An Interview With Dr. Benjamin
Surfing, Fish Tacos and Everything Peace
Chris and Ben (Dr. Williamson) met in 2012. Ben was visiting Southern California, and initially hired Chris as a guide to the surfing spots. They immediately bonded over a mutual appreciation for the fish tacos at Pedro's in San Clemente, but it was their shared views of the ocean not just as a place to surf but as a spiritual destination that would make their cross-country friendship endure. In the following years Ben returned to Southern California several times to surf at San Onofre State Beach ("Sano"). On the evening before one of his trips back home, Ben told Chris that he wished he could take the peacefulness of Sano back to Detroit where he was in residency training. Chris had already set out to promote "personal peace" through Everything Peace. The two eventually decided to collaborate, their goal: help people create peacefulness on a personal level wherever they are.
Chris Burke: Since we launched the Peace with a Purpose campaign here at Everything Peace, many people have told about how it has benefited them to both tell others about what makes them peaceful and to hear what others have to say. From a psychiatrist's point of view, why is sharing Peace helpful?
Dr. Williamson: There are several reasons. Let's start with the most basic, and probably the most important. As humans, our brains are wired to talk to each other about how we feel. Our ability to talk to other people about our feelings is one thing that makes us as humans different from other living things. We've evolved (or we were created to have--however you want to look at it) the ability to talk about how we feel. If we don't talk to other people about our feelings, we're simply going against human nature.
CB: What benefit do I get as an individual by sharing what makes me peaceful?
Dr. W: Research evidence suggests that recalling positive memories promotes happiness. Also, taking advantage of the opportunity to have our peaceful moments published in a forum that validates them supports self-compassion which can protect against mental illness.
CB: Is there a therapeutic element to this?
Dr. W: Yes, there is also research evidence showing that recalling positive memories can lessen feelings of sadness.
CB: My vision for having people express their peace on the website was self-empowerment and, beyond that, to bring peace to communities. Do you think that this is possible?
Dr. W: That's a lofty goal but, yes, I do think it's possible. I'm impressed by way that Everything Peace has democratized mindful practices by packaging the concepts of Mindfulness in a way is accessible to everyone.
CB: Do you have to be religious or spiritual to experience peace?
Dr. W: Hmm, I don't know of any scientific research of that particular question--and that's not to say that it doesn't exist--but my guess is: not necessarily. There is a good amount of research that shows the psychological benefits of some religious/spiritual practices. Perhaps your readers would be the best ones to answer that question.
CB: Retreats, like, yoga retreats are popular right now. Does one have to go away somewhere on a retreat to be peaceful?
Dr. W: Short answer? No, I don't think that it's absolutely necessary. The idea of going away to study meditation has a long history. Being able to get away from one's busy life in order to learn or practice meditation could, no doubt, be beneficial. I suspect, however, that it's a luxury that most people, especially in the United States, can't afford, given how little time off from their jobs that most people have. From my personal experience and the results of scientific research that I’ve seen, I can vouch for Mindfulness meditation as a means by which one can learn to be more peaceful. I frequently recommend to people who are serious about learning Mindfulness meditation that they attend one of the ten-day Vipassana meditation courses, which don't charge fees but accept donations. There are also Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses offered at some hospitals and clinics, most of which do charge a fee. By following the steps that we have been putting up at EverythingPeace.org or reading Bhante Gunaratana's book, Mindfulness in Plain English, one can certainly get started down the pathway to creating personal peace through Mindfulness meditation.
CB: You frequently bring up meditation, but are there ways of becoming peaceful other than meditation?
Dr. W: Certainly. Taking a vacation can provide a short-term benefit. Another short-term strategy would be to practice one or more of the various relaxation techniques. There are downloadable, guided relaxation tools available online from reputable sources. Other strategies can have longer term effects. Again, Mindfulness meditation would fall into this category, but also self-compassion, which integrates elements of Mindfulness, is a practice that is gaining support amongst health care providers based on favorable outcomes in research studies. One important point that I would like to make here is that mental illness or substance use disorder could hamper one’s ability to become more peaceful. So, the treatment of one’s mental illness or substance use disorder would be another approach to promoting peacefulness on an individual level.