Peace and Happiness Made Simple*
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* The insights described in this article are consistent with a huge body of wisdom expressed over thousands of years, particularly by people who have realised their inner nature. However, most of what has been written and spoken about happiness and the awakening of the inner Self overlooks the simplicity of the insights and practices I describe, and the potential immediacy of their realisation in experience. That is due to the vastness of that body of wisdom, and to problems inherent in expressing in words aspects of human experience and consciousness which are beyond the conceptual mind. While these practices are, for the most part, described in my words, most of them are recommended by other teachers, and in particular by either or both Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, and Noah Elkrief, author of A Guide to the Present Moment. I wrote this article, and post it here on my website, in the interests of making this information more accessible, in a simple and coherent format.
eace and happiness do not come from anything external. Nor do they come from thinking positive thoughts. Peace and happiness are our nature. What gets in the way of us experiencing our true nature? Thoughts.
Some of our thoughts are of a practical nature. How do I plant this shrub? How do I remove this splinter? On a larger scale… How can we build a bridge? How can I program a computer? This type of thought is the proper job of the mind. It is wonderful to have a mind to investigate and answer such practical questions in life. For most people, however, almost all mental activity is thought of a different kind - thought focused on self-image, on problems, and on judging good and bad. It is this kind of thought that takes away our happiness.
What to do? Many people try to stop their thoughts. It can't be done. When mind is given the job of getting rid of mind, it just creates a busy mind and tension. The other way we frequently try to get away from our thoughts is by distractions. When we're distracted from our thoughts, we're fine. Many people fill their lives with diversions and addictions to help them escape their thoughts. The problem with that solution is that there is a limit to how much time we can spend engaging in distractions. When they are over, thoughts flood in again. There is a third option. We can question our thoughts, and realise they are not true.
Dis-identify From Your Thoughts
It is not thoughts, as such, that take away our happiness. It is believing our thoughts to be true. Imagine you pass a person in the street, let's say a person who looks a bit down-and-out. As you pass them by, they look at you and say, "You're a loser". What would you feel? Probably not much. They don't even know you. You would not give any credibility to their words. Now imagine that somebody who knows you, and who you love and respect, says the same thing to you. "You're a loser." What do you feel? Probably hurt, defensive perhaps, or a bit angry. Why the difference in your reaction? Because you didn't believe the stranger, but you believed the loved one, at least to the extent that their words triggered thoughts of self-doubt. So it wasn't the words themselves that affected you. Believing or disbelieving the words is what made the difference.
Thoughts are not copies of reality. They are not 'true'. They are only interpretations, points of view, opinions or stories that we tell ourselves and others. I might think a painting is beautiful. But you might say, "You're crazy. It's ugly". Beautiful and ugly are not part of the painting. They are thoughts about the painting. So it is in our daily life. It is not what we experience that makes us happy or unhappy. It is the thoughts we have and believe about what we experience that trouble us, or perhaps make us feel great for a little while. Most of our thoughts are judgements of good and bad, right and wrong, should and should not. But those things are concepts that only exist in thought, in our imagination. They are not part of the facts, not part of reality.
When troubled by an emotion, first look to see what thought underlies it. What thought is triggering the emotion? It might be a thought you were barely aware of till you started looking. For example, you might be feeling fearful or anxious. What is the thought underlying it? Perhaps it is the thought that it would be bad if you do not pass the job interview you have tomorrow. Then, question the thought. "Do I know that is true? Do I know that it would be bad for me, if I don't get the job offer? Is it possible it could be good for my life if I don't get the job? Perhaps I wouldn't have enjoyed that job. Perhaps next week I'll get a different job that suits me much better. I cannot know all the flow-on effects. I cannot know for sure whether it would be good or bad." When you realise that you do not know for certain that it would be bad if you do not pass the interview, the fear goes. Instantly. What remains? A feeling of peace. A feeling of happiness. You are just there, in the present moment, being.
The second, very liberating thing to realise about thoughts is that they are not you. As we grow up, we learn to identify with particular thoughts, to believe that we are our thoughts. "I think, therefore I am", goes the famous, but terribly misleading statement of Descartes. You are not your thoughts. You are the awareness noticing them. Thoughts don't mean anything about you. Thoughts just arise by themselves, mostly due to our background of experiences, our conditioning. Ask yourself the question, "What will be the next thought to come into my mind?" When it comes, notice that you didn't pick the thought. If you chose your thoughts, you would never choose negative ones. They don't make you happy.
