The deep of winter, when the season is at its coldest, when the days are dark and short–and the nights longer appears to be the natural time for reflection. American artist Andrew Wyeth captured both the season’s barrenness and our instinctual awareness that–at this time of year– ‘something waits’ to unfold:
“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it…Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”
Winter is a natural time to think and dream–about things and people; about how we want to “walk through the world” in the coming year. Whether we’re ready or not, winter nudges us, reminding us to slow down, reflect, and seek peace in our lives.
So what is peace?
It’s obvious you can’t become peaceful if you’re not sure what the word really means. At its most basic, we can describe the word as the absence of conflict; conflict not only between nations, but conflict within ourselves. A peaceful person is one who is tranquil, harmonious and serene.
Each of the world’s four major religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism – asks followers to seek peace. Biblical scripture advises “They must…do good; they must seek peace and pursue it” (Peter 3:11). Peace, according to the Jewish sages, is the ultimate purpose of Hebrew scriptures, the Torah: “All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of peace.” (Tanhuma Shoftim: 18). In Islam, the ideal society, Dar as-Salam, literally, means “the house of peace”. Buddhists cultivate inner peace, following the assertion that true peace comes from within, not from without. As the Dalai Lama XIV recently said, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”
Winter is the Time to Find Peace… Within
Real inner peace; that elusive sense of contentment–that all’s right with your world–must come from within. It’s fairly obvious we cannot change or control the world around us; but it is possible to change and control the world within us. And most simple way to do just that is meditation. Fortunately, it’s easier than you think.
You don’t have to spend hours sitting on the floor in meditation; less than 5 minutes a day can shift your world view – even in the dark days of winter.
Start by Smiling
“Peace begins,” said Mother Teresa, “with a smile…” Try it for yourself: sit quietly in a comfortable chair, place your hands on your lap, and your feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes, take two natural breaths; then slowly turn your mouth into a gentle smile, in imitation of the Buddha.
Remain smiling, filling your mind with loving compassionate and peaceful thoughts about yourself, others; the world. You can also recite one of the following mantras (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation):
May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free. In some way, may I contribute to that happiness and freedom for all.
Continue to breathe. When you’re ready to end your meditation session, open your eyes. But don’t stand up right away; instead remain seated for a few more minutes. This is the time your brain fully integrates the changes you’ve made in establishing peace as a foundation for your day-to-day life.
Here in the deep of winter, for many, literary giant Edith Sitwell’s words ring true: “winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
As you settle into winter, gather with friends or family to celebrate your chosen holiday–whether secular or religious, we wish you peace.
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