November 9, 2008

Good day, team,

This week’s challenge is about finding peace.

Once the election for U.S. president was over this past week, I reflected upon the state of the world. We’re on a wild ride economically, ecologically and politically right now, and the safety and security that we’ve enjoyed for generations seems to be threatened.

Sometimes I wonder about this perception. It’s possible that much of what we’ve thought was safe and secure was an illusion and that, in our dreamy state, we ignored some key signs along the way that were trying to tell us to pay more attention. In any case, here we are, six weeks short of a new year, facing some great challenges.

Where in all of this do we find peace? How do we maintain our equanimity in the midst of stormy conditions, not just outside of us, but within us as well? Peace of mind and heart are challenged when our external circumstances grow grim, and yet these are the very times when peace and tranquility are what we need to face adversity.

When things get tough for me, I notice that my peace of mind is most challenged by what I call bundling. I let my mind run helter-skelter, and one thought builds on another until there’s a huge bundle of worries that overwhelms me. It goes something like this:

“Gee, my retirement account is worth about one-third of what it was two years ago. What will I live on when I retire, if I ever do retire? Given the state of the world, I’m liable to have to keep working till I’m 100! But then what makes me think I’ll be able to even stay in business over the next year? Most consultants don’t make it in hard times. What if I can’t make any contributions to my retirement account? I mean, the dollar will probably tank some more, so even the money that’s there won’t be worth anything. It’s all just paper anyway, so what makes me think I’ll be able to take care of myself in my old age? What will happen to me if I get sick and have no money to pay for insurance or medical bills or…?”

And so it goes. In one stream of thoughts, I’ve gone from worrying about my retirement account to not having any work to not being able to support myself to getting sick and not being able to pay my medical bills. As one thought piles on to the next, and then another, and then another, they all fuse into one big bundle that becomes much too difficult to overcome. Then we become depressed, and that negative state just adds more grim thoughts to the bundle, and so on. Regaining peace in this scenario is almost impossible, and once we’re depressed, it’s much more difficult to access the positive thoughts that might pull us out of that state.

The solution is to prevent a bundle from accumulating in the first place. When these thoughts try to pile on top of each other, I have to stop and say to myself, “Hold on here, let’s not bundle all these thoughts. They really don’t belong together in the first place, and sitting here allowing them to build on each other will not help your state of mind or your retirement account. Try to look at exactly what is directly in front of you.”

This little exercise of looking out of my eyes helps to break the thought pattern, and one more bundle that wanted to become bigger has just been unbundled! What a relief! In these moments, I can once again access a spaciousness and awareness that gives me much more freedom, clarity and peace in the moment.

Your challenge this week is to find peace within yourself, particularly in the midst of difficult circumstances. Perhaps you put a reminder of peace on your desk and each time you see it, you return to that state within yourself that feels content and at rest. Sometimes reminding yourself to breathe will give you immediate access to a more peaceful state. Taking a walk and breaking up the pattern of the day can often bring peace to our hearts.

One of my friends makes a list of all of the things that come up in her mind when she starts bundling. By doing this, she can stop the ranting and raving, as she calls it, because she can actually see on paper how the thoughts are unrelated. Then she puts the list in a drawer and says to herself, “Nope, I’m not going to keep doing this. I have more important things to attend to, and my peace of mind is more important to me.” I have a note card on my desk that asks, “Do these thoughts and feelings serve me in this moment?”

Try experimenting with whatever reminders you can come up with to save yourself from bundling. The beauty of peace is that we can access it at any time within ourselves by choosing it over anything else. Even in the most dire circumstances, our internal state of peace is always possible.

One of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry, describes peace beautifully in the following poem:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Have a peaceful week!


Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249
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