Life constantly bombards our minds with information. We are besieged on multiple fronts. We constantly must balance predictions with new information and adjust. When we predict wrong, feelings prick our peace and reality demands an answer. These emotional agitations meddle with our enjoyment of living. When life is predictable, we budget appropriate mental energy, and all feels right. The deviations, however, excite the brain; firing neurons signaling a need for change. We must create repeating moments of inner peace and enjoy equanimity.
The feeling affects sprouting from these encounters are organized into full blown emotions. These movements of energy are discomforting. Some people, typically from disruptive childhoods, become accustom to turmoil, find comfort in the drama from extended survival in the dungeons of chaos. The discord, oddly, is their normal state of mind. Quietness of mind is the stranger; peace provokes action to escort out this unwelcome visitor. This is a tragedy. Inner Peace offers many blessings, assisting with integration of experience, and drawing upon hidden wisdom from our past.
Modern Day Noise
Perhaps lack of calmness is an ailment of our time. Many people have lost appreciation for stillness; smart phones compile the junk of the moment that clutter the peaceful places of the mind. Quiet reflection, that occurs during stillness, has great rewards. Consequently, true wisdom smolders in the recesses of memories that only in quietness can ripen and teach. Modern day gadgets, high action games, interactive social media, and constant beeping beckon for our attention, replacing healing reflection, and disrupting inner peace.
Like chain smokers, quietness creates an eerie emptiness that only a fix can resolve, demanding action. A stimulus addiction attacks when the mind is calm. Markedly, the short bursts of emptiness are discomforting, so, we reach for the phone, check stocks, read messages and browse the news. As a result, we interrupt our precious moments of quietness with superficial noise. A tweet, a post, or an Instagram crash through the silence and commandeer our thoughts, creating dependency and distancing us from quality reflection.
When attention is focused, engaging our mind, the minor aches and pains fail to register in consciousness. Focus attention is a skill developed through practice. A failure to purposely reflect, allows the mind to wander during boredom; careless wandering thoughts serve little purpose. The thoughts most likely to breach consciousness tend to be depressive and anxiety ridden. The skilled reflector is practiced, seizing opportunities to reflect with a more balanced agenda.
Daniel Goleman, in his best seller Emotional Intelligence, wrote: “Self-Awareness is not attention that gets carried away by emotions, overreacting and amplifying what is perceived, it is a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions,” (Location 1096). Beneficial reflection isn’t an unstructured wandering mind, chasing emotions and entertaining worries.
Our cognitive powers direct attention. When functioning properly, we temper emotional reactions before they flood our systems and take over, shutting down constructive thought. Hence, we become reactive. Furthermore, unmonitored emotion easily takes over with small deviations from our predictions (expectations). Our reaction may be from the often-mentioned triad of fight, freeze or flee. Fleeing, however, is achieved in many ways. Distraction and avoidance flee discomfort. By picking up a gadget, we direct our thoughts from the discomfort. Instead of confronting life, we escape it, burying attention in the hollow status updates of distant acquaintances.
Inner Peace is Not Emptiness of Mind
Quietness of mind isn’t emptiness. Our minds are always churning. We must give thoughts fodder, or the mind will default to normal diets of worry and guilt. Accordingly, emptiness invites unwanted ruminations. Directed thought engages the mind, purposely focusing on constructive contemplations, reflecting on the wholeness and complexities of life. Basically, our healthy reflection is free of clutter but full of content. By creating healthy space, we can examine feelings, dreams and appropriate questions while maintaining inner peace.
In The Instincts to Heal, David Servan-Schreiber writes that one way to heal the mind is to “bring attention to the content of our thoughts and learn to redirect them more skillfully through practice to wise reflection,” (p.50). Spiritual leader Jack Kornfield concurs. He teaches that after we calm the mind, our “awareness opens and heals the wound,” (p. 111). Bessel van der Kolk identifies the frontal lobes as the local in the brain for self-awareness. The activity of the frontal lobes “allow us to plan and reflect, to imagine and play out future scenarios” ( Location 1129).
Another important function that refines predictions is identifying prediction errors following experience. Here we discover the foundation of wisdom. The more accurate the prediction the smoother our body adapts to the environment.
