Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More
What’s your sense of peace?
Enjoy four kinds of peace.
“Peace” can sound merely sentimental or clichéd (“visualize whirled peas”). But deep down, it’s what most of us long for. Consider the proverb: The highest happiness is peace.
Not a peace inside that ignores pain in oneself or others, or is acquired by shutting down. This is a durable peace, a peace you can come home to even if it’s been covered over by fear, frustration, or heartache.
When you’re at peace – when you are engaged with life while also feeling relatively relaxed, calm, and safe – you are protected from stress, your immune system grows stronger, and you become more resilient. Your outlook brightens and you see more opportunities. In relationships, feeling at peace prevents overreactions, increases the odds of being treated well by others, and supports you in being clear and direct when you need to be.
I think there are four kinds of peace, and I’ll point out where each might be found. The first two kinds are pretty straightforward, while the third and fourth take a person into the deep end of the pool. It’s helped me to notice, appreciate, and (hopefully) practice each of these. It’s OK to focus on just one for a while; any peace is better than none!
In particular, enjoy your peacefulness, wherever you find it. In our culture of pressure, invasive demands for attention, and jostling busyness, inner peace must be protected. When you experience it, enjoy it, which will help it sink into you, weaving its way into your brain so it increasingly becomes the habit of your mind.
The Peace of Ease
This is the peace of relaxation and relief, and it comes in many forms. You look out a window and feel calmer, talk through a problem with a friend, or finally make it to the bathroom. You exhale slowly, activating the soothing parasympathetic wing of your nervous system. You finish a batch of emails or dishes. You were worried about something but finally get good news.
Whew. At rest. It’s easy to underestimate this sort of peace but it really counts. Take it in when you feel it.
The Peace of Tranquility
This is deep quiet in mind and body. Perhaps you’ve felt this on first waking, before the mind kicks into gear. Or while sitting next to a mountain pond, something of its stillness seeps into your heart. At the end of a workout, meditation, or yoga, you might have felt serene.
When mind and body are this settled, there is no sense of deficit or disturbance, and no struggling with anything, or grasping after it, or clinging to others. There’s an inner freedom, a non-reactivity, that is wonderful.
The Peace of Awareness
This is a subtler kind of peace. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of being upset and your mind is racing…and at the same time there is a place inside that is simply witnessing, untroubled by what it sees. Or you may have the sense of awareness as an open space in which sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, arise and disappear; the space itself is never ruffled or harmed by what passes through it.
I’m not speaking of anything mystical here, only what you can see directly in your own mind. As either a bare witness or the space through which the stream of consciousness flows, awareness itself is always at peace.
The Peace of What’s Unchanging
First, while most things continually change, some don’t; for example, the fact that things change doesn’t itself change. Two plus two will always equal four. The good thing you did this morning or last year will always have happened. Things that don’t change are reliable, which feels peaceful.
Second, while individual waves come and go, the ocean is always ocean. While the contents of the universe are changing, the universe as universe is not. You can get an intuition of this by recognizing that you are a local wave in a vast sea of human culture, nature, and the physical universe; yes, you are changing, but within an unchanging allness. The sense of this, even if fleeting, can really put you at peace.
Third, you could have a sense of something transcendental, something eternal, call it God, Spirit, the Unconditioned, or by no name at all. Beyond words, this offers “the peace that passeth understanding,” and I include it here because it is meaningful to many people (including myself).
May we all be at peace.