My decade-long meditation practice has tended to ebb and flow. Some months, I feel stressed and manic (usually the result of work). Others feel slow and almost boring (usually also the result of work). But the longer I’ve meditated the more often I experience long periods of profound calm. This peace and equanimity, combined with a genuine enthusiasm for life and what I do, makes for a pretty solid time. During these periods I often think to myself, “This is good. I’m happy.” Despite being busy and occupied, I’ve been in this peaceful zone lately and it’s worth exploring what makes it happen.
Deep happiness doesn’t come from achieving success or pushing towards new benchmarks. It’s actually quite the opposite. I find peace takes me over whenever I let go of these goals. When I’m stressed and overeager, I try to scale up everything in my life. I buy more clothes, overspend on my business, feel lonely or restless, and generally discontented. When I’m bored, I tend to feel the exact same way, but instead of overworking I distract myself with mindless entertainment or video games. They’re two extremes with the same root of dissatisfaction.
Happiness is not tied to either action or inaction, but instead what the Taoists call ‘wu-wei’, action through nonaction. We become so engrossed in living that we can calmly do everything we need to do without stress or complication. And we tend to do a better, smarter job. Our energies are absorbed by living, rather than thinking about living or worrying about what we’re doing.
When I abide by my own inner-rhythm in this way, everything tends to fall into place. I become more pleasant with my family, girlfriend and friends. I’m easy-going, less sensitive, less narcissistic, less prone to anger or anxiety. I can make important decisions with ease. I can dive in and let things happen as they are meant to happen. My business always does well, because I scale back and stop trying to force growth. The business tends to spend less and make more during these peaceful periods. And my inner-dialogue completely changes. Instead of, “What can I do more? What can I get more of?” It changes to, “I’m grateful. This is cool. I don’t need much else.”
I consider this peace to be the ultimate center of life. It’s the supreme goal; all other goals are just attempted means to get here, regardless of what we convince ourselves. The mythical Lao Tzu wrote, “Hold on to the center.” When we hold onto the center, we don’t get pulled by stress or boredom. We become reflective, not reactive. We let ourselves flow with the current.
For some, success means a yacht or tenure or fame or sexual escapades. For me, it means holding on to the center. When I experience the extremes, I feel lacking. When I hold onto the center, I feel complete.
Some more words from the Tao:
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.