• How to use your life as an inner peace learning lab

    December 12, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • inner peace learning labWouldn’t it be nice if there were a free class you could take to help you feel more peaceful and content? And wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to take extra time out of your day to do the lessons? Even better, what if those lessons could be delivered to you on the fly, wherever you happened to be at the time?

    The truth is there is a class like that. Not only that – surprise! – you’re already enrolled in it.

    The name of the class? Life! And the lessons show up each and every time things don’t go exactly the way you want them to.

    The inner path to peace

    Here’s the thing. You’re never going to find lasting happiness and peace by getting your circumstances just right. At some point, something will always bump up against how you want it to be – usually sooner than later.

    The only way to find a more lasting sense of peace is through working with exactly those points of friction that disturb your peace. As the saying goes, what’s in the way is the way.

    Professor Life: A patient and persistent teacher

    I like to think of life as this incredibly persistent teacher. We say we want inner peace, so Professor Life gives us an opportunity to work towards it.

    We get a lesson to work through, and we say, “No-no-no-no-no! Stop disturbing my peace!” Rather than see the undesired circumstance as a learning lab, we resist it. We insist it should be different than it is.

    “Come on, Life! I asked for inner peace and all you’re doing is giving me more and more inner strife. Are you deaf or something??”

    But Professor Life is infinitely patient. We’re ignoring today’s lab experiment? No problem. Another one will be on the way again soon.

    And they’ll keep coming, until we finally decide to put them to use.

    How to make your life an inner peace learning lab

    Fortunately, for most of us life isn’t one devastating blow after another. The big lessons do come on occasion, but mostly what we get is the irritating-gnat version. We get in the slow line at the grocery store. We get caught in traffic. A co-worker jabbers on incessantly in a meeting about nothing in particular.

    These irritations might seem like they’re getting in the way of your happiness, but when it comes to the inner path to peace, they’re pure gold.

    I often talk about the big power of small irritations. The big things can overwhelm us. But the small things offer a golden opportunity to regularly and repeatedly work with our resistance to whatever is.

    And the better we get at letting go of that resistance and not getting caught up in the story, the more peace we’ll feel. It’s that simple. 

    So for example, let’s say you’re in that slow grocery store line I mentioned and you catch yourself harumphing and rolling your eyes at the checkout clerk who’s just a little too chatty, and the line that is moving twice as slowly as the ones next to you.

    Not exactly a model for being the change you want to see, is it? Not to mention, it just feels crappy!

    Once you notice (awareness is always the starting point), the lab experiment can begin.

    Using four of the six pillars of The Aliveness CODE as a framework, the ideas below are just a small sampling of how you can use that experience as a learning lab, loosening the grip of that irritation.

    Grounding & Presence

    A low-grade irritation like this is a perfect opportunity to practice both coming back to center and being more mindful. You might, for example:

    Pause and focus on your breath for ten breaths. Pay attention to the sensation of the breath as it goes in and out.

    Focus your attention on the physical sensation of that irritation. Is it a tightness in your chest? A tension in your shoulders? A furrowed brow? Where do you carry it? Experiment with letting go of your thoughts about the situation, and directly experiencing the physical aspect.

    Story Management

    Any time you feel something with a constricting effect (like irritation), you can be sure there’s a story behind it. To explore Story Management while you wait in line, you might:

    Ask, “What story am I telling?” You always have a story. That’s how our minds make sense of the world. This is a good chance to step back from your reaction and practice looking for the story behind it. Your story might be as simple as, “This line should be moving faster.”

    Ask, “What if it’s OK?” This is one of my favorite story management exercises. Imagine that it’s OK that the line is moving slowly, and that you had no resistance to it. How would that feel? This is a good opportunity to practice letting go.

    Focus Management

    When you’re irritated by a slow moving line, your focus is on what’s wrong. This is the perfect time to practice shifting your focus to something more life-enhancing. For example, you might:

    Practice asking, “What’s right here?” Almost every moment brings with it things that are “right,” if we look for them. You might notice how the person talking to the clerk lit up with a smile at the clerk’s friendliness. Or the fact that you’re standing there with ready access to such an abundance of food. Or the consideration the person in front of you showed by making room on the conveyor for your purchases.

    Use the time to make a gratitude list. You’re standing there doing nothing. Why not shift your focus to finding things to be grateful for in your life?

    Heart Engagement

    Practice self-compassion. Whenever you’re feeling bent out of shape is the perfect time for a little self-compassion. Nobody likes feeling that way. It’s unpleasant. Painful even. Stop and acknowledge that you’re having a challenging experience. Be kind to yourself. Comfort yourself.

    Practice kindness. Look for opportunities to practice kindness while you stand there. Make room for the person behind you. Smile at someone. When you get to the check-out clerk, look them in the eye and ask sincerely how their day is going. Be interested.

    What’s the point?

    So what’s the point of all these exercises? Well, it’s two-fold, really.

    The first point is just to make it less irritating to be standing there in the slow line. The exercises I outlined don’t change the circumstances – you’re still standing there waiting. What they have the potential to do is change your experience of those circumstances.

    That’s good, but the second point is even better. As you do this over and over with the opportunities to practice that life sends your way, you slowly develop a different way of engaging. You develop a set of tools that help you be less reactive. You develop new habits. At a very nuts-and-bolts level, you’re actually changing wiring in your brain.

    The more you use life’s small irritations as opportunities to cultivate inner peace, the more adept you get at it. And the better you get at it, the more established those habits and tools will be to help you navigate even bigger challenges.

    Bottom line, you will always run into places where life doesn’t cooperate with your ideal script. You can either hit those spots and clench up in resistance, or you can use them to develop a greater inner peace.

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