Way #42: Peace of Mind
Even with the world in turmoil, we can be at inner peace. To attain that equilibrium, focus on the needs of your soul.
Everyone is pro-peace. But when Jews hail each other with that famous greeting, Shalom Aleichem – "peace unto you" – it really refers to a wish for inner peace. Because all the pleasures in the world are just stepping stones to peace of mind.
Way #42 is ma'amido al hashalom – literally "set people at peace."
The Hebrew word for peace – shalom – comes from shalem, which means wholeness, completion and perfection. Real peace is much more than a cessation of war. In fact, peace of mind is independent of external circumstances. The world can be in turmoil, but a person can be at peace with himself. And vice versa: The world can be peaceful, but a person can be torn up inside.
What Is Inner Peace?
Everybody at some time or another has felt inner conflict. This usually surfaces when a moral decision has to be made. The greater the moral decision, the greater the inner conflict.
The source of this battle is between the two opposing "human natures" of body and soul. The body gravitates toward transitory comforts and sensual pleasures. It desires to quit, to dream, to drown in passions, to procrastinate. The body says: Give me some food, warmth, a pillow. Let me take it easy.
The soul, on the other hand, desires meaning, accomplishment, permanence, greatness, reality and truth.
These two forces clash. We want to be tough, but we feel like being marshmallows. We want to be great, but we don't feel like making the effort. We want to be independent, but we feel like being seduced.
And even when we're not aware of it, this conflict is raging within us. Peace only comes when we resolve that inner strife. Do you want greatness or do you want to be average? Wake up!
Peace: Victory of the Soul
The Talmud teaches: "The righteous talk to their bodily desires, while evil people let their desires talk to them." The question is: Who's running the show? Who will dictate what you're going to do?
Hedonists believe that we should surrender to the body and follow its whims. But a lustful pleasure never lasts long, and usually leaves a bitter aftertaste. Every time you give in to the body's desires – when you lose your temper, fail to stand up for your beliefs, or succumb to lust – the good feeling lasts only a moment, and then you end up getting depressed and angry with yourself.
Self-respect – the only real peace – comes from siding with the soul.
So what is the goal? To get to the body to desire what the soul wants. Because there's no way to achieve peace by giving in to the body. Your soul will simply not give up. Never.
But the body can go along with the soul. Of course it "hurts" a little to walk away from an immediate pleasure. But we can survive without it.
Getting your body to agree with the soul doesn't mean you have to crush the body.
The body's drive is a positive force to be harnessed. The trick is to teach the body to supply the same energy and enthusiasm when pursuing meaning, as it does when pursuing a candy bar. The body is where the passion is, where the power is. Get it to join your act.
Train your body to be in tune with your soul. When you feel the body's resistance, talk to it. Cajole it. Reassure it.
Imagine a jogger, out for the first time on a long run. The body protests: "Don't be a masochist… We'll have a heart attack… We'll never make it beyond this corner… Stop already!"
Only firm willpower can squelch the body's resistance and get it to comply. How? By constantly reassuring it of the higher value of being in shape, thin and healthy. "This is what you really want… Imagine how much better you'll feel… You'll be respected…You'll live longer."
Two months later, if you miss a day of jogging, the body says, "Hey, what's going on? I missed the pleasure of that workout!"
Figure out what you want and overrule the body. Paint the prospects in glowing terms, until you reduce the body's anxiety. Keep drilling until the body's resistance has worn down and becomes your soul's willing partner. Just like jogging, you can measure it: How much drilling will it take before the body goes along with my goal? It may take awhile for the body to adjust – but it becomes increasingly easier.
Use discipline. Drill, drill, drill. Get your higher goals to "grab your guts," and sink the body's passion into the soul's desire.
Be ready for that madness of the body fighting you and don't let go. Because if you let go, then the body will run wild!
Soul's Goals, Body's Drive
When you're locked in a moral battle, and both choices seem equally tempting, how do you know which "voice" is talking?
