Peace Comes to the Old Dog Via The School of Hard Knocks
We are told that states of being at peace and happiness are our divine right–just reach out and grab them and struggle no more. Peace and happiness, though, seem difficult when it comes to the everyday job of making choices within a sea of possibilities. The default logic for living is that we achieve peace and happiness by taking control of our fate and the choices that define it, while adrift in the sea of possible outcomes. Control is an illusion that for most, we have to learn by attending the School of Hard Knocks. “Why does anything happen?” is a much deeper question that few of us really want to take the time to contemplate, before abandoning the question for the safe harbor of some abstract philosophy or spiritual doctrine, that allows us to calm the anxiety that is a by-product of another failed attempt, deluding ourselves into believing that, “Yes, we can control the uncontrollable nature of life.” Of course, we know there will be an outcome and can even hypothesize or forecast a number of these possible outcomes, but the actual outcome is beyond the reach of the ordinary, everyday frame of reference to which most of us are constrained. After attempting too many times to predict the unpredictable and bring order to the seeming chaos in our lives, we become frustrated, and either quit thinking about our choices or become overwhelmed by our own self-induced neurosis. From there, it is only a skip and a short jump to either the predictable, habitual way of making choices–autopilot, if you will–or double down on our attempt to exert even more illusionary control, becoming the Classic Micro-Manager. Neither approach ends well, but of course, being ignorant , we don’t stop from trying again and again. So, what shall the masses do, when it comes to attempting to influence our future, if the outcome of such effort is daunting and frustrating, and possibly depression? Well maybe, just maybe there is an alternative to the hamster wheel that most of us are used to running on, and wears us out, but seldom gets us the peace of mind we are looking for in life. The key is no matter how difficult the day or days may become, making more effective choices and finding and sustaining the peace and happiness we all seek depends on staying calm.
“Staying calm is easier said then done,” you say, to which I totally agree, though, in the same breath, I will tell you from my own experience, is entirely within the realm of possible. Maintaining a state of calm in the sometimes turbulent waters of life is a lifelong practice that must be approached systematically to be effective. We have to be able to define what a calm, peaceful state of mind, free of worries, is for us. Then, we have to be able to define the state when we are bereft of peace of mind. Finally, we must be able to apply antidotes to ensure that our peace of mind can be restored, when we stumble into that state of unease, with its unwanted suffering. Once we know the contours of theses different states of mind, we have a process for developing and maintaining peace of mind–a mind that is the source of all positive qualities that cannot be easily disturbed by the unwanted circumstances that arise from time-to-time.
A calm state of mind is one genuinely free of worry; not a contrived peace of mind, duping us through denial and distraction. A mind at rest (and that doesn’t always mean sleeping) is one at peace. When the mind is calm, it has the ability to concentrate and that always leads to more effective choices. A calm mind is a natural state–an equilibrium if you will–that when achieved, requires no effort to maintain. A state of mind that no longer need be concerned with outcomes swims effortlessly within that once turbulent sea of possibility. A calm mind is one that accepts all things that manifest now, knowing that the dance of change is the only constant.
There are many paths to a calm mind. One can just find one’s breath in stillness and, in doing so, see infinity. One can rely on one’s faith, to see the power of their sublime representation of omniscience in nowness; a sure path that leads to the cessation of the disturbed mind and a restoration of calm. A calm mind is boundless; an anxious mind is one in dis-equalibrium, out of whack with the interdependent nature of things. Action, taken within a state of calm–otherwise know as instinct or God’s will, etc– requires no specific outcome. All outcome is learning and learning is the condition for improvement.Why, though, if the state of calm is the natural state, do we become disturbed? The question is simply answered in theory, but more complicated in application. The skinny, though, is this: we lose our concentration within the dance of sights and sounds–the interplay of existence and become distracted; Presto! We are disturbed.
A disturbed mind, one laced with afflictive emotions, is by its nature, opportunistic. It ambushes us when we are not paying attention. The opportunities for losing our attention and thus, peace of mind seem boundless–with another being added everyday. Actions have effects, and we love to compare effects against the simple model of like and dislike; right or wrong and then react (or act) on the outcome of this comparison. Once on the slippery slope of the comparing mind, we usually cascade headlong into the muck of distraction; thinking, like the elephant seeking relief from the heat in the cool mud that is actually quicksand, “Here lies relief from the now anxiety-ridden mind,” whose very cause was the pointless comparison of the effects of our actions in the first place. Once in the muck of distraction–many of them habitual in nature–we feel initially, what seems to be a sense of calm, which in reality is nothing more then a false sense of security, defended by a pride that operates under the mistaken idea that we know how to deal with outcomes we find unacceptable. Now, fully engaged in distraction and the defense of those distractions, calm quickly fades. Now, dazed and confused, suffering again rears its multiple heads leaving us in a state of protracted anxiety. The good news is, no matter how bad it gets, the the state of calm abiding cannot be destroyed and therefore is capable of being restored, but how?
Practice becoming aware of your anxiety. Work to see yourself distracted; understand the causes; know the effects. By realizing that you have drifted away from a sense of calm, with the positive effects it affords, you are already restoring the calm you lost, regaining concentration along the way. Through the repetitive practice of stabilizing the mind–returning it to the natural, innate state of calm–you habituate yourself to this process, making it less and less likely that your peace is hijacked and taken on a such a joyless ride. Of course, this takes time, but Rome was not built in a day and nor will your effort at (re)establishing your peace of mind happen by the end of the day. Everyone wants peace of mind, but too often settle for its evil twin–disturbed mind–bent on causing problems in everything we do and excusing away its actions by blaming everyone and everything else. The louder and sophisticated the voices in our own mind become at telling us to stop working for peace, which we deserve, the more successful you are at actually stabilizing the very peace of mind that is your birthright. So, yes, training the mind to remain in a peaceful state will take effort, but I am the living refutation of the age old adage that, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
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