One reason we have so much trouble achieving peace of mind is that we are not present to our life as it shows up on our doorstep right now. We spend a great deal of time fretting about the future or the past. Not only can we not change the past, thinking excessively about it is a shortcut to unhappiness. And overly worrying about the future deprives us of the experience we need to carry us there.
The great trick in life is to have goals ahead—but not to be so obsessive about them that you defer living and doing now. How many times have you said, "I will be really happy when... fill in the blank: my husband has a better job, I lose 20 pounds, the children start school. When you do that, says Josh Baran, author of 365 Nirvana Here and Now: Living Every Moment in the Enlightenment, "you're living this life like a ghost; your mind is not present."
Baran advocates an effective remedy: the gentle paying of attention—noticing your experience, appreciating and loving your life as you are living it. And noticing when your mind is adrift, lost in thought. If you're taking a bath, noticing the bath, feeling the water, enjoying the warmth. "It gives life a fresh newness, and you welcome it," says Baran.
He learned the hard way. A writer and communications consultant in New York, Baran was once a Zen Buddhist priest. "Seeking was part of my life, and it consumed me," he told me. "I was always looking for the best pathway, the best teacher. To be a seeker of truth is seen as a positive state and the path is glorified in a way. You're always striving. The more you push, the better it is, like the Marine Corps."
But then Baran realized "there is a certain anxiety in the process. Truth is always around the corner." At a certain point, he found the process exhausting. And that led him to an insight.
Peace of mind is RIGHT HERE! It's not after something else. "All the moving forward was looking for what already is," Baran recounted. In looking for the truth, for peace of mind, we think it should be something special. Rather, it is in a relaxed awareness of the present.
"The more we look for what's hidden, for what is lacking," Baran says, "the more we miss what's in our face."
He advocates that you let go of the idea that something is missing. "It all comes down to this: this is your life, in sickness or health. If you drop the searching, life opens up in interesting ways. Life is only lived moment by moment. If you notice that this is it, it changes your relationship to everything in your life. Each moment becomes deeper. You are at the gateway to peace of mind." This, he insists, is the message of all the great spiritual leaders of every stripe and era.
And so, to keep us from getting caught up in the cycles of confusion, anguish and pain that our own minds visit on us, he has collected the wisdom of various sages in a very palatable book that belongs on your bedside or at least in your briefcase. It contains an array of blissfully short readings that stop your mind for a minute and remind you that "this is how it is."
Baran has been collecting the tidbits of wisdom that make up this book his whole life. As proof that peace is in front of you if you just look, there are quotes from sources as varied as the screenplay of the film American Beauty as well as from Leonard Cohen and the Dalai Lama.
This is not a book about formal meditation. It's about being aware of your life this moment. "That's the great liberating thought," he says. "Sometimes you need to take a breath and sit back, not looking for anything outside this moment."
Here's one of the shortest and sweetest, from the writer Will Durant:
"Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you're going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day."