Recently I have been catching myself with a feeling of sadness and wondering why? Consequently, I have spent some quiet time going to my inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions to find our why? This experience has given me clarity and I now understand why I have been having this very strong emotion of sadness.
I feel sad because so many people I know and those whom I observe on the television and when listening to the radio seem so full of distress. Currently in the UK there appears to be a cauldron of fear and anxiety bubbling beneath the social fabric, poised to spill over into anti-social actions.
Words such as Brexit, Politicians, Election all generally tend to generate feelings of overwhelm; anger or disillusionment in people of all political complexions, which has produced a situation which I sense is very dangerous.
What my reading of history has taught me is that when people like you and me feel this heightened degree of distress, then we feel deeply peace-less inside. This state of being is often felt as a real sensation in the pit of our stomachs. If many people in society feel this degree of ‘peacesslessness’ then harmful actions can be taken that reflect this internal distress, creating cultural entropy – the fabric of society deteriorates.
As an example of this process, consider the situation in the 1930’s in Germany. Following the First World War the German people felt unfairly treated economically. There was a feeling of general distress in the population that created the social conditions for the rise of Hitler. Individual ‘peacelessness’ when combined with that felt by others became the catalyst for extremism, which promises to rectify the problems with solutions. The solutions unfairly targeted parts of the population as the cause of everyone’s distress.
Recently, I was in the United States and was alarmed to see how a section of society was unfairly turning the spotlight on minority groups who then felt victimised. Here in the UK, simplistic polarisation of arguments by politicians and the media during the General Election campaign is creating a social climate where people speak and act from a position of self-interest, disregarding the needs of others. This general peacelessness spawns the conditions for leaders to gain power who harness this negative energy.
We humans are capable of great compassion and unbelievable cruelty. We carry this duality of behaviour in our cultural DNA. Is there a solution? How can we think, feel and act from a place of altruism (thinking about the good of others)? How can we create the necessary feeling of peacefulness, despite external conditions, which make us act humanely both individually and collectively? My experience of values-based education has taught me that there is a way to embody peacefulness. The method requires each of us to actively raise our level of conscious awareness so that we can have empathy or others and live other positive values such as respect, justice and trust.
What is the method? The key to being peaceful is to train the mind to be calm. This is done by deliberately having pause times in our busy days, when we stop and go inward to sense and scan the state of our minds. As we do this we bring our mind’s attention to our breathing, which becomes deeper. As our mind wanders to other thoughts we bring it gentle back to being conscious about our breathing. As this process continues we feel calm. Regular practice teaches the mind that calmness is its natural state and that thoughts need not disturb its tranquillity.
Despite humans knowing this life-changing method for thousands of years it still hasn’t generally caught on. This probably is because our brains are programmed to tell us to be doers and not to waste time being still and quiet. Therefore it is challenging to make it a personal habit.
I think families can be the solution to making such techniques daily practices. By creating calm times during the day parents give their children the gift of self-regulation – the ability to chose appropriate behaviour.
I attach to this article a video as an example of a family who create times for calmness. In this video the family is travelling in their car; the parents have told the children that they are all going to enjoy a calm time and play some appropriate calming music.
Values-based schools deliberately teach children to be calm and the impact is tangible in terms of improved behaviour and enhanced achievement. Above all such schools and families are nurturing those aspects of us that can create a more peaceful and caring society, which looks after the needs of all and the sustainability of our beautiful world. Positive change is in your hands or should I say your minds.