The Two Ways to Inner Peace5 min read

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Peace can be defined as the absence of inner disturbances. It is like the quiet depth of the ocean, like a flame that doesn’t flicker, or like the open sky without clouds. It is stillness.

Desire, on the other hand, is movement. It is, in a way, a disturbance. Whenever we have a goal, desire, or aspiration, we are experiencing a gap. We are unhappy with the way things are right now. And, in fact, the more unhappy we are, the more energy and motivation we generate.

Living a goal-oriented life may seem to be at odds with inner peace and contentment—but it is really so? No. The fulfillment of our goals itself can be a path to peace. In fact, we can say that there are two ways to inner peace: self-denial or self-actualization.

In the path of self-denial, you let go of all your desires, and strive to be content with whatever the present moment brings. Gratitude, contentment, letting go—these are the practices. You pursue nothing, seek nothing, reject nothing. You are happy with everything.

In the path of self-actualization, you actively pursue your most meaningful desires, or aspirations. You choose to care about them deeply, and you accept that you will be creating a gap of discontentment within yourself—one that will only be filled with the realization of those aspirations. Focus, self-discipline, determination—these are the practices.

The path of self-denial is all about peace, here and now. The path of self-actualization is about movement now, and peace later. We don’t want to rest in peace too soon!

To Let Go or To Fulfill

You can be peaceful because you want nothing. Or you can be peaceful because you have already achieved everything. These are the two paths to inner peace.

If you desire wealth, for example, you will be unhappy as long as you don’t have it—it’s that gap that has not been filled. What to do about that? If you can truly let go of that desire, you’ll be at peace, immediately. But you have truly let go only if, to use the metaphor in the Hindu books, a piece of gold and a piece of mud are equally meaningless to you.

If you haven’t reached that point of detachment, then you might be just fooling yourself, in order to avoid the pain of that gap. Yet part of you, consciously or unconsciously, still secretly desires the life that could have been. In this case, your detachment is a lie, and the inner peace that comes from it is shallow. Sooner or latter, it will be disturbed.

Wouldn’t it be better, in this case, to consciously fulfill that desire through wholesome means, until you get to a point where you are saturated with it? Then that need will have left your system, and you can do much good with the resources you have created.

The peace that comes after fulfillment feels different from the peace of detachment. I’m not saying that it’s better, but it is different. I like to call it empowered peace. It’s the peace of fulness, not the peace of emptiness; the peace of self-actualization, not the peace of self-denial.

The Way of Empowered Peace

The path of self-denial is a shortcut to peace, but it’s not without its pitfalls. Have we not seen the case of many Buddhist monks and Hindu Swamis who, after supposedly having renounced all their desires, came to the West and got corrupted by sex, money, and power? If they, with all their intensive monastery training, couldn’t still fully tame the powerful force of desire, what to say of mere mortals like us?

I’m not criticizing that path. In fact, for many years in my spiritual journey, my goal was to become a monk. I was actively pursuing the state of desirelessness—and in that journey I did experience a lot of peace and bliss.

It came a point, however, where I had reached what I could have reached in that path. I came to a dead end, and knew that I needed a different approach in my life and journey. I realized that there were desires, goals, and aspirations in me that would be unhealthy and unwise to ignore. My mindset in life and spirituality began to change—from just seeking peace to seeking empowered peace (or peaceful power).

This new approach was more akin to the philosophy of Tantra, as opposed to that of Buddhism and Vedanta, which I had previously studied. You transcend by going through, not by detaching. You are checking in, rather than checking out. It’s a more universal and life-affirming approach.

That inner shift was the birth of my work with Mindful Self-Discipline, and then the Higher Mind system. Desire is the engine of life, and when we learn how to master this energy, we get to have the cake and eat it too.

Inner Peace via Fulfillment

Weak desires can be removed by introspection and meditation. Strong, deep-rooted desires must be fulfilled and their fruits, sweet or bitter, tasted.

—Nisargadatta Maharaj

Our weak desires, fantasies, and have-to goals are distractions. Our deep-rooted desires, on the other hand, are our blueprint for purpose. They give us energy, movement, and growth. They are our map for meaning, our dharma. They create in us the need to develop the Higher Mind.

Ignoring our weak desires and fantasies will make us more grounded, focused, and content.

Ignoring our strong desires, our aspirations, will leave us empty of meaning, and of life. Whatever sense of peace we experience from it will ultimately be shallow. The sacred energy of desire, not honored and not channeled, will haunt us. We may believe ourselves to be great mindful beings, just to one day wake up and realize that we are a seed that has not sprouted.

Everyone who is interested in meditation is attracted to the idea of gaining inner peace. As your practice flourishes, you will definitely experience that. Taking it a step further, if you want to experience complete peace about your self and your life, you can do that via total detachment, or via conscious fulfillment. These are the two paths, but I can only help you in one of them.

If you can let go of a desire, interest, or need, truly without self-violence, then do so—that will give you peace. If you can’t let go of it, then embrace it and fulfill it with awareness. That will also get you to inner peace—and you will have lived a more colorful life.

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