Trying to Exchange Pleasure for Peace

I can’t recall a particular event that made me want to dedicate my life to a spiritual search – it was more of a gradual thing.  As a teenager and young adult, my interests were diverse, but usually geared towards self-indulgence, such as getting drunk at parties/festivals and spending countless hours absorbed in television.

However, alongside this, I had an early interest in self-discovery, which led me to study psychology at university.  I completed my degree with an OK grade, but was told by a tutor that I could have achieved so much more, if I had only applied myself to my studies in a better way.  The same type of comment had followed me since my school days, where I always did well enough to move onto the next level, but mediocre overall.

I didn’t enjoy the feelings that underachievement brought, but just didn’t know how to develop the staying power to focus on what I needed to do, rather than having my attention pulled to and fro by one fleeting interest after another.

I also became acutely aware of the pain that the endless pursuit of pleasure brought, as I found myself submerged in lower inner states, such as anxiety and depression, which made life quite unpleasant.  The depression made it very difficult to concentrate and when I tried to write assignments, I would often just end up staring into space for hours, with my mind wandering off in all sorts of directions.

These unwanted inner states were a constant battle to fight against and I remember commenting to a classmate that I couldn’t find the motivation to start an assignment until the actual deadline.  Consequently, even if I produced a good piece of work, I would lose a substantial amount of marks as a late penalty.

The contrast between my academic study of the psyche and how I actually lived my life was painfully clear.  But despite my dissatisfaction with conventional psychology, one topic stood out to me, which was the study of consciousness.  I found this topic area to be of great interest, which was reflected by the high grade I managed to achieve in that unit, despite my typically undisciplined approach to study.

However, I lacked the knowledge of techniques that would enable me to develop this consciousness through firsthand experience and began to search further.

Looking For a Way to Change Within

I felt that conventional psychology tended to deal with things from an academic approach, rather than through personal experience.  So I tried various self-help books and techniques that I thought would be more powerful in order to try and change within.

However, these alternative techniques seemed to be “sticking plaster” approaches, where one set of behaviors would be replaced with another, without understanding the underlying drives and motivations.  Moreover, the end goal of some of these techniques tended to be material gain and success, which I didn’t find an intrinsic value in.

So despite considering myself an atheist at that point, I gradually started to investigate more spiritual practices, including various types of yoga and meditation, and found that the peacefulness I gained from practicing them could also be reached by spending time alone in nature.

But although the practices were helpful and gave me a better sense of clarity, they seemed to be something that I did outside of my everyday life, rather than being a fully integrated part of it.

Consequently, although I was able to gain moments of peace, the same emotional states would manifest repeatedly in between, seemingly with no way of overcoming them, other than to wait to quieten the mind through the next mediation or yoga practice, or by going to an area of natural beauty.

Coming Up Against the Reality of Daily Life

As much as I wanted to create circumstances in which I could be at peace, something always came along to thwart my plans.  I went on weekend retreats in a beautiful setting, eating Ayurvedic vegetarian food and felt great.  But as soon as I returned back to ordinary life, the same situations and reactions came up.  In fact, I remember just wanting to escape when traveling home through a busy city directly after a retreat.

Around this time, I also decided that I should really start to focus on the direction that I wanted my life to take.  I had tried out various jobs, traveling and studies and come to the conclusion that I wanted to find a way to become the best person I could be and allow others to do the same.

I started training for a profession that I thought could allow me to do this in some way, but soon after I started, my health declined and my career prospects were cut short.  I envied my peers, who seemed to be making a success of their lives, but came to realize that the various difficulties in my own life had led me to seek a way of attaining peace in a more permanent way, which would not be dependent on creating favorable circumstances, living in a nice environment, or having kind-hearted people around me.

Finding the Practices to Change

I eventually gained something that helped me to deal with difficult situations in a better way.  A friend introduced me to Belsebuub’s work, which immediately struck a chord.  I found it to be practical, logical and easily understandable, while at the same time having a lot of depth and wisdom to it.

Various courses were starting up and since they were all free, I had nothing to lose by trying them out.  As a new student, I had a choice between the Astral Travel and Dreams course, or the Searching Within course, which at the time was named the Self-Discovery course.  I took the astral course first and found it to be very beneficial, but it was the study of self-knowledge that really sustained my interest in the longer term.

