In the final analysis, the hope of every person is simply peace of mind. Behind all our endeavors lies the desire to be happy, to feel content, relaxed, and at ease. No one wants to be in pain or to suffer unnecessarily. This is our true bottom line. We may think we are seeking some external goal, but we are seeking it in the hope that, in one way or another, we’ll feel better for it.
Why then, are we so seldom at peace? After all, we’re intelligent beings, who can look ahead and plan for the future. Moreover, we have many tools and technologies with which to create a better world. One would think that we, of all creatures, would be content and at ease. Yet the very opposite seems to be the case. Paradoxically, it is our remarkable ability to change the world that has led us to this sorry state. We have fallen into the belief that if we are not at peace, then we must do something about it. We believe we need to attain some goal, possess some thing, find some new experience; or conversely, avoid a situation or person that is causing us distress. We assume that, if we could just get our world to be the way we want, we would finally be happy.
In the short term, this approach seems to work. When we get what we want, we usually do feel better. But only for a while. Before long, we are off in search of some other source of happiness.
We live in what Indian philosophies call samsara, which means “to wander on.” We wander on, looking for happiness in a world that provides but temporary respites from our discontent, fleeting satisfactions followed by more wandering on in search of that ever-elusive goal.
Moreover, believing that peace of mind comes from what we have or do often makes us feel worse, not better. Imagining that something is missing or needs changing creates discontent. Our attention gets preoccupied with what we need, the choices to be made, the plans to carry them out—much of it concerning situations that don’t yet exist, and probably never will. Our thinking moves from one issue to another with seldom a pause.
Rather than feeling more at ease, we generally end up more tense. Throughout history, there have been those who’ve discovered a timeless truth about human consciousness: Our natural state of mind is already one of ease and contentment. By “natural” they do not mean the state of mind in which we spend most of our time—which, for the vast majority, is not one of ease and contentment. They are speaking of the mind before it becomes tarnished with desires and aversions. It is how we feel when everything is OK; when we are not worrying about anything.
Time and again they’ve told us that we don’t need to do anything, or go anywhere to be at peace. We simply need to cease striving for a moment. Let go of any attachments as to how things should or should not be. Become aware of our experience in the present as it is, without resistance or judgement. Then—and this is key—let the attention soften and relax.
When we do, we taste how it feels to be free from worry, anticipation, deciding and planning. We find the peace of mind that we have been seeking all along. A peace that is not at the mercy of events, or the vacillations of the thinking mind. A peace we can return to again and again.