Regardless of the issue or problem – depression, anxiety, stress, etc. – therapy is ultimately about finding peace of mind. We all wish to be happy, at peace, and able to remain grounded amidst life’s ever-changing ups and downs.
But what does “peace of mind” really mean? How CAN we be happy and at peace when life will inevitably involve pain? Is it even possible to find a lasting sense of peace and contentment, to ALWAYS be happy?
Buddhism – which the Dalai Lama calls “the science of the mind” – offers some extremely illuminating insights when it comes to these questions. The Buddha said “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” But what exactly does that mean? Especially when we don’t live in a vacuum, completely numb to and unaffected by the world around us, how is it even possible to generate “peace from within”?
The answer lies in the mind. According to Buddhism, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Pain is an inevitable part of life and it is not in our control – it includes death and loss of loved ones, natural disasters, physical illness and more. Suffering, according to Buddhists, is optional because it is our REACTION TO the pain. Suffering stems from the mind, or ego, and from the thoughts and stories that our minds tell us about whatever painful event is happening. For example, if I lose my job, I will feel pain – I might feel fear, sadness, disappointment or rejection. But if I let my mind create stories around that pain – ie, “I’ll never find a job again”, “It’s hopeless” or “I’m a loser” – then I’m suffering.
Peace of mind, therefore, is attainable when we learn to quiet our minds. The Buddha said many things regarding the mind and our thoughts, one of the most famous being “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” We often create and perpetuate our own suffering by believing the thoughts in our minds and becoming so absorbed by them that we take them to be absolute truth.
Luckily for us, techniques and practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga help us learn how to quiet our minds and observe our thoughts without judgment. In doing so, we are able to create distance between our Selves and our inner stream of consciousness, and are then no longer ruled by our minds. When we can step back and detach from our thinking, we find freedom from suffering – we are empowered to choose how we respond to those stories, if at all.
Paradoxically, “peace of mind” only really exists when we remove “mind” from the equation altogether…and are simply left with peace.