Peace on earth. How possible does that sound right now? More than ever, I now hear stories about life all around the planet. But the tales that make it to my ears usually give me a belly ache of worry or numb disbelief. My conclusion is not Peace on earth, and those words grate against my filter for naivete.
I was so glad to rediscover this Chinese proverb that redirected my jaded view. I was reminded to keep my focus on myself, to tend to the garden of my own mind, and guard my mental sanctuary with kindness.
If there is light in the soul
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person
There will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home
There will be order in the country.
If there is order in the country
There will be peace in the world.
All we can do, all we need to do, is tend to our own exploration of the self. Many traditions speak of inner light, soul, or spirit. Our lives can be well spent contemplating and actively seeking a relationship with this eternal part of ourselves.
Of course we long for stability, some assurance that we will be safe. We try to hold on to anything that seems lasting: the home, the job, the relationship, memories. But none of these can live forever. The inner self, or the soul’s light, is our connection to the eternal. Like the Olympic torch, we try to keep it lit all the time. When we get distracted by everyone else’s behavior, the light moves to the periphery and we may forget it altogether.
If you try to stay aware of danger, say, by opening a tab for the New York Times, right now, you would see these words: leader fights, crisis, who lives, who dies, people missing, oil leak, plane crash.
Notice how your body feels when you read these threatening or concerning words. Where is your breath? Can you feel your belly? How is your connection to the earth? If you feel unsettled, then the news media machine has succeeded! Even though a part of you has the wisdom of experience to know better, you might continue reading, hoping to learn about the resolution of all these crises, from this very source that perposefully tossed them in your path!
You could close the tab, or go to YouTube for some tender puppy and kitten videos. If instead, we turn to the proverb, we see that we’ve skipped to part 4, or “peace in the world”. This is just too ridiculously enormous for any one of us to attempt, and truly naive.
Rather, let’s look to the opening line, “If there is light in the soul”. Of course I say yes, there is light in the soul! We just forget and become disregulated by terrorizing words. Our nervous systems respond the same to scary words as they do to threatening beasts. For sensitive folks, we have to very cautiously monitor what we let in. Protect yourself with kindness: be gentle with yourself when you get overpowered by life, and turn away from the source of harm without adding more damage to anyone.
Embodied practice is the yoga therapy route, and so much longer lasting than the slippery surface of the mind.
For a holistic approach to your soul, try this:
Sit or lie down comfortably. Take a few moments to settle, relaxing any part of your body that’s ready to let go a little. Place one or both hands on your low belly, below your belly button. Feel the breath there, and soften your belly. Imagine your awareness gradually transitioning from your head into your lower abdomen and pelvis. Envision the grains of sand in an hourglass, progressively making their way to the belly, like fans coming to a concert hall.
For today, let’s say that the seat of your soul is this low belly region and your mind wants to experience this mysterious part of you. Let’s also follow the proverb and animate that soul with light. Breathe with the light and come to know it like a true friend. Open to the possibility that this is a living part of you, perhaps an eternal part of you, that wants to be known.
Continue to mingle with and own this light by allowing your belly to inflate on inhalation. Allow your exhalations to be long and complete. Use your breath to spread this sensation of light and the soul into more and more regions of your body. Take your time, exploring each limb, organ and bone. Encourage the light to come all the way to the surface of your skin on inhalation. With the exhalation, feel the movement of breath from the skin, back to the soul. Let this inner sanctuary, your own belly, remain as the soul’s home. Its radiance shines through your skin as beauty.
If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. You have done your part. You are beautiful, regardless of anything that shows outside.
Next, contemplate and feel for all of the lights out there, the souls in every living being. Maybe it’s like a birthday cake, with candles for each year, and the light keeps growing. You could start with those in your home. Maybe the lights are those in the spiders and gnats, or perhaps there are pets and people. In this awareness of the souls, there is harmony.
Keep going, making way for your block, city or country. Could this be the order of the country? Each individual tending their own light, honoring and recognizing all the others? What if we took it globally, to billions and billions of lights, maybe appearing as one huge light, if seen from space. One light. This might feel like peace: we’re all here, focused inwardly and steadily aware of all the others, there in the periphery, all around.
To do your part, just remember your own light. Try to let it shine outwardly while you tend it from within.
I do hope this is helpful.