After pursuing peace through many means over the past several decades, I have learned some things that have become practical tools for me. I’d like to share some of them here with you:
My peace does not lie in the world I live in. There is no one out there to save me through the “perfect” romantic relationship, no man or woman who will complete me and bring happiness into my life. There is no job that will fulfill me. I am wasting my time looking for my joy in these places. The only place of real peace is in my mind, and only in my mind, because that is where everything important is.
I can practice being aware of my thoughts and asking for insight and awareness. This may take the form of talking to someone wise, praying to God (if that works for you) or asking the Universe to help you change. I believe that if we ask the Universe for help, it will provide something – some person, place, experience – that will set us on a more constructive path.
My peace comes from me. And only from me. Once it is firmly anchored in my mind, no one can mess with it. As Aretha Franklin sings, “Ain’t nobody gonna turn me around”.
When you start watching your thoughts and begin to change and redirect them, there isn’t anyone who can take away your peace of mind. Conversely, when you’re ignorant of the power of your thoughts and believe that your happiness lies in having the right friends, job, car, income, home or clothes, your peace of mind is extremely shaky.
When you’re unstable like this, you’re likely to blame other people when you feel bad, taking no responsibility for the thoughts you think that have generated the unpleasant emotions you feel.
I am happy to share these ideas with you, but, honestly, I didn’t invent this stuff. This is the basic logic of every path of psychological happiness, personal growth and spiritual developmental that’s out there. I am just boiling it down to its essence.
Another way of talking about this is to use some basic Buddhist terminology. I am not a Buddhist, but I have learned so much about myself – and my fellow human beings – from studying it over the past thirty years. It has definitely made me a better therapist, boyfriend, person and brother. I don’t consider Buddhism to be a religion, but, instead, a philosophy of living. Buddhist psychology is very practical and useful. Here are some ways it explains suffering and how to avoid it:
Samsara is suffering caused by a constant search for security. How can we free ourselves of this suffering? How can we stop searching for security outside of ourselves, in people, places and things (like money)? This reminds me of Einstein’s definition of insanity: insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping you’ll get a different result. This is the essence of samsara: we just keep doing the same-old stuff, expecting that, one day, our situation will miraculously change.
Shenpas are what Buddhism refers to as being hooked, attached, over-invested in something that is bound to change (like jobs, lovers, real estate and the stock market). The desire to unhook from this stuff is what starts many of us on a path of personal growth, whether it’s Buddhism, AA/NA, The Forum, The Body Electric, psychotherapy or any other vehicle for psychological change.
Kleslas are strong emotions that lead to suffering: aggression, craving, ignorance, jealousy, arrogance and pride are good examples. We are jealous of those who are wealthier, more popular or attractive, have better jobs. We compete with our equals and to those we consider “beneath” us, (e.g., Trump supporters) we are scornful and proud.
Recognizing that your peace does not lie in the world is a major step forward in personal growth and freedom. I invite you to try it on for size and see how it fits (and feels).