Jane was walking across the hallway towards her desk. She saw Hannah near the coffee machine, hesitated and said, “Hi”. Hannah totally ignored her, stirring sugar into her coffee, her face cold and distant. Jane felt a pang of hurt and anger. She felt stupid for acknowledging Hannah. Humiliated and angry, she mumbled “Backstabber” and walked off.
Incidents like these play havoc with our peace of mind. I am sure you must have experienced a few of these disturbing emotions yourself. For example –
Lately my manager has been very curt with me. Has he started disliking me?
Why did the neighbour just brush me off?
The man in the store was so rude.
It is difficult to let go of these anxious thoughts, they keep playing inside our minds like a broken record, the stress lingering on, destroying our inner mental peace. We feel victimized, agitated, depressed and stressed.
Add up these bursts of anger and resentment that occur throughout the day – with your partner, boss, etc. and they amount to a whole lot of unhappiness and suffering. Finding inner Peace of mind seems almost impossible in these situations.
In a world filled with arguments and disharmony, we long for scraps of inner calm, trying to find inner peace. But who is going to take the first step towards making it all better? Who will restore peace and balance in the world?
It’s You- The Peace Shifu. (Shifu is a Chinese word, which means master or skillful person)
Angry Me, Angry You- The beginning of suffering
It’s a warm sunny day and you are cheerfully driving on a narrow street. Suddenly, a car cuts across and overtakes you and speeds away. What is your usual reaction?
“What a jerk! Doesn’t know how to drive. Stupid ****.”
You are angry and upset. Your mind is thrown off balance. You curse the driver, maybe honk your horn. Applying compassion in these situations is difficult. The reason is simple – in our mind, we have been wronged. The other person has wronged us and we have been unfairly treated. (Even primates have an inherent sense of fairness: refer to this scientific research- http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0917_030917_monkeyfairness.html )
You try to forgive the driver and try to maintain your peace of mind. But it doesn’t happen. Anger and resentment hijacks our brain.
Peace Shifu – Finding inner peace of mind and calm within yourself
Let’s take the example of the speeding car again. You curse the driver. You get angry. Maybe you say something angry to your wife, who reacts, which makes you even angrier. So now your wife is also upset. Things start going downhill pretty fast from there. You and your partner don’t speak for the entire day. I call this ‘add-on suffering’.
Now let me give you a different perspective of the event, from the speeding driver’s point of view.
The person who overtook you just received a call that his wife had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and the chances of her survival are bleak. He is distraught, trying to reach the hospital, thinking worst thoughts about his beloved. He has two children, aged four and nine. You couldn’t see it, but as he passed you, tears were streaming down his eyes. His wife means the entire world to him, and now she lies on her deathbed. How will he carry on without her? His innocent young children can’t even comprehend the immense loss.
How will you respond now? Will you still call him names and get angry? Or will you be compassionate and just hope he gets to the hospital on time, maybe you would even help him in getting there.
When the situation has been reframed, it makes you peaceful and compassionate. You are not angry and stressed anymore. You drive on the highway of life, finding peace within yourself.
Why does it work?
Because now you do not feel wronged anymore. Your mind feels the action was justified, given the circumstances.
I call the reframing of a situation Alternative Narrative or AltNarrate, a key tool for being a Peace Shifu.
AltNarrate – the key to mental peace and inner calm
Most of the time we instinctively devalue other people’s circumstances by assuming the worst in them. We assume they are rude and behave stupidly because that is their personality. They behave badly because that’s what they are, either good or bad. Aren’t we making assumptions? That lady who was a little off at the customer desk while helping you? You took offence and were ready to talk to her manager. But what if she had just found out that her husband was cheating on her? Would you still judge her as being rude, or give her a little leeway? If you didn’t practice being a Peace Shifu, you would have complained to the manager, leading to further add-on suffering for her, yourself and even the manager. Maybe it would have escalated, with a follow up from the HR department.
A single action of yours can lead to multiple levels of disharmony and suffering for multiple people. A Peace Shifu understands this commonly overlooked phenomenon.
But it is difficult to invoke compassion and empathy in these situations. The brain rebels and hijacks our thought process. What I have learned in the past few years is that the mind needs reasons for compassion, peace and harmony. You need to deal with the mind at its own level. Once the mind finds reasons to be compassionate and kind, it calms down pretty quickly!
The four simple steps to being a Peace Shifu
There are four simple steps to being a Peace Shifu and making the world a better place-
- Finding peace within yourself
When a situation presents, which can potentially lead to stress and disharmony, you need to ask yourself – will getting angry help your inner peace? Does it help the other person’s mental peace? Will it create more suffering for everyone involved? Don’t wait for others to be in harmony and balance. Someone needs to step in and restore peace and balance, and that’s you. Your act of being in peace will automatically help others. Don’t be a peace destroyer, don’t create add on suffering. Instead be a Peace Shifu, the restorer of peace and harmony.
- Analyze the Cost vs. Benefit of your actions.
You cannot use alternative narrative in every situation. Sometimes, losing your peace of mind in the short run could be crucial in preventing further suffering. When you make a choice to act in a certain way, it has implications. For example, if you decide to be a Peace Shifu when your teenage son is insolent, are you cutting him too much slack? If you choose to maintain your inner peace of mind and calm, will this incident somehow create more trouble in the future?
Only you can decide this. If it’s happening from a place of – “I was wronged and I need YOU to realize this and be sorry for it” I would let it go. But if it’s coming from “This behaviour might cause him to go on the wrong path”, then it’s coming from the right place and you need to sacrifice your peace of mind for the larger good in the longer run. Look at it this way- less peace now can sometimes mean more peace for everyone in the future.
- Use AltNarrate
Think of an alternative narrative, and if you are really mad, think of more than one. I sometimes think of multiple imagined scenarios, which helps me to appreciate how many different kinds of unpleasant situations people can be in.
- Be kind and compassionate –Be an awesome Peace Shifu
Try to be a little more kind and compassionate. Everyone is stressed, trying to make sense of this confusing world full of diseases, death and uncertainty. Wouldn’t you appreciate it if you made a mistake and someone applied AltNarrate to your situation? Wouldn’t you love it when a Peace Shifu appeared and made things better for you?
Finding inner peace of mind
Let’s see how the above principles can be put into practice by using them in an imagined scenario.
You are in an upmarket restaurant, celebrating your 4th wedding anniversary. You have planned this event carefully, booked well in advance and you have been greatly looking forward to it. But things are not going smoothly. The waiter seems a little curt. When you ask him about a dish, he replies curtly, enough to upset you. You and your wife start to feel a little uneasy. At this point you need to make a conscious decision; you decide to be a Peace Shifu. Your first priority is finding your inner peace and balance, and thus maintaining peace and harmony around you. This is how your thought process might go:
Would getting upset help my mental peace? Will it help the inner peace and harmony of my wife, the waiter, the manager?
Answer – No. With me getting upset, I start a chain of events, which will cascade and spoil our lovely evening. My being in balance and finding peace within will lead to others being in balance and harmony.
Cost/Benefit – If I keep my inner calm and balance, I will have a memorable evening, which I have been planning for the past 4 months, spending a large sum of money. If I get angry and retaliate, everything will go downhill.
You then employ Alternative Narrative to lessen this urge to vent my anger. You might think on these lines –
I am assuming that the waiter is rude. Maybe this assumption is wrong. Maybe his boss just gave him the terrible news that they would be downsizing and he will be made redundant. You know how awful it is to lose a job, the long, drawn-out process of applying for a new one, the desperation, stress and financial insecurity. No wonder he is behaving erratically. I will cut him some slack.
Suddenly you are less angry and more compassionate towards the waiter and his mistakes. You have found peace within yourself; you do not act on your impulsive anger, which will just create more “add-on suffering” for everyone involved. You and your wife have a lovely dinner and cherish the wonderful memory.
Maybe the waiter was rude; or maybe he was going through a bad patch, you may never know. But by choosing one narrative you destroy your inner calm; choosing another you restore peace for everyone involved.
Reframing a situation using alternative narrative makes it so much easier to show compassion and kindness. You consciously choose to add balance within your life and in the life of people you meet. When a situation arises, use your common sense and find ways to restore balance with this newly learned technique. Everyone gets angry and upset, but you, as a Peace Shifu, know better. You have seen the futility of these quarrels and outbursts, how useless and destructive they are, and will not go down that path again.
When you are a Peace Shifu, you reduce the total suffering load of the planet. Isn’t that amazing!
I have been a Peace Shifu for the past 9 years, and I have enjoyed boundless mental peace and inner calm. My brain is no longer wired to see the worst in everyone. Before I accuse others of being inconsiderate, my brain automatically applies AltNarrate to defuse the anger buildup in my head. I have also found other benefits to practicing this philosophy:
- Since my brain tries to instantly see a bigger and wider perspective, it becomes easier for me to forgive people.
- It’s easier for me to let go of hurtful situations and incidents.
- I have more empathy and compassion.
- I now have a better appreciation of how easy it is to restore inner balance and mental clarity in my life.
- I have a better relationship with people, based on inner peace, compassion, kindness and love.
Feel free to use this technique to enrich your life and find mental peace and inner happiness. And if you find that it has transformed your life for the better, share it. I am on the beautiful journey with you and we can enrich each other by sharing our experiences.