Originally published in Natural Health magazine, 2012.
From time to time, we all have experiences when restlessness and discontent fade away, and we’re filled with a sense of ease, well-being and harmony. We become free of pressure to keep busy and the need for stimulation, and rest at ease within ourselves and within the present moment.
I call these experiences ‘harmony of being.’ They usually occur when we’re quiet and relaxed and there’s stillness around us – for example, when we’re walking through the countryside, working quietly with our hands, listening to or playing music, or after meditation, yoga or sex. The chattering of our minds fades away and we feel a natural flow of connection between ourselves and our surroundings or other people.
Sometimes these experiences seem to come out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. You might experience harmony of being for a brief moment when you wake up in the morning after a good night’s sleep – just for a few seconds, before your thoughts start chattering away about the day ahead, your mind is empty and still, and you’re filled with a sense of well-being and wholeness. Or another morning, when you wake up early, go downstairs and sit at the breakfast table. There’s quietness and stillness around you, and you feel quiet and still inside too, a glow of contentment spreading through you. You look through the window at your garden, just beginning to reveal itself in the dim light, and you’re suddenly you’re struck by how beautiful it is. You feel as if you’re seeing it in a different way to normal, seeing flowers and plants that you don’t normally notice, and the whole garden seems so still and yet at the same time so wild and alive.
Or you might experience harmony of being when you’re watching your children play in the garden in summer. You look around you, at the sunlight splashing through the trees and the perfect blue sky above you, and listen to your children’s laughter – and the scene seems so perfect that time seems to stand still. Or even when you’re driving down the motorway and are suddenly struck by the beauty of the evening sun, shining between the clouds and across the fields – just for a few moments, you feel lit up inside too, and a warm glow of well-being flows through your whole being.
Spontaneous experiences of harmony like these are quite rare though. Usually harmony of being is linked to certain activities or situations. For example, there are some sports which often give rise to the state. Several joggers and long-distance runners have told me that running has a powerful psychological effect on them, making them feel very calm and alert, and more ‘grounded’. One colleague told me that he goes running every day because ‘It helps clear my mind, helps me get back to myself. It puts me back in tune with the world again, after all the hassles of work. All the work stuff fades from my mind and I just take pleasure from where I am, from the elements around me.’
Swimming can also give rise to harmony. Once, when I was talking to a group of students about meditation, a young woman said to me, ‘That’s what I do when I go swimming!’ She went on to say that
When I’m swimming, I get into the rhythm of my movements and the gliding feeling of going through the water – I get so into it that I forget everything. I just feel the water against my skin and look up at the light shining on the water and the waves moving across the pool and it all looks perfect. When I get out of the water and get changed I feel happy and peaceful.
More dangerous and demanding pursuits can generate harmony too, such as climbing, flying or diving. Activities like these require so much concentration that they help us to forget the niggling concerns of daily life. The demands of the present – to make the next manoeuvre or avoid a potential danger – focus the mind so much that thought-chatter fades away and the future and the past cease to exist. As a result, climbers or pilots sometimes experience a sense of wholeness and contentment, becoming intensely aware of the beauty of their surroundings, and even feeling a sense of oneness with them.
Sex often gives rise to harmony too, for similar reasons. The sensations we experience during sex are usually so pleasurable and powerful that they have a mind-quietening effect; thoughts about the past and future fade away, as we become completely present. Afterwards, you’re filled with a soothing glow of well-being, lying there with your partner in your arms, listening to the sounds of the night and staring into the warm, rich darkness. And then, you might pull back your curtain and look at the scene outside your window and feel that everything is somehow different. The clouds gliding across the sky seem somehow more real, as if an extra dimension has been added to them, and the black spaces between them seem somehow richer and thicker than before. And on the streets everything seems to be in its right place, the cars parked in front of your house and the trees and the streetlights along the side. The light of the lamps seems radiant and somehow benevolent.
Contact with nature is a major source of harmony too, and one of the main reasons why so many of us love the countryside. The beauty and grandeur of nature draws our attention away from thought-chatter, and the stillness and space relax us even further. As a result, our minds become quiet, and our ego-boundaries become softer, so that we transcend separateness and feel connected to our surroundings.
The Sources of Harmony
So what is it about meditation, sex, climbing or running which generates harmony of being?
The most important factor is that all of these activities provide a focus for the mind. There’s a steady stream of attention directed at a particular object, and this has the effect of quietening our thought-chatter. And when the mind is quiet in this way, we become free of both the disturbance and negativity of our normal thought-chatter. We feel a sense of inner stillness because there literally is stillness inside us. Our being becomes calm, like the still surface of a lake. And this also means that the super-critical person inside our heads – who’s always criticising our behaviour and reminding of the things we should feel bad about in the past and worry about in the future – disappears. There’s no one to make us feel guilty, to make us worry about the future, or bitter about the past.
In these moments, we become aware that, although the surface of our being is filled with disturbance and negativity, beneath that there is a deep reservoir of stillness and well-being. The surface of our being is like a rough sea which sweeps you to and fro and makes you feel disoriented and anxious. But if you wear diving equipment and go beneath the surface, you’re suddenly in the midst of endless silence and stillness.
The lack of discord inside us means that we’re free from the compulsion to do, and able to be. In fact, this ability to do nothing is one of the most pleasant aspects of harmony of being. We can sit down at the table or walk around the house and be content just to be here. There’s no impulse to turn on the television or the radio, to reach for a magazine or to check your e-mail or to phone a friend for a chat.
Permanent Harmony and Sanity?
These moments of harmony don’t have to be fleeting. In fact, this is basic aim of all spiritual traditions, and all spiritual practices: to generate a state of permanent inner harmony. This is what we call ‘enlightenment’ – a state in which the discord of the human mind is truly healed. In my new book Back to Sanity, I propose an eight-stage path of self-development leading to a permanent state of harmony, including practices such as ‘transcending negative thought patterns,’ ‘Healing the mind through quietness and stillness’ as well as traditional practices such as service and meditation.
In harmony of being, life becomes a glorious adventure, full of joy and wonder. And one of the most striking things about this state is how natural it feels. That’s because it’s our most natural state, a state in which we come home, to our innermost nature.
How to Generate Harmony of Being
- Have contact with nature. The stillness and beauty of nature can quieten the chattering of our minds and bring a sense of inner peace.
- Help other people. Altruistic acts connect us with us and help us to transcend separateness.
- Mindfulness exercises. When you have a shower, brush your teeth, eat your meals or any other daily activity, give your full attention to the experience rather than to thoughts inside your head.
- Make friends with quietness and inactivity. Timetable periods for ‘doing nothing’ during the week. Quietness allows our minds to settle into a state of harmony.
- Go running or swimming. Sports like these can heal the surface discord of our minds puts us in touch the harmony underneath.