One of the golden nuggets I learned this past year was that the more we strive and set our sights on inner peace and happiness, the more these transient states elude us.
Does this mean we shouldn’t desire to be more peaceful and feel happy? No, it means that happiness and inner peace are the results of certain conditions rather than ways of being that we’re entitled to if we do the right things.
When we set our intentions on creating the conditions for inner peace and happiness to spontaneously arise, then we’re placing our attention on things that are within our control.
What are the conditions that allow inner peace and happiness to arise?
Any action or practice that cultivates inner resilience.
Over the past several months, I learned this lesson in the midst of a really challenging time.
I had a lot going on in my life that left me feeling stressed and definitely not “happy.” Both my aging parents were suffering and in very vulnerable positions. It was painful to watch them suffer AND at the same time, it was triggering all sorts of things that I thought were behind me. My family was touched by Covid in a significant way. I had two grandbabies with scary newborn health challenges. They both ended up healthy, but at the time it was uncertain.
It was a time of realizing how fragile life was and that birth and death can and often do co-exist.
As I navigated this challenging time, I began to question underlying beliefs I had about the spiritual practices I had been engaging in over the past several years. I thought that my spiritual practices would result in more happiness and inner peace.
What I found was that focusing on achieving happiness and inner peace actually increased my suffering. What was wrong with me? Wasn’t the spiritual path meant to make me happier and peaceful? Was I doing something wrong? What was the point of all my practices if it wasn’t to make me happier and more peaceful?
These beliefs left me feeling conflicted about my spiritual practices. I felt like I had become a spiritual cynic. Spirituality had let me down.
In a moment of desperation, I began to see that I had placed unrealistic expectations on my spiritual practices and I was about to learn a big lesson.
Rewind a few months prior to the storm. I had been in a season of smooth sailing. All seemed right in my world. I was cruising along thinking that all my spiritual and personal work was working- I was peaceful and happy.
I had spiritual pride thinking that I knew exactly what I needed to do to be happy and peaceful.
As a result of the smooth sailing, I had let my intentional meditation practice and spiritual routines slide.
I was somewhat surprised when at a routine visit with my Integrative Medicine Doctor she told me that my cortisol indicated that my stress response was spending too much time in “fight or flight.” This meant that I was not thriving physically. How could that be? I felt like I was peaceful and happy?
The body never lies. If my body isn’t thriving when my outer life feels peaceful and happy, what’s the impact on my body-mind-soul when life actually feels challenging?
At that moment, I set the intention to let go of my spiritual arrogance and get back on track with my daily meditation and other actions that I knew would build greater inner resilience.
I said to my doctor, “I know what I need to do to get my cortisol in check and I intend to do it.” It became a challenge for me, and with cortisol as an objective measurement, I was even more motivated.
She said, “great, I’ll test your cortisol again in a few months and we’ll see…”
A few months later, which happened to be in the midst of the storm I previously described, my doctor rechecked my cortisol levels. I was sure she was going to tell me that I was a “wreck” and that my cortisol was even more out of whack.
I was shocked and burst into tears when she told me that I had done it and my cortisol was back at optimal levels. How could that be when I was in the midst of a huge storm in my life? How could I be thriving when life felt SO hard.
I realized that by shifting my focus from striving for inner peace and happiness to being resilient that I could recommit to my practice. I couldn’t practice being peaceful and happy, but I could practice building resilience in the face of challenging life circumstances and suffering.
Inner peace and happiness seemed out of reach, but resilience felt like a state I could aim for.
Through my core meditation practice and a commitment to resilience, I successfully shifted my physiology and my mindset. I let go of the pressure and expectation to be happy and peaceful. An interesting thing happened as soon as I let go- I noticed that more moments of inner peace and happiness were spontaneously arising in the midst of the chaos and suffering.
As a result of these last few months, I’m letting go of my focus on happiness and inner peace and placing my attention squarely on habits that lead to greater resilience and more presence.
With this commitment to becoming resilient souls, we’ll be graced with moments of happiness and inner peace and will be present enough to savor them.
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