Finding Inner Peace in Times of Turbulence - Part 1
I have been struggling a fair bit lately, even more than I was when the initial big covid-19 / coronavirus restrictions were put into place. At first it sucked, sure, but I could almost make a game of whatever was or was not expected and what I needed to do. But lately, I haven't been myself, and I don't feel like myself. I'm a relatively emotional person as it is, and wear my heart on my sleeve, but I've felt almost out of control of my emotions and I struggle to manage my responses to things that shouldn't be a big deal. I have lost a lot of motivation and find it difficult to do something as simple as respond to a text because it feels like it takes a lot out of me. Have you been struggling as well?
We're seven-ish months into our lives being thrown into disarray, and I absolutely refuse to use the words "new normal", because the way things are right now will never feel normal for me. I struggle a bit with anxiety and depression, and this has been hard on me, for me, and therefore hard on those closest to me. I have so much compassion for any of you who have big struggles with your mental health. Please know that it's ok to not be ok; I know that it's almost cliche to say that now, but it's true. Talk to someone, or at least let someone come and make a blanket fort with you and lie inside while you feel like everything in the world has gone completely mental.
When I hear about Inner Peace, I feel like it's almost unachievable. It's elusive, impractical, even ridiculous, right? The whole concept of inner peace conjures up images of yogis in colorful, loose clothing on a mountaintop or in a meadow beside a stream. They have their eyes closed, face perfectly relaxed (but their lips are in a slight smile), their hands form some sort of meaningful shape and their feet are impossibly placed on top of their knees. And they are at peace.
Is this what we must strive for if we want to feel peace within ourselves? Or can it also look like a woman, just like you, sitting at her kitchen table? There might be a whirlwind of activity around her, but her face is relaxed, lips in a slight smile, and she has fully accepted this moment and doesn’t buy into what the world tells her she should be doing. Can it also look like being stuck in traffic on the way to work, daycare or to meet a friend, and taking a moment to breathe and believe that you will arrive at your destination at the exact moment you’re meant to?
The concept of inner peace may have originated with religious learnings and it may have melded over into yoga practices, but you, yes even you - person who spilled Hawkins Cheezies in your bed last night while you drank wine out of a plastic cup and then you had to vacuum your bed at midnight - can achieve inner peace where you are in this very moment. You can find peace in any physical space and within who you are right now. You don’t have to change who you are, you are perfect and completely capable of peace as you exist right now. There is work to be done, but the work doesn’t require changing who you inherently are.
You are reading this because you have a longing and some disorder that you want to address, and you need some respite and relief. And that’s ok, in fact, that’s amazing. Acknowledging that your life is missing something that will make it more full, more in tune with the life you want shows that you are introspective and insightful and willing to do something about it. So many people spin their wheels and don’t do anything about their overwhelm and chaos, and some don’t even know where to begin. I’m glad you’re here and are taking this journey to give yourself space and permission to be at peace. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to succeed on your own terms, but believe that you’re worth the work needed to achieve inner peace, because you are.
There is a notion that inner peace does not coincide with strength, that it is an exercise for wimps and those who cower and simply don’t have the cajones to stand up for themselves. This could not be further from the truth; inner peace requires tremendous strength and discipline. It’s incredibly easy to react to everything around you and to respond to every inconsequential detail that comes your way, often resulting in a feeling of being overwhelmed. Think of it this way: You’re standing on the side of a busy road, and every car that drives past you is shiny and at least one person inside the car is waving at you, or there’s blaring music or loud exhaust. It’s easy to wave back, to be annoyed by (or sing along to) the music, or to want to cover your ears because of the loud exhaust. But guess what? You don’t have to give energy and attention to every vehicle that drives by. What if you could just stand there, knowing that there is all of this traffic but not acknowledging every vehicle that goes by? What if the existence of the vehicles was just as important as your breath, as the clouds in the sky, as the grass moving beautifully in the wind?
This is what inner peace looks like: The ability to filter out all the distractions and noise and negativity and focus on the pure and lovely.