The less we visit the inner-reservoirs of wisdom hidden within experience, the more discomforting sojourns into reflective examinations become. If moments of quietness are despairing, disrupting inner peace, we have wounds to dress. Basically, by routinely direct attention away from stillness, fleeing the moment through purposeless noise, we lose opportunities to gain wisdom.
Meditation, quiet reflection, a peaceful walk in nature all have healing properties, nurturing our inner peace. Therefore, they keep us grounded, giving a place to sort through complexity and retrieve knowledge.
“Respecting the need for solitude allows the mind to ‘heal’ itself—which in essence can be seen as releasing the natural self-organizational tendencies of the mind to create a balanced flow of states. Solitude permits the self to reflect on engrained patterns and intentionally alter reflexive responses to external events that have been maintaining dyadic dysfunction.” (Siegal, Location 4964)
By failing to integrate the past with the present, we stagnate, retarding essential updates to our autobiographical memory.
Self-Reflection (Looking Inside)
A branch of Buddhism, refined in Japan by Ishin Yoshimoto (1916-1988), developed a practical method of self-reflection called Naikan (inside looking). Yoshimoto’s teachings emphasized growth through self-examination and self-awareness. Self-reflection effectively pushes a pause button, breaking blinding momentums so we can make a more measured evaluation, addressing prediction errors, and refining future choices. (Krech, 2014). Daniel Siegal refers to this as taking ‘time-in.’ These essential moments of ‘time-in’ help reestablish balance and inner peace. In an earlier article, I referred to this as a mindful check in.
We are biologically programmed to react, relying on intuitions. Many intuitive judgments are essential. But with consciousness, we have another survival mechanism better adapted for the complexity of modern problems. Hence, consciousness becomes a work space for multiple inputs from the present and past, creating the ability for measured judgments—the fruit of reflective examinations.
Purposeful reflection intervenes, postponing automatic reflexes, introducing personal intention. We can respond with measured judgments more strategically appropriate for the complexity of living. We make cognitive “choice.” The cognitive approach influences the processing of feelings affects, adjusting the emotional construction, giving opportunity for a constructive response to discomforting deviations from expectations that are disrupting our inner peace.
Reflection and Integration
The integrative properties of reflection update our autobiographical self “to have powerful influences on how we can move beyond implicit echoes of our past experience” (Siegel, 2015).
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that the evolution of self-reflective consciousness allows us to “toy” with feeling. Our consciousness allows feelings to be indulged in for their own sake. (1998). We entertain happiness without improving the outside elements of our lives. We gleefully escape difficulties without improving our futures. However, we can add to our lives through purposeful escapes but they also can interfere with essential and appropriate action. Some discomfort is important to signal error, giving a warning to prediction errors. Instead of manipulating feeling, forcing happiness where meditated concern should reign, we utilize reflection to evaluate and improve.
Naikan encourages specific questions for self-reflection:
- What Have I received from___?
- What have I given to___?
- What trouble and difficulties have I caused___? (Krech, Location 356)
Francis Perkins, the first woman appointed to United States cabinet, suggested these self-probing questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do? (Brooks, 2016) Perkins’s questions remind of John F. Kennedy’s closing statements during his 1961 presidential inauguration speech, “Ask not what your Country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”~Confucius
We can, if we choose, keep filling our free moments with useless fluff, escaping discomfort, and manipulating emotions by infusing pleasure. In conclusion, our carelessness of thought has a cost; we miss opportunities for the noble learning of guided reflection. The choice is yours.
Brooks, D. (2016). The Road to Character. Random House Trade Paperbacks. Read on Kindle Books.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds Series). Basic Books. Read on Kindle Books.
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books. Read on Kindle Books.
Kornfield, J. (1993). A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. Bantam. Read on Kindle Books.
Krech, G. (2014). The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. ToDo Institute Books Read on Kindle Books.
Servan-Schreiber, D. (2005). The Instincts to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress without Drugs and without Talk Therapy. Rodale Books. Read on Kindle Books.
Siegel, D. (2015) The Developing Mind, Second Edition: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press. Read on Kindle Books.
Van Der Kolk, B (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books. Read on Kindle Books.