Peaceful Places: The art of finding peace in reality

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

Dōgen Zenji

‘Truth’, the cornerstone of Buddhism. If people ask me: “What is Buddhism all about?”, I tell them: “It’s about seeing the truth, about seeing the ultimate reality of things as they are: everything is change, everything is perishable and everything is interconnected.” Buddhism is about reality. The collective teachings of the Buddha are known as the dharma, which means ‘reality’ in Sanskrit. Facing reality is thus the main objective of the Buddhist. Escaping from reality is often the objective of the Borderliner. Those are conflicting ideas, oppositions and Buddhism teaches us that binary oppositions do not truly exist. There is a balance in everything, a middle way, a true way. No evil exists without good and no good without evil. Everything is unbiased, nothing exists independently, that is reality.

I grew up in a village, a quiet and peaceful place. I grew up in a hunting family as well, learning to respect nature and everything in it from an early age on. I spent a large part of my life outdoors in the woods. My grandfather always used to say that he didn’t need to go to church to pray or find peace, the woods were his cathedral.  If you walk among the tall trees with the sunlight falling through the fall-coloured canopy, the resemblance to a cathedral is often striking. Whenever I see the (roe)deer walking solemnly through the misty morning meadows in autumn, when I smell the fresh winter leeks when watching the pheasants and hear the creaking soil of first frost underfoot or when I hear the cuckoo call through the spring woods I feel a spiritual connection to the world around me. These moments, these small moments of extreme mindfulness and the feeling of interconnectedness are what Sogyal Rinpoche calls ‘glimpses of the nature of the mind.’Thich Nhat Hanh calls them ‘bells of mindfulness.’ They are moments when you are fully aware of being alive in this world. You can encounter these bells of mindfulness everywhere, be it in quiet places or in the middle of a busy street. Buddhism and many animist traditions taught me that all animals and sentient beings are like brothers and sisters, a feeling I have shared through my entire life. I therefore consciously refrain from taking a life. I even try not to kill mosquitos or wasps, only when they are really trying to sting me. But I’m  drifting off now.

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When I started my archeology and anthropology studies I moved to an agglomeration of big cities to start my student life. Remarkably, I didnt find it hard to adapt to ‘living in the city. There was so much to see, learn and experience there as well and I often found peace in walking through the streets and enjoying life around me. I wanted to be conscious of all things that happened around me, especially because I knew that I would not live here for ever. I deliberately went to lectures and classes on foot, simply to  be more aware of the city around me. Without knowing it, I was practicing mindfulness though seeing the finality of things! I also learned that there are many peaceful places in busy cities as well. Think of parks, graveyards or religious buildings for example (then again, I am also an archaeologist and art historian, so I love being in old buidlings). I’ve spent many hours in churches for example. One time, I was in London and I found peace by attending the evening vespers in a French church. You can always find peace amongst the singing birds in a park or the whispers and burning candles in a chapel for example. It is easier to find peace of mind in peaceful places.

The trick however, is to find peace in every situation. You cannot alway run to a peaceful place. You can not lock yourself away in a safe spot. You will eventually have to go out and face the world, you will have to face reality. Believe me, that shouldn’t be a problem. When I became a Buddhist, I read the book ‘Buddhism plain and simple’ by Steve Hagen. I read it in Dutch and on the cover it said ‘Ontwaak en ontdek wat nooit verandert‘: ‘Awaken and discover that which never changes.” I first thought of the peace of Buddhist temples and I dreamt of meditating somewhere in the Himalaya’s (which I am surely going to do!). I thought that Buddhism was about finding peace physically and I hoped that meditation was about finding a peaceful place in your head. But Hagen refers to the one thing that is constantly changeing, but which never changes: the truth. Meditation is about being mindful and perfectly awake, about totally being present in the present, in the here and now, about seeing the absolute truth in reality and the nature of all things. It’s all about reality and being present in reality.

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Buddhism has taught me to re-connect with reality. By studying the dharma I learned that I needed to confront myself with life directly. It taught me there is no safe place to hide, especially not inside your own head. There is no comfort zone, something I already learned through martial arts. I always thought I could only find peace away from other people, away from reality. In the book ‘Being Dharma’ Ajahn Chah Going says that going to a peaceful place doesn’t bring peace by itself. You can only find peace in your own mind. Through applying the teachings of the dharma, through reflection and meditation (which can perfectly done during daily activities by being mindful of your current thoughts and actions) you will eventually break through your habitus and you will see the ignorance in your own life patterns. You will learn to accept that everything is the way it is, you will learn to let go of pre-defined ideas and concepts of how things should be. I have always disliked modern society because of its hectic ways, its ignorant character, it’s rules and decorum that we should follow in order to ‘be someone.’ Buddhism has learned me to see past it. I see it, I accept it and finally I let it go and stop wasting my energy on being angry or frustrated with modern society. Whenever I get frustrated, I go back to my own mind and I focus on the here and now, on the positive things around me, on reality. There is no problem, as long as I accept reality and don’t turn something into a problem which isn’t a problem to begin with!

When you feel depressed or anxious and when you suffer from agoraphobia, it is often hard to get up and go out there. You want to be alone, but not lonely. But once you do go outside, once you are ready to go out and confront reality, you will come to see that life is truly beautiful and that the world has everything to offer, as long as you can see the reality of things! In the end, the only thing that truly exists is reality and the way you perceive it through your mind. The better you train your mind to be present in reality, the more you will understand reality and the easier you will find peace, not by finding a peaceful place way from reality, but by being present in your own mind. You can be tired of modern society. I am, at lkeast. But society and its ways is just a collection of ignorant self-grasping concepts. If you are truly awake, you will look past those ideas and concepts and you will let them go. That makes life not only bearable, it makes life beautiful.

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The true art is finding peace in the middle of chaos

By applying Buddhism to my life, I have thus learned to find peace inside my own mind. It truly remains an art to find peace among the sounds, sights, noises and images that enter your mind when you’re outside. It’s hard, but it can be done. I did it, although I thought I would never be able to. If you have any questions, as this matter is quite confusing and complex, feel free to ask. Finally, I will tell you, dear reader, how I find peace through my own mind. I find peace through:

– Focusing on possessions through honest effortt. Think of doing honest work which is good for the world and yourself, think of gaining a stronger body  though hiking and training, think of insight through learning, studying and reflection, think of earning love and friendship through being a good person etcetera).
– Joy through sincere compassion and contributing to a better world.
– Tryiong to have no monetary obligations and living within the boundaries of your resources in satisfaction. Only pay for the things which you need to pay, but don’t go create ties to unhealthy instances or people.
– Freedom of guilt through just actions in body, word and mind.

Walking, hiking, trekking and walking meditation are great ways of confronting yourself with reality as well. When I walk, I am constantly mindful of the world around me, as well as of my own thoughts. When I venture out alone, I automatically turn to my thoughts while being awake and consciuously present in the world around me. I am aware of the so-called ‘bells of mindfulness’ around me all the time. It may seem scary to go out alone, take a long walk with no-one but your own self. But once again, being alone doesn’t make you lonely. Give it a try!  I hope you, dear reader, will try to find peace in reality as well. Remember, there is no true safe haven, but your own mind.

 

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