by Darren Starwynn
This blog post is an excerpt from Darren’s book Reclaiming Your Calm Center
Inner peace? These words have often become thought of as a trite phrase that few people take seriously. More food for a Sunday church sermon or New Age book cover than something we can experience for real.
The main reason “inner peace” has developed a bad rap is that there have been loads of teachers sharing misleading or incomplete information about what it takes to really have it. Of course there have also been many teachers who have provided the clear, straight stuff. As a result so many people have gotten confused or discouraged and put the whole subject on the back burner.
There is a legit path to lasting inner peace. This path has been charted over thousands of years by a series of master teachers who have helped uplift the consciousness of the human race. This is a golden path that has been proven to dissolve the roots of misery and suffering and take you into the pure love and peace of your calm center. I am calling it the universal path because it is the essence of what all these great teachers have taught for creating that outcome.
I am calling this a technology of consciousness because none of it involves a dogma or irrational belief system. Everything about this path can be tested and proven out within the laboratory of your own body and awareness. Please don’t believe anything you read here! Put these understandings, and the practices that follow to the test and experience the results for yourself.
7 key words for the universal path
Here are updated definitions for some vital words for understanding the universal inner path. Some of these may be new to you and some are likely to be familiar. Regardless of whether you think you already understand any of these terms please read this with “beginner’s mind’. That means that you leave all preconceptions at the door and read as if you are doing so for the first time. The meaning and implications of each of these words is profound. Some are in English and some are in Sanskrit because there is no adequate English translation. Those are in italics, followed by the closest approximate meaning in English.
I will do my best to describe these terms in a straightforward manner so your logical, left brain can be fed with clear understanding. Allow your imagination to also flow freely as you take them in. In this way both your reason and your intuition will guide you into having your own insights. That’s what it’s all about!
These words are:
Samskara (conditioning – mental gunk)
Dharma (right path)
Samskara or Sankara[i]
Samskara can be approximately translated as “impressions” or “conditioning” that pollutes our subconscious minds and makes us suffer. Every negative thought and every traumatic experience that has not been healed creates a samskara. Just as computer viruses and malware mess with the proper functioning of your computer samskaras can create all kinds of unwanted experiences through our minds. These could include stress, anxiety, insomnia, relationship problems, financial struggles, susceptibility to chronic pain, depression and a host of psycho-somatic diseases.
The universal path is the effective way to remove samskaras so your mind can be purified and relieved of suffering.
Here is some valuable intel: as you persist in the practice of meditation your mind will go into an auto-clean cycle. It will start to release old samskaras. That is because when you meditate you create a clear space where you are not producing new ones. As these old samskaras come up to be released you may feel them more acutely for a short time. This could take the form of bodily discomfort, old memories you have not thought about for years, disturbing dreams or emotional upsets. This is where good guidance is crucial. These experiences actually mean that you are succeeding in meditation and that it is working for you!
Since this can all sound pretty abstract I will share my own striking experience. I recently attended a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat[ii]. That’s right – we maintained silence for all but the last half day and sat in meditation for over 10 hours a day, with many breaks. I was sleeping in a spartan room with two roommates. When I tried to go to sleep on the third night of the retreat my heart was pounding most of the night and my feet were spasming involuntarily. As a results I got very little sleep. When I did finally sleep for a few minutes here and there I had powerful, bizarre dreams full of strong emotions. These included being in Poland when the Nazis came to take my family away to the concentration camps, a friend raging at me and more.
I was worried I was on the verge of a heart attack or stroke and was considering leaving the retreat early to get checked out in a hospital. The next day I asked to have a short audience with the teacher (we were allowed to speak him during these private audiences). I told him my concerns. He told me that he had led these retreats for years and it was very common for people to manifest all kinds of symptoms of sickness, pain and emotional imbalance, and that these had always disappeared by the end of the retreats. He suggested that these symptoms were signs that the meditation practice was working.
By the time I left the retreat I felt light and clear, like some deep housecleaning had happened in my emotional body. Now, over a month later I have noticed many positive shifts. Several new clients signed up with me the week I got back. Some holdbacks in my relationship with my partner rapidly eased. My meditation practice has certainly deepened. I credit these to the many hours of meditation that helped me release lots of gunk (samskaras) that had been me for a long time. I have no doubt I have taken a very positive step on my path of Dharma. Of course there are many more steps to go, and this experience has encouraged me to keep taking them.
Vairagya is what will actually motivate you to make the necessary efforts to be on the universal path. After all, who in their right mind would want to discipline themselves to sit in meditation, clean up old negative habits or face their s–t? Only someone who knows there is no other way they to free themselves from suffering.
Vairagya refers to the experience of deep disillusionment we fall into after looking for love and satisfaction outside ourselves and being repeatedly disappointed or humiliated. Vairagya eventually strikes us after we have spent many frustrating years “looking for love in all the wrong places”.
Here is a schematic that shows how we come into the experience of Vairagya:
We are ignorant of our connection and one-ness with universal source, so… →
… we search for love and satisfaction outside ourselves, and … →
… inevitable disappointment sets in and brings us into… →
… vairagya, which gives us… →
… motivation to practice the universal path
Dharma or Dhamma[iii]
The most ancient meaning of Dharma[iv], and the most useful one is “the path for living in harmony with Universal law”.
