By Dr. Robert Puff, Newport Beach Psychologist
“What is peace of mind? And how do I know when I have it?” is a question I’m often asked.
Unfortunately, words are insufficient to describe what peace of mind is. Thus using them will always wind up coming short of an accurate description. In this regard, peace of mind is like chocolate. Unless you’ve eaten it, you’ll never fully know how wonderful it is.
Although I’ve described peace of mind as something elusive, the truth is, we all have it. In fact, it’s our natural state. Like a long lost relative you’ve just met, peace of mind has always been there. Which means it’s waiting for us to discover.
This natural state has been buried under years and years of experiences. Think of peace of mind as the sun: Always shining and ever present. Clouds may cover the sun, so much so that we may not even see it. In this analogy the clouds are our conditioning, which is built up over our lifetimes. Nevertheless, the sun’s powerful glow is always there.
Perhaps you recall studying about clouds in one of your childhood science classes. While the fluffy floating pillows may at first all look the same, science has taught us there are multiple cloud types—many different kinds of clouds may be covering the vast radiant sun.
Similarly, multiple experiences may be clouding our ability to experience peace of mind: Painful memories, sad memories, distractions, addictions, wants, desires, and more. While whisking these away may not happen in an instant, we can begin today slowly moving them aside to uncover the peace of mind within.
Eventually, we’ll be able to access peace of mind, our natural state, with more frequency. The path of non-judgment is how we develop peace of mind.
What Is Non-Judgment?
Imagine you’re at your favorite restaurant. You’ve had a long day, and you look forward to unwinding with your favorite dish: Lasagna. You’ve thought about the comforting dish with its perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and the bubbling cheese on top. You take a seat at the dining table, which happens to be in the best spot in the house, and you place your order.
“I’m so sorry, we only make lasagna in small batches, and we’ve run out for the day,” the server tells you.
In this scenario, you have two choices:
Reject what is.
Accept what is.
The first choice, rejecting what is, is like a cloud. It’s based on our conditioning. The server’s news can trigger a series of thoughts rooted in our prior experiences.
Thoughts may rapid fire in our minds: I was looking forward to lasagna, this isn’t fair! Why does this always happen to me? The restaurant really needs to get its act together. This is just another piece of bad news for the day, and more.
Rejecting what is, is moving away from peace of mind and toward its opposite: Suffering. Suddenly, the restaurant experience is unpleasant or even infuriating. To return to our cloud analogy, your sun can be covered with a thin layer of clouds or fully-fledged thundershowers.
The second choice, accepting what is, is the state of non judgment. It will bring about peace of mind. While the news isn’t what we wanted to hear, we adjust to what is. We asked for what we wanted, which means we did our part. But once we have done this, we adapt.
Preferences Versus Expectations
Developing a non-judgment mindset requires us to shift from expectations to preferences.
In the restaurant scenario, we may prefer lasagna. But if we continue wanting it even after the server tells us it’s not available, we will suffer. Suffering is caused by expectations. We suffer because we expect things a certain way. And suffering is the opposite of peace of mind.
To shift from suffering to peace of mind requires moving away from expectations and toward preferences. We may prefer lasagna. But if it’s not available, we will see what other options there are, and enjoy our meal even if it wasn’t our first choice.
The bottom line is we can choose to cling to our expectations and suffer, or we can accept what is and experience peace of mind. This doesn’t mean we are complacent. If we can change a situation and improve it, then we should do so. But once we’ve done our part, we must let go of expectations. The path of non judgment applies to menu items at restaurants, relationships, careers, and more.
Developing a non-judgment mindset is simply returning to our natural state. While experiencing peace of mind may seem impossible, the good news is, it’s always been there. It is a beautiful gift waiting inside us, ready to unwrap.