Behind all our endeavors lies the desire to feel good — to be happy, 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 true. Our pet dog or cat seems to be at ease much more of the time than we are.
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 it to be, we could 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.
Ironically, believing that peace of mind comes from what we have or do often results in the very opposite. The idea that something is missing or needs changing creates a sense of discontent. Our attention becomes 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 thoughts move from one issue to another with seldom a pause.
Throughout history, there have been those who’ve discovered a timeless truth about human consciousness: we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything to find peace of mind — 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 hopes, fears, judgments and plans. It is how we feel when everything is OK; when we are not worrying about anything. It is simply our natural state of Being.
How does Being feel? It is that sense of “I am” — the first person experience of the verb “to be.” It is what spiritual teachings often call the “pure” or “inner” self, or simply “the Self.” It is that ever-present sense of “I” that never changes. It is the same feeling that was there yesterday, last year, and as far back as we can remember. Our thoughts, our likes and dislikes, our personality, desires, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but the “I” that knows them has not.
Most of the time we don’t notice this inner sense of Self. Our attention is on what we are doing or experiencing, which has the effect of veiling the stillness of our own being. This is why spiritual teachings have told us time and again that we don’t need to do anything else in order to rest in peace; we just need to remove the veils — let go of trying to change our experience, let go of any attachments as to how things should or should not be, and instead allow the moment to be as it is. And then, and this is important, simply let the attention soften and relax. With no effort whatsoever.
As we come to rest effortlessly in our own Being, we taste how it feels to be free from worry, anticipation and planning. We find the peace of mind that we’ve 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.
We have come home.