Universal law is how the universe works. Physicists, astronomers and the like spend their lives studying the external, physical ways the universe works. Metaphysicians and meditators explore the nature and laws of consciousness, our inner universe. If we want to lose our anxiety and enjoy inner peace we need to live in harmony with the laws of our inner universe, our true Self. We need to do the research and development within the laboratory of our own experience to find out what really works to purify our consciousness and get happy. That is our Dharma.
There is one major difference between living Dharma and the ways of most religions. Most religions teach their followers to live a virtuous life because if they do they will go to heaven or paradise sometime in the future, usually after they die. A path of Dharma, on the other hand must give positive results in the here and now as you practice it, not only in the future.[v]
The universal path involves purifying our minds. The impurities that need to be removed are engrained fear, trauma, disconnection, self-centeredness, anger, doubt and the like. This does not mean that our human feelings should be seen as impurities. Passing emotions of fear, anger and grief are normal and healthy. It is only when they turn into recurring, obsessive software programs in the computer of our subconscious minds that they become a blockage to our growth. That is the essence of low-grade or full-blown PTSD.
The universal path is the effective way to systematically remove these impurities from your mind so you can experience increasing degrees of enlightenment. It involves bringing your attention within yourself in a way that allows these negative programs to be permanently deleted.
This Pali term refers to the impermanent nature of our world. It is the recognition of this that drives us into vairagya – eventually discovering that there is nothing that we can depend on for happiness or security in the outside world.
As you internalize your understanding of the impermanence of all things it is much easier to face life without anxiety. This is one of the great benefits of meditation.
Great! Back to an English word that is easier to explain.
Cultivating equanimity of mind through practice is a vital key to inner peace. Equanimity means that you learn to stay grounded within the truth of your true Self and dial back your reactions to what is happening around you. I sometimes use the more modern term “becoming unfreakable” to describe equanimity.
Meditation is the perfect way to practice and develop equanimity. As you meditate you will sometimes have pleasant, peaceful feelings or visions. Sometimes you will feel ancy, agitated or anything but peaceful. You develop equanimity by continuing with your meditation technique regardless of either one.
In the technology of consciousness enlightenment is the process of lightening up the density and burdensome load of the mind so we can better experience our own true divine nature.
Our minds often resemble a hurricane. No matter how much destructive turbulence is swirling the peaceful eye at the center of the hurricane never goes away. In the same way enlightenment is not about creating a new experience of inner peace. It is the outcome of purifying the mind and body so we can more readily enjoy the experience of our true Self that has always been there.
Your true Self is already full of love, light, forgiveness, wisdom, abundance and all other good things. So as they say when the dinner bell is being rung, “come and get it!”
Putting it all together – summary of the universal path
Here is a schematic that takes these seven terms and shows them in a step by step, linear progression. Of course reality is not linear – it is multi-dimensional and each individual will have their way of approaching the universal path. But this schematic can help your rational brain understand how it works. The special terms that were explained above are in bold.
Starting point: You start out looking for some combination of happiness, success and pleasure in the external world. Through your ignorance or disregard for the universal path you accumulate a load of samskaras that cause you various forms of suffering. Ouch!
Step One: Eventually vairagya and disillusionment hits. You may go to some very low points. If you are wise this motivates you to research what will really work to set you free from suffering. (Otherwise you may spend years, decades or lifetimes cycling through various forms of drama, karma and astral distractions[vi] until the vairagya is strong enough to make you get serious about true freedom)
Step Three: If you are fortunate enough to get good guidance and mentorship you would learn more about the true art of living, and start practicing your fulfilling life path (dharma). This would include your commitments to:
Stop doing any activities that harm others or yourself
Engage in activities that benefit and bless others and yourself
Internal meditation practices to purify your mind
Step Four: As you meditate regularly on your breath and the sensations in your body it really sinks in that everything about your life and the world is in constant change and flux anachur). This deepens your resolve to connect with the real source of love, peace and fulfillment within yourself. As you practice you gradually learn how to dial back your reactions that take you into craving and aversion. You get better at maintaining equanimity of mind.
Step Five: Following through on these commitments gradually brings purification to your deep mind. It becomes easier to enjoy your calm center and you become more unfreakable. You find yourself enjoying more joyful moments and inspired thoughts.
Step Six: If your desire for freedom and fulfillment is strong enough and you get the needed support the veil of ignorance parts more and more. You identify less with the false, small self and increasingly know yourself to be the true, divine Self. Your life changes in many small and large ways and you more easily and frequently bring blessings to others you are in contact with.
Outcome: Thus you experiencing increasing degrees of enlightenment and become a light unto the world. You are no longer part of the problem and are now a positive change agent. This will happen whether you are leading a worldwide movement or taking it easy in a retirement home. Regardless of what actions you are doing your being radiates love and wisdom.
[i] Sankara is the tem in the Pali language spoken by the Buddha, Samskara is a variation in Sanskrit.
[ii] See Resources section for more information about Vipassana meditation retreats
[iii] Dhamma is from the Pali language, Dharma is Sanskrit. I am using Dharma here because it is better known in the USA.
[v] For an excellent discussion of Dharma and the basis for Vipassanameditation listen to the 4 CD set The Art of Living by William Hart and S.N. Goenka. Pariyatti Digital Media, 2004
[vi] I am using the term “astral distractions” to refer to experiences of the astral plane – a realm of rarified higher mind. The experiences of angels and demons, astral travel, most spirit guide communication, metaphysics and the like come from this level. While useful and fascinating the astral plane is still dualistic and part of anachur –impermanence. Therefore it is not possible to find true inner peace on this level and it can be a more refined source of “weapons of mass distraction” to the serious seeker.