I sold my condo last year and moved into senior housing. Luckily, I made enough to pay off all my debt and put some money into savings. I settled in quite quickly, happy with my new apartment. I closed my notary business but continued with my writing groups at the Senior College.

I was ready for a slower pace. What I wasn’t ready for was the bone-weary tiredness that my body could finally express after 50-plus years of service. I have never taken so many naps in my life and still have a full eight to nine hours of sleep. Relaxing was a fun thing to do, yet all the thoughts about what I should be doing with my time were scrolling through my head like an unending movie, playing the same scenes and dialogue repeatedly: “I should be doing more with my life” or “I should be doing more as an Interfaith minister.”

What I wasn’t hearing was: “You deserve to rest, read novels and relax, go sit at the beach and just listen to the sounds around you.” Change your thoughts, change your life has become a popular mantra. But what if one thinks that all thoughts are true, or one can’t discern which ones to believe?

Then what? Learning that the thoughts coming out of my mind and the constant pressure of what I should be doing may just not be true, has been a welcome insight. These thoughts come from a past where I lived by someone else’s rules, someone’s dogma, or even someone’s idiosyncrasies because I thought they were smarter than me.

About 13 years ago, I began following the advice of Louise Hay and recited positive affirmations every day. I’ve been able to change my thoughts and thereby change my life for the better. But it’s amazing that, even now, past thoughts and ideas have a loud voice that try to speak over the truths I now believe.

I came from a strict Catholic upbringing, where fear of God was a daily lesson and fear of sin increased our anxiety to a level out of proportion for children. My years in the convent only continued this agenda. Becoming holy was an obsession and keeping the letter of the law was more important than love of neighbor. Ascetism was touted to control the sinful bodies we occupied. The ascetics were held up as models of denying self and the ways of the world. Unfortunately, these were common beliefs for centuries. I was never told that I belonged in this world; that my body was supposed to be a source of joy through all the senses.

The Buddha too, seeking enlightenment, thought that the more he denied himself, the sooner he would reach his goal. Yet after six years of extreme ascetism, all it resulted in was exhaustion and being emaciated. He finally gave up that path and decided that there had to be another way. He sat under a tree waiting for guidance. And when all his striving was put aside, all his ideas of what would bring him to enlightenment were proved wrong, he let go and sat. Thus, enlightenment was able to take hold of him.

And so, the lesson I’ve also learned about sitting and waiting for insight and clarity keeps me on an even keel. With all the dogma and spiritual practices that have accrued over the years, all the many spiritual paths that different gurus and spiritual leaders propose, the wisest instruction, for me, comes from the life of the Buddha who just sat. From there he could begin his ministry of sharing what he knew for sure.

When we put aside others’ ideas of what we must do or how we must be, and we sit, then our higher selves, or spirit/the Divine, have the chance to speak to our souls and tell us what the right path is for us, which may not necessarily be what we have read or heard about.

In and of itself, life has suffering. We don’t need to look for it. We only need to sit and be with the wonderful person we already are. The person loved unconditionally by Divine Presence. The person born perfect into this world. We then can see the world as it is, face suffering as it comes to us realizing it is not a punishment, it is a call to our free will to decide how we want to approach it, or accept it, or change the circumstances. These are decisions we want to make from a quiet mind.

Rev. Rousseau is an Interfaith minister and spiritual director residing in Kennebunk. She is also the author of “Coming to the Edge: 50 Poems for Writing and Healing,” and leads writing groups with her book.

www.helenrousseau.com