A lot of us wake up every day wishing for a more peaceful existence. We’d like nothing better than to open our eyes joyfully looking forward to what the day has in store for us. Life would be better, for a clear and happy mind would be a welcome difference. Having such a reality come true would be a change most of us would like to keep.
But the average person doesn’t know how to make this transition. Instead of using life to create peace for ourselves and others, we let it control us. For example, we may slowly wake up and get out of bed, not anticipating a good day, go to the kitchen for a less than healthy breakfast, turn on the news for a dose of the negative, drive to work in heavily, contaminated traffic, experience conflicts with unhappy colleagues, superiors, or family members, and go to sleep in a debt-ridden home. While this may be an overstatement, it gets at the fact that we all face situations that upset us, no matter if it’s the litter we see on the side of the road, a small argument with the spouse, or a disagreement with our teenage children.
These situations and others like them gnaw at us, and we permit them to get us down. Perhaps, we get angry, feel lost, shout at the world, or even try to drown our troubles. For example, when I look at my own life, I see where I’ve gone through such periods of difficulty. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to do or say ridiculous things and hurt the people around me. I went through several divorces and periods of unsatisfactory employment because I really didn’t have a handle on how to be my own alchemist—that is, convert the negative into something workable. I just didn’t understand what one of the wisest men in the world had meant when he said that everything upsetting us is only a projection of what we haven't resolved within ourselves.
This teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni was exactly what I wasn’t dealing with. Fortunately, it wasn’t a sermon like many others that came without a method to dissolve the projections. I’d had plenty of those in my life, and I didn’t want any more.
As most of us have learned, changing anything we perceive as negative into something positive is a real challenge. We hear this from all the self-help talks on television and say, “Yeah, right.” Then we just wait for someone to fix us.
Conversely, becoming our own alchemist means that we look at everything coming to us in life as an opportunity for greater peace and happiness. We start with the little things around us and gradually work up to the big stuff.
For example, here in Mexico the law really isn’t strongly enforced, so people get away with a lot of things. When I walk from our home to our nearby village, I frequently see litter on the side of the street. Sometimes I even see it being thrown away by a mother walking with her child. Instead of doing nothing, I observe the reaction inside of myself, which is usually an angry feeling, until it becomes peaceful and balanced. This technique works because the energy of focusing on the object of attention, anger in this case, functions like a laser beam. Afterwards, I can take some action that isn’t based on emotion—I might even pick up the garbage.
Of course, while just mechanically concentrating on the upsetting feeling usually remedies the situation, it’s important to understand that it also involves presence. According to Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now”, our troubles come from being in the past or the future. In the case of the litter, just seeing it throws many of us into the past. If we think about the mountains of garbage that could emerge in the future if something isn’t done now, then we’re in the future. We’re suffering in both cases. However, as we focus on transforming the upsetting sensation we feel into a peaceful balance, we’re in the present and we’re not suffering. In fact, if we keep our focus on the present most of the time, we’ll suffer less and our days will improve.
The case I’ve given here is but one illustration of what we can do for ourselves. It also works for small disagreements at home or at work. Also, instead of showing our anger at other drivers, we can say thank you for the opportunity to grow and smile as they drive away. Even the hurtful remarks by bullies at school or work can be transformed into the positive.
The clarity that comes from this method of dealing with daily issues shows us what action we need to take, if any, after regaining our peace. Certainly, we can’t continue to let the bully badger us every time we encounter him or her. Also, we can simply let the arrogant drivers go on their way—we don’t have to continue to think about them. And we can quietly say “thank you” for the small disagreements with others that gradually help us to become more peacefully competent. Such clarity often inspires a healthy attitude for whatever confronts us in our lives—even to have the will to deal with the larger issues, i.e., divorce, addiction, bankruptcy, death, and more.
A more peaceful life would be a change the majority of us would choose to try and maintain. Learning how to create harmony in daily living, even looking forward to doing it, and enjoying our own alchemy could encourage us to maintain presence instead of letting life control us. The newfound clarity, although not gained overnight, adds a certain confidence we haven’t had before. We learn that we don’t have to spend hours on a cushion in the Himalayas to attain tranquility, although an hour or so a day would be quite beneficial. Why not change the previously debilitating issues of everyday living into strengths and experience a more peaceful life? You wouldn’t be alone.