Frequently my patients ask: “How do I find inner peace”? Truth be told most of us feel at peace only in those rare moments when all of the “stars align”, i.e. when things are working out according to plan – our plan.
There appear to be universal root-causes of inner distress. Art and literature depict these themes time and time again: Fear, impatience, envy, the belief that happiness can only be achieved at some future time and under certain conditions, and our seeming inability to notice the blessings that already exist.
Philosophers and religious leaders devote lifetimes to finding the secrets to inner peace and I certainly don’t claim to have the answers. My experience tells me, however, that these are some things to consider while on the quest for greater internal calm:
Acceptance: Much unhappiness comes from fighting who and where we are; our perceived short-comings, those of others, and of our circumstances. “Why can’t I be better-educated, more attractive, wealthier or more gifted”? These questions destroy peace-of-mind and make us afraid to be exactly whom and where we are. When we begin to accept that we’re exactly as we are supposed to be, with the specific attributes, circumstances (and even perceived shortcomings) we are supposed to have, we begin to feel more at peace. Paradoxically this self-acceptance releases energy that can then be used to achieve positive growth and change.
Appreciation: Its human nature to focus on what isn’t working in our lives rather than on what already is. The survival of the human race has probably relied on our tendency to be “on guard”; to be attentive to what may go wrong so that we can fix it before disaster strikes. Unfortunately this “hyper-vigilance” also leads to a kind of negative tunnel-vision causing us to miss what’s already good. Starting each day with gratitude; with the acknowledgement of our relative health, shelter, food, family, friends, a job, etc., is a huge step toward finding inner peace.
Perspective: Fear, frustration and self-pity reign when we can’t see past difficult life circumstances. An antidote to painful states of mind is the realization that we’ve already survived other difficult circumstances. Age and experience teach us that most problems can be solved and the turmoil that accompanies them eased.
Faith: Inner peace is the most difficult to find when our experience hasn’t prepared us for the life challenges we face or when the outcome is potentially devastating. How do we find a center of inner-calm when we have little or no hope? Faith in the form of religion or any other spiritual practice can get us through these tumultuous times.
Patience: Even with acceptance, appreciation, perspective and faith we may find it hard to swallow that we often don’t control the speed with which life’s problems resolve themselves. Once we’ve taken the steps we can to address these problems, however, our impatience leads only to further distress. Acknowledging and accepting that the time frame in which positive change occurs may not be up to us restores a certain kind of inner calm.
Take a few minutes to start and end your day as follows: Express gratitude for your many blessings. Remind yourself that no matter how things appear you are exactly and uniquely who and what you are supposed to be. Finally ask for the perspective, faith and patience to get through whatever challenges you may face in the next 24 hours. Practicing these steps won’t bring you the unachievable, i.e. continual inner peace. With practice, however, you’ll experience increasing stretches of time where peace prevails, despite the circumstances.