What Inner Peace is Not
Mindlessness: Inner peace is not emptying your mind and not paying attention to anything at all. It isn’t about the absence of thought, it’s about guiding your thoughts toward peace and quiet. It’s about paying attention to elements that bring peace to your mind, like your breath, the sound of the wind, the feeling of your feet on the ground, or the warmth of the sun.
Ignoring your problems: In order to achieve inner peace, any issues, problems, or past events need to be addressed and minimized; all of this baggage must be unpacked until it is manageable and a size you can easily carry without it weighing you down. Pretending that you don’t have any stuff that needs to be mitigated will absolutely steal your peace, and this difficult stuff will pop up in those moments when you’re trying to be at rest or when you least expect them.
Something that can be achieved overnight: Inner peace takes work, patience, and commitment. As women, we have a lot going on in our minds, and we tend to ruminate over issues, so it’s going to take some diligence and a true desire to enact the steps outlined here in this book.
Always congruent with happiness: Happiness and inner peace do not necessarily go hand in hand. In fact, the constant pursuit of happiness can rob you of your peace, because true peace can only be found when every emotion and experience is welcomed, felt, and then allowed to pass. No emotional state is permanent.
The absence of pain or discomfort: Similarly to ignoring emotional problems, inner peace does not mean that there is no suffering or discomfort. In my experience, many who are suffering physical pain or have terminal diagnoses seek and find inner peace because they are better able to focus on what really matters. The absence of what could be considered normalcy in the physical sense puts a new perspective on transcending the here and now and finding a greater purpose.
Only for those who subscribe to religious practices: While the concept of inner peace may be traced back to religious practices (particularly Buddhism), active participation in or belief in particular doctrines isn’t a requirement. However, belief in a force greater than ourselves is one of the elements which greatly determines the ability to achieve inner peace. An understanding of a purpose outside ourselves, a creator, and a divine being lifts our heavy burdens and gives them meaning.
Perfection: Inner peace is a lifelong journey, and there will be many bumps in the road that will disrupt our sense of peace and even our sense of what we thought was right or real. A commitment to inner peace will require you to come back to the tools and techniques in this book over and over again. You will likely stop doing mindfulness activities when life feels easy, but what’s written here will always be here to refer back to. You are perfectly imperfect, and the journey to inner peace is the same.
What I’ve Learned about Inner Peace
I spent 17 years of my life at a career that I was good at and paid me very well. I went to school for this career, worked my butt off, and hustled every day to advance and move up the corporate ladder. I had almost everything I thought I always wanted - money, a nice house, a closet full of clothes and shoes, lots of friends, a husband, cars, and more superficial stuff than I knew what to do with. You know what I didn’t have? Peace. Contentment. A sense of “enough”. I was constantly striving for more, never feeling like who I was or what I had was enough. I couldn’t help but envy the proverbial grass of everyone who seemed to have achieved more than I had, all while neglecting my own lawn while it withered and died. But you know what? The grass is greener where you water it.
I neglected myself. I exercised a lot and ate well, but these were just more tactics to keep constantly busy and to distract from the fact that I was miserable. And then the bottom fell out of my life; I got laid off during the oil and gas economic crash, my marriage ended, and I suffered a severe concussion, preventing me from achieving the master’s degree I thought I needed in my never-ending quest to become enough.
But when the dust settled, I had a strange sense of peace, like I no longer had to pretend or hustle or prove anything. The funny thing about being at the bottom is that you get to choose what “up” looks like, and how you’re going to move forward. I decided that I would choose joy and peace and pursue these things, instead of pursuing approval and money and prestige. I have spent moments being quiet and reflecting on what peace looks like to me. I’ve worked on my baggage and have unpacked it, and now only carry the experience and don’t let it define me. I still struggle with inner peace, and I’m not perfect, but I don’t expect you to be, either. All I ask of you is that you show up and be honest with yourself about where you’re at, and know that you can find inner peace and that you are worth investing in.