Peace is the opposite of fuss, anxiety, worry, inner turmoil. Psychologically, it is a healthy state, in which the mind is not at war with itself, and is not fearful of the world. Inner conflict, and fear, are perhaps the most common barriers to peace.
THE EXISTENTIAL PROBLEM OF BEING ALIVE
Peace is different from death. When we die, we cease to be able to act in the world. Complete cessation of action is one version of peace. Even a stone has that. If we want to remain intentional beings, and to participate in life, then we need to find ways of handling fuss and inner turmoil without losing control of ourselves, and encountering a sometimes fearsome world without fear.
Moderation is a good way in. When we experience inner turmoil, we tend to escalate. This is partly a result of our evolution. Beings which exaggerate alarm arguably stay safer. But good mental health depends on moderating this escalation, so that things don’t spiral out of control. When we argue with others, or when others provoke us, this is our opportunity to practice the skill of moderation.
INTERRUPTING THE ALARM
One meaning of the word moderation is intervention. We need to be able to interrupt our own alarm, so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. When in arguments, we need to be able to act ourselves, without waiting for the other person to de-escalate. To do this, we need a certain amount of detachment. Mindfulness is another word for it. When we are mindful, we are able to sit apart from the fuss, and therefore we have some mastery over it.
Moderation is also a good way to handle fear. We find the company of others reassuring because their presence moderates, or interrupts, our sense of vulnerability. Cognitively, we can reassure ourselves by observing whether the things we fear actually happen (usually they don’t, at least not in the devastating way we think they will). In all cases, moderation, social or cognitive, teaches our minds that the probability of bad things happening is much lower than we think and feel.
We can pay attention to our inner state, and observe whether or not we feel at peace. There is no doubt peace is easier when we have slept well, and are in kind company. This is largely because our inner powers of moderation are stronger: hormones can help us to achieve homeostasis more quickly, and better cognitive functioning can help us to calibrate our alarm systems, so that they fall asleep when they are not needed.
At times with less sleep, and more isolation, we can use our meditation practice to achieve peace. Meditation is the art of observing without alarmed inner disruption. We learn to watch the world without judging it or trying to change it. This can be extremely restful.
Some people are so addicted to sending out distress signals that they almost cannot reach their peaceful centre. They insist on burdening others with their problems, without relief or release. We all do this to a certain extent. It’s nice to share problems, and solve them together. But when the distress signals become overwhelming to others, then it’s time to consider whether we can operate differently.
When we are at peace, and are managing our own responses to life, then we can communicate our concerns much more effectively, without creating unnecessary turmoil. We will still be disturbed sometimes, but our mission will be to find our own way back to peace, and not to disturb the whole world in response to our own trauma.
In finding peace, sleep and good friends help enormously. But when sleep and friends are scarce, we can take up the practice of meditation, which enhances our own ability to stay peaceful, whatever the situation.