Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles

— Alex Green

principles are the collective wisdom of our species. They tell us what is valuable. They warn us what is not.

Principles of law safeguard society and protect our rights. Health principles guide us on nutrition, exercise and the prevention of disease. Scientific principles further technology and explain the natural world. Spiritual principles guide our lives. Or should.

There will always be arguments about doctrine, of course. But there is little disagreement on core principles: honesty, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, perseverance, justice, humility, charity and gratitude.

These principles aren’t binding. They’re liberating. They imbue life with meaning. And make no mistake, human beings are meaning-seeking creatures. Without a reason to live, people easily fall into depression or despair. In some sense, we are all spiritual seekers.

You may revere the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Four Noble Truths, the Five Pillars or some other timeless set of ethical principles.

“Anything else you worship,” argued novelist David Foster Wallace at a commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, “will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough…

“Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…

Worship power – you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear…

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

On some level, most of us understand this. The message is embodied in our myths, proverbs and aphorisms, our classic films, and our great novels. Yet society and culture – and even our unconscious – continually tug us the other way.

It’s just that a life based on craving – on the worship of self – is no more satisfying in the end than a bowl of jelly beans.

Fortunately, the great spiritual principles are there, like Polaris, guiding you toward true north, reminding you that it’s really not all about you, suggesting that the most important thing you can do today may not be to obtain or even achieve something, but to show those around you that you care in a dozen little unsexy ways.

It may not be glamorous. But it’s the truth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson understood this. He ends his famous essay “Self-Reliance” with these words: “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

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