How Does One Attain True Peace?

From my podcast of the same name.

How can we attain true peace, especially this time of year, when responsibilities and family matters may be pressing.  What is the secret to acquiring true tranquility in the midst of chaos?

I saw this quote at our friends’ house.  “Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

I read a story once, of a king who held a competition to see who could paint the best picture representing peace.  Many pictures were submitted, but it came down to two.  The first was beautiful—mountains, a calm mirror-like lake, fluffy clouds—the epitome of peace.  The second had mountains, too, but they were rugged, and a foaming waterfall plummeted down their sides.  The sky was angry; it was raining, and lightning flashed.  It didn’t look peaceful at all.  But when the King looked closer, he saw that tucked back, in a rocky crag, was a mother bird and her babies, and this, he deemed, was true peace in the midst of chaos.

So, how do we do it?

The happy thing is that peace is attainable.  It’s there, waiting for us.  All of us can practice nonviolence to ourselves, to others.  We sometimes choose not to, because it’s too hard.  Why do we have to understand?  Why do we have to forgive?  Why do we have to have compassion?  For although all those things will give us true peace, they’re much too hard to accomplish.

First, let’s talk about what we can do to create peace.  Then we’ll talk about getting the feelings of peace, which come after the doing.

In his book Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh uses the analogy of seeds.  He says that we can either water the seeds of compassion or the seeds of violence.  He encourages us to put away reading material or television programs or other media that doesn’t promote love.  He exhorts us to avoid conversations that will water the seeds of hate or indifference or intolerance.  We must be mindful, SO mindful that we make a commitment to ourselves, and asking our loved ones to make the same commitment: “My dear, my beloved one, if you really love me, please do not water the seed of violence in me.  Please water the seed of compassion in me.  I promise to do the same for you.”

We create peace by listening to others.  Don’t say things that will water the seeds of conflict within them.

We create peace by actively showing our children their capacity for kindness and concern and by teaching them how to transform their anger or pain into something else.

We create peace when we’re inclusive of others.

We create peace when we accept ourselves, as is.

We create peace when we find an occupation we love.

We create peace when we allow the show of emotion.  Usually it’s men who are taught to suppress their feelings, and this is a form of violence.

Those are some examples of doing.  But how do we feel peaceful?

I’ve told this story before, but I think it bears retelling.  Many children (and adults) have not been taught the skill of how to remain calm in the midst of chaos.  My husband has made a deliberate effort to teach this practice to our five-year-old daughter.  When she panics or loses control, Dan pulls her close, holds her shoulders, looks her in the eye, and says, “Let’s breathe together.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.”  Slowly, she regains her focus, and she’s able to become calm, even though the trigger is still there.  Mindful breathing is all it is, but it’s the first step to being peaceful, no matter what’s around you.  It’s saying, in a nutshell, it’s all right to feel badly, but it’s not all right to lose control or lose mindfulness of how you’re behaving.

The second thing we need to learn to do is watch what’s going on around us, by observing and not absorbing.  The more we can spy on our situation, like a fly on the wall, the better able we’ll be able to discern what’s going on, what patterns everyone is falling back into, and how better to “solve” the problem.

Before we adopted our daughter, I did extensive research on adoption and attachment parenting.  I was delighted to read of a practice, in several books, of parents putting themselves in time-out when their child misbehaves.  It says a couple of things to the child.  It says, “Mom is angry right now, and she’s removing herself from the room, so she doesn’t do anything stupid.”  It says, “We’ll talk later, when we both can be kind to one another.”  Amazingly, it works.  In fact, it works so well, that the child oftentimes follows you out of the room, worried about you and sorry she ever thought to disobey.  And you’re teaching the child that peace is a conscious decision.

I had to smile when I read another way, by Thich Nhat Hanh.  He says: “Another simple peace practice for children is what I like to call the cake in the refrigerator.  When a child sees his parents quarreling, and if there is no bell in the house, he can just touch his mother’s hand and say, “Mommy, I think here is a cake in the refrigerator.”  You, as his mother, will understand that this is his way of saying, “Mother, I suffer; I cannot stand this.”  The cake, whether it is in the refrigerator or not, is always there for him to use.  You will smile and say, “This is true, my dear, just go to the backyard and arrange the table and chairs.  Mommy will go to the kitchen to take out the cake and make some drinks for us all to enjoy.”  This gives both you and your child an escape.  Your son can immediately run to the backyard, breathing room, or other peace space, and you can go to the kitchen.  Your child has stopped the war.  Do not worry if there is no cake.  You can always quickly prepare something, perhaps juice or tea.  You have reestablished peace in the family.”

Finding peace requires mindfulness, a purposeful awareness of what’s going on around you, to say, “This is where I am now.  This, too, shall pass.”

[Post image: Snowfall by Nossirom on stock.xchng]


  1. Shawn
    Dec 20, 2011

    Lovely reminders for parents. I like all of these offerings today. I wrote a bit about peace myself today on my blog. I have to put myself into time out frequently. It’s not easy trying to maintain peace. Peace to you and yours, Elissa.

    • Elissa
      Dec 20, 2011

      LOL. True! As much as I want peace to automatically flow from me, I’ve realized it’s a conscious, deliberate effort. A habit, you might say, that needs practicing…A LOT. xo

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