My friend Joia told me a story about a woman and some birds that gave me great insights on peacefulness. She heard the story from her guru, Swami Chidvilasananda (widely known as Gurumayi), a teacher of the Siddha Yoga tradition.
One day a woman went to the park to meditate. She found a quiet, sunny place, spread her blanket, and sat down. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and was prepared to begin an inward exploration of her thoughts and feelings. As her breathing became regulated and her mind still, she became aware of some birds chirping near her. At first it was a melodic and peaceful addition to her inward journey. Within moments, however, the birds began to squawk, almost scream at each other. As the woman tried to stay focused on her breathing, the birds seemed to squawk louder and louder.
The woman’s eyes flew open. There were at least twenty birds sitting around her, screeching at each other. She looked around, and the rest of the park was empty. Halfheartedly, with a flinging gesture of her hands, the woman shooed the birds away. Some left. Some remained. Those who remained became very quiet, until she closed her eyes.
It seemed as if the second she closed her eyes, the birds started screeching again. Quite annoyed, the woman got up and moved. The birds flew away. Upon finding another prime spot of grass, the woman sat down to begin the process all over again. As soon as she did, the birds came back.
“This is ridiculous!” the woman said to the birds. “Shoo! Shoo! Go on! Get out of here!” The birds flew a little higher, but in a seeming act of defiance, they continued to squawk. Totally pissed off with the birds for disturbing her peace, the woman stood up and began to chase the birds. She would run to the left, and fling her blanket at them. The birds would fly away, but they wouldn’t shut up. As soon as she cleared those on the left, a new crew arrived to her right. Changing directions, she would shoo them away. They would circle her, squawking, and swoop down a few feet away.
Within moments, the woman was flinging her arms around like a lunatic, screaming at the birds who were squawking back at her. Realizing how crazy she must have looked, she snatched her blanket from the ground and stormed out of the park.
Later that evening the woman had an opportunity to relate her experience in the park to her guru, her teacher. Her exasperation returned even in the midst of telling the story. The guru smiled and asked, “Why did you not welcome them to join you?” “How was I supposed to do that?” she asked. “Om Nama Shiva,” the Guru responded, “which means, ‘I surrender to Shiva (meaning the God) within me.’”
A few days later the woman went back to the park. She went through the entire process again. The moment she became still, the birds began to sing. As soon as she heard them, she mentally affirmed, “Om Nama Shiva.” The birds began to squawk. “Om Nama Shiva.” It began to sound as if every bird in the state had converged on the very spot where she was sitting.
She never opened her eyes. She continued to breathe deeply, affirming louder and louder in her mind, “Om Nama Shiva. Om Nama Shiva! OM NAMA SHIVA!” She thought the words faster and louder. So fast and loud in fact that she became so mentally exhilarated that she stopped. It was then that she noticed the silence. Either the birds had flown away or simply shut up. She did not open her eyes to determine which had occurred.
Why is it that we will walk into a room of screaming children and yell at the top of our lungs, “BE QUIET!”? If you want peace, be peace. My grandson Oluwa, age five, is afflicted with a common childhood ailment. He cannot speak below 100 decibels. He yells as if he secretly believes that everyone in the room is hard of hearing.
One day someone in the family (due to threats of being sued for slander, I cannot reveal who) became so frustrated with him that they yelled, “Will you please be quiet!” Other people present in the room chimed in by screaming, “Thank you!” His silence lasted for about three minutes. His next comment was made at the usual ear-piercing level.
If you want peace, be peaceful. Because I am the wise old granny, I have learned to take a completely different approach. When Oluwa screams at me, I crouch down to his level, put my nose directly up against his nose, smile, and whisper, “I can’t hear you. You are talking too loud.” He didn’t get it at first, but I would stay there, staring at him eyeball to eyeball, until he lowered his voice. Now when Oluwa approaches me, he usually whispers so softly I must ask him to repeat himself. He and everyone else in the family still seem to have a problem hearing one another. I watch them, and I smile.
If you want to experience peacefulness, you must begin from a posture of peace. One word of caution: Be prepared to stay in that posture for as long as it takes.
Iyanla Vanzant is the best-selling author of five books on self-empowerment, personal growth and spiritual healing. As the founder and executive director of the Inner Visions Spiritual Life Maintenance Network, she conducts workshops, seminars and lectures nationally. Drawing from her own experiences of family dysfunction, abuse, and poverty, Iyanla encourages us all to look at ourselves, laugh at ourselves and then take the necessary steps to heal ourselves. Her practical message is based on the principles of universal law, self-determination and the power of Spirit. You can learn more about her work at www.innervisionsworldwide.com.
Iyanla has recently appeared several times during Oprah’s Lifeclass webcast segments. You can view the classes here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/oprahs-lifeclass.html
Iyanla has a new show, set to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Network, called “Iyanla, Fix My Life!”. To learn more about it and apply to be on Iyanla’s show and have her help you, please visit http://www.oprah.com/ownshow/index.html?team_type=HarpoStudios