“Whichever one you feed,” replied the old man.
How do we practice peace in a time when everyone else is preparing for war? How do we find inner stillness when there are so many things that require our attention?
The shamans of old, the medicine men and women of the Americas, have a practice for attaining inner peace that can be tremendously useful today.
They choose not to take life personally. They understand that it does not rain to get you wet, and that pigeons do not poop on your windshield to make you upset.
You start by noticing that people sometimes do hurtful things but that they do not do them to make you upset. Things happen, and you have the choice of taking it personally, and wrapping a big dramatic story around them, or not.
Yes, your boss gets angry, but she is not angry with you. She is angry with her life. And the fellow honking his horn on the freeway to have you get out of his way is not angry at you, he is just angry.
This seems like a simple idea,but it is a complex practice, because with every thought and feeling, you are feeding one of the two wolves in the story above. When you no longer take life personally you are not holding anyone responsible for how you feel. You no longer need good things to happen in order to feel good, and you do not feel bad when things go sour.
The result is equanimity, or inner peace.
When our inner peace depends upon good things happening to us, we are at the mercy of others and of external circumstances. How busy you are depends on your schedule, and how happy you are on how others treat you.
When you stop taking life personally, you become self-referencing. Your mood is no longer dictated by others or by outside events. If it rains you get wet and its wonderful, when a pigeon poops on your windshield you clean it up. When life poops on your childhood, you find the gifts and the strength in the terrible experiences. Then you can end up with what you want, instead of reasons why you can’t.
I know, it’s easier said than done.
I understand how difficult it is to not take life personally, because I know how our brains have been damaged by stress. Shamans were the first neuroscientists of the wild, and they discovered the plants that could upgrade the brain and repair the ravages of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. These chemicals damage the region of the brain known as the hippocampus, where new learning happens.
When your hippocampus is damaged, you cannot have a new experience. You cannot fall in love newly, or love yourself or your life. Then every day we feed the angry wolf inside us a new incident. In fact, scientists have discovered that our hippocampus can shrink by as much as 40% as we get older and are exposed to constant stress.
Then we become an angry old person.
It is very difficult today to learn how not to take life personally. But we can repair and upgrade our brain. You do not need to go to the Amazon Rainforest as I did to discover the benefits of the healing plants of the shamans. Luckily, today we can get them at the health food store. You can supplement your diet with the Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) that will repair the hippocampus in six weeks.
The Omega-3’s are called essential fatty acids because we do not produce them in the body, so we must get them from our food. Since they come primarily from fish, and today most of our fish is farm-raised on corn, we are sorely lacking this essential brain nutrient. It is such an important food that 40% of mother’s milk consists of DHA, which the growing brain needs for healthy development.
As important as it is to take your Omega-3’s, popping a couple of grams of fish oil daily is not enough. (You can learn more about the neuro-nutrients in my new book, “One Spirit Medicine“.)
You must also practice the spiritual discipline of not taking life personally.
The shamans call this practice by many names. Among the Lakota it is known as Mitakuye Oyasin, which means “all my relations.” When you no longer take life personally, you see that the world does not revolve around you exclusively. It is about all your relations, including all humans, the animals, the trees and the rivers.
It’s not all about us, after all.
Then you will discover how to attain inner peace and stillness. When that happens, the Universe will actually begin to conspire on your behalf and make your dreams come true, because at that point, those dreams are not only about you anymore.
But do not take that personally either…
Alberto Villoldo PhD is a medical anthropologist and psychologist and author of numerous bestselling books, including Shaman, Healer, Sage, and most recently, One Spirit Medicine. He is the founder of the Four Winds Society and trains practitioners of Shamanic Energy Medicine. You can visit his website at thefourwinds.com