10 Steps to More Inner Peace
Lately peace has become a priority for me.
When it moved to the top of my list, I can’t say. In the spirit of questioning priorities, (something we’d all benefit from) I’ve been asking myself some basic questions about the often elusive state I call peace.
Since, like many of you, I am not practiced in peace as a way of being in the world, I plan to jot down what comes to mind when I think of peace. I want to understand when and how these moments of feeling calm, centered and grounded come over me.
I want to learn how to invite more of this sense of total comfort in to my life. This deeply personal state of being is different for each of us, so it’s important for you to think about how these harmonious feelings happen in your life.
I’m interested in exploring what gets in the way of being more peaceful and what opens the space for more of my peaceful nature to emerge. I’ve made an assumption here which you’ve undoubtedly picked up on – that we have within us – barring trauma or illness – the capacity to be at peace. Mostly it’s a matter of moving away the mental dross that stands between us and peace.
It’s tricky – this idea of peace, sorting it out from ideas about happiness. Happiness often seems tied to external events that benchmark our hopes and dreams but are transitory. Peace is a very different place that we carry within but rarely seem to reach.
Peace is Not a Destination
The problem is that peace often feels fleeting. So to find peace we often try to build peace from the outside-in. If we can (and these are classic first-world problems) we look for the perfect peaceful spots, turn off the exterior noise, play soothing music, get a massage or practice meditation to enable peace. These are all wonderful, useful things but unless we build the inner structure for peace, our relief is only temporary.
In her book, Shortcuts to Peace, author, Ashley Davis Bush writes, “Most of us make ourselves literally sick from our responses to life. It’s as if we float on the surface of life, caught in the choppy waves of circumstances. Little do we know that if w allowed ourselves to sink down, there would be calm.”
But do we know that? Do we actually believe that below the noise and urgent to-do lists there’s an inner calm that we can not only access but cultivate? Bush points out that we think this “peace place” was caused by a sunset, ocean waves or silence, but these circumstances merely took you home to yourself.
Clearing the Way
Every time we make an effort to clear away the obstacles, we’re building a greater capacity for peace. From a neuroscience perspective, we’re literally rewiring neural networks that help shift our default networks. While this is slow, practicing peace is not a static process.
You don’t move mountains when you practice; the shifts are often tiny, even imperceptible. The more I practice, the more I realize that peace is a choice. It’s not the absence of conflict or inner chaos or drama, but the choice not to engage in it. I often worried that making the choice would make me apathetic. The opposite is true.
Staying peaceful does not dim my passion or enthusiasm or distance me from things that are hard or challenging. In fact, the view from a more peaceful state creates greater clarity and courage. When I choose a more peaceful state, I’m taking myself off the emotional roller-coaster of reactivity. Take the practical advice from a wise and worldly monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, “Every day brings a choice to practice peace or practice stress.
It’s your choice. Here are 10 things that help me:
- Slow Down. For some people, this may be the hardest assignment. Notice how you typically move through your day. Are you literally rushing from the time you wake up till you go to bed? Notice your movements, your breathing. How often do you forget one task and move on to another, calling yourself a multi-tasker in the process? I predict the next “revolution” will be to mono-task, the art of doing one thing at a time. Peace has a chance there
- Get Familiar With How Your Body Reacts. Every thought, feeling and action is registered in your body. You don’t have to be in a sitting lotus position to relax your body. Your body is talking to you all the time. It takes its cues from your mental messages. Are you listening?
- Understand Your Emotional Triggers. Simple fact – unless you get more conscious about what triggers you emotionally (teams I’ve worked with have filled entire white boards with all their daily triggers) your chances of responding rather reacting are limited.
- Clean Up Your Beliefs. What you believe about your ability to be peaceful will set the stage for your experience. If you believe peace isn’t possible, weak, for monks only or reserved for spa vacations, you won’t make much progress.
- Acceptance is a Pillar of Peace. Our non-acceptance of what is often keeps us in anxious states. In simple terms, it is a matter of what we believe is in our control, and what is not. I feel it’s always necessary to explain (as this idea often generates resistance) that acceptance is not a passive state. We are clear and honor what we feel – and how we will act – without attempting to manipulate or control the uncontrollable.
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. This includes even our “heroes.” Why? Because every time we compare ourselves – our accomplishments, circumstances, potential, possibilities to others – we send ourselves a signal that we are not enough. Even when we admire others, we can slide down that slippery slope to self-judgment. A wise saying holds true here, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
- Release Blame, Resentment & Guilt. Although, I’m a proponent of valuing the message of all emotions, these “bitter emotions” can rob us of our peace. As with all emotional information, you can use these feelings as a resource to learn more about your experience, but hanging on to them creates pain.
- Simplify. As life becomes more complex, I find that simplifying internal and external life is a huge contributor to engendering peace. Choices are a wonderful thing, but too many of them can paralyze us to inaction.
- Stop Attaching Results to Everything. Every thing we do does not require a planned outcome. In cultures driven by material progress and productivity “gains,” peace is its own reward. Don’t make it a project.
- Get Over Your Boredom. A big impediment to realizing more peace in our lives is the need to be constantly entertained. The pace and information overload of modern life has resulted in an inability to sit still and tolerate silence and single-tasking. Distractions are just that – they are not a source of peace.
- Do More of What You Love. If you believe that pleasure and leisure are indulgences, you are likely to feel uncomfortable, even guilty when you’re engaged in them. The inspiring philosopher and theologian, Howard Thurman famously said, “Don’t ask what the world needs now. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Peace and contentment follows those who are doing what they love – regardless of what it is.
- Connect to Something Bigger Than You. You don’t have to practice any religious or spiritual program to enrich your sense of being part of something greater than yourself. Much of daily life can seem superficial. We need to feel wonder. We need to be moved and inspired. It can be the enchantment of a starry sky, the harvest of a garden you planted, the love of a child or the reading of a great work. Find out what moves you and spend as much time as you can there. Peace follows.
Finally the question becomes how much do you want peace? Imagine organizing your life around peace instead of fitting peace into a time slot amidst the chaos and rush.
Michael Singer, author of the wonderful book, The Unthethered Soul, reminds us, “Realize that you are in there. You must first come to realize that you are in there. From deep inside, you are experiencing the world. You are experiencing your physical body, your thoughts and your emotions. You are conscious and you are experiencing what it is like to be human.”
Realize that you are in there. Ultimately peace is an act of self-love, a precious gift that makes everything in life feels “right,” even for a little while.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants