There is a way for us to find peace, and that is to bring meditation and mindfulness habits and practices into our lives. Not just the life of the individual, but the life of the family, the organisation, whole nations and, yes, the whole world.
It doesn’t mean that lots of cool, driven people have to sit about saying ‘Ommm’ dressed in hippy garb and losing their empirical ‘scientifically based’ beliefs; it means that we all have to get real about what we mean when we say we want ‘Peace’.
Because peace, real peace, begins in the minds and hearts of individuals, and spreads like a positive infection to others who interact with those individuals.
And why does meditation/mindfulness offer the pathway to a world ‘peace epidemic’?
Because the human brain has evolved to have a negative bias, and meditation/mindfulness is a practical, proven way of counteracting that negative bias, increasing calm, positive thinking and balanced judgement and thus helping us to get along with and understand each other better.
All of us are wired to see the dangers, threats and negatives in the situations we experience and the relationships we have, because the human brain evolved in a very dangerous environment. We were prey to the wild animals that roamed the earth freely when the first humans colonised the earth. We were victims of whatever natural disasters befell our environment, without the means to control or overcome them.
And without the securities, collaboration and rules of civilisation we were also a risk to one another as we fought to secure the means to our own individual and small tribe survival – it is estimated that one in eight primitive men died at the hands of another.
For tens of thousands of years, during the rapid evolution of our huge brains, these dangers were ever present and real. And we are still supremely adapted for that primitive environment. If there is a danger we spot it, and once we’ve spotted one danger or threat we are hyper-vigilant in spotting others, often to the extent of imagining them (just in case) when they aren’t there.
Which is all fine when there are real dangers, we want to be protected by our in-built alert systems from the things that threaten our survival.
The problem - the individual and the global problem - is that there are very few human societies where these dangers are ever-present. For most people our survival is not threatened by the natural environment around us but – and this is where it all goes wrong – we still perceive our survival to be threatened by less immediate problems, potential difficulties and everyday challenges. And we’ve somehow managed to confuse the survival of our body with the survival of our ego; our perceived power, our status and our ability to retain material things, and so threats to these aspects of our lives are also regarded as reasons to flip into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Thus we fight with and threaten each other because of the things we think and feel - made up threats - and in the process introduce dangers which are, indeed, a real threat to survival.
These less immediate problems and challenges in our lives are exactly what the newest part of our brain – the frontal lobes – are designed to deal with. Assessment, intelligent use of assimilated information, fine judgement, planning ahead.... the ability to remain aware of and control and adapt our emotions ....we need all these things to solve our problems, both on an individual level and on the level of our wider human society.
When we use the most advanced parts of our brain to operate, as individuals and groups, we assess situations calmly without undue negative bias, make rational judgements and considered decisions. We are likely to be more compassionate (because compassion actually makes more sense in wider contexts), and because operating in this way makes us feel good (through the release of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin) we are encouraged and motivated to keep operating in this way.
By contrast, if we allow our negativity to take over, then we are likely to operate through an emotive haze, automatically seeing events, people, groups of people and daily experiences as reasons to feel threatened, anxious, angry, or increasingly at an individual level, to feel overwhelmed by negativity and become depressed.
Lots of angry, anxious, hyper vigilant, depressed, threatened, fearful and ultimately overwhelmed people does not make for a safe custodial force for planet earth – operating like this we will always default to making enemies, defending our ‘rightness’, becoming ridiculously territorial and ultimately (and globally), losing the thing we value most – the experience of a fulfilled and actualised human life.
Being this way is not our fault and many people will fail to fight their way out of operating like this across the span of a lifetime. But many are waking up to realise that they have a choice. The choice to train themselves, train their brains, to adopt a calmer, more positive, more compassionate attitude to life and to help others to do the same.
A big ask, you think, to expect meditative practices and approaches to achieve all this, to roll out the carpet for world peace? Perhaps. But we also know now that new behaviours, attitudes, application of knowledge and sharing of experience can sweep across the species that populate the earth in the tiniest blink of evolutionary time, and the human species is no exception. Indeed, there are indications that this is already happening, but not fast enough to make inroads into our current global psyche and prevent the constant splitting and separation of groups and nations.
We nearly all have the potential to develop this brilliant, newly evolved, mind-blowing creative and compassionate facility of our brain. It is a truly miraculous tool at our disposal, and the simplest and most reliable way to access it regularly, and to keep it at the top of our operating system in this life, is to spend a few minutes each day being with it, and looking after it through mindful practices and meditation.
There are many, many mindful practices and habits you can adopt and lots of ways to meditate, including prayer if it fits your beliefs – and there is no shortage of ways to get started or people to help you (including me and all my colleagues on the British School of Meditation Register). We might be evolving as a human race to do more of this anyway, but there would be no harm in helping our own evolution along a bit, and our descendants, who will inevitably inherit the current global situation, might well thank us.
Everyone can do their bit – learn to be more mindful or to enjoy meditation yourself – alone or with others; teach your child – or your class - bring it into your workplace. Please just do it.