How to have a Peaceful Mind

Leonardo, Self-Portrait-yoga‘…I totally agree that a calm and peaceful mind can make you see so many great possibilities… but the big question to you is: how to do it?’

I’d like to use this question that a friend recently sent me to define, one more time, what the aim of the Yogilates classes is.

In the classes we take care of our body and our mind.
We take care of the body by strengthening it, making it more flexible and healthier; by being more aware of its needs.
We take care of the mind by learning to make it more quiet and to find peace.

This last aim can exist as a short term effect or a long term effect.We come to the class and because of the environment of the class, we will get a quiet mind, find some inner peace. In the class, together with the gym, we are introduced to a psychological/philosophical/spiritual knowledge. This knowledge is imbedded in the exercises and so at the end of the class we will feel more relaxed, both physically and mentally. But just as it happens with a massage, that relaxation will probably be lost as soon as the old ways of thinking return.

But there is also the possibility to experience a peaceful mind not only during, or right after the class, but also in our everyday life. Of course this is a much more complex aim, and for this, we need to understand that a peaceful mind is directly related to our vision of life. It is not something one can do for 5 minutes every day or for 1 hour 3 times a week. Any exercise one can do may be very helpful, like a breathing exercise or repeating a mantra or concentrating on an image or practicing some yoga, but in the end, if this is all one does, although healthier, is not really all that different than taking a relaxing pill. These, or other exercises, are for sure very useful as a necessary inspiration and a reminder of what is possible, but on their own they are not enough.

In order to have a peaceful mind in the midst of our everyday life we need to change our vision of life, the way we see life, and that is not so easy because it means changing our psychology, changing ourselves. For this, we need to practice the knowledge we hear in class, not only during the class, but all day long, and for a long time.

I have (very shortly) summarized this knowledge—the new vision—in seven steps.


1. A peaceful mind is what one really wants in life

We are often too busy to have enough time to develop a peaceful mind. But what we don’t see is that we are so busy getting things when the reason we actually want them is not because of the things themselves, but because we hope that they will bring me peace…although of course they usually produce exactly the opposite result. What we really want is not the money or the car or the house. What we want is that moment when we can breathe in peace and feel satisfied, feel good with ourselves. That is why we do everything we do.

For example, why do we care so much for money? Because of the peaceful mind. Nobody really cares about money, but about what money can buy: security, stability, comfort, power, pleasure. And when we finally experience any of those things what happens? We feel in peace with ourselves…at least for a brief moment. But those brief moments are so wonderful, that makes us believe that we are doing the right thing…and hide the fact that it is not the money we are after, but peace.

The first requisite for a peaceful mind is the desire for it, and the understanding that everything we do is because we want that peace, will increase our desire and will focus our search for it in the right direction.


2. We can only experience a peaceful mind in the middle of everyday life when we recognize and value presence

This is a huge idea, one that is always part of the Yogilates classes.
Presence is not a thought, and that’s why it’s not easy to grasp. Presence is the silent-open-space that allows thoughts, emotions and perceptions to appear. This silent-open-space is neither good, nor bad, nor useful, difficult or interesting, boring, loud, long, colorful, violent, noisy and so on. That and more may be what is happening in this present moment, but presence is prior to what happens, it is there while it’s happening and it remains after whatever happened stopped. Presence is what allows whatever is happening to happen. It is like a movie screen. When we watch a movie, our attention is in the story, in the colors, in the movements. But while we are lost in those things, what we are actually looking at is the screen, the space that allows the movie to happen.
For a peaceful mind we need to re-discover, recognize and value that space, that silence, that openness. It is in the recognition and value of presence where real peace, real quietness and real harmony can happen.

In order to recognize presence, we need to first focus our attention in the present moment. But most of our attention is going outside of it. The next five points are some of the main reasons why it is so difficult to find that present moment.


3. Negativity is the most immediate way to stay away from the present moment

We often think of negativity as hate or anger. But negativity has many more aspects, often not so visible or not so obvious like self-pity, jealousy, apathy or boredom. Or it may be expressed as over-sleeping, over-working, over-eating, self-indulgence or sadness.

– Negativity is the feeling that the world should accommodate itself to me.
In presence, I am able to accommodate to what is needed, if circumstances call for it. I have an option.
– In negativity, what I believe or feel or want is more important than ‘what is’. I am blind to ‘what is’.
Presence IS the vision of ‘what is’.
– Negativity creates a ‘me against you’, an ‘I am strong because I can hurt you, or I can hurt myself’.
In presence neither you nor me are more important. Only what is needed, what the moment requires.
-In negativity I take myself very seriously and expect others to do the same.
In presence, I am as I am.
– In negativity I am very visible.
In presence I don’t need to be seen.
– Behind negativity there is the deep rooted attitude that I am a very needy being and so I use that negativity to get what I want.
In presence I am not needy because I find satisfaction in myself.
– Negativity makes me blind to the whole.
In presence I see the whole; I am the whole.
– Negativity fakes strength.
In presence I am powerful.
– In negativity there is great disturbance.
In presence I find peace.

With practice and understanding, one can learn to choose presence over negativity.


4. We create the world

When we open our eyes and look, we don’t often realize that there are two different worlds. There is the practical world of nature; and then there is the psychological world of my thoughts about that nature. For all practical purposes, we don’t live in the world of nature but in our psychological world and, because this world is our own creation, we have a choice in the way we can construct it.

