Mark Zegarelli
Mark Zegarelli

Insight 20 - Plateau #4: 
The Path to Peace

Have you ever noticed how going on vacation – when it's the right vacation! – somehow gives you a bit of welcome distance from your everyday life? After a few days away from your normal day-to-day routine, you start to see things from a new perspective.


In some cases, problems that appeared large, even monstrous, may begin to look smaller and more manageable. For example, perhaps a coworker who regularly drives you crazy, when seen from a distance, no longer appears threatening but, instead, as a minor annoyance at best.


In other cases, blessings that appeared small may take on greater importance. For example, you suddenly realize that a friend you've taken for granted for many years has, perhaps, been deeply loyal and supportive in a way you've never truly appreciated.


This same phenomenon was also reported by the first astronauts to view the Earth from far away. This isn't to say that all of Earth's problems were magically fixed in a single day – just that the shift in perspective helped not only these astronauts but also many other people who shared their new perspective begin to separate out the trivial questions (Why can't I afford a bigger car?) from the more meaningful ones (How shall we achieve world peace?)


I’m not saying that a shift in space necessarily provides us the means to achieve our worthiest goals. It just means that such a shift can help us to see them better. Back on Earth, or back at our desk on Monday morning, we still have the work of bringing that vision into existence. But without the initial vision, we may not have a clue what our worthiest goals might be.


The shift from the common-sense understanding of who we are to seeing ourselves as pure, self-aware awareness can provide a similar set of insights. But it can potentially do more than that.


Very few people have the financial means to live permanently as if they're on vacation. And nobody yet has managed to live their whole life away from Mother Earth.


Moreover, even if you could live "apart" from the rest of us in some geographical sense, the novelty would wear off after a while. Then, on Fiji, in Antarctica, or orbiting the Rings of Saturn, you would slowly return to your default mode of living – whatever that looks like – with its annoyances and stresses, heartaches and hangnails. So, if you're currently lonely, or bored easily, or consumed by jealousy, or resentful of how life has treated you, or afraid of dying, you'd likely find the same emotions waiting for you in your new exotic habitat.


This reality is one reason why people in recovery from addiction often question the efficacy of a geographical solution: Putting physical distance between you and your current set of problems is usually no replacement for doing the work of recovery.


However, seeing yourself as awareness isn't simply a vacation. That's why I'm walking you through several dozen individual insights that are more-or-less self-evident once you recognize them, even if they're not typically acknowledged. These insights are not only meant to give you a new and potentially wider perspective. They're also meant to ground you in a new way of seeing that is in line with reality.


Grounded happiness.


This line of inquiry isn't meant to be theoretical, and it certainly isn't meant to be pie-in-the-sky. We've all known people who seem happy because of personal beliefs that are maybe not so easy to justify – for example, the belief that they will own $5,000,000 in assets in five years. I'm not saying that it won't or can't happen. I'm only questioning whether it will make you happy if it does happen, and whether you can still remain happy if it doesn't.


Flipside, we've all known people who are truly happy, not necessarily because they have more or do more or are more than us, but because of something they've discovered that has nothing to do with more.


Where does it come from: a sense of peace that, if it isn't completely unshakeable, appears surprisingly resilient in the face of life's often complex and shifting circumstances?


What does a person need to be in touch with in order to tap that capacity for lasting peace?


In this book, I'm attempting to build a bridge for you and me, not only to get to that place (if, indeed, it is a place), but to help us understand what the journey across in both directions might look like.


This conscious journey toward a peaceful perspective begins by remembering who I am as awareness, and remaining aware of this awareness. Conversely, the unconscious journey toward a less peaceful perspective begins by forgetting this remembering, and sliding back into the common-sense, materialist understanding that I am a collection of feelings, thoughts, and bodily organs wrapped like a sausage in a casing of skin.


These two competing answers to the question Who am I? both have their advantages and disadvantages.


One advantage of the common-sense answer is that there is a lot of agreement all around us that this is the correct answer. So, whenever you decide to invest in this answer, you will have a great deal of support for this decision. You can safely turn on the television, participate in social media, and chat with your neighbors with the general assurance that you won't be undercutting or challenging any of the basic assumptions that underpin modern world culture.


The disadvantages of this answer, however, are likely the reasons that you're reading this book. I won't belabor them.


An obvious disadvantage to seeing yourself as awareness is that you won't necessarily get much support for this perspective. In fact, you may well get a lot of pushback, resistance, and negativity thrown at you. You may be called delusional. You may be treated with derision and contempt. In fact, you may well need to go somewhat underground with your beliefs, and not call attention to them.


I'm not saying that any of this will happen, but it could happen.


So, what's the upside?


Seeing who you are as awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations rather than the sum total of them gives you a bit of distance from them. For example, instead of saying I am unhappy today or – even more problematic – I am an unhappy person, you might rephrase this as I'm aware of a feeling of unhappiness.


Although, at first, this rephrasing may sound like simply a semantic game, it actually provides you with some power. Saying I am unhappy casts this feeling as pervasive throughout my whole being. Saying I'm aware of an unhappy feeling places it at a distance, with I as the observer.


The difference could be compared to a loud noise that you wish would go away issuing from the house down the street, versus the same loud noise originating inside the room you're in right now. The first scenario may be peripherally annoying, but you can potentially ignore the noise. The second could really drive you to distraction.


And, of course, I'm not talking about noise that's simply in the room with you, but rather the noise in your head, inseparable from who you are, incessantly assigning you a role and demanding that you play it out.


I am angry – I am certain – I am hardnosed – I am surprised – I am envious – I am heartbroken – I am bored – I am a failure – I am unappreciated – I am witty – I am a mediocre cook – I am afraid of crowds – I am sorry – I am a rebel – I am unpredictable – I am charming – I am a good daughter – I am a person who doesn't like the beach – I am a bad student – …


And on and on. Telling you who you are.


Remember the exercise in which we practiced turning the volume switch down to Setting 0? That action becomes a possibility for me when I remember that another way to understand myself is simply as awareness.


In that state, allowing all the labels, assessments, judgments, expectations, and obsessions to drop away becomes possible. If you like some of them, you can still keep them around, but you no longer need to confuse them for who you are.


Thus, peace becomes possible. Inner peace. The peace that passes all understanding. A quiet mind, untroubled by thought.


But our journey is not quite finished.


And onward we go.