As told to Leigh Newman
The author of The Power of Now reveals the things keep us continually frazzled -- and how to remove them from your life.
Peace is one of the most important human experiences. If you don't have peace, then you're not able to appreciate whatever else you do have. In fact, you may not even be able to recognize the good in your life because you have not recognized the good in yourself -- yet. Here are a few things that may be getting in your way:
1. You Mistake Peace for Unconsciousness
Sometimes people feel peaceful when they become very tired. Others think that peace is what you feel after having a few drinks or taking drugs. (People use these substances, because they long for inner stillness and quiet.) Being half asleep or desensitized by drugs or a few glasses of wine can keep you from feeling your anxiety, fear, anger, resentment or worry. But this relief only lasts a short time. That turmoil is still there -- because peace is not unconsciousness. Peace is not being asleep or being numb. It's the opposite. It's a state of heightened aliveness, when we become more conscious rather than less, and this requires an awareness of the kinds of thoughts that habitually go through your mind.
2. You Mistake Peace for Happiness
Many people think of happiness as a goal, something you're working toward that will eventually make you feel good or at peace with your life. To me, however, happiness is usually associated with a high that occurs when something nice happens. You feel happy when you get the job or find a $100 bill on the street. You feel happy leaving for vacation. But very often the vacation doesn't turn out the way it's supposed to, or it comes to an end, or while on that vacation you only think about the problems you're going to find when you come back home. In all of these cases, the happiness is temporary. After a while it subsides, and then, quite often, you'll even feel suddenly low. Because happiness isn't peace.
Happiness is actually quite superficial, whereas peace is deeper. Peace is immune to the polarities of life: the highs and lows, the hots and colds, the so-called goods and so-called bads. This is why peace is so crucial. Nobody goes through life without encountering all these experiences, inspiring or upsetting. When someone close to you dies or you have a health problem or you lose our possessions, you probably can't feel happy. Nobody could. But do you need to feel in absolute despair? Do you need to feel devastated? If you are at peace and connected with that deeper level in you, those kinds of emotional extremes don't occur. You'll have a calm that is not affected by whatever happens in the world, because you have an acceptance and understanding of whatever happens in the world.
3. You Keep Looking Ahead (or Looking Back)
All too often there is something that hasn't happened yet (or something that has happened already), which seems to prevent you from inner peace. There's the job you haven't gotten or the job you lost. There's the child you haven't had or the child that you used to be. But ultimately these are misperceptions; ultimately it's your mind keeping you from peace, especially the thoughts that you have over and over.
This voice in your head takes you away completely from what is happening now. You're out in some future moment where things might go wrong or you are trapped in the past where you are continuously replaying an old movie in your mind about the time you failed a school examination or someone said something unkind. You're stuck, but you can't see it. The movie feels like an absolute reality, and it keeps you from truly acknowledging or appreciating life as it is now. But it's not reality. You can't see the present. You're too busy with where you want to be next (or where you were), which causes continual stress. The only solution is awareness, awareness that the voice in your head is really just repeating thoughts -- no more, no less.
4. You Strain Away from the Present Moment
Not only does our mind strain away from the calm of the present moment, it also judges and interprets such a moment -- usually negatively. For example, let's pretend a co-worker just received a promotion. The voice in your head says that you should have gotten the promotion or that your boss just prefers that co-worker, even though you're the stronger candidate.
In this case -- and most cases -- it's not the external circumstance (not getting job) that's making you unhappy but what you're telling yourself about those circumstances ("It's not fair!"). In other words, your thoughts are making you unhappy. When you change this habit, you will stop resisting what is happening in your life. You can become friendly with the present moment and find an opening into the spiritual dimension. This is one of the most important spiritual practices in the search for peace. Old irritations -- like being trapped in a traffic jam -- are no longer upsetting or anxiety provoking. You become internally aligned with the reality of what is happening: You are in a car, you aren't moving…that is all. You don't have a problem, not right this second. You might even notice a mother singing to a child in a neighboring car or the vibrant blue of the sky. You have become friendly with life itself, and with the experiences offered you everywhere.
5. You Don't Fully Trust… Yet
There is an intelligence in the movement of life, which goes far beyond the limited intelligence of your thinking mind. This is the spirit. When you begin to trust in your spirit and life itself, you begin to feel a peace. You are no longer separate from that greater intelligence from which life unfolds, you are no longer to trying to get somewhere else or find something missing.
The old religious word for this kind of trust is "faith." Some Christians would say they have faith in God, some would say they have faith in a higher power, but whatever name people choose, they are talking about that which underlies all life. Peace comes from this trust. Peace comes from being aligned with the present moment. Wherever you are, you feel that you are home -- because you are home.