I have always been strongly attracted by essential truths, statements that get right to the heart of the big questions about why we’re here and how to navigate this life. I found this kind of clarity and depth in the words of Sri Gurudev, Swami Satchidananda. One of the teachings I have treasured is what Sri Gurudev calls “keeping the most important, sacred property: your peace.” This concept can be a powerful way to examine our lives and the choices we make, and a great reminder to keep everything in perspective.
This statement implies that peace is something that we don’t need to acquire because it is already there, as our essential nature. While that may be true, most of us don’t experience that truth so easily. Only when we have focused and calmed the body and mind through our spiritual practice or become deeply absorbed in some activity, do we begin to taste that part of our being that is sacred and already at peace. When the thick clouds of fear and desire that often dominate our minds begin to dissipate, the light at the heart of our being shines through. Even a small taste of that peace, which feels like an inner serenity, can be a godsend in the midst of the crisis and turmoil of daily life.
Sri Gurudev suggests using this teaching as a touchstone for analyzing what course of action to take. If a choice will cause me to lose my peace, it’s not a healthy choice. If I see that my inner serenity can be maintained, then I can go ahead. Of course this analysis must be done with sincerity, and with the understanding that anything I do that hurts someone else, will also disturb my peace of mind.
For example, can I be truly at peace if the “truth” that I tell is motivated in part by revenge? No. When I am serving others, if I stop to rest in order to keep my balance and maintain my ability to serve well, can this be called a right action? These are tricky questions. How can we tell what the right action is in any given situation?
The way we practice Hatha Yoga provides an excellent analogy for reflecting on this. We see that in performing an asana, the real benefit comes from a mindful effort to move beyond our normal limit by consciously releasing tension and relaxing. But if our stretching is done without regard for where we are now, (as when we try to look impressive), then there’s a good chance we’ll injure ourselves.
Likewise, most of us benefit from stretching a little further in our efforts to be loving to one other. This effort, too, should be mindful and tempered by listening for signs that we’ve reached the limits of what our bodies and minds are capable of. This means that as we learn to grow more compassionate with one other, we also practice compassion for ourselves. For example, at times, eating and resting properly, or taking time to be quiet or pray, can be the best way to serve others. Those around us are not served by another example of a stressed out person who doesn’t know when to call it a day.
When we can keep alive even a small flame of peace and equanimity in ourselves, we have already contributed to world peace. Establishing peace in ourselves is the only way we can expect to have the clarity to then express it in our daily lives, in the difficult interactions we have, where peace is sorely needed.
Our ability to embody nonviolence and compassion will bring those values more powerfully into the world than any speech we can make. We have literally hundreds of opportunities every day to make a choice to be loving, to listen and understand others, to give without expecting something. If we can open our hearts to even a few people we encounter, we begin to live as a light for peace, one step at a time. There is nothing more important for us to do and nothing more fulfilling.
I hope you join us in this month’s practice of keeping your peace!