“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery. We have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” – Dalai Lama
The most precious thing in the world to me is my inner peace. As long as I have it, I know that I will be happy. Regardless of what else I have or don’t have in the external world. Because my inner peace is the source of my bliss. And the source of the best feelings I have experienced. Without it, I would have nothing. I know because there was a time I had lost my peace completely.
When I was in law school, I rode the bus to class. The number 48. One morning, I got on to find all the seats taken. So I stood. About half way in. In my jeans. And my blue water-resistant rain jacket. My 20 pound textbook-filled grey backpack was planted firmly between my feet. One of my hands gripped the top of the seat next to me. And the other clutched my tea-filled travel-mug. I stared straight ahead, lost in thought.
I was replaying an incident in my mind. One that had upset me terribly. I was hurt and angry about how it had unfolded. How dare they, I thought. Who behaves that way? I would never have! No one in their right mind does. I felt self-righteous. I wondered what it would feel like to tell them off. I fantasized doing it. I imagined how that would go. And felt a little vindicated. Then realizing that it hadn’t happened, and never would, I felt deflated. And helpless. I wondered what I could do to make it different in the future. I had no answer, so I felt hopeless. And confused. I tried to make sense of it.
So, I replayed the incident in my mind. And the same train of thoughts and feelings followed. Over, and over again. My mind spun. My anger and bad feelings intensified. And within a few minutes, they became unbearable. Unbearable.
Loss of peace.
At that point, I suddenly stopped thinking, and became aware of what I had been doing. I realized that my mind had been spinning. I realized that my spinning mind was causing bad feelings. I realized that the bad feelings had become unbearable. And I realized that the only way to feel better was to stop my mind.
But more significantly, I realized that I lived in that place often. An insane place. A place I couldn’t escape from easily because I wasn’t always aware I was there. A place where my mind spun. And my feelings wrecked havoc. A place where I was my own enemy. A place of war. A place where peace was long forgotten. And lost.
That day, I learned how important my inner peace was. I couldn’t bear to live without it for an instant longer. But I didn’t have it. So, my quest to find it began.
Journey to inner peace.
I wanted my inner peace more than anything else in the world. And I searched for ways to find it. In books, podcasts, radio shows, documentaries, movies, anyone who said anything remotely helpful, and my therapist’s office. I practiced what I learned. Every day. Every time I remembered. And every moment I had the strength to. Because nothing was more important to me.
Slowly, I started to change. I lived less at the mercy of my mind. I learned that I was not my thoughts. I was the awareness behind them (and so, I could be aware that I was thinking thoughts). I discovered that I gave my thoughts power by believing them. Often more than they deserved. Because not all my thoughts were true. So, I learned to become aware of what I was thinking, to question my thoughts, and to disregard many. As a result, I stopped potentially destructive thoughts from forming completely and taking hold in my mind. And I laughed many away.
I tried to implement a shift in the way I used my mind. Whereas for most of my life, I had thought by default, and stopped thinking momentarily; I now tried to shut my mind off by default, and turn it on when I needed it. At work, to drive, or to calculate tips. It was hard. Mostly, I didn’t succeed. But I got a tiny bit better. And even that was great progress. Because I gave up so much unnecessary thinking. I lived less in my head. And more in the world. I became more present. And my mind spun less.
Finally, I started to let go of negativity. I learned that there were only two basic emotions. Love and fear. And that all my actions and feelings arose from one or the other. So whenever I felt a negative emotion arise, I learned to dig deeper. To ask myself what its true cause was. And what I was afraid of. Most often, I found that I was afraid of not being loved, valued, or accepted. I dealt with the fear in whatever way was appropriate. And I was able to let go of the negative emotion.
As I practiced living this way, I started to find my inner peace again. And it dawned on me that it was more valuable than I had ever known.
Everything I need.
Because it gave me everything I needed. Where before there had been fear and worry, there was now room to live in the moment. For spontaneity. For passion. And excitement. I felt centered. I felt like I would be fine no matter what happened out there. The world seemed OK exactly the way it was. I felt a deep sense of connection to others. More compassion. Quiet love. And bliss.