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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Cultivating Contentment from the Inside Out: Peace Within by Michael DeMaria

Dec 03, 2016 06:44PM ● By Allison Gorman

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan swept through the Gulf Coast and left Dr. Michael DeMaria a broken man. The Pensacola psychotherapist, renowned musician and sound healer, who had spent his entire professional life helping “fix” others, now looked at the severely damaged remains of his home—just the latest in a string of devastating personal losses—and realized that he didn’t know how to fix his shattered self. Ultimately he discovered that he, much like his house, needed rebuilding from the ground up—or, more precisely, from the inside out. His new book, Peace Within, explains how, through that rebuilding process, he found healing from suicidal despair, and it offers step-by-step guidance for anyone wanting to map out his or her own path to healing.  

Peace Within is both pragmatic and deeply personal. It’s organized in user-friendly modules, each one focused on bringing calm and healing to a different facet of human existence (e.g., the body, the spirit, relationships, daily life, even death). Each module concludes with simple, specific exercises, such as meditation, breath work and journaling—some of the tools of DeMaria’s psychotherapy practice, as well as his own healing journey—to reinforce and apply that module’s lessons. 

It’s certainly possible to use Peace Within selectively—that is, to skip straight to the module that speaks to a particular problem and come away with fresh insight to address it.

After all, DeMaria has spent more than three decades helping people work through life’s challenges, and the wisdom he shares reflects his professional experience  

In the module “Peace Within Relationship,” for example, he notes that “working with couples as a psychotherapist, I’ve identified two primary factors that torpedo relationships, often leading to divorce: 1. Having unrealistic expectations of a relationship and partner; 2. Expecting a partner to be responsible for your emotional well-being and happiness.” He goes on to explain what a healthy relationship looks like, using real-life and hypothetical examples, and even simple illustrations, to make abstract concepts easy to grasp and apply. Someone struggling in a troubled relationship can read that module and better understand why his or her relationship isn’t working and whether and how it can be fixed. 

But the book is best read and acted upon as a whole. As DeMaria explains early on, his healing model is a process, each stage of which is predicated on a single theme: peace comes from within. True contentment, he writes, cannot be found externally—not in things or accomplishments, not even in a life partner: “Although ultimately we are social creatures that require and need each other to create and make a life together, that doesn’t mean there is a ‘magical other’ out there who will save us from ourselves, who will make us eternally happy, and complete us. This fantasy is not only dangerous, but leads to great disappointment and suffering. We do this in love, politics, and even in our search for religious leaders and spiritual teachers.”

Peace Within follows the path DeMaria took as he stepped back from the brink of suicide and learned to be at peace within life, beginning with himself. The process he describes is empowering but also humbling, and he uses his personal journey as an ongoing illustration of that fact. He offers a warts-and-all recollection of his low points: wallowing in self-pity; whining to his wife; and at one point, while hobbled by knee surgery, melting down completely. But the most humbling part of the process, he writes, was admitting that he had spent years diligently giving up “things” on a spiritual quest that ultimately proved fruitless: “In my mind, I could not reconcile that someone who had done as much spiritual work could fall so low and fail so miserably.” He came to realize that it wasn’t things that he had to give up, but identification with his mind, which ultimately led to his deeper awakening. 

DeMaria’s rise from the abyss is an inspirational survival story. It should be noted that Hurricane Ivan, which triggered his crushing depression, was also the catalyst behind his Grammy-nominated album Ocean, his most commercially successful work so far. Anyone needing superficial affirmation that it’s possible to go from great depths to great heights need look no further than that. But anyone longing for the more profound and lasting “success” of true contentment can find it in the pages  of Peace Within.

Peace Within can be purchased at Ontos World Press, 353 pages $21.99.

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