For instance, when we see a cup, we may think of a useful object that we might drink tea or coffee from, or of a pretty object to put in our house, or an ugly object we don’t like. But a cup is just a cup, it has no other meaning. It is us that invest it with the meaning of being useful, pretty or ugly. It’s the same with people or events in our life. We may meet a person and think he or she is unpleasant or charming, but that is just the meaning we create. Something may occur – like an accident or a chance encounter – and we may think it’s the worst thing that has ever happened or it’s the thing that changed our life, but that is just the story we create around it, the meaning we give it, not a fact.

We don’t see facts, the world as it is, we only see the meaning we give to it. And because we are the ones creating that meaning, if we actually know this, we have a choice on how to look at things. It is in our power to create a more peaceful world.
As Epictetus said 2000 years ago: ‘It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.’


5. There are no independent events

This cannot be scientifically proved, but coincidence/chance – our ‘natural’ believe – cannot be proved either. Did we meet a person by coincidence or because it was our destiny to learn from him/her in order to become a better human being? There is no way to know for sure, so why not to stay open to the possibility that is more helpful?

In the East, the vision that nothing happens by chance is supported by tradition, which talks about karma. In very simple terms, karma means that nothing that happens is disconnected from anything else; that whatever is happening now has a reason in the past and will have a consequence in the future; that there is an order, that everything follows a law.

If we are not open to the possibility that there is an order, we will see life as an enemy we are supposed to beat, to conquer. No wonder we only relate to life through our fears and desires – the desire to get more and the fear to lose what we already have. This vision can only bring agitation in our minds.
In the vision of interconnectedness, of a lawful universe, we can find harmony, we can find peace.


6. The consequences of our actions are not in our hands

Most of our daily stress, fear, doubt, insecurity, anxiety comes from the belief that we are responsible for what happens to us. But we are only responsible for our actions: to do the right thing at the right moment. The result of those actions is not really on our shoulders, but it is given by the totality of the moment: the sum up of all the elements coming together at any particular situation.

Whenever we do an action, one second after the action is done, it leaves our hands and it becomes part of the universe. Once that happens, all the universal laws (known and unknown) will act on the action. The action goes to the universe and then comes back from it in a processed form that we call a result. That result is not directly given by the action, although of course the quality of the action has a powerful influence on it, but is given by the totality of the laws that influenced it. Our power is only in respect to the quality of the action, but is completely powerless in respect to the laws.

For example you are coming to the Yogilates classes because you hope to get something out of them. But the result of the effort that you are making during the class is not in your hands. If you actually feel better at the end of the class or not is not really up to you. For example, in the middle of the class an old thought, something unfinished, a difficulty you had ten years ago or a childhood fear may suddenly appear in your mind, and you would end up more agitated than you started.

When we stop worrying about what may or may not happen – when we understand that what may or may not happen is not really up to us – then we will flow with the moment. We will be able to take care of what is really our duty, our possibilities, our responsibility, discard what does not belong to us – and flow with life. In that flowingness, we find peace.


7. Happiness is not in the world

The step number one was that what we really do in life is look for happiness, for a quiet mind, for peace. This last step is that those things—happiness, a quiet mind, peace—cannot be found in things, in the world outside of ourselves.
Yes, it is true that we can find some happiness in what happens to us, in the world outside, but this happiness only lasts for a short while… and this is the trick. We are happy or peaceful for 5 minutes, one day, one month, one year… but we know that any second it can all disappear and this knowing is what creates tension, is what makes us grasp anything we can get. We know that whatever we have, what we like, what makes us feel good, is going to pass, because everything passes. This is the essence of life: change. Or as the Buddha discovered more than 2000 years ago: the world is impermanent.

A cow or a dog are more ‘happy’ than we are because they don’t know it, they don’t understand that things change. A dog is happy to have a bone, but when the bone is gone it doesn’t suffer because it doesn’t think the bone was supposed to be there. It is not worried about it. Dogs don’t worry because they don’t have this amazing capacity to think that we have. They don’t know that things don’t last. But we do.

The only lasting happiness that we can have is in our own presence.

This doesn’t mean we cannot get joy from the world. Of course we should enjoy whatever comes our way, whatever is in our possibilities to get. If we get a good piece of chocolate cake, sure, we should enjoy it. But we should not expect the chocolate to make us happy. Kids like chocolate and adults like relationships or possessions or power – of course these things are much more complex than chocolate – but in the end it’s the same thing. We expect to get happiness from something outside of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with relationships, but with the expectation that relationships – or a nice house, or a rewarding job – will make us happy. Sure, we should enjoy them while they last, but we cannot expect them to deliver what they cannot. That is the problem; that is where the stress, the misery and the unhappiness come in. Peace and happiness can only be found inside, in our own presence.



To sum up:

What I really want in my life is to feel good with myself, to find peace with myself and with the world. The way to do that is by connecting to presence. But all my energy goes away from presence into either the past or the future, into negativity, into the world outside of myself. In order to be able to turn that attention inside, I need to change my vision of the world by understanding that:
– It is not the world the one that gives the meaning, it is myself.
– Nothing happens by chance, but everything happens for a reason; and that reason is my own maturity.
– What is in my hands is only my action, but the result of that action is given by the totality, by the universe.
– And finally, I cannot find peace outside of myself, in the world, but only in my own presence.


Categories: Reflections

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