As August is a holiday month, I thought I would begin this message with a short story from my own recent mini holiday in Spain. There I was sitting on the terrace of an incredibly beautiful hill-top, boutique hotel eating a delicious lunch and feeling so serene, when a new guest walked past me pulling her suitcase. I smiled at her in welcome, but she did not smile back. Now this middle-aged woman had incredibly thick blond hair tied back in an exceptionally elegant way, and a really posh black sundress that swished perfectly as she walked. As she sashayed by me, the thought popped into my head, ‘What a snooty woman. I wish she wasn’t coming to stay in our special place!’ Immediately, my serenity took a nose dive. Instead of feeling peaceful, I just felt frumpy!
Had this woman - who had not even said a word to me - really spoilt my perfect holiday mood? No! My own egoic mind had sabotaged my inner serenity and well-being by insisting that something on the outside of me was disturbing my peace. Did I immediately dismiss the thought that this stranger was annoying? No! I actually noticed my egoic-self quite enjoying disliking this stranger in our midst, until we went out to eat and I forgot all about her.
So why am I sharing this slightly embarrassing holiday story with you? Well first of all, I think it nicely illustrates thatwherever we go and whatever we do, we take our own egoic, ever-judging mind with us. So many of us spend our whole lives longing to get away from the people or places that seem to be driving us nuts, without realising that whoever we are with and wherever we go, we take our egoic- selves with us and thus stay being our own worst enemies, even when we are sunning ourselves in ‘paradise.’
Next time you are sitting in a beautiful hotel or lounging on an idyllic beach, just keep your eyes and ears open and you will notice just how many of your fellow holiday makers are actually having a stressful time. Notice the mother shouting angrily at one of her small children. Notice the teenager looking bored and sulky. Notice the businessman still making frantic calls on his mobile phone.
What on earth is going on? The ego is going on – and on and on and on! The egoic thought system that has invaded all our minds like a vicious virus and now it constantly tells us that our present circumstances are just not good enough and that the people around us are not good enough and so we need to focus on creating a better future for ourselves by changing our partner, our friends, our job or our home. But this better future never comes. Even whilst we are enjoying a truly luxurious holiday for example the food, the background noise, other people etc. continue to more or less constantly annoy or disappoint us.
Is there anything we can do to prevent our peace of mind being constantly disturbed by the crazy world around us? Yes! But it does take an awful lot of time and effort to train our own mind to stay dwelling in unconditional love and peace, whilst the whole world around us is erupting into chaos and conflict.
I am now pretty certain that the key to cultivating lasting peace of mind is some kind of mindfulness practice during which we just sit quietly and observe all the thoughts pouring into our mind without judging them good or bad, but just saying in response to each one something simple like ‘thinking’.
I have been doing this practice for many years now, and I have definitely noticed an overall increase in my peace of mind, although I am still easily distracted by some of my endless egoic thoughts. So be it. I just keep focussing on gently increasing my capacity to ignore, or override, all thoughts that disturb my peace of mind..
So this month, why not decide to take a short holiday from all of your judgemental thinking about others and yourself. Simply notice when a judgemental thought just pops into your mind and then smile to yourself and tell yourself, ‘I am not going to let this crazy thought disturb my peace of mind’.
Another wonderful practice that you might try this month to give yourself a break from all kinds of anxiety and annoyance is to take a very short break from thinking every hour or so. Find some way to remind you to practise this, and then when the bell goes or whatever, just sit for a minute or two observing your thoughts and then pause between your thoughts for just a second or so and notice how lovely that non-thinking state feels.
So this August why not see if you can notice a gap between your own thoughts and see if it feels as good to you as it always does to me?
Peggy-Jane Rogers Foster