Almost anyone anywhere can find peace but most of us don’t. I used to be a miserable, unhappy neurotic mess with constant depressions but now I’m pretty much in a state of peace or at least in a state of contentment most of the time. My default went from unhappy and moody to happy and joyful. Why? I’m not unique. I just followed what wiser people said and better, did what they did. Here are the 7 ways we ultimately sabotage ourselves on the path to peace and how to avoid these common pitfalls.
#1 – Lip Service Over Practice
Okay, we’re all guilty here. I mean, we may read and listen to many self-help and meditation books or attend workshops and retreats with gurus but how many of us actually put in the time and practice peace? Or even sit for a measly 30 minutes a day to meditate?
Intellectually understanding the foundations of peace is not the same as practicing them. It’s like reading a bicycle manual about all the parts or a how-to guide. Sure, intellectually you know all about the bike and how to ride it but it won’t actually make sense or truly click until you’re on the bike pedaling, let alone going down a steep hill or around a curve.
In peace, we have to practice. It’s an action first, noun second. Meditation, mindfulness, being present, training our minds, understanding ourselves – it all requires doing the work. Unfortunately, we want the results without doing the heavy lifting. It simply doesn’t work that way in 99.999…% of cases.
Put the book down, switch off the recording, forgo another retreat and save the lip service for cocktail parties. Sit. Practice. Wrestle with your mind, problems, and emotions. Start and continue. That is the foundation of peace.
#2 – Looking Outside, Not Inside
We love gurus. While wise leaders can offer guidance, advice and instruction, they can’t give us peace. No person or thing can. All wise spiritual masters have repeatedly said go inward and the answers are there. Even Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you. Every culture and faith throughout time has masters of peace. It is a human trait and ability inherited at birth, not something we must externally obtain.
When we stop and turn inward, that is where peace waits. It’s in the stillness between thoughts and words. It’s in the moments when our busy minds relax and stop spinning. It won’t be found in some new idea or principle or in understanding “just a bit more” of whatever you’re studying. It’s something we must experience inwardly and it doesn’t require an external cue or stimulus.
#3 – Ignoring Our Nutrition
Want extra stress and anxiety, mood swings and depression? Easy, eat crap food like the standard American diet of junk and processed food that offers no real nutrition for our bodies, let alone our minds, and which actively tears apart both. Research shows that this sort of diet is linked to Alzheimer’s and that the beneficial bacteria in our bodies that help regulate mood and our nervous system are affected by the foods we eat. Clinically depressed patients have been shown to have different gut biomes than non-depressed individuals.
If you want more peace, pay attention not only to your thoughts but to your eating habits. Eat food that builds, repairs and maintains your body and your mind. Refined carbs like sugar and processed flours will only exacerbate your nervous energy and are linked to anxiety, stress and depression along with processed food in general.
Additionally, our diet accounts for the majority of our health problems. If you’re sick or unwell thanks to modern diet-related illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease (for starters), peace will be that much more difficult to obtain because of the suffering you experience. Unobtainable? No. But for most of us, much harder to concentrate on and therefore achieve.
#4 – Ignoring Our Thought Habits
The real backbone of peace is a trained mind. Most of us operate by default and never try to train the mind to think about peace and happiness other than as a goal. We don’t train it to veer away from standard thought paths that revolve around fears, grudges, complaints, loss, etc. We wear deep grooves in our brains for these unhelpful thoughts rather than learn how to limit them and guide our mind to more productive and pleasant thoughts.
Meditation and mindfulness can greatly help in training the mind to stop obsessing so much and in teaching us how to let go and switch mental tracks. But first we have to recognize that we’ve given our brains free rein to go where they want, not where we want.
A quick example from my own life. Used to I’d mentally complain about everything, even the rain. I’d be standing in the rain waiting for my bus and have a running mental dialogue about how awful it was and what could go wrong next because of it. Now, I enjoy the rain, its sound, the way it makes colors vivid, how it nourishes the earth and how it comes and goes and some other day it will be sunny. It has its place and I’m content with experiencing it when it happens, even happy. So now I enjoy the rain when before I’d be upset (then I’d be upset the next day when it was hot and sunny). The change to peace came with changing my thought habits.
An unhappy person thinks unhappy thoughts. A peaceful person thinks peaceful thoughts (or limits thinking altogether). Simple but illustrative.
#5 – Confusing Our Thoughts with Ourselves
We always have a mental conversation of some sort going on, even if it’s just a running monologue about the world around us. We have thoughts about the person sitting next to us, our friends and loved ones, definitely about our colleagues, the article in the news, and on and on. The mind constantly runs commentary and we take this commentary as ourselves.
