Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom consider the pursuit of inner peace
This week in Chapel I’ve been thinking about the human quest for inner peace. In the Bible when the word peace is used it has a much bigger sense than just being about an absence of conflict. In fact, what it means is ‘wholeness’ and ‘flourishing’. It’s the idea that our mind is untroubled and has a sense of security.
I actually think that inner peace is the thing we’re seeking more than anything: we work hard to get our ‘to do’ list complete because we don’t want it hanging over us; we try hard to impress our colleague because being liked brings us security; we put in hours to earn as much money as we can because we have a sense that it will buy us peace in some way, through pleasure or a sense of safety.
We are driven by the desire for peace. But often we don’t find it for a very simple reason: our minds are not very good at living in the present moment. Living in the present is the only true way I think that we can find peace.
So, what do our minds do instead of living in the present?
First of all, we dwell in the past. Our thoughts ruminate on the things we said, the things we did, our regrets, or perhaps even in nostalgia.
If we’re not in the past, we can find that our thoughts are in the future. We’re planning what we’ll do this evening, at the weekend, next year… and all of this can make us anxious. Why? It’s because we know that we actually have very little power to control the future. Our mind ruminates on everything that we need to do in the future but has no power at this moment to achieve.
The mind then looks for an escape – there’s no peace in the past; there’s no peace in the future. So it escapes to fantasyland – we indulge in daydreaming, wishing that life were more peaceful and straightforward than it is. However, daydreaming might be a little break from reality, but we quickly come back down to earth with a bump, and so we find little peace there either.
This means then that the only place we can truly find peace is in the present moment. Worry, anxiety and the search for peace are nothing new. In the Bible, St. Paul writes this:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.
I think that’s what each of us is truly seeking – a peace that surpasses understanding – and so I make three suggestions about how to find it.
The first is prayer. Our minds can be so crowded by these worries about the past and the future that we sometimes feel like our heads are going to explode. St. Paul advises that in prayer we can make our requests known to God. It’s my experience that always leads me to feel more peaceful. Why not try it, even if you don’t believe in God?
The second thing we can do is give thanks. Again, in the passage above St. Paul says that we should pray with thanksgiving – and the reason of course is that it reminds of the good that is in our lives and stops our minds from always focussing on the negative.
Once we have prayed and given thanks the third thing we might do is be silent. Here I find that lighting a candle helps. In the silence our minds go through that anxious cycle of thinking about the past and the future. But if we can find a focus – like a candle or the rhythm of our breath – we can still ourselves and just be in the present.
When we discover inner peace, then we are more likely to be a source for peace for all around us.