For most of the year 2000, I worked and lived at a fasting clinic in northern California where I spent time with many groups of eclectic guests from all over the world.
I often tell my wife that during that year, I felt like I was floating around in a bubble, almost immune to any downers that life brought my way. Sure, there were times when I felt a bit crummy, but most of the time, I was at peace, able to feel compassion for anyone.
I wasn't able to do this every time I felt I was wronged, but I was definitely on a plane of thinking and being that Jesus Himself probably would have appreciated. I was in the zone that Gandhi must have been in while he was allowing himself to get physically smacked around.
Here's the thing: Over the past decade, whenever I have been able to purposefully respond with a generous heart in situations where most sane people would have given me full license to respond with righteous anger, I have always been able to walk away feeling at peace and like I did the right thing. Always.
I think that this is the magic of taking the high road. Sometimes, it's human to want to call out mean-spirited and rude behavior. You feel like you need to preserve some self respect. But interestingly, I have yet to feel like I lost anything by diverting bad energy and choosing to be compassionate.
Put another way, I have found that feeling at peace is a natural consequence of choosing to be kind in every circumstance (And sometimes, I think being kind entails walking away in silence).
Without exception, in situations where I haven't been able to pause and control the urge to let someone know that he or she just generated some bad karma, I've walked away feeling worse for having "stood up for myself." In such situations, I guess I, too, was motivated by a need for love.
Also interesting is that I've found that the more good energy I put out there, the deeper my well of good energy seems to become. Consciously choosing to walk with a forgiving and compassionate spirit really seems to fortify the intention to lift others up.
This reminds me of the "what do you get when you squeeze an orange" idea. You get orange juice, of course, because that's what's inside of an orange.
If we have love and compassion within, love and compassion is what will come out of us when we're squeezed.
Clearly, choosing to be compassionate doesn't happen naturally all the time. It takes work. It takes daily effort to stay in this zone. I find that I have to fill myself with uplifting thoughts on a regular basis. I think this is why I tend to have my best days when I begin by reading from anything that inspires me to be thoughtful of others.
When I don't do this work, when I don't take time to consciously choose to give out love rather than demonstrate a need for it, I find that it becomes easy to slide back into being a reactive person who is easily offended by anything that threatens my ego.
So I guess the main thought that I want to share is this: if you're ever feeling down and you're looking for a way to generate peace within, try going back to the well, the well that fuels you to be gentle, understanding, generous, and humble.
Even when you are clearly wronged by someone, I can almost guarantee that if you put your hurt feelings away for just a moment and respond with a compassionate spirit, you will be better for it. And you can spend the rest of your day knowing that you did your part to create healthy energy for someone else.
I've long believed that consistently feeling peace within is the most important requirement for optimal health. Never mind the toll that emotional stress takes on our physical health; without inner peace, how can any of us consistently make healthy choices?
Here's a short list of books that, over the years, have become steadfast sources of inspiration for me to get back or stay on track in living with a giving spirit:
The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen Covey
A Course In Miracles
You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay
And we can never go wrong in considering the following passage on love from the first book of Corinthians, chapter thirteen:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
One funny thing about love that I've observed over the years is this: the more we give it to others, the more it comes back to us from all over. And the more we demonstrate a need for love by being easily offended, the less it seems to flow our way.
To the magic of generating inner peace by giving love.