You don't know for sure that your thoughts are true, and you are not the one thinking them. When you remind yourself of these two facts, you are dis-identifying from your thoughts. This applies to so-called positive thoughts, as well. The thought, "I am a good person", for example, is just as problematic as its negative opposite. The positive only exists in relation to its latent opposite. There is no 'good' without 'bad'. Focusing on positive thoughts is obviously better than focusing on negative ones. The positive makes you feel better, for the moment, than the negative. But if you like the idea, "I am good", then you will fear any experience or opinion or thought that suggests you are bad, or not so good.
You are the awareness, or deeper Self, that notices thoughts as they come and go. Remind yourself frequently throughout each day, "I am not the one thinking", and "My thoughts are not reality, not true. They're just thoughts". Each time you dis-identify from thought in this way, you will immediately feel more peaceful and happy. Youtube videos by Noah Elkrief are an excellent aid in seeing through your thoughts. Many of his videos will help you to identify and disbelieve the thoughts that trigger specific emotions you may experience, including fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression, anger, unworthiness, guilt, heartbreak and grief.
As you dis-identify from your thoughts, you can allow them to come and go as they do. They will not take away your happiness, because you no longer believe them, or mistake them for who you are. You can just be there, present, in the moment.
Allow What Is
As you become increasingly dis-identified from thoughts, you will naturally find it easier to allow your experience to be whatever it might be in the present moment. After all, it is only thoughts that tell you that what you are experiencing is 'bad', or 'wrong', or 'not good enough', or 'insufficient'.
Eckhart Tolle has observed that, "The mind loves a problem, like a dog loves a bone". Your experience in the world will always be limited in some way. That is the nature of the world of form. Your mental resistance to these limitations, your judgement that the way things are in the present moment is not good enough, keeps you trapped in thoughts, your own mental forms. You may not recognise your resistance to the present moment, as being resistance. You might more often notice it as looking forward to the future. But looking to the next moment for your fulfilment, is a rejection of the present moment, and fills the present moment with thoughts. When you relax the grip of the mind and accept the limitations of the present moment, your deeper consciousness, your deeper Self, comes to the fore. You feel a peaceful liberation from the limitations of form.
Acceptance of the present moment does not mean you should not respond to your present experience, and perhaps make changes. It simply means that you no longer resist what is, feeling or saying to yourself that, "This shouldn't have happened", or "She shouldn't have said that", or "I'll be happy when I've got this problem sorted". The reality is that it did happen, she did say it, and things are this way. This allowing the moment to be just as it is leaves you feeling peaceful and happy, even as you may speak or act to deal with what is. And, in this case, your speaking and acting draws intuitively on the resources of universal intelligence, since your deeper Self beneath thinking, your inner life, is one with all life.
This attitude of allowing, then, is another very simple and very effective way of becoming and remaining happy and peaceful. Make it a practice to frequently remind yourself that you allow your experience of the present moment to be just as it is. As we have said above, this includes allowing that whatever thoughts have arisen in your mind have arisen in your mind. Don't resist them by thinking, "It's bad to have such thoughts", or "I shouldn't have negative thoughts like that". No. A thought has popped up. That is okay. You then respond to the thought, and to any emotion that has been triggered by the thought, by questioning whether you can know for certain that your thought that something is bad is true, and by reminding yourself that you are not the one thinking. There is reality, and there are your thoughts about reality. There is nothing wrong, in reality. Anything wrong only exists in your imagination.
Feel The Inner Body
After you have been practicing dis-identifying from your thought, and allowing your experience in the present moment to be just as it is, you may begin to feel, at times, some energy in and around parts of your body, such as your hands. As you withdraw consciousness from the mind, it is naturally left with itself, with the inner life. Perhaps you already have this sensation from time to time. This is the energy of your inner body, your inner life. We tend to identify with our physical body (as well as with our thoughts), but we are more truly the inner body. It is your connection with the universal life. It is easy and most beneficial to feel the inner body.
If you do not feel the inner body at all at present, here is a way to begin. Put your attention on your breath, and notice its natural movement in and out of your nostrils. Do this for a minute or two. If thoughts pop up, that is fine. Remember to allow them, without following them. They are not you, not reality and not important. Allow them. Then, not because your thoughts are bad, but just out of curiosity, bring your attention back to noticing the sensation of the movement of your breath.