That commentary isn’t us. That’s just our thoughts on autopilot. You’re not upset. Your mind is.
To get a better handle on the difference, listen to yourself as you internally read this article. There is the reader that reads this and the awareness of the reader. You sense the difference when you step back and watch yourself. When you watch your thoughts, you see that thoughts are happening and a deeper awareness can observe them. You are not your random thoughts, about which you generally have no control for the most part (though with training you can change this greatly).
Identifying with the thoughts or even the emotions they incite and rushing off with them just carries you farther from peace. Stepping back and realizing our minds are useful tools for supplying info about the world around us starts us down the path to reclaiming ourselves from the anxiety, constant tumult, anger or pain, stress and everything else that our minds, thoughts and emotions constantly churn out.
Step back. Realize your thoughts and emotions are not you but are instead streams of information about the world your mind is helpfully (or not so helpfully) providing so that you can navigate this world of constant sense stimulus and activity. When you step back, you’ll start accessing a deeper awareness that is inherently peaceful and quiet. Start there.
#6 – Ignoring Wisdom
Ever heard the expression “wisdom was crying out in the streets” and being ignored? There’s a lot of truth in this. Most people seem to lack common sense, let alone wisdom. Cultivating and prizing wisdom though can save us from a great deal of suffering. Why study at the school of hard knocks when so many wise people have come before us and given good life advice? Sage advice exists on money, love, business and every avenue of life as an adult. People however, would rather play and act like children.
Wisdom though can prevent us from dating, let alone marrying, a person who will cause us grief and hardship – emotionally or financially. Wisdom can keep us from destroying our finances and help us build wealth and security. It steers toward moderation rather than excess and in this way prevents us from self-sabotaging ourselves. Look at most unhappy people and you will see an endless parade of self-sabotage. I speak from personal experience here! Who made bad money choices and went broke? Me. Who ate like a child and developed terrible health? Me again. And let’s not even get started on dating or career debacles. Can you relate?
Study and cultivate wisdom. It will keep you from needless and avoidable pain, stress, setbacks and disasters – all of which make peace that much harder.
#7 – Belief Systems
We all have beliefs about what we should or shouldn’t be doing with our lives, what we should achieve or what it means to be successful. We have beliefs about political parties, what is right and wrong, and even have beliefs about whether cats or dogs are the better pet. Some of these beliefs are so strong that we will literally go to war with others, kill or hurt another human being, and hate someone just for existing.
We will also tear ourselves apart because of our beliefs – telling ourselves we’re failures, not good enough, that the world or man is out to get us, that we can’t do something or that we’re stupid or ugly or on and on. This is all BS (belief systems) at work. The more deeply held, the more we tend to make ourselves or others suffer.
Drop the BS if it isn’t serving you and is actively making you suffer. You don’t need it and you can adopt a different, more useful system if you really need something to hang onto while navigating this topsy turvy world.
There’s a great saying “the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.” Assuming your belief system is correct and inalienable does few favors for anyone. Personally, I’m a fan of ideas since beliefs tend not to be 1) reliable generators of happiness and 2) are hard to prove systematically. Ideas are like working hypothesis and can change when the situation demands or they wear out.
Have ideas, not beliefs. Have guide posts, not shoulds. Abandon the straight jackets our society, culture, peers, family and everyone else keeps trying to jam down on us. You’ll probably be happier and find a lot more peace than when trying to live up to impossible expectations.
The Peace Process
There’s a reason why people say peace is possible now. It’s residing in us at every moment. The question is are we accessing it or pushing it away or covering it up? Are we practicing peace or just intellectually playing with it? Are we hoping someone else will give it to us rather than taking it ourselves? Are we ignoring our health through the foods we eat as much as we ignore our thought habits and emotional conditioning? Do we pay more attention to celebrities and the news cycle than we do to training our minds and becoming masters of our thought patterns? Do we invite more pain and suffering into our lives through unwise decisions that make a peaceful life that much harder to achieve? And do we have rigid belief systems that we impose on ourselves or others that are impossible to live up to and may need jettisoning?
We sabotage our personal peace missions in so many ways but it doesn’t have to be like that. Practice peace. Eat food that nurtures your mind and soul, learn to step back from your thoughts and emotions and the belief systems we imbibed growing up and still ingest daily from a fundamentally unbalanced society. Wise masters of peace have shown us the way. We need merely walk the path. Start now and don’t stop.
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