by Michael Maciel
You know, for me personally, I find it easy to be at peace as long as I’m safely ensconced in my safety zones—my work routines, my office, my home—anywhere I feel like I have some control over my life. But it’s when I’m challenged, when someone disrupts the tempo of my routines, or when dark events loom on the horizon, or circumstances seem to block my path that it’s difficult to maintain any kind of internal peace.
I suspect that I’m no different from anyone else in this regard. Because of this, I am most interested in how to maintain inner peace when things aren’t going well, especially when I feel threatened or in some way find myself in the presence of real danger. It’s easy to be at peace when I’m safe but not so easy when I’m not.
And I know that I’m “always protected,” but I live in a fast-paced, crowded, multi-cultural urban area that’s highly competitive and always on edge, so there are times when I feel exposed. So, any “inner peace development program,” it seems to me, has to be in some sense strategic, meaning that it has to include a plan for how to deal with difficult situations as they arise unexpectedly.
It has been my observation that it is those people who know what they’re about, who know where they’re going in life who are the ones with the most inner peace. It’s those people who know what they will put up with and what they won’t, who don’t back down in the face of danger when confronting the danger is what’s called for. It’s those people whose only fear is the fear of self-betrayal.
When I was a teenager, I was a ski racer, and the downhill, where speeds are frequently 60 to 70 mph, was my biggest challenge. It was always dangerous. I have known people who were killed or permanently disabled by this brutal sport. But my coach was unequivocal in the strategy he gave me for surviving the downhill: get strong! His workout routines were merciless, concentrating mostly on the leg and stomach muscles. I know it sounds trite, but “peace through strength” works.
You have to be strong to stand up when the winds are blowing hard against you, when it seems like life is trying to knock you down, or when serious problems keep you awake at night. And for us—people on the spiritual path—strength comes through prayer and meditation. It comes through our proficiency in using the Law, our ability to say how it’s going to go. And when we don’t know the answers, we have to stand firmly in our knowing that God knows and that God will provide exactly what we need when we need it.
It’s not enough to wait until the day before the race to work out. We have to anticipate those events that can throw us into inner turmoil and prepare for them—not out of fear, but in spite of it. We have to remember to use those times when we are feeling most threatened to practice our inner knowing, to see ourselves completing the task before us successfully, to keep our eyes focused on what is good and right and not let fear and worry erode the vision we have for our future.
Certainly, there are times when going with the flow is necessary. Surrendering to circumstances can be a powerful strategy. And it’s true that every adversity contains within him or her a lesson. But it’s important to understand that “circumstances” have a tendency to take on a life of their own and can persist long after they are useful or helpful. Sometimes, the lesson to be learned is “learn your lesson and MOVE ON.”
Another saying that is trite but true is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” We should all plan our spiritual development. Spiritual practice is as the term implies: practice—practicing how we will respond in difficult situations. Practice being spiritual outside of your comfort zone. Practice being steady when someone gets in your face, when multiple attempts to complete a task meet with unrelenting failure, and when failure, even your own death, is inevitable.
It’s not what you do that counts; it’s what you do automatically. This more than anything else sums up the meaning of “spiritual practice.” Because when life starts coming at you fast, you won’t have time to think it through. You have to develop a kind of muscle memory in your spiritual life, and you can only do that with daily practice. Set a time to meditate. If you can’t meditate, pray. And if you can’t pray, write. Keep a journal. Write down your highest aspirations, your ideals. Write about what you love, the things that you would do if money were no object. Do something. Some people find strength in ordinary tasks like doing the dishes or cleaning the house. Find the inner equivalent of those kinds of tasks. How would you wash the dishes of your mind? How would you clean the spiritual chambers of your heart? Contemplate these things, and then act on them.
Remember, your most valuable possession is yourself. Be self-possessed. Be like Jesus when he said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Overcome the world!