“Peace in ourselves, peace in our world,” says Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. In the spirit of that message and in preparation for this month’s full-day peace retreat (using mindfulness and character strengths as pathways), I offer a recent personal story as well as a glimpse into brand new research on inner peace (so new it is not even published yet!). --Dr. Ryan Niemiec, VIA Education Director
INNER PEACE ----> FAMILY PEACE
Picture this: a family of 5 (mine) in desperate need of a short vacation following months of work with no days off. There are three wild and rambunctious, sometimes-defiant, always-lovely kids in the mix. The family eagerly anticipates the powdered white sand beaches, stunning ocean waves, and hours of peaceful and necessary self-care time. What happens next, after two days, was a surprise: 80% of the family gets sick and each needs some kind of treatment. Each illness is distinct indicating no spread of anything across the family. There is no COVID, but there is contagious flu, contagious strep throat, an unknown virus, and an ear infection pouring out puss.
What do you imagine the self-talk might be for the family members? Perhaps it would be…What is going on - how could this happen? This is terrible timing. How unfair, this was our one trip! Why us? Frustration. Disappointment. Pity parties - primed and ready.
But, that was not the self-talk. Well, it was not a dominant part of the self-talk!
Let me share what led up to this. Upon arrival at the beach, I started a new and unusual (for me) custom of rising a couple hours in the morning before the kids awakened to sit on the balcony of our villa and “be” with the ocean. The vastness and rhythmic waves aligned with my breathing. I read books relating to peace, spirituality, and gentleness. I practiced slow tai chi movements on the soft sand. I wrote short stories and poems about life, as they came to me. I marveled at the vastness and the mystery of nature. In other words, I created space for peacefulness within. I was aided by the ocean and was supported by the structure of the new habit.
The result of this inner peacefulness creation was my being present and refreshed for my family. By the time the adversity of the various sicknesses greeted us, I was carrying more peace and was prone to a mindset of nonreactivity, perhaps equanimity. I was ready to act in a more optimal, caring way than if I had simply woken up and turned on the television or collapsed into my standard morning routine.
As my family and I look back on the trip, we acknowledge the uniqueness and the poor timing of the various illnesses, but we respond to them with a smile and a chuckle. We place the majority of our attention on the memories of beach walks and family play, and we consider the trip a nice success.
I take with me the wisdom of the ocean. The ocean waves had ranged daily from aggressive 8-footers to calm, almost-impossibly-still waters. I see the same aggressive and peaceful rhythms in myself. I can observe these rhythms like the rise and fall of the waves.
NEW RESEARCH ON INNER PEACE
In a study of more than 21,000 subjects, Valerie Wood, Lobna Chérif, and I examined two measures of inner peace alongside the 24 character strengths. Since this study is not yet published, I will limit my sharing to only a couple of the findings.
One central finding was that the character strength of hope came out on top as most connected with the different ways of measuring inner peace. A second, consistent and intriguing finding was that judgment was negatively associated with inner peace. Together these two findings suggest that inner peace might be cultivated by an approach that builds positive, optimistic thoughts and feelings about one’s present moment and future, while managing one’s tendency to self-criticize and to get locked into analysis and details.
Let’s take these research findings and use them in a short meditation. Recite to yourself and imagine these words as a practice throughout the day. You might do this when you are worried, overthinking, negativistic, stressed, bored, or even feeling happy.
Breathing in, I build strength of hope,
Breathing out, I release my inner critic,
(Inhaling) Dwelling in positive energy
(Exhaling) I feel at peace.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PRACTICE BEING MORE MINDFUL?
If you resonate with this briefing, you’ll be curious to know the VIA Institute will offer its first-ever, all-day peace retreat on Friday, May 20th. This will involve practicing mindful living, meditation, and character strengths all with a lens toward fostering greater inner and relational peace. It will be a day of tremendous opportunity for insight and personal growth.