Finding Peace & Joy Within
What/where is my inner source of peace/joy?
Most of us have heard variations on quotes such as “happiness comes from within” or “we are responsible for our own happiness”. When looking at the reality of our lives in times of pain, stress or fear, this may seem like self-righteous nonsense. However, it is true, and I will show you the location of this inner source of happiness. But fair warning, accessing this source is a skill like riding a bike or playing a musical instrument. We are all capable of it, but it requires practice.
It is easier to show than explain, so please do the following simple exercise.
Close your eyes and count backward from 5. Then keep reading.
You just watched the thoughts “5,4,3,2,1”. In other words, you not only were thinking, but you were consciously aware of those thoughts while they were happening.
Do you feel let down? This must seem trivial. We constantly dip into this place of being aware of our thoughts and emotions while they are happening. This state is well known to science and philosophy. It is often is referred to as “self-awareness”, however I will just call it “Awareness”. This is nothing new.
But, please don’t dismiss this out of hand. The state of Awareness is not trivial.
This state of being aware of your thoughts (and emotions) is the leading edge of an immense inner resource that is (among other things) the source of peace and joy.
Because the joy that comes from this awareness comes completely from within, it is uncaused and unrelated to whatever is happening in your (outer) daily life. It is an unconditional gift. And this awareness has many other gifts.
Isn’t this just my mind?
Science has shown that almost nothing is as it appears. We often overlook the obvious, and sometimes we must look closely to really understand what is going on.
Some examples. Heavy things don’t fall faster than light things, instead everything falls at the same speed (when you eliminate air resistance). The earth is not standing still with everything in the heavens orbiting around it. Instead the earth orbits the sun and even the sun is moving. Our body isn’t one living thing, instead it is made up of trillions of cells. There are many other examples.
The same applies to our inner experience. We must look closely to gain an understanding of what is really going on within us.
Instead of picturing ourselves as consisting of just body and mind, it is more useful to think of ourselves as body, mind and Awareness. Each is different from the other and each has its own important role to play in our lives.
How is this different than my mind?
The word “mind” is often used as a catchall to describe everything that happens within us, all our inner experiences. That is an oversimplification of a very complex phenomenon. For this discussion, I use the word “mind” to mean thoughts and emotions.
Given this definition of mind, Awareness is clearly something else, in the same way your eye is different from everything you can see. Awareness allows you to see your mind.
How do mind and Awareness relate?
If you pay attention, you will notice that we usually only experience Awareness for a brief period (seconds at most). We then slip back into our normal mode of being caught up in our thoughts and emotions. Normally, Awareness is overshadowed by our mind.
This point is both fundamental and critical. In the same way that loud noise will drown out quiet music, the volume of our thoughts and emotions drowns out our Awareness. Thoughts and emotions roll on, typically but not always on a general topic we have chosen (or think we have chosen), without us having direct control or being consciously aware of them while they happen. Even worse, sometimes we get hijacked by our mind – it takes us into thought patterns or memories that we don’t want to experience and may even believe to be harmful, yet we seem helpless to stop them.
Don’t I have control over my mind?
Not really. If you believe you have control over your mind, test it now. I am going to give you a useless yet harmless thought: “monkeys are hairy”. Close your eyes and start repeating that thought for at least a couple of minutes. When you’ve had enough, stop.
What did you experience?
If you’re like almost everyone else, after several repetitions, your mind wandered. Other thoughts came up, either on their own or concurrent with monkeys are hairy. And eventually, you lost the thought monkeys are hairy completely. You may have gone back to it, but the point is, you unavoidably lost that thought.
And notice one more thing. You did not see the moment you lost the thought. What happened is that after some time, you realized you were no longer thinking it, at which point you either gave up, or you started it up again. In other words, most of the time your awareness of your thoughts is a recent memory, not an “in the moment” experience.
We all often drop into moments of Awareness, so why don’t we feel happy and peaceful?
The mind generates thoughts and emotions at such volume and speed that it eclipses Awareness most of the time. The activity of the mind keeps us from our source of happiness. This is just what the mind does; it’s part of the mind’s fundamental nature.
You can compare Awareness to a fire when you are cold. The fire won’t warm you if you just run by it. Also, if there is someone standing between you and fire, again the fire can’t warm you. You need stay by the fire for some time, and if necessary keep sidestepping the person in front of you, to get warm.
If you want to experience the peace and happiness that comes from within, you must spend time in the presence of your own Awareness, sidestepping thoughts and emotions when they intrude.
As you have already demonstrated with your hairy monkey experience, that does not happen automatically. That’s why I called it a skill, earlier.
How do I develop the skill of staying in Awareness?
With practice, just like any other skill. Over time, your physiology will change, thoughts will become quieter and you will be able to hold a greater sense of Awareness. Your mind will get out of the way for longer periods of time. In fact, you will reach a point where you have moments of stillness where there are no thoughts or emotions, only Awareness, and eventually that Awareness expands and deepens to something that cannot be described, but only experienced.
How do you practice?
