It seems that people are concerned more about world peace than ever before. At least that’s what I gather from the snippets of news reports that reach my ears. I even hear murmurs about the imminence of World War III.
However, today’s political unrest and social strife are not unique. I know this because I’ve already been through it. I spent my teens watching news stories about race riots and campus demonstrations gone badly. One night, during an enforced curfew in my neighborhood, I heard gunshots. Looking back, I think my parents must have been terrified. It was a time of intense anxiety.
The turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s produced a new generation of songwriters. Lyrics often diverted from lovelorn pining to a call for peace and ending the Vietnam War. I can still hear John Lennon’s voice chanting, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
Did it work? Did we learn and benefit from the turbulence of those times? I sometimes doubt it. Look at today’s world of violence and unfathomable political feuds. Now, fifty years later, the idealism of my youth has turned 180 degrees—from the notion of world peace to the certitude of inner peace.
Peace is Possible
Why do you suppose I’m so confident about the existence of inner peace? The answer comes from personal experience. Let me explain.
This fateful day happened in my early twenties. During this time of social turbulence, I attended my first yoga class. It was an introduction to yoga, including postures, philosophy, and meditation. In the midst of a Midwestern blizzard, I trudged through the wind and snow to make it to that class. I wondered if it might be cancelled due to the harsh weather. But the class was held as promised.
I didn’t realize its powerful effect on me until later, after I’d gotten home. My mind had never been so quiet! Where had all the thoughts gone? And what was this wonderful peacefulness that had taken their place? I was hooked, and I wanted more. That first yoga class was the beginning of a lifelong journey. I’ve never forgotten that profound sense of peacefulness. I had discovered the secret—peace is possible!
Why You Should Pursue Inner Peace
I can’t think of a loftier ideal than world peace. But I sincerely doubt its feasibility. A wise sage once said, “The poor will always be with you.” He might just as well have said, “There will always be war – or anger, or discontent, etc.” Just as poverty will always exist, the conditions that lead to war will also exist.
I’m not saying that we should abandon all efforts and let chaos rule. Rather, I’m saying that we should put our attention and energy where it can be effective. That place is in our own hearts and homes.
“If you don’t have inner peace, how can you bring peace to the world? It’s the same principle as charity—if you don’t have a large bank account, how can you give to others?”— Svāmī Gurupremānanda
Inner peace and happiness go hand in hand. Does a joyful mental attitude appeal to you? One that’s positive and cheerful all the time—yes, all the time! Would you like to be free from worry? Can you imagine being composed and serene even if you lose your job, a friend, or a beloved pet?
A peaceful attitude inspires others. People can sense a calm demeanor. They’re attracted to it. They think, what does that person have that I don’t? You don’t need to wear a T-shirt with a peace sign on it. Human intuition picks it up. Inner peace is like the positive pole of a magnet. You might not be aware of it. People won’t be able to put a finger on it. It’s a gentle, powerful force that attracts.
Happiness, a contagious quality, results from inner peace. Happy people don’t live in a vacuum. If you’re a contented, joyful person, waves of happiness radiate from you. That’s why spending time to increase your inner peace is not a selfish act. By increasing your own peace, you inspire others with your joy.
Inner peace creates an armor of protection. Like the negative pole of a magnet, you repel negativity. Worries and anxieties diminish. They can’t take hold. You no longer experience suffering, although you’re aware of its presence in others. A natural side effect of this awareness is compassion and empathy.
How to Give Peace a Chance
You might not realize that peace already exists inside you. It’s there. You must simply uncover it. We live in a wacky world with so many distractions. If your attention is always outward-facing, finding peace within is impossible.
Here are two simple steps to help set you on your way to discovering your inner peace. If you follow these suggestions, your perceptions will begin to change. There will be storms raging around you, but peace will grow in your heart.
Step One: Turn off negativity
Let’s return to the example of the magnet. It has two poles. One of the poles attracts; the other pole repels. Like the negative pole of a magnet, you must reject negative influences. Yogis often talk about this principle as company. Company includes anything that you come into contact with—people, events, social media, television, podcasts, anything you might read. How can you be peaceful if your friends get together for a drink after work and do nothing but complain about politics? It’s not possible to stay unaffected. The effect of company is too strong.
If you watch television news or use social media, you’ll need to start making changes. Remember, to have inner peace, you must protect yourself from the negativity running rampant in today’s world. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings while engaging in social media or watching news reports. If your experience is not 100% positive, then begin to cut back on them.
I know the idea of being “less-informed” is frightening to some people. They say, “What will happen if I don’t know what’s going on in the world?” I’ve heard this comment repeatedly. My response comes from decades of experience: “You will come to know what you need to know—when you need to know it.” You might have difficulty believing this. That’s why I recommend gradually reducing negative input. Put it to the test yourself. You’ll discover that the benefit of peace of mind far outweighs the costs.
If you want to experience peace and happiness in your life, you’ll need to pay the price. But what are you giving up? Only the things that cause you distress.
Step Two: Spend Some Quiet Time Alone
Most people don’t realize how powerful personal quiet moments can be. Spend some time by yourself. Make solitude—even if just for a few minutes—a regular part of your daily routine. Read or cook or work on a simple, mindless task. Turn off your smartphone for an hour or two. Observe how your mind slows down when you give it permission to not think.
Naturally, being a yogi, I’m going to recommend meditation. Nothing has served my own peace of mind as much as my meditation practice. I give it credit for my sanity over the years. If I miss a day of meditation, I notice a growing discontent in my thoughts. Peacefulness, once attained, must be preserved by regular attention. It’s much like a plant that needs protection and nurturing until it’s strong enough to stand on its own.
Peace Begins With You
Perhaps world peace is possible in a future age and after humanity has learned a few more lessons. But you can make your world peaceful, starting right now. Don’t procrastinate on this; the clock is ticking. Every minute that you spend being anxious, worried, or angry is gone forever. Those moments could have been spent in joy.
Remember that inner peace leads to happiness, and happiness is contagious. You can’t solve the problems of the world, but you can solve the problems of your world. That’s where you can make a difference. As you experience more peace within, and your joy increases, you make the world a bit more peaceful.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.