If the result of a decision will be comfort and ease, then it's probably your body talking. Whereas if the result will be more kindness and patience, then that's your soul.
The key is to focus your goals. If you don't understand what your soul really wants, then you'll be locked in a constant battle.
The soul wants to be good and to help people. Beware of people who are into illusions of peace. They may say, "I want to do the right thing," but they may be too hysterical to sit down and discuss the issues. The body is afraid of losing it's control.
People who are into the real stuff say, "Come, let us reason together." The soul is not afraid.
Big Cause for Peace
One of the best ways to get the body into spiritual meaning is to have a cause.
A person needs to focus their life around a cause that's bigger than they are. This way, the body will pull itself together on the side of the soul. When we're fighting for something we believe in, the "body-soul conflict" almost automatically comes to a halt. We are willing to go to any lengths because the body's voice is submerged in an overwhelming cause.
That's why, all over the world and throughout history, people have sacrificed their lives for higher causes.
Nationalism is one example of how this plays out. War, as destructive as it is, creates a cause bigger than the individuals fighting. It was reported following a recent war that children were asking their parents, "When are we going to have another war?" The parents said, "What do you mean? War is terrible!" The children said, "When we were at war, our nation was united, there was no quarreling, everyone was kind to one another. War was so nice!"
That's the irony. When a nation is fighting for its survival, there's a sense of inner peace. People don't worry about pettiness like the neighbor's new car, or the cleaner who over-starched the shirts. There is something more important. We'll listen carefully to any workable idea. We'll let anyone lead as long as he's capable. We lift ourselves into the greatness of the cause.
Of course, there are far more constructive ways of achieving this same effect. Like fixing the world, for example. Isn't that the greatest "cause" of all? Well, almost…
The Cause of It All
When people fight for a cause, what are they really looking for? What is the ultimate desire of the soul?
Greatness… eternity… oneness with God.
God is One. That's the real cause everyone is aiming for. Saving humanity is small compared to doing the will of the Eternal. That's the ultimate.
Jews get in contact with this morning and night, by reciting the Shema prayer: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One." We're focused on what the soul ultimately wants.
Saying the Shema is an effective tool to become focused, integrated and complete.
Get Others Into Their Potential
Once you've achieved some degree of inner peace, help others do the same. The same way you went through the steps to recognize the inner conflict, take others down the same road.
Look at your friend's potential and arouse him to greatness. Be ambitious for him. Aim at making him big. Imagine: "If I can get him in touch with his soul, how would that unleash his powers? If he could be an integrated being, how high could he fly? If he could be happier, how would that transform his relationships? If he could be more disciplined, what great things could he achieve?"
Of course, the next question is: How do you get someone to be great?
Many people are so used to inner conflict that they've accepted it as status quo. They accept mediocrity as a way of life, as if greatness is only for "great people." People often don't know what they really want from life. And if they don't know what's worth pursuing, they lose the motivation to try.
Teach people to have goals, and teach them to figure out what goals are worthwhile. Keep asking: "What do you want?" Focus them: "Can you be truly happy if you're striving to be mediocre? Can you be at peace if you're not feeling fulfilled?"
If you inspire others, that will give you a more powerful dimension of wisdom. Because by working objectively to help make others powerful, we master it for ourselves, too.
Besides, if you succeed in unleashing another's potential, then you yourself have achieved greatness. Because the best gift one person can give another is peace of mind. And you now share in every one of their accomplishments.
Why is "Peace of Mind" a Way to Wisdom?
- If someone doesn't know what he's living for, then he's at war with himself.
- You cannot have peace while being mediocre.
- When we think big, we become big. Look around the world and see how much you can accomplish.
- Greatness is achieved by leading with the soul, and harnessing the passionate power of the body.
- Real peace comes only when your body desires your soul's success.
- If we succeed in making others great, we become great ourselves.
- The ultimate cause that the soul yearns for is oneness with God.