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The art of personal peace. (Stresslines).

Dictionaries define peace as a state of tranquillity or freedom from agitation. When we are thinking wisely, we define peace as a blessing.

Although few of us achieve tranquillity as a permanent state, we cherish our moments of peacefulness as a respite from the stress and pressures that haunt us in our individual searches for the tools that will make our lives better. Infrequently do we consider peace itself as one of the significant tools, let alone the object of the search.

In truth, some of us prefer a state of agitation as a more rewarding condition: Being stirred up assures: a vibrant existence, even if the vibrancy borders on lunacy. To the unfamiliar, tranquillity may be mistaken for boredom; absence of effort; or, worst of all, a threat.

Don't we all know a few type-As who would implode if ever their lives were peaceful enough to conduct a moment of genuine self-examination? They are well aware of the old Chinese proverb: Those who fide the back of the tiger should be very careful on the dismount. At times, all of us avoid peace because we fear what we might find within ourselves if we allow quiet contemplation to have its due.

In a culture that places such premium on achievement and accomplishment, peace remains a confusing possibility. A little here and there might nourish the spirit, but caution warns about too much of a good thing.

Many people may appreciate a little less jangle in the nervous system--but not enough to risk losing the edge that maintains position in the rat race. If we unconsciously associate the prospect of a more enduring state of composure with loss of mastery, that prospect will never hold sufficient power to motivate a search adequate to the conquest of obstacles.

Peace as Mastery

Unlike failing memory and back problems, peace will not find us simply because we grow older, slow down, and outlive our indiscretions and immaturities.

It's not something that happens to us against our will or wishes. Oh, the coffin does that: Rigor mortis beats a quicker path to those who spend their lives rushing down the highway of death without thought of peaceful rest stops. The highway of death? Yes, the ambitiously dutiful, driven, down-and-dirty dynamics of professional life that regard personal growth as an unnecessary luxury. That formula invariably disguises a lack of control even in those who look like gifted controllers, What is less masterful than the inability to manage oneself peacefully when need be?

Since growing peaceful is much like taming the whirlwind, finding peace when we need it is likely the highest form of self-mastery.

When our lives have been dedicated to higher-gear action, our psychic apparatus keeps on whirring even when we try to shut down the engine, Thus, peace requires a new and unique mastery of the psychic machinery that we rev on a daily basis: Sovereignty of all that we have come to be plus command of how we choose to be in different moments of our lives.

Such self-possession enables us to exercise the power of discretion. We refrain and contain without stuffing feelings or blocking affect. We recognize blind alleys without having to travel the maze. We use our experience to inform us about situations as they develop. We make decisions based on the merits rather than impulse, unconscious agendas, or conflicting, motivations. We also make decisions about taking action or simply remaining above the fray.

Peaceful does not mean chicken hearted. The tiger is peaceful. The tiger's patience before the pounce creates better decisions about when and if to pounce at all. We will not find peace if we do not learn to choose our battles wisely and infrequently.

Where Does it Start?

In an inherently adversarial profession, lawyers might contend that any hope for personal peace got flushed when they began counting billable hours with a micrometer.

In truth, those who are predictably exposed to intense scrutiny and hot-blooded interactions have an even greater need to develop strategies for cooling off and calming down. Peacefulness is not an event, like locating a calm button in our response repertory. Rather, it must be' cultivated as a quality of personhood that overlooks the irrelevant and distinguishes worthy action from' the simple whirr of the engine.

Serious movement toward peace usually arises in consternation, namely allowing the conflicts and contradictions in our lives to surface undisguised, undenied, and unwanted.

We begin the journey toward cultivating an inner calm because we're able to recognize the fruitlessness of various hassles in our lives. Usually, we cannot find the motivation to reconcile conflicts and contradictions until we have been exposed sufficiently to having conducted ourselves badly as an object lesson in how not to do it.

The conflicts between ourselves and others are obvious enough: bruises on the knuckles or the noggin, not to mention the havoc we might wreak for others. For what? A start toward peaceful mind begins by identifying the conflicts that don't seem necessary; in time, that list might grow. Sometimes, the price of peace requires the termination of hopelessly conflictual relationships. The conflicts within ourselves are more difficult to discern, but they all involve behaving in ways we know to be wrong for us.

Living with built-in contradictions between values and behavior is the chief enemy of peace; the best antidote for contradiction is living honestly by being faithful to our needs and beliefs. It's hard to be peaceful if our lives don't make sense.

The actual techniques for cultivating a spirit of peacefulness are many and varied: deep breathing and relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, walks in the park, visits to a place of worship. The process of peace is self-fulfilling: When we have found a degree of harmony, we become more aware of making decisions or taking actions that disturb that harmony. The path to greater serenity is rooted in the intention to explore the possibility, rather than living with the unrecognized or untested conviction that "It won't work for me."

Dr. Bernard G Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality' of Life and Career Committee. The committee's Web site' is at the Quality of Life and career Committee, in cooperation with the' Florida State University college of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled "The Healthy Lawyer." Details and subscription information re garding the listserv can be accessed through the committee's website or by going directly to
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Author:Suran, Dr. Bernard G.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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