The only thing we can ever be sure that we have control over in our lives is the thoughts that we habitually think and the feelings they give rise to. Yet, when I ask my clients what they want most they usually have a list of outer conditions that they believe will give them the feeling of peace, happiness and freedom they crave. They say things like….. ‘I want a new job, I want to lose weight, I want a bigger house, I want so-and-so to stop behaving the way they do, I want to earn more money…..’ Clearly, if what we long for is to feel free then we must commit to creating the optimal conditions for freedom to arise from within.
So why then is committing to a practice that helps us create the internal conditions needed for lasting peace such a difficult thing for us to do?
The answer to this question lies in our perception and how we orient ourselves in the world. Much like we believe that when outer conditions change then we’ll be happy, the reasons why we are unable or unwilling to commit to a daily practice are equally obscured by the illusions the false self creates. When the personality is dominated by the ego we perceive ourselves as separate and apart from the rest of our experience of life. We perceive that other people are doing things to us, that the world is against us, that we are all alone in the Universe. So how could we ever possibly find lasting peace within?
Of course, this is not true but the ego is certainly very good at convincing us that it is. And once it has, we then feel compelled to find all the reasons why our fears will be realized thus providing the justification needed to give ourselves permission to abandon the commitment we made to pursue lasting peace from within.
With the ego-dominated personality in control of our thoughts, the feelings they give rise to and the ensuing actions we then take it’s impossible for us to see ourselves clearly, much less experience the truth of who we are. Understanding this is the primary obstacle to practice for like all things in life, without knowing why it matters that we do what we do, we will eventually abandon our commitment and move on to something else that the ego finds more appealing. Which usually means something easier that will deliver promised results in a much shorter period of time.
The problem with quick fixes is that they generally don’t stay fixed for very long, which is why we commit to daily practice. The temporary feeling of calm produced by the ego’s prescription will soon fade leaving the false self in need of another solution as the ego drums up a new problem for our minds to fixate on. And with each new problem, our lasting sense of inner peace is again disrupted and delayed until we have whatever the ego tells us is needed BEFORE we can happy.
Looking deeper at why we practice is the key to establishing our commitment and provides the clarity of purpose needed to sustain it over time. Until we are able to shift our awareness from the ego’s point of view to that of the souls, our reasons for practice will only ever reinforce the false self’s identity, which can never produce lasting peace. Understanding this we can then strip away any stories the ego has created about what we hope to gain from it. There is simply only one reason to practice and that is to see ourselves clearly and to experience the truth of who we are beyond the illusions the false self has created. To do that, we must first learn how to still the constant disturbance in the mind that the ego creates.
In our fast-paced modern culture in which demands are constantly being placed on our attention, it’s very difficult to slow down enough to be able to catch ourselves when the habits of the mind take over. Before we know it we’re headed down the same old rabbit hole that only ever leads to more pain and suffering. Once again our desire for peace and happiness is relegated to the bottom of our endless list of conditions we must have BEFORE we can be free and we abandon our commitment to practice.
We are so tightly wound with the mind on overdrive 100% of the time that slowing down enough to sit quietly so we can get clear on how we really feel is like torture. Confronted with how challenging it is for us to just sit and be quiet, to still the mind and allow ourselves to feel all that is going on inside of us is so overwhelming that we often quit even before we get started.
Learning how to control the constant busyness of the mind is the doorway to a lasting internally sourced experience of peace, happiness and freedom — and its free of any need for outer conditions or the people around us to change for us to sustain it. Knowing that the mind is the key to our success when it comes to establishing the conditions necessary for us to sustain peace, joy, freedom and happiness we must look to our practice with this in mind.
When the mind is constantly disrupted by the ego’s need to fortify the false self’s identity our perception of reality is distorted and we feel out of control. Our thoughts begin to run in a steady loop of habitual past hurts and fear-based future scenarios that generate more pain and suffering. From within it appears that our pain and suffering is caused by some outer condition, circumstance or another person’s behavior. But from the still mind’s perspective, we can see clearly that all of our suffering is self-created. To accept that we are wholly responsible for our inner environment is a scary prospect for we can no longer in good conscious blame anyone for our dissatisfaction or unhappiness.
Without a commitment to daily practice though the mind will soon become disturbed again and we will forget that we are the only one who can soothe the dis-ease that arises within. Our attention will turn outward looking for someone to blame and searching for an excuse as for why we can’t commit to our practice that day. In the process, we will tether our minds to the identity of the false self, believing that we are completely justified in making the choices that we are. Unknowingly we will have committed to perpetuating our unending pain and suffering rather than creating the conditions within for lasting peace, happiness and freedom to thrive.
When we are unable to bring the mind into stillness at will and on a consistent basis the parasympathetic nervous system is prevented from doing its job and the bodies natural healing capacity never gets ‘turned on’. Practicing how to still the mind consistently over time offers us a sustained internal peace and happiness that cannot be taken from us regardless of the outer circumstances of our lives. With the mind at rest, practice is not just something we add to the never ending to-do list the ego is always busy working on. With a clarity of purpose for why we’re practicing in the first place, we transform our practice from something that we feel obligated to do, to an active and embodied expression of who we are.
If our aim in practice is to know ourselves at the deepest level of our being we have to wonder why we wouldn’t want to do it every day. This then produces the next obstacle to practice, which is our discomfort that arises from being with ourselves.
Stayed tuned for Part Two in this series.
If you would like to connect with Siobhan, she will be joining us @ Janati Yoga in April, 2019. For more details click here.