How to Live More Peacefully in a Violent World

by Shannon Sexton

As a longtime student of yoga philosophy and practice, I’ve been asking myself the following question for years: How can we keep our hearts open and our peaceful purpose clear, even in the face of the violence and suffering we witness every day—either directly or (more frequently) indirectly, as empathic but primarily digital bystanders?

Scholar, spiritual mentor, and Kripalu presenter Rabbi Sigal Brier says there are ways to “orient back to love, balance, and peace in the midst of what often appears to be a fractured, violent world—to shepherd ourselves back to wholeness and kindness.”

Here are Rabbi Sigal’s suggestions for living more peacefully in a tumultuous world.

Slow down with a “remembering” practice.

Pray, meditate, do yoga, explore a mindfulness practice, study spiritual teachings, or take a walk in nature every day, Rabbi Sigal suggests. “These are all tools for slowing down and remembering our interconnectedness to the Mystery, each other, and all things in our world,” she says. “When we know our wholeness and peace, and feel the gift of it in our own heart, we speak and act from that place.” She recommends engaging in this practice of remembering for approximately 10 to 20 minutes daily.

Allow yourself to feel the pain.

“In tragic times, we feel our vulnerability,” observes Rabbi Sigal. “Can you pause for a moment to feel your sadness, anger, anxiety, or shock, and notice how, along with any emotions you identify, a desire arises in the heart to heal and mend? Then ask yourself: ‘How can I use this desire as a motivator to mend and heal my heart and my society?’ Write down a few healing things you can do for yourself and for others, and then start acting on the list.”

Follow the Mendful Path.

You can take the previous reflection several steps further by following what Rabbi Sigal calls “the Mendful Path,” a concept she coined in 2015. Rooted in the wisdom of Kabbalah and mysticism, the Mendful Path combines the practices of “heartfulness and mindfulness with an intention to mend and heal ourselves, each other, and the world.”

“It’s both an attitude and an approach to life in which we remember our interconnectedness in all we do,” Rabbi Sigal explains. How can you get started on this path? In tough situations, she suggests, ask yourself, “How can I be mendful? What can I do to help bring about healing and repair?”

To cultivate a mendful attitude, she says, you can repeat this daily mantra: I am healing. I am repairing. I am mendful. “That’s your anchor for living a more peaceful life, and for building a more peaceful world.”

Remember that there is still beauty and love in the world.

When you find yourself starting to lose hope in humanity, Rabbi Sigal suggests this simple practice:

“Go outside, take a conscious breath, and look up at the sky. Looking up helps you shift by connecting you to the grandeur of this mystery, this life. For me, it works quickly. In one glimpse, I remember beauty, infinity, connectivity, and the numinous quality of the universe. I remember that I am a part of something grand, and I know, intuitively, that I am loved. Even when the sky is cloudy, I remember that sun and the blue are still behind the clouds—they’re just concealed at this moment.

“Looking at the sky, which is shared by all who live on earth, reminds us of our common fate, our common goodness, and our universal struggle. It also reminds us that there is still beauty and love in the world.”

Perform a ritual of release.

Anytime you need to release your burdens and come back to wholeness and peace, Rabbi Sigal recommends a ceremony called Tashlich, a ritual that Jewish communities enact during Rosh Hashanah.

“Traditionally, this ritual is performed with breadcrumbs that are cast into a river or other body of water,” she explains, but you can use imaginary or real rocks, pebbles, or other natural materials. Here are her instructions:

Hold a stone in your hand, or imagine that you’re holding one, and bring it close to your heart. Feel the stone as a heaviness, a burden you are carrying in your chest. The rock in your hand is something that is hard for you to let go of, but something you want or need to release in order to live more peacefully and make a real difference in the world.

The act of holding the stone in your hand, at your heart, symbolizes your willingness to ask for help to release this burden. Notice exactly what you are holding and how it is making you hold back within yourself and in your life. What has hardened and closed your heart? How are you holding yourself separate?

Notice your breathing and relax with your closed fist held to your chest. When you are ready, open your hand. Toss the stone, sending it with kindness and care into the river of life. Feel the effect of the release. Feel how the stone you released returns to the river of life and finds its place, washed anew.

Repeat this ritual as many times as you wish, with as many stones as you need to represent your burdens, until you feel it is working. Once you feel less burdened and are standing on a ground of wholeness, you have more bandwidth available to imagine possibilities. Ask yourself, how can you help make a difference in our world?

Have conversations with people who are different than you.

In our society, Rabbi Sigal notes, we’re stuck in a perception of separateness and ‘otherness.’ “We are quickly losing our sense of decency and respect in this political climate, where we stand in opposing positions and fight for what we believe is right,” she says. “The question is: Who are we going to be? To be able to move forward as a civilized society, and to get where we want to go, we must listen and welcome everyone with kindness and patience. And we must keep destructive anger, blame, and shame—as methods of change and persuasion—in check.”

She suggests that, instead of gathering solely with groups of like-minded people, we seek out conversations with people who have different worldviews and opinions. “Train yourself to be able to sit quietly and tolerate another’s opinion, without judgment or reaction. Notice how you are triggered. Take a breath, sit still, and listen. Then ask yourself, ‘Do I need to respond with my opinion, or can I just acknowledge you by saying, ‘I hear you’?

“When you gather with people and talk with open-minded commitment to mending and sharing for the good of all,” she says, “fresh ideas come and bigger problems can be solved.”

Find out about upcoming programs with Rabbi Sigal Brier.

Shannon Sexton is the former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine and a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist based in Madrid.

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