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Finding Peace: A Taste of Mindfulness

When we are ill and don't know it, we are in a state of ignorance or delusion. We don't view ourselves as sick, so we don't believe it's necessary to go to a doctor or take any medication. We fail to recognize our own need for care and support.

The same is true of someone suffering from afflictions of the mind - ill will, ego, doubt, and frustration due to unfulfilled desires. We rarely recognize the symptoms, and if we do, we don't know how to change in order to live with greater harmony and personal power. In order to understand what is limiting us, we must learn how to see, isolate and intentionally respond to these mental obstacles.

In Sri Lanka, people frequently talk about peace. For more than 21 years, our country has been struggling for peace in a process complicated by politics, religion, economics and ethnicity. We dream of living without conflict. We long for peace to bloom in our nation.

But sometimes I feel this peace is only a dream. How can we overcome the tremendous obstacles in order to live in harmony here?

During one of my spiritual travels in northeastern Sri Lanka, I happened to stop at a tiny rural village. While eating a simple meal, I met a very poor, innocent-looking girl. She was about 16, and had spent her entire life in this war-torn area of poverty and despair.

In our conversation, it became clear that she had no concept of life without violence. She had lost her relatives, feared for her own life, and experienced the ravages of hunger and homelessness on a daily basis. I was struck by her suffering. Her appearance conveyed only a hint of what she had endured. She looked calm and peaceful, but underneath that serene countenance was a bubbling cauldron of pain, fear, hopelessness, and despair.

Most striking of all was that she was completely unaware of the effects of her chronic mental anguish. She had not even a vague understanding that her suffering created such insurmountable obstacles to peace and harmony in her own mind. She knew nothing other than what her life had shown her, and was so completely immersed in her suffering that she could not see the toll it had taken.

A few days later, I was in the bustling city of Colombo. I saw many people going about their business, and noticed that same innocent, eerily peaceful look that I'd first noticed about the young girl. I had to wonder what kind of suffering they were experiencing under their own smiling masks.

We always sympathize with the unhappiness and sorrow of others. We help people all the time, and this is good and kind of us. But we fail to realize that we ourselves are suffering. Everything that happens in the world affects us all. The relentless desire for more of everything is a driving factor that leaves behind unhappiness and discontentment.

We know this. We feel it in our hearts.

In order to relieve ourselves of this suffering, we must first learn how to still our minds. There are many special mindfulness meditation techniques that have been practiced by thousands of people with tremendous benefits. The key is to remember that you are your own master. When you start practicing mindfulness, little by little you will be able to clear your mind of your continuous racing thoughts. You must attain this stillness in order to clearly see and understand your limiting thoughts and self-constructed obstacles to peace and harmony. With practice, you will be able to come to this still and clear state of mind and overcome your mental ailments completely.

Here's a simple exercise that will give you a taste of mindfulness meditation, which is often called vipassana meditation. Find a peaceful place - your bedroom, veranda, garden, or even your office. Sit in a comfortable position keeping your spine erect so that you can breathe easily. Close your eyes if you like, or simply allow them to develop a soft, unfocused gaze.

Now, breathe deeply and completely for a few minutes, focusing your mind on the flow of your breath. Allow your body to relax while keeping your back straight. Watch your breath as it goes in and out, in and out. As you concentrate on your breath, you will notice that your mind becomes more settled. Your breath will become smooth and even. Continue in this state for several minutes, and finish your meditation with several deep breaths.

By practicing this simple exercise, you will train your mind to become still. Continuous sessions of mental calm will bring you deeper clarity and a greater understanding of the source of your mental suffering.

See it. Recognize it. Focus on releasing it.

Finding peace in your nation begins with finding peace in yourself. Let's work on peace as individuals, and create greater harmony together. We could all benefit from a taste of mindfulness.

Deva Ratnakara has been teaching yoga and mindfuless for over 20 years. He lives in Sri Lanka where he is the head of a 500-member meditation group. To learn about his yoga and mindfulness retreat in Sri Lanka in February 2005, please visit http://truemindfulness.org.


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