In a word, meditation (or mindfulness if you prefer). Useful meditation practices develop your ability to stay in, and expand, your state of Awareness.
It is important to note that not all practices called meditation or mindfulness do this. I can’t speak to what functionality these other practices may have, but connecting to Awareness is not one of them.
What other benefits does Awareness have?
Awareness has many other gifts, including creativity, intuition, wisdom, calmness, connection, gratitude, love – even physical health. These will spontaneously become apparent as you spend more time experiencing your own Awareness.
Has any of this been verified?
Over 50 years of scientific research have demonstrated multiple significant benefits from meditation and mindfulness as explained elsewhere on this website. It is worth noting that this research shows (some of) what meditation does, but not why. In that way, meditation and mindfulness may be comparable to the original smallpox vaccine which was used long before it was understood how and why it worked.
How can I learn to meditate?
First the bad news. I’m not going to explain in writing. There is a tradition that says the instruction needs to be personal, and my experience supports that. It is too easy to misunderstand written, and therefore limited, instructions. With no opportunity to ask questions or to receive feedback from the instructor, it is easy to get this subtle practice wrong. When errors in practice occur, the effectiveness is lost. Hope is replaced with disappointment and an important opportunity is lost.
If you want to learn to meditate you have several choices.
One is to contact me – I would be pleased to teach you. You can also check this website for the various presentations, programs and group meditations that I offer.
Alternatively, there are effective teaching organizations that come from long traditions and have many satisfied members or students. It may take a little effort, but you should be able to find one where you are comfortable with the organization and it’s offerings.
Do I need to concentrate?
Now the good news. I will give you a hint about meditation. Useful meditation and mindfulness practices are done completely effortlessly. Concentration requires effort and effort is a function of the mind. The instant there is effort, you are away from Awareness and back in the mind. Awareness just is, concentration cannot take you there.
What if I’ve tried meditating but my mind is too busy?
This question points to a common misunderstanding. Meditation is not about experiencing a still mind (although that can happen). Meditation is a practice, not a state. The practice and benefits of meditation are two different things, just like a path and its destination are different.
The goal of practicing the piano is to be able to make music. A concert pianist is obviously much better at making music than a 4-year-old who is just starting. However, the 4-year-old beginner can practice just as effectively as the concert pianist.
A qualified meditation teacher will show you how to practice effectively, regardless of how busy your mind is.
Why doesn’t everyone already know this?
This is very old knowledge, in the background of numerous cultures and religions, that has been lost and then rediscovered many times throughout history. Lost, because it is subtle. Once the “secret” to effective practice is lost, the benefits are lost and they become a matter of belief and faith for some and wishful or deluded thinking for others.
How long will it take to experience the benefits of meditation?
After all, if I am suffering now, I want it to stop immediately.
The answer is that, like developing any other skill, it takes time. This is a journey of exploration of your own Awareness, and Awareness is far greater than you can imagine.
On the other hand, most people who start to meditate and do it daily start seeing differences within a month. If you keep practicing, gifts continue to unfold and expand.
As an analogy, imagine if every time you meditate, $50 is slipped into your bank account. Most of us wouldn’t notice $50. However, if that happens twice a day, it is $3000 after a month. Most of us would notice that. To push the analogy a little further, image that instead of money you have been given an unlimited supply of winning $50 lottery tickets that can only be redeemed one at a time. You must put in the time to gain the rewards.
Will problems go away if I meditate?
It is important to remember that we have a fundamental need to carry responsibility and to make ourselves useful to others. This means that obstacles and problems are inevitable in life.
Meditation helps us fulfill our role in life, not avoid it. Meditation is not about our experiences during meditation, but rather the impact it has on our life when we are not meditating. Problems will still arise and they can lead us into suffering. However, meditation gives us a way to move out of suffering and helps us be happier and more effective while we deal with problems.
I offer a 2 day program, open to everyone, called The Beautiful State that teaches how to recognize when we are suffering (it isn’t always as obvious as one might think) and how to move out of it in order to be happier and more effective. This course is of value to both those who have not meditated before as well those who have meditated for years.
What does meditation have to do with religion and spiritual practices?
I have avoided the terms “spirit” or “spiritual”. It is my belief that spirit and Awareness are the same thing, however, I want to remain pragmatic and stay away from terms that are vague or a distraction. I’m not expecting you to have faith in what I’m saying or head off on a spiritual tangent. I am hoping you will just test what I have said. Once you become familiar with Awareness, you will understand why I believe Awareness and spirit are the same thing whether you agree with me or not. In the meantime, if this is an issue for you, I suggest you just let it go for now. These are just words. Let your experience speak for itself.
It is worth keeping in mind that the gifts of Awareness have practical value in all aspects of life. Therefore it is reasonable for any religion to promote it, in the same way that many religious promote good health.
Some organizations that offer effective meditation practices label themselves as spiritual. This should not be a problem provided they are not asking you to commit to specific beliefs. Trust your own experience.
Peace, happiness and many other unconditional gifts of Awareness are your birthright. But you must take the time to claim it.