I read The Peace of the Spirit Within, which accompanied the course and again found that it explained things in a clear and practical way, which was easily understandable, yet had a depth to it that was unique and extraordinary.  I began to apply the techniques that were given on the course to my daily life and could see that this was a much better way to live.

In the course and book, Belsebuub highlighted self-observation as a key starting point for self-knowledge and suggested practices that would boost my sense of awareness.  He mentioned that one must aim to develop clarity in perceiving the external world via the five senses, while at the same time maintaining an awareness of one’s own internal world of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Through self-observation, I was able to see more and more of my own inner states, which seemed to crop up rapidly during the day.  I realized that it’s easy to create illusions about myself and believe that I’m peaceful, loving or kind, but that an honest observation of my own psyche would be essential, in order to achieve inner change in the longer term.

Speeding Up the Process of Inner Change

I found the Searching Within course to be very insightful and it was immediately clear that practicing self-awareness was a much better way of living than being pulled to and fro by the whims of the various inner states that I saw emerging within me.

Upon completing the course, I learnt a more advanced technique that gave me an added tool to fight against these inner states in a much more powerful way, and I began to see significant changes taking place in the way I responded to the various situations in my daily life.

The technique used the practice of self-observation as its starting point, but added another level, which involved calling upon a spiritual force to remove lower inner states.  It seemed a little too simple to be effective at first, but I made the effort to practice it and found that it did indeed produce some remarkable results.

The process of change was gradual, but it became very clear that many strong inner states, which I’d struggled with throughout my life, could gradually be reduced.  I became able to respond more appropriately and rationally in many situations and to break away from my habitual ways of acting, which would have otherwise controlled me beneath my reasoning.

Gaining Freedom from Lower Emotions

Through this process of inner study, I began to see how multi-layered my own psyche was.  I realized that large manifestations of emotions such as anger were actually fed and sustained by small irritations, impatience and complaints about others, or in even more subtle ways, such as a sarcastic comment or dismissive glance.

However, by persisting with the self-knowledge techniques suggested by Belsebuub, I found that I could make good progress in chipping away at these minor manifestations of a particular negative emotion and by doing so, could gain the willpower and inner clarity to avoid their larger eruptions.

I uncovered many complex layers in my own psyche, which I began to understand and alter for the better.  It would take a long time to list all the specific details that I learnt about my own psychological functioning, particularly as the process of change was gradual, but there are certain areas in which I feel a major shift has taken place.

Improving Relationships

I didn’t really class myself as an angry person, but once I began to observe my own thoughts and behaviors more thoroughly, I realized that this was unfortunately not an accurate reflection of my own internal reality.  However, over time, I began to see the extent to which my social interactions could be significantly improved, as long as I put in the effort to change my own response to others.

Through the various events of my life, I have come across people with some quite challenging behavior and in the past have become locked into a battle of wills, which neither party would back down from.  But through studying myself, I began to understand the influence that I have upon others too, whether for good or for bad.

There are many examples of improvements in relationships that I could mention, but one in particular stands out.  I had struggled in my relationship with a family member over many years and at one time we became locked in a situation where neither of us was speaking to the other.  Although there were no arguments actively taking place, these negative feelings pervaded the atmosphere, making it very unpleasant for all parties to live in.

The situation improved over time, but it was easy to fall back into disagreements again, as our ways of thinking were so different.   I also found that when the family member didn’t take into account my own feelings or needs, it provoked a strong reaction of hurt and resentment within me.

However, through studying myself in greater depth, I gradually understood that it was up to me to change my own response.  I had known this theoretically for some time, but began to realize that I needed to put this into practice continuously, in order to bring about noticeable improvements.

I still struggled to control the negative thoughts that tended to automatically run through my mind, but once I began to tackle those as well as my outward behavior, I was pleasantly surprised to see how quickly my relationship with the family member could be improved, so that it became possible to enjoy each other’s company again, despite the differences in our opinions.

Increasing Self-Discipline and Overcoming Addictions

Over time, I began to see how the personality traits — like anger — that I once thought were a fundamental part of my character and personality could be substantially altered.  I have noticed many improvements in this area, but again there are specific examples that stand out.

