When was the last time you saw an image of a blissfully peaceful woman sitting cross-legged at sunset by the sea like the one above?
Or a monk eyes closed in deep contemplation with on a mountain, blue sky stretching out to infinity?
Probably pretty recently.
Maybe even in the last 10 minutes if you’ve been logged into Facebook or searching any site that is even vaguely wellbeing related.
It is such a powerful image holding out the possibility of a deep and abiding sense of calm that no amount of stress, commuting, family dynamics, money worries or anything else could touch.
If you can only reach this level of evolution, you will no be subject to the worries that us lesser mortals are plagued and held down by.
The thing is I have spent (literally) years (decades actually) trying different methods of meditation, mindfulness, hypnosis and the like with the aim of finding a way to create this sense of peace.
I studied with and got to know several very experienced teachers and practitioners and you know what? They have difficulties too.
The buddhist nun Pema Chodron tells a lovely story of how on a month-long meditation retreat that she was leading she woke up one morning in a foul mood. She felt absolutely mortified and a fraud because she was meant to be this inspired being radiating love in all directions and instead she was filled with irritation and frustration.
Several years ago I was on a weekend workshop with Khenpo Damcho Dawa (a Tibetan master and the equivalent of a Professor- the person who teaches the Lamas). He shared that he felt that even 5 minutes of true meditation was a great achievement.
At the time he had been practising meditation for 40 years.
When we’re presented with this perfect image of inner peace advertised all around us it’s all too easy to compare ourselves unfavourably to what is an unrealistic ideal.
The reality is that we have times of inner peace and times when we’re challenged- sometimes beyond our ability to cope.
As far as I can tell, this is what it is to be a human being. We are made to move in and out of peace or clarity or any other positive feeling because this is how we learn and grow.
In contrast beating ourselves up for feeling bad because we don’t in this moment match an unrealistic ideal is a bit like stubbing our toe and deciding the best thing to do is to hit it with a hammer.
Even worse this harsh self-punishment keeps us trapped and actively prevents us from learning anything new.
So for me the challenge comes down to this. It’s less about whether I can reach some kind of transcendent state and more whether I can treat myself with kindness when things aren’t going my way.
Not always easy and certainly not glamorous but this is the most important skill that we can develop. Why? Because it frees us from the power that difficult feelings hold over us.
And that to my mind is the best way to move towards true inner peace.