“Peace is not the highest goal in life. It’s the most fundamental requirement.” —Sadhguru
There’s a quote I like from Robert Holden, director of the Happiness Project, which I often share with clients who are struggling with troublesome thoughts or emotions.
One day, when someone asked him “how are you?”, he answered:
“My thoughts are pretty neurotic, but I’m well.”
What a powerful statement.
The mind is troubled but I’m not.
Imagine if your sense of wellbeing was NOT determined by your emotions or the content of your mind.
Imagine if you could relate to anxious, fearful, sad or neurotic thoughts in a way that they didn’t affect your peace?
What if it wasn’t the thoughts and feelings in your head that determined how peaceful or agitated you feel, but your identification with them.
You don’t suffer because of the thoughts in your head. You suffer because you are identified with them — because you take them to be who you are.
How most people answer the question “How are you?”
If you ask most people how they are, they’ll answer by quickly scanning the content of their mind and reporting what they find there.
They’ll give you an inner weather report.
If sad thoughts and feelings are present, they’ll report, “I’m sad.”
If happy thoughts and feelings are there, they’ll report, “I’m happy.”
You rarely find someone who says, “My head is filled with crazy, neurotic, messed up nonsense (the human condition) but I’m happy.”
Or, “There’s a lot of sadness there today, but I’m well.”
There’s a world of difference between recognising that certain thoughts, feelings or emotions are present in your awareness and taking them to be who you are— between noticing that ‘sadness is present’ and interpreting it as “I’m sad.”
Robert Holden was aware that, although there were neurotic thoughts present in his mind, they did not reflect who he was—or how he felt.
Thoughts are like clouds passing across the sky of your awareness. Clouds of every shape and form—rain clouds, sun clouds, big clouds, small clouds float across the sky but none of them affect the sky. The sky remains untouched and unchanged. It has no preferences.
In the same way, the thoughts that pass through your awareness do not touch the peace of your true self.
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You’re Not Your Thoughts or Feelings
When I read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power Of Now” in the ‘90s, and was exposed for the first time to the idea that I am not my thoughts, it literally blew my mind.
More accurately, it blew away my ideas of what the mind is and who I am in relationship to it.
After feeling trapped for so many years in the workings of a crazy, neurotic, messed up mind, the relief of discovering it’s not who I am—and even more importantly, that there’s a simple way out—was massive.
After years of therapy, workshops and seminars—years of trying to fix all the ‘broken’ thoughts in my head— to discover it’s not even necessary was so liberating.
All I had to do was to break my identification WITH them—to step back and watch the thoughts (feelings and emotions too) objectively, without labelling them as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, without judging them or trying to push them away.
I learned that, when you accept the mind just as it is, there is an inherent peace that fills you up— a peace that has nothing to do with the content of the mind or how you’re feeling—a peace that can never leave you.
As I wrote in my book, “Kick the Thinking Habit”:
“Don’t be concerned about the thoughts that come and go. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. Leave the mind in peace to do its dance, and it will leave you in peace to do yours. Don’t touch it at all, and you will remain untouched by it.”
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Feeling Peace vs Being Peace
Here’s another one of my favourite quotes:
“Don’t be a peaceful person. Be peace.”- Papaji
There are two distinct types of peace:
- peace as a feeling that comes and goes and has agitation as its opposite
- the peace of your essential nature that is ever-present and unchanging
The second is what Papaji is referring to in his statement.
Don’t identify with the feeling of peace that comes and goes. Identify instead with the awareness that is ever-present, unchanging and ever at peace.
When you learn to stay rooted in the eternal peace of your true Self, it no longer matters what thoughts or feelings come and go. You learn to watch them dispassionately.
There’s a lot of movement on the surface of the ocean but in the depths it is still and silent.
Discover the depths of your own being and you’ll no longer be so bothered by the movements on the surface.
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