Despite the shambolic lifestyle of pleasure-seeking that I once lived, I began to develop a much greater sense of personal responsibility.  The change was gradual, but in time I found that I could resist situations where I had the opportunity to do something that I knew wasn’t quite right, but which I could get away with if I wanted to, as either there was no one else watching, or it was socially acceptable to act in that way.

But by persisting in applying the self-knowledge techniques that I learnt from the course, I began to see that I didn’t actually want to do the things that went against my own principles, as the temptation to do so had diminished.

I found this new way of living to be so much more rewarding, as not only did I avoid the unpleasant feelings of guilt that came with doing things against my better judgement, but I began to move forward with some personal goals that I’d had for a long time, but had always found excuses to not take further, as they required consistent effort over a long period of time.

This self-discipline also extended to temptations that I’d previously struggled with, such as gluttony and greed, or in relation to other addictions.  I gradually began to find it far easier to resist the urge to indulge in the things that I knew were not beneficial for me, until they were eventually no longer even appealing.

Reducing Anxiety and Depression

I realized that the depression I had felt as a student had in part been due to the swings between the opposites of pleasure and pain, which Belsebuub describes in The Peace of the Spirit Within book.  But I began to find that a greater level of clarity and fulfillment could be attained by doing the things that I knew were meaningful or important, rather than simply giving into pleasures.

I also began to shake off some of the anxiety that I’d felt in the past, particularly in relation to social interactions.  I saw how my dependence on the approval of others had been such a hindrance, as it effectively made me a puppet to the whims of my own and other’s emotions, and prevented me from acting in a more conscious way.

But by removing some of the links between anxiety and other inner states, such as pride, I began to find a much freer and more natural way of living.

Increasing Love and Compassion

Coupled with this change has been an increase in the love and care that I feel towards others.  I realized that if I don’t understand myself, I’m in a much weaker position to understand others, or give them the support they need.

Looking back at my earlier life, I can see how selfish and uncaring many of my behaviors were, which tinges me with sadness.  But the silver lining to this cloud is that I now have something concrete, which can allow me to develop this love and care in a tangible and more permanent way, rather than just having it as a fleeting ideal.

Understanding the Psyche in Dreams

The impact of this change upon my subconscious has also been apparent in dreams.  The study of self-knowledge during my daily life became a main focus, but I also understood the value of observing my dreams, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the workings of my own psyche, which Belsebuub suggested in the Searching Within course.

Belsebuub also explained how the workings of the psyche are laid bare in dreams, as the morals that govern waking life are discarded. I can remember past dreams where I acted in a way that I felt quite ashamed of upon waking, so it is encouraging to now be faced with situations in dreams where no-one is watching and there is an opportunity to act in an immoral way, but in the dream I have still been able to resist the temptation.

This hasn’t always been the case, but by applying the techniques from Belsebuub’s work to both my waking and dream lives, I learnt further about the process of chipping away at egos, so that they can be reduced in size and finally overcome.

Facing Difficulties in a Better Way

I now feel much better equipped to deal with difficult or unpleasant situations more appropriately and realize that I will inevitably face difficulties in my life, regardless of the circumstances or environments that I may strive to create.

By maintaining a focus on self-observation, I have found that the impact of these difficulties can not only be lessened, but that the process of going through them can also be a great source of learning and inner change.

Moreover, by overcoming difficulties, I’ve found a much greater strength to face new challenges in the future.  Because the need to avoid fearful situations has reduced, I feel I have gained much more freedom as a result.

Opening Up New Opportunities

Looking back at my earlier life, I can see how limited and restricted my opportunities really were.  Although it seemed that I had the freedom to enjoy whatever pleasures I was drawn too, I can now see that these pleasures were actually controlling me – leading me along like a dog on a leash.  But by gradually cutting the threads of this leash, new opportunities have opened up and things that once seemed unattainable seem to now be within my reach.

I feel blessed that I have had the opportunity to apply the various techniques for self-knowledge which Belsebuub writes about.  They have given me the opportunity to use the various situations in my life for learning and self-knowledge, rather than simply being submerged and overcome by them, and in doing so, I feel that I have gained a far greater understanding of myself and how I function psychologically.

After searching for so long to find a way to change within, I can say that the techniques I learnt from Belsebuub’s work have been the most practical, yet also the most powerful.

~ Michael