Mark your calendar — you might want to be a little kinder to your fellow humans this weekend.
On Sunday, September 21, the United Nations invites all nations and people to honor a "cessation of hostilities" during the annual International Day of Peace, a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace around the world. But how can we, as yogis, spread peace on a daily basis, with every interaction?
In his new book with John Kinyon, Choosing Peace: New Ways to Communicate to Reduce Stress, Create Connection, and Resolve Conflict, scheduled to be released on the International Day of Peace, Ike Lasater, co-founder of the Mediate Your Life training company with Kinyon and a co-founder of Yoga Journal, provides tools for choosing peace (and avoiding stress and violence) in our daily conflicts. In fact, with the help of Lasater and Kinyon's advice, you might not be involved in many "conflicts" at all.
"We humans have only one way that our bodies respond to a perceived challenge, whether it is a threat to our life from a lion on the ancient savanna or a hostile word from a colleague. This 'fight or flight' response triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstreams," Lasater explains. "Not only is the fight or flight response physically harmful when we’re not responding to actual physical attacks where we need to fight or flee (as it increases our susceptibility to stress-related diseases), it is harmful in another way: Instead of being able to act in alignment with our values, we fall to the level of habitual responses," he says. In other words, you start thinking of another person as an "enemy" or "bad guy," as opposed to another person facing his or her own challenges.
So how can you avoid responding to your boss or spouse as if he were, say, a huge and hungry lion, and choose a peaceful interaction instead? In his Mediate Your Life program, which helps people bring more peace into their relationships, Lasater teaches Self-Connection, a process by which you develop your ability for awareness, presence, and choice by focusing attention on your breath, body sensations, and universal human needs.
"Both science and spiritual traditions have pointed to the benefits of focusing on your breath and bodily experience," he says. "Rather than acting out habitual patterns, you become aware of the reaction, are present with it, and choose to connect with the source of your thoughts, feelings, and actions — human needs that connect us to shared humanity and a larger sense of life."
Here are 3 more ways to choose peace on the International Day of Peace, and every day, according to Lasater:
1. Seek to Be Grateful. Research shows that if you identify what you’re grateful for on a regular basis, you will improve both your mental and physical health — as well as your outlook on life. Thanks to the neurotransmitter dopamine, gratitude produces a cascade of good feelings. In turn, these good feelings encourage more harmonious relationships. The great news is that a little gratitude goes a long way. Begin by creating a gratitude journal. Start each day by writing down at least one thing you are thankful for. You’ll find that over time this awareness will become habitual and that communicating your gratitude will increase your personal peace.
2. Make Friends With Your Selves. We all have different voices within ourselves, and all too often these voices are in conflict. When our “selves” are in conflict, we feel stuck, muddled and unclear. We can begin to create peace between those voices by conducting an “internal mediation.” Ask your two selves in conflict to (literally) speak aloud to each other. Set up two facing chairs facing each other, and switch seats as you voice each self. You will likely discover that both of these selves are working on behalf of the same person — albeit with conflicting needs and strategies. This understanding will promote collaboration between your selves, who will hopefully learn to connect and, together, find strategies to meet both needs.
3. Practice Empathy. Connection is the doorway to making peace with others, and the first and most powerful tool for connection is empathy. The key aspect of empathy is understanding another person. Sometimes this can be as simple as what words you choose. Example: You see your coworker yawn. Instead of saying “You look tired. You’re yawning — let’s take break.” You say, “I see you yawning — are you tired?” This simple change in language increases the probability that the other person will perceive your response to their yawn as a caring one.
Choosing Peace: New Ways to Communicate to Reduce Stress, Create Connection, and Resolve Conflict, is available at Amazon.com.