In a world of 8 billion people, it is hard to achieve peace and meaning in a constructive way. When we rush round seeking external goals, for instance, we tread on each other’s toes
SUPERFICIAL PEACE AND MEANING
Perhaps the two easiest ways of achieving some superficial peace and meaning are social conformity and goal orientation.
- Social conformity has the psychological advantage of being easily supported by your environment. As long as you conform to the power structures around you, you can feel defended in what you do. If you are a religious follower, and you focus on being obedient, your religious structure will usually protect you. if you are a worker, and you follow the procedures, work wll usually protect you.
- Setting goals has the psychological advantage of giving operational focus and clarity. As long as you do not question too much what the goal is, you can subordinate your behaviour, and your decision-making progress, to its achievement. Humans find this energising and rewarding in the short term. If a director is focused on making a profit, a lot of other things fall into place. If a country’s government is focused on a set of statistical goals (GDP, employment, etc), many actions start feeling justified. If a person sets a weight loss goal, they can then choose a program that suits the goal.
DEEPER PEACE AND MEANING
Two more difficult ways of finding peace and meaning are learning to accept everything, and seeking to understand things exactly as they are.
- Seeking to accept everything is psychologically difficult, because it involves making oneself vulnerable to the moment. It is hard for the selfish mind, because it involves dropping the personal desire to mould the world to one’s wishes. The longer term reward, however, is peace. Once acceptance is achieved, then we are mentally more balanced, and far less emotionally disrupted by events.
- Seeking understanding is difficult, because it involves working on the removal of all partiality and bias until clarity is found. Again, this is hard for the selfish mind, because there is no guarantee that this clarity will be consistent with our own desires. We are tempted to hide in delusion again. The reward for understanding, clarity and awareness, though, is that we feel less distracted by confusion.
In general, if you want the easy way to achieve change, then conform to your local power structure, and set goals consistent with it. However, bear in mind that, whenever you identify too much with a locally available ideology, you are in effect picking a set of solutions off the shelf, without much critical review or inner work.
If those adopted goals or power structures fail, you will be vulnerable. This is because you will have become dependent on a mutually exploitative relationship with your surroundings. You have let your environment lead your development. This is the pitfall of cult following without critical review.
If you want a more creative way to achieve change, then seek to accept everything, and seek to understand everything. If you can find acceptance and wisdom in your own mind, then you are, mentally, far less vulnerable to the vagaries of power structures. This is because you are involved in a non-violent, non-exploitative relationship with your surroundings.
When I say ‘accept everything’, I am not encouraging a failure to respond. A good tennis player ‘accepts’ the shots from the other side, and then takes responsibility for returning their own shots. This is acceptance with responsibility.
This is not to say that superficial techniques do not have their uses. Conforming with our surroundings, in moderation, may provide some psychological support. Equally, setting temporary goals can be psychologically protective by giving us an action structure to work with.
But if we want longer lasting, internally produced, support and protection, then we can work on our own ability to achieve inner acceptance, and inner understanding. This is like wearing good shoes, rather than needing all paths you walk on to be lined and softened for you.
- For superficial peace, learn to conform
- For superficial meaning, set goals
- For deep peace, learn acceptance
- For deep meaning, gain understanding
In graphic form: