We all value peace of mind but very few of us know how to gain it. We often blame other people and situations for our inner unrest, but wise spiritual masters tell us we have the ability to remain calm no matter what is happening in the outer world.
How do we do it? How do we nurture a peaceful mind?
Vedanta, the spiritual science of life, explains that peace is ever-present. In fact, peace is the very nature of the mind. However, peace is seldom experienced by us because of the presence of factors that agitate the mind.
An analogy to explain this is the water in a lake which remains still unless ripples are created because of the wind or the movement of creatures and plant life in the water. Once the ripples subside, the water returns to stillness. Just as stillness is the true nature of the water, peace is the nature of the mind.
We needn’t struggle to gain peace as it’s already here, but rather focus on removing the factors that disturb the peace.
There are four main sources of mental unrest. They are:
- Sense of “I-ness”
- Sense of “my-ness”
Desires and Cravings
Someone with many desires is always excitable and agitated. As soon as one desire is fulfilled, another is already there, putting pressure on the mind to act on it and realise it.
When we run to possess and enjoy things we are not actually seeking the things for their own sake. We want them because we want the sense of joy or happiness that we feel when we have them.
And so, the real desire is the desire to be happy.
We wrongly superimpose happiness on things, people and situations thinking that they will make us happy, when in reality all they do is bring us temporary pleasure or joy.
When things change and that pleasurable experience or joy ends, a sense of incompleteness and lack creeps in. This pushes us to look for the next thing, person or experience to fulfill us. We don’t realise that what we seek is not to be found outside in the first place. (Read Why things can’t make you happy)
What we are really seeking is true happiness—permanent and lasting happiness that will put an end to all our striving and struggle once and for all.
The only place where real happiness is found is within ourselves. This is because happiness is our essential spiritual nature. (Read True happiness is inside—really?)
Cravings are also desires. Desire prompts us to either gain something that we don’t have, or that we don’t have enough of. When we get it, it brings us joy or pleasure. A craving is a desire to repeat a past pleasurable experience.
When the list of desires and cravings is never-ending, the mind cannot remain peaceful for long.
The remedy is to be aware of the thoughts in the mind. As soon as we are conscious of thoughts of desires or cravings, we must redirect them into some constructive activity or into doing our obligatory duties.
We can also remind ourselves that the joy that we gain is temporary and ultimately unsatisfactory and every time we give in to the desire, we are reinforcing a habit that is hard to break.
We can put greater focus on our spiritual growth and come to rediscover our true blissful nature. (Read 5 ways that guarantee your spiritual growth.)
Sense of “I-ness” and “my-ness”
We are spiritual beings living as human beings. Forgetting our true spiritual nature, we erroneously take our physical bodies to be who we are. That’s why we say “I” when we mean the physical body and its activities. For instance, referring to my body I may say, “I’m tall/short” or “I’m a man/woman.” Identifying with the activities of the body I may say, “I see/I hear/I walk/I talk.” This is what “I-ness” means.
When we identify the body as being the “I”, then anything belonging to the body becomes “mine.” This sense of possessiveness is referred to as “my-ness.”
This mistaken identity and sense of “I-ness” and “my-ness” are the cause for great sorrow and agitation in the mind.
Here’s why. . .The body is constantly changing in appearance and health. Experiencing these changes and taking ourselves to be the body, we suffer. For example, when the body puts on or loses weight, we may say, “I’m fat/I’ve lost weight.” When the body ages and wrinkles show up or the joints ache, we say, “I’m getting old!”
And, when something associated with the body is affected, we take it personally and once again suffer. For instance, because of my sense of attachment to the body and my possessions, I may say, “My shoulder hurts” or “Oh no! I lost my phone!”
Vedanta tells us that the notion of “I-ness” associated with a particular body and mind is called the ego. This commonly expresses as pride.
In his book, Right Thinking, Swami Tejomayananda describes a simple way to dilute pride: If we are proud of our accomplishments or how we look for example, we can take a piece of paper and draw two columns. One will have, “My contribution” written at the top and the second, “The contribution of others.”
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will find that what we have done is miniscule compared to the contribution of others. The number of items in the second column would be much longer than the first. This is because we have been endowed with our basic capacities and abilities.
To explain, our bodies, senses, the ability to think and feel, to walk and talk, to digest the food we eat and so on, all come from our creator. Our parents and teachers gave us the basic education we need to earn and accomplish.
Also, the country’s economic and political stability, infrastructure and the sacrifices of others have enabled our lives and successes.
As we reflect deeper, a sense of gratitude and humility arises; and we feel privileged to have been given so much by others. When this is felt deeply, one begins to feel a strong desire to give back and serve others. We then start to work as an instrument of the divine. As we work dedicating our actions to the higher power, pride and ego start to break down.
The sense of “my-ness” can be overcome by reflecting on the fact that we do not take anything with us when we die. Everything is a gift or a blessing for us to use and enjoy for a short time. We are merely “borrowing” it.
Understanding that we will also have to leave our near and dear ones behind when we die, we can break down our strong attachments to them by seeing our loved ones as fellow travellers on the journey of life. We give of ourselves fully to them and make the best use of our relationships knowing that we have a limited time together.
Remove the four agitating factors and regain peace
Peace is the nature of the mind. To regain it, we need to remove the four agitating factors within—desires, cravings, the sense of “I-ness” and “My-ness.”
The bad news is that we ourselves create the agitations. The good news is that we ourselves can remove them and regain the peace that was already there.
Tejomayananda, Swami. “Peace of mind” in Right Thinking, Mumbai: Chinmaya Prakashan, Reprint 2014.
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