The Easy Way to Peace of Mind (#821)

Over the past few months, I have become very conscious of the amount of energy and effort that many of my clients put into attaining and maintaining peace of mind. Here are the five main strategies I’ve noticed them employ:

1. They try to protect their minds from disturbance by not watching the news, not reading the papers, and not allowing negative people into their lives.

2. They employ meditative techniques designed to use the mind to still the mind through inquiry, mantras, and visualizations.

3. They employ meditative techniques designed to still the mind by stepping outside it and watching their thoughts as a neutral observer.

4. They shift attention away from their minds and onto their body, using intense exercise, gentle movement, or focusing on breath to change their state.

5. They attempt to go unconscious by using food, television, alcohol, or drugs.

While I certainly recognize the value of a quiet mind for living a healthier, happier, more insightful life, I generally suggest they abandon all five of these practices.  To understand why, try this little thought experiment:

Imagine an eccentric billionaire hires you to keep the surface water on his swimming pool smooth and calm because he likes the way it looks.  Each time the water is disturbed, either by a swimmer or the wind or even a loose pebble or stray needle, your job is to “quiet” the pool and return the water to its natural reflective calm.

You go online to do a bit of research into “pool calming” and find the five most popular suggestions:

1. You could try to protect the pool from disturbance by exerting control over the environment and not letting anyone or anything into it.

2. You could jump into the water and try to calm it while you’re in it.

3. You could sit by the side of the pool and watch the water slosh around with the intention of calming it through observation .

4. You could shift your attention from the water to the pool itself, working on the filtering system, heater, and overall design in an attempt to limit “sloshing”.

5. You could get in the pool and eat sandwiches and chips while watching your favorite TV show, washing it all down with a few beers and some heroin until you drown.

Which of these “strategies for success” would you choose?

While any of the first four strategies could appear to work because at some point the water will naturally calm down alongside or even in spite of your efforts, none of them would actually speed the process and a few of them would actively interfere with it.

So I’m hoping that you chose to ignore all five of these and instead opted for a sixth “strategy” – doing nothing and collecting your paycheck with good conscience, knowing that the physics of water means that if you just wait, the pool will return to its natural state all by itself.

The “physics” of the mind is the same as the physics of water – its natural state is clear, reflective, and still. Which means the simple truth is this:

There is nothing you can do that will “quiet” the mind faster
than doing nothing to quiet the mind.

The reason it doesn’t often seem that way is two-fold:

a. We confuse the content of our minds with the nature of the mind.  Since we live in a world of thought and experience our thinking as real, it really seems as though having a lot on our mind is the same as having a “busy mind”.  But the mind itself can’t be “busy” anymore than the sky can be “angry” – we confuse the nature of weather with the nature of the sky that weather unfolds inside of, just as we confuse the nature of thought with the nature of the mind that it unfolds inside of.

b. We get superstitious when our practice or ritual to “still the mind” coincides with the natural settling of thought, and begin to think the one causes the other. And since many of us have painful memories of the emotional and sometimes physical cost of our thinking run amok, we are scared and often unwilling to put the physics of the mind to the test.

If this is you, please consider one of my favorite stories, reprinted here from You Can Have What You Want:

In 1911, for reasons no one has ever been able to ascertain, a man appeared, naked and alone  in the foothills of Mt. Lassen in Northern California. With the help of two anthropologists from Berkeley named Thomas Waterman and Alfred Kroeber, it was learned that he was the last remaining member of a once strong tribe of Native American Indians known as the Yana. Although accepting the friendship of the Westerners who took him in and gave him a home at the local University, he would never share his real name, and he became known as ‘Ishi’, which translated simply as ‘man’.

Having never before lived in what his benefactors called ‘civilization’, he was continually being introduced to things he had never before experienced. On his first visit to San Francisco, Ishi was taken to the Oroville train station. When the train approached, he walked quietly away from his traveling companions and stood behind a pillar. When they beckoned for him to join them, he strode forward and boarded the train.

Back at the University, he was asked by Kroeber about his strange behavior at the train station. Ishi told him that when he was growing up, he and the members of his tribe would see the train pass through the valley. Watching it snaking along and bellowing smoke and fire, they thought it was a demon that ate people.

Amazed, Kroeber asked ‘How did you find the courage to get on the train if you thought it was a demon?’

Ishi replied, ‘My life has taught me to be more curious than afraid.’

Have fun, learn heaps, and enjoy!

With all my love,

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