You are Your Greatest Obstacle to Inner Peace (Part 2 of a Series on Inner Peace)
What’s standing between you and inner peace? Well, you are. Your greatest obstacles aren’t external pressures or your kids or your friends or expectations others have of you. Your greatest obstacles lie in your perceptions of and response to these things, as well as how you address your own issues.
We’ll call these obstacles “blockages”, because the definition of blockage is “an obstruction which makes movement or flow difficult or impossible”, and I prefer the concept of movement and flow around a blockage over the idea of just getting past an obstacle. Also, it might sound strange, but I also like that blockages can make things impossible, because without doing the work, it truly is impossible to achieve inner peace.
Our “conscious blockages” are the ones we know are there, and that perhaps we even created them. They could be self-sabotaging blockages, or ones that we don’t even realize are preventing us from achieving inner peace. Even though we are fