Enlightened State

Finding Peace in a Chaotic World

Mindfulness, InspirationMorgan Vanek3 Comments

Lately, I've been feeling overwhelmed. So many scary and awful things have happened - the mass shooting in Orlando, the suicide bombing at the Ataturk Airport in Turkey, the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the sniper attacks on Dallas police officers, among others. I've found myself feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of these senseless tragedies. My heart hurts so much when I think of the state of our world, both for the victims of these acts of violence and the desperation and pain that caused them.

Adding to these feelings of despair is the ignorance I witness from so many people that I know - and from people that I don't. I feel as though I am facing a brick wall without a hammer. How can one person hope to change so much? And yet, I know that this emotion stems from my attachment to my own perspective. Even though it seems so logical to me, it isn't realistic to expect everyone else to agree with me. We all form our opinions from our individual experiences. It's when these perspectives clash that we experience conflict and even violence. In The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo wrote, "Trust in your heart, but never forget that you're in the desert. When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun."

So how can we make peace with our differences and make the world a better place? I've come to realize that this kind of peace comes from within. It's scary to examine our own prejudices and opinions with a critical eye. The ego rejects this kind of self-reflection, and it's easier to live our lives with a self-righteous attitude. But until we face that fear we cannot expect to change. As Pema Chodron wrote in her book When Things Fall Apart, "…We can use every day to take a different attitude toward suffering. Instead of pushing it away, we can breathe it in with the wish that everyone could stop hurting, with the wish that people everywhere could experience contentment in their hearts. We could transform pain into joy." We have to be brave and vulnerable when we look at ourselves, and we must use that same bravery to change. The path to changing the world starts inside each of us, and even though it's difficult, it is a necessary part of the process.

If every person in the world felt a sense of peace and contentment, we would never experience violence and conflict. We could face our individual experiences through a global lens, and override our ego's insistence that we are or should be superior to others. Fred Rogers said, "I have long believed that the way to know a spiritual sense is to know it in our real life. I think the best way to know about God and peace is to know about peace in our everyday lives." Unfortunately, our impulse is to do the opposite, and it's a strong one. We may never achieve this level of peace on a global level. We cannot control the actions or attitudes of others. But we can change ourselves.

I challenge you to look inside yourself and find this kind of inner peace, if only for a moment. Let go of your pain, your hurt, and your ego. Release your desire for others to see the world through your own lens, and accept the way things are. And then think of the ways that you can begin to make these important changes within yourself. How can you change your own attitudes or perspectives to serve a broader purpose?

Paulo Coehlo also wrote "Tell your heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." I have faith that a basic goodness resides in each of us, and right now I want to appeal to that part of you. I know that this strong, wonderful, beautiful piece of who you are can overcome even the most evil and violent impulses in our world. I hope you believe that, too, and I hope that today you will take the first step toward making that happen.

We are all part of the same human experience, and our actions affect each of us equally. We can use these painful experiences as an opportunity to examine our own views and begin to change for the better, one step at a time.

I leave you with one final thought from Pema Chodron, one that has guided me through many painful times. I hope it will provide inspiration and light for you, too, as you navigate the chaotic waters of the world we live in today: "…Use difficult situations to awaken our genuine caring for other people who, just like us, often find themselves in pain. As one lojong slogan says, ' When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.'"

Much love,



A Beginner's Guide to Self Acceptance

Self Acceptance, InspirationMorgan Vanek1 Comment

For a long time, almost as long as I can remember, I've been so ashamed of myself. At different times, this shame has been caused by various things - my grades, my weight, my inability to finish things, the gap between my two front teeth. But the one constant has always been the incredibly overwhelming feeling that I'm just not good enough, that I have to hide who I really am lest everyone I love (and everyone I don't) rejects me. And some of the time, the person I'm really hiding from is myself.

Social media makes it easier to do this, of course. When I scroll through my own Instagram feed or Facebook timeline, I don't see someone who is scared, lonely, and ashamed of herself. I see a person who seeks beauty and enjoys the everyday experiences of her life. The fact of the matter is that all of those things are parts of me, but the knowledge that I have deep, meaningful flaws has always kept me from truly loving who I am. 

I've had my fair share of struggles, but this has been the longest and most difficult for me to overcome. I spend so much time with my shame that I miss out on beautiful opportunities. I know it doesn't make sense to let my vulnerability keep me from being vulnerable, and yet my mind persists in its relentless persecution of my inner self. 

But somewhere along the way, a little at a time, the strong, beautiful, loving, kind, compassionate part of who I am found her voice. And that is the part of me that realized that giving in to my insecurities and allowing them to rule my life was a grave mistake, one that was limiting the person I could be if I set myself free from those chains. This isn't an easy journey, but it is an important one. 

Ironically, I tend to be very accepting of other people's flaws. Qualities I agonize over in myself seem like no big deal in a friend or family member. The first step to self-acceptance for me has been turning that forgiving instinct back on myself. When I start to criticize myself, I ask how I would react if a close friend had made the same mistake, and I incorporate that dialogue into my inner conversation. It usually feels stilted, forced, and inauthentic, but I know that if I keep practicing it will become second nature, or something like it.

As a result, I frequently find myself correcting bad thoughts. When I say to myself, "That was stupid!" I amend it with "Actually, that was a mistake anyone could have made, and now I just need to fix the problem." Sometimes this makes me feel silly, like a child being chastised for taunting his school friends, but it works. I don't bully myself nearly as much as I used to. Not dwelling on my own failures has freed up energy for me to make real progress in overcoming them. 

This kind of positive self-talk has increased my sense of respect for myself. I stand up for myself now, and I am almost always willing to go to bat on my own behalf. This doesn't mean I am unwilling to accept constructive criticism from myself or anyone else; it simply means that I can use that information to improve rather than watching the floor fall out from my thinly-constructed sense of self-worth time and time again. These improvements lead me to respect myself even more, which further solidifies the foundation I am building. 

It's taken me a long time to get to this point. I've been working on these steps for years, and I'm still nowhere near perfect. I mess up all the time, but to my own surprise, I always land on my feet (even if I stumble a lot at first). I've learned that it's never too late to do better, and that I can use my failures as lessons - building blocks that help me forge a path to the person I know I can be. 

All of this has made me more comfortable with taking risks in my life. Failing so many times, and so often, has taught me what it feels like to fall down. It's a familiar sensation, one that makes the scars from my old wounds throb a little every time it happens. But instead of avoiding the fall, now I feel confident that I will survive it, and that makes me less afraid. Before I started this journey, I was so fearful of revealing my true self and exposing myself as a fraud or a novice or just a failure that I kept safely inside my comfort zone. Learning how to experience my life without judgment helps me grow faster and better than I ever have before. Not everything I try works out, and that means I spend a lot of my time on the ground. But having the courage to get back up and try again means I'm flying a fair amount, too, and the rise is what makes life worth living. 

I know this isn't the end of my journey. When I am ready, the next step will reveal itself and I'll keep walking on. But if you're suffering like I have for so many years, I hope you'll put your shoes on and start down this path with me. I want you to realize what a wonderful person you are, how much you have to offer, and how your perception of yourself can limit what you are able to achieve. You have real value, and you are worthy of love and acceptance - especially from yourself. It's a difficult journey, but a meaningful one. And just like most of the best things in life, it all starts with a little bit of kindness.