Last week I hiked one of my favorite trails for the final time this year.
It was my last because two days later I underwent surgery to repair an old knee injury. My recovery strikes hiking off my calendar for at least five months so I definitely savored that last trek.
Later that day in conversation with a client the subject of how to feel good came up. My client said that her day goes so much better when she hikes in the morning. And on days when she’s too busy to hike she feels scattered and crabby.
I used to think the same way. I was convinced that walking forested trails made me feel good. Just as I believed that my meditation practice made me calmer and yoga made me more centered.
But now. Not so.
The more I investigate, the more I’m surprised and delighted to discover that no ‘thing’ or activity; meaning people, places, nature, spiritual practice.…the list is endless, can make me feel either good or bad.
What? But what about all the things we’re told to do to make us feel good? Like grab a lunch time walk, hang out with positive people, say no to all the wrong foods, exercise, meditate.
Stay close. Even if this sounds a bit sacreligious.
Me too. I spent decades scouring the self development world for the next ‘thing’ that would help me feel good. I took up meditation and yoga and tried out a basket full of personal growth practices. To be honest, some seemed to make me feel happier, more centered and present. Others less so.
But one day, I fell through a crack. And my belief that meditation, and all the other self development things I did, caused me to feel good began to crumble.
It happened like this.
It was the morning rush hour in mid-summer. The air was stale, hot and humid. I sat pinned to a seat on a London subway train on my way to work. Commuters stood cheek to shoulder, sweat oozed from their temples. Train wheels clacked on metal rails and a weary resignation penetrated the carriage.
In an effort to avoid being drowned in a sea of negative feelings about the wretched train ride. I’d tear my attention away and scour the advertisements plastered overhead, or stare at a spot in front of me defiantly avoiding eye contact with someone.
By that time I’d become an avid meditator. It certainly seemed to me that sitting quietly on a cushion in silent meditation caused peaceful feelings.
But on that noisy, smelly train, scrunched up and strained as I tried not to think about the unpleasantness of it, I suddenly, unexpectedly, dropped out of my thinking into complete peace.
All feeling of discomfort drained away. I was aware of bodies crammed around me, the pained expression on people’s faces, the rocking train and squeal of brakes, but nothing about the moment bothered me.
There were no thoughts in my head to wrestle with. It was as though I was suspended in silent, timeless space. Witnessing the scene I was a part of, registering the sensory din but not resisting any of it. I felt only compassion and love for everyone I gazed upon. All of it, even the pungent air, was infused with sweetness.
It took a few years for this insight, to fully sink in. But when something true is glimpsed it will quietly upgrade our understanding about the way life works, and this is what happened for me. My understanding gently opened to the realization that peace, joy and wellbeing are facets of our true nature. They live at the core of what you, me and all human beings are.
After this experience I continued to meditate but no longer believed that I had to meditate to find peace. And I continued with yoga because I love stretching my body. But the belief that yoga causes me to feel centered dropped away. And I still hike because I love being out in nature, but no longer believe that my feel good feelings come from trees.
What became clear, and only gets clearer the more I look, is that we don’t have to earn, strive for or self improve ourselves to have feel good feelings. We can enjoy what we enjoy, do the things that make sense to us to support our wellbeing. But feel good feelings go with us where-ever we go.
We only need to stop buying into the chatter in our head and peace bubbles up from inside our being one hundred percent of the time.
I’m not grieving the fact that I’m unable to take my beloved hikes. Yes, it’s possible over the next few months that I could get caught up in poor me thoughts and feel down in the dumps. But knowing that thought storms always pass over when left alone, and feel good feelings are always available the moment I drop out of thought cheers me up no end.
Notice the times today when you’re not caught in thought. Ordinary, easy to miss moments of effortless peace. Perhaps when doing the dishes, stroking your cat or on a bike ride.
Soften the need to wrestle with or do something to change your mood to feel better. Notice when you drop out of thought you drop into the space inside where delicious endless peace resides.