Next, close your eyes and position one arm a little away from your body, so that it is comfortable, relaxed and not touching anything. Without moving the hand of that arm, and without touching anything, ask yourself, "Is there some way that I can know that my hand is there?" You will probably begin to notice a subtle feeling of energy in and around your hand. If you do, gently open your eyes and notice that you can still sense that energy. That is your inner body, the life that you are.
Eckhart Tolle describes a simple practice for feeling your inner body more strongly.
This practice is something you can do pretty much at any time, the more frequently the better. You can do it in bed, before sleeping and upon waking. You can do it while cooking dinner, or while waiting at the traffic lights. Everything you do, you can begin to do with your 'whole' body, with some of your attention remaining on your inner body.
- Feel the life energy in various parts of the body, one part at a time. For example, feel the energy around your feet, then, after maybe ten or fifteen seconds, feel the energy around your legs, and so on through your abdomen, hands, arms, chest and head.
- Let your feeling of the inner body move through your body a little more quickly, up and down from feet to head and back a few times, like a wave.
- Feel your inner body as a single field of energy for a few minutes.
There are two facets of noticing that are particularly helpful to feeling peace and happiness.
The first involves opening the senses. Noticing what is present more intensely with the physical senses, both leads to and flows from being less identified with thoughts - with labels, concepts, categories, definitions and judgements. It allows you to experience things more as they are in reality, rather than abstractly, as conceptualisations.
It is undoubtedly helpful sometimes, in limited contexts, to label, define, categorise, analyse, evaluate and apply logic to elements of our experience. But we do not 'know' something just because we have named and defined it. Such mental processes reduce the dynamic aliveness of reality to crude abstractions. A stone thrown into the turbulent, wind-whipped surface of a lake, quickly disappears without a trace. However, even a small pebble thrown into a glassy-still lake sets up a very clear pattern of ripples. In like fashion, with the usual turbulence of our labelling, analysing and judging mind, we find it difficult to register much more than the surface values of the world around us. However, when we fully open our physical senses, mental activity tends to recede and we are better able to resonate with the inner, energetic qualities of objects, people and events around us. When you make a point of noticing in this way, you will find yourself feeling a deeper connection or oneness with the world around you.
The second facet of noticing that is very helpful to experiencing the peace of your deeper Self, your consciousness beneath form, is noticing the spaces between forms. In physical space, for example, a room may contain various items of soft and hard furnishings, or a garden may contain a variety of shrubs, trees, grass and other plants. When we enter such a space, we tend to notice, and to notice exclusively, the objects. But the objects can only exist in relationship to the space within which they are positioned. When our attention is fully taken by the forms in a physical space, we miss 'experiencing' the stillness, the formlessness and the limitlessness of the space which the forms partly occupy. Noticing the stillness and spaciousness that is the background of the objects around you, will help you to feel the stillness and spaciousness of your deeper Self.
In a similar way, events in time have a space between them. When a person speaks, for example, our mind tends to only give attention and value to the words spoken. Our mind is only interested in the objects, the forms, in this case the conceptual forms. Practice noticing the space between the words, when listening to someone. Again, noticing the stillness and spaciousness that is the background of the words you hear, will awaken the stillness and spaciousness within you. Soon you may find that, as you do this, you immediately begin to feel your inner body and you become immediately more present. You are more deeply connected with the person you are listening to, with what they are saying, and with the deeper intelligence that underlies you both and the interaction.
Each of the above four groups of practices will be found effective in awakening the inner Self, in bringing about more peace and happiness. Greater benefit will be enjoyed by practicing all of them, and possibly by initially exploring them in the order described, in particular the first one first.
They are each closely related, and really bridge one to the other naturally and easily. When you have become familiar with each of these openings to the peace of presence, you may find it easy and powerful to link them together. An acronym, DAWN, can be used to remind yourself of the four practices and their order.
- Dis-identify from the mind. "I am not the one thinking."
- Allow the present moment to be just as it is.
- Withdraw attention from the mind by feeling the inner body.
- Notice your surroundings with your senses. Notice the space between objects, words and sounds.
You can write this acronym on slips of paper and put them in various places, such as on the dashboard of your car, in your wallet or purse, and on your fridge. Some of the reminders might have all of the words given with the acronym above. Others might simply have the acronym letters: DAWN. Either way, once you are familiar with what the letters stand for, you will find this simple practice takes only seconds to bring you back to the peace and happiness of your essential Self.