? et cetera. . . .

Waking up also means ceasing to be hypocritical—ceasing to ask others to do for us what we’re not willing to do for them, making them do the dirty jobs or go first instead of us.  Waking up means putting an end to our me-first I’m-the-center-of-the-world looking-out-for-number-one narcissistic ways.  It means, instead, putting ourselves on the same level as everyone else—“Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things, for you are only one thing among many.  And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills” (Czeslaw Milosz)—i.e. various ills such as narcissism, antisocial tendencies, borderline tendencies, depression, a myriad of anxieties, et cetera.

When we’re asleep we can’t see the wisdom in these words of Emerson—“ Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment” (“Self-Reliance”).  When we’re asleep, we (mistakenly) think that what we’re trying to teach—what we intend to teach—is what we actually teach.  But as we awaken, we begin realize—the horror, the horror!—that this is not the case—that instead what we are teaches far more than what we say or what we intend or will or pretend to be but not yet are.  And so as we awaken we get to work on our character—our level of being, our level of differentiation, our conscience, our capacity for virtue, our work ethic, our level of true psychological and spiritual health and courage, our capacity to love and be loved, and the forces of entropy and laziness and fear that keep us stuck and small—because this is the part of us that we carry around with us everywhere and that we cannot escape or avoid or outrun or disown—“For only as we ourselves, as adults, actually move and have our being in the state of love, can we be appropriate models and guides for our children. What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

The clock is ticking.  At every moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and either waking more up or going more to sleep, and so we’re either unconsciously communicating (teaching) wakefulness or sleep to those around us as well as ourselves. 

At every moment we’re either communicating wakefulness or sleep, virtue or pathology. —The opposite of virtue isn’t vice, it’s pathology, sickness.  Vice is a symptom or expression of pathology.  And evil is the most pathological form of pathology.  Truly healthy people are virtuous people.  The vast majority of people (us) because they (we) are asleep, unaware, unconscious are neither healthy or unhealthy but are a mixed bag—a somewhat disorderly random amalgamation of virtue and vice, areas of relative integration and coherence and areas of mental unwellness, compartmentalization, distortions, projection, unreality, bias, hypocrisy, denial, avoidance, cowardice, pathology.  And the less healthy a person is, the less virtuous and the more full of bad habits, vice, dis-intigration, self-deception, avoidance, emotional reactiveness, the person will be.  

So why try and wake up from our slumber?  Why burden ourselves with seeing ourselves (and what neurosis and psychopathology and dysfunction there is in us) as we are?  Why look clearly and honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter and nasty-tasting medicine?

Because, in all likelihood, it’s the only way out, it’s the only way to truly grow up and mature as a person and become what was intended.  If we’re not willing to have the difficult conversations with ourselves, if we’re not willing to look honestly and starkly at ourselves and start putting ourselves under 24/7 around the clock surveillance and really start scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves and our actions under the microscope, if we’re not willing to start seeing ourselves for what we are and start calling ourselves out on our own bullshite, then we’re just marking time, wasting our lives, and we really don’t want to wake up.  Because, bottom line, waking up means intimacy—being raw and open and heroically real and honest with ourselves—and doing so constantly—and then doing so with others and owning our psychopathology and neuroticism and weak parts and getting to work on overcoming and outgrowing them.  This is the stuff—the day in and day out frontline grunt work—of the “examined life.”  And without doing this, our lives are just a blind decent into the grass, a useless march into oblivion.

(This is a slightly edited and updated version of an essay I posted on another of my blogshttp://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/what-does-it-mean-to-be-%e2%80%9casleep%e2%80%9d-in-life/)