Before I jump in to today’s topic, wanted to wish all of my readers in the US a very Happy 4th of July. I don’t think there’s much doubt that we (America) are a nation in deep decline, but that doesn’t mean we’re still not pretty good, and better than all the other available living options. Yikes, what a dangerous and dumb statement without providing any selection criteria. I will leave it up since it’s a teachable moment. Happy 4th of July everyone!
Today I’m going to weigh in on another easy, breezy, summer topic. Is peace of mind attainable? I’ve been exchanging notes with the Dali Lama. Before I give you my takes, I want to say that it is humbling trying to write out my thoughts and opinions on serious matters like this. I don’t think I’m very good at it, to say the least, and I’m terrified of other people stumbling across these posts and inevitably coming to the same conclusion. I don’t think I am offering anything very profound, but I need to train myself, both in terms of organizing my thoughts and also putting them out there for other people to see. Facing the possibility, or inevitability maybe, of someone realizing what a basic bitch I am.
Back to the matter at hand. Peace of mind, in my hierarchy, is the ultimate goal. And as I may have mentioned in my earlier pieces, it should not require much of anything once you basic necessities are met. Food, water, shelter, safety, etc. The base levels of the Mazlow Hierarchy of Needs in effect. Yet people continue to strive for more across the board. Why? I think many people do it mindlessly unfortunately, being dragged along by wherever society at large takes them. The values and norms of society that is. And then there is the idea of wanting to separate yourself from the pack, to excel and show that you’re special. Individual accomplishment, which I guess is a pretty big societal value in the US at least. There are lots of reasons, but all of them most translate into getting something in return that would make you better off. Better off in what sense? Maybe more money, status, respect, etc. And what do all of these get you, or should get you? Satisfaction. And what should satisfaction translate into. Contentedness or peace of mind! So the end game for everything you do in life is really peace of mind. I’m sure I missed several steps there, but that’s my basic model and I’m sticking with it? No, disregard that last piece, I’d be glad to change it if there is a better one available. Leave a comment below!
Can you actually achieve peace of mind though? I am not sure, I have not been able to for any prolonged period of time. It is nice when you get a taste even temporarily though, fleeting moments. I tend to agree with Buddha’s position on this – people suffer from their desires. You start to want something, you fixate on it, work to get it, keep your eyes on the prize, and after some period of time you either get it or you don’t. If you don’t get it, you are sad most likely, maybe some can look back and appreciate the effort and what they learned along the way, but I would guess there is still an underlying sense of disappointment. But what if you did get it? There is certainly a moment of joy, and appreciation of the accomplishment. Does it last though? Not according to the Buddha, or lots of others including myself. You just switch to the next goal. What you did is filled away, and you’re onto the next. I think this is how many super successful people operate. They set a goal, hit it, enjoy it briefly, set a higher one, enjoy it even more briefly since you have a little bit of a tolerance now, and it keeps going down the line. You keep chasing. And this doesn’t have to be a business or monetary goal, it can be life goals, experiences, anything. Once you get in the habit of setting goals and get a taste for accomplishment, you start to chase, and for diminishing returns no less!
But is there a better option? You could train yourself to be happy with what you have, not to carry around any expectations. I think this is a really solid attitude to take through life actually, but damn is it hard in practice! This is what many of the stoics who’s writing I have enjoyed preached – Seneca, Epictetus. Don’t keep chasing for more, train yourself to be happy with what you have. Not to make this a personal reflection essay, beyond what it is already, but I have very much been moving in this direction. When you start to see that adding more and more doesn’t lead to any greater sense of peace of mind, and a lot of times it does the exact opposite, it’s easier to convince yourself to stop chasing. And when you stop chasing, and see that not having doesn’t really have an adverse affect on your day-to-day life, the concept starts to reinforce itself. That’s not to say I don’t have moments of questioning, especially when it’s clear that I can’t rely on status symbols specifically, but I can usually talk myself down when doubt arrises. It’s the other people who are confused not me!
I’ve seen one negative response to the idea of focusing on what you can control, and training yourself to require less and be completely uninterested in the external that I found legitimate. Of course there are probably a lot more compelling arguments against this way of living and thinking, but this is just the one that came to mind! If you focus only on yourself, and not bothering with the world around you, you are living a really selfish existence. And you aren’t driving for any types of change at the societal level. So if everyone started to act and live this way, society on the whole would not progress. We might all still be perfectly content wearing loincloths and hunting and gathering. But would that be so much worse? I don’t know, but that argument does make sense to me, and I accept it. It’s not going to change me from continuing on down this path though.
So back to the original question, is achieving peace of mind attainable? I think it must be, but like basically everything else, it’s not a yes no type of thing. If you can get to 80%, you’re going to get a pretty good return on your invested effort! And in going through the process of discovery, you can slowly start to identify those things which prevent you from reaching peace of mind, and start avoiding them. I don’t think I’ve ever formally listed out what I’ve learned against this type of exercise, so let’s try it for the sake of posterity.
- Having extra things – this disrupts my peace of mind since it just adds more to the pile of things to worry about. Having what you need, and scrutinizing additions thoughtfully works much better for me. And it provides an added benefit of making you appreciate whatever you have even more.
- Being around negative people – they bring down my energy.
- Having too much to do, being over-scheduled. I have a strong preference to keep my time open.
- Large social gatherings – I am thrown off by these, they create a lot of anxiety going in.
- Watching too much news – Causes me to focus too much on things that don’t really affect me, or matter to me in my day-to-day life. I do wonder if I am just hiding on this one – I don’t want to see other people suffering, would prefer to be willfully ignorant.
- Social media – seeing other people promoting themselves. This bugs me and makes me view them negatively, but in honesty I want to promote myself online too I think.
So I’m a minimalist introvert who needs to avoid spending too much time on the internet basically. ok, I have my prescription now!
I have one more thought on this before closing. I’ve spent the last few years focusing on bringing in habits, and setting routines against things most people in the self-help or personal development game would consider to be positive. And I’ve been disciplined, and do them now, it’s almost second-nature. But do I have better peace of mind now than I did before when I was following the career as identity track? I would say that I do have better peace of mind, and thank god! I feel better in general, and feel better looking back at how I spent the last few years. But I have had to catch myself and avoid letting the positive routines becoming the objects of fixation and desire. If I can run an extra couple miles this week, if I can keep my meditation streak going for another day, if I can take 3 months off from booze. Even though these things aren’t bad, and you will probably be better off if you can train yourself to do and / or avoid them, becoming fixated on them will give them too much mental real estate and you can get dragged right back down. So you have to be a little careful. it’s about the process. And appreciating the doing of the event versus setting some type of expectation in your mind of what’s going to happen when you complete it. Applies to positive things as well, and it’s easier said than done!
Another questionable entry, didn’t feel it today. Stick with me readers! 50 Minutes. 1695 Words.