Watercolor by Samarra Burnett
And What Works For Me.
Peace of mind does not exist in my world. In my experience, minds are not peaceful. I have experienced that it's possible for myself and others to become more peaceful of mind, I am relatively sure of that. (Pun intended.) But I've never experienced, nor have I felt that anyone else was experiencing, any kind of pure peace of mind.
Only two things have actually brought some measure of peace to my mind. One has been accepting the parts of me that are not peaceful, never have been, and probably never will be. And the other has been doing what feels most deeply right to me.
By admitting to myself that I was competitive, aggressive, lustful, angry, violent and warlike, I invited these parts of myself to be full fledged members of the family or parliament in my head. They didn't have to become outlaws and "demons" to be fought with, and ultimately defeated by. When accepted and allowed to have their say, these so-called “darker” parts of myself began to relax somewhat. I didn't fight them, I just tempered them. And they didn't fight me, they just made themselves known. The lack of fighting between me and my darker side resulted in, obviously, less fighting. And less fighting in my mind meant more peace in my mind.
I find this to be true again and again. I have more peace in my mind when I accept the war in my mind. Certainly more than I do when I try to be peaceful. Trying to be peaceful seems like a contradiction in terms to me, like being determined to relax, or trying to lift a chair I’m sitting in.
I call myself a Freestyle Taoist because rather than the 1200+ volumes that comprise the orthodox Taoist canon, I focus instead on 4 words: Flow more~Force less. This is the heart of my life, both as T'ai-Chi teacher and as a singer/songwriter. But how do I actually do this without fighting myself? I've spent over 25 years studying and learning how to "flow more~force less" in countless training exercises within the T'ai-Chi system. I've spent even longer working on reducing wasted effort as a singer, writer, and performer. And yet I still force things all the time.
What’s important to me in life is not so much what I hit as what I’m aiming for. And what I’m aiming for is what I call "the unforced life”, the life that I don't have to force myself to live, a life without excessive use of force, where each action is done with the just the right amount of energy needed to achieve its ends. I've studied this on a daily basis for decades and still, what progress I've made has been slow and steady, with many, many very small steps.
Each one of these steps involved letting go of some little skirmish going on inside myself, a skirmish that felt like a life and death struggle to whatever parts of me were fighting. One by one, each little battle would reach a place where surrender was the only option, and that battle would be over. My shoulder muscles would relax and sink. A martial technique would soften and become more effective. My hands would find the sound I wanted to make on my guitar. My voice would open a bit. I’d find the words I was looking for. And once again, a small measure of peace emerged.
I don't know any way to do this other than gradually, by accepting whatever is happening inside and outside of me. Not liking it necessarily, but accepting it, accepting that it's happening. Things are always changing and conflict seems an inevitable part human nature, but when I've accepted what's going on, in and around me, at least I’m not adding to the conflicts.
With less preoccupying conflict in my life, it’s easier to identify what feels most deeply right to me and easier to act on it. I've learned to trust this "most deeply right" feeling completely. I know it will lead me to something ultimately beneficial, either directly, or indirectly through painful lessons. As I've gotten better at listening to and identifying this inner "right" feeling, there have been less and less painful lessons, more flow and less force, more directly satisfying experiences of my self and the world around me, and yes, even a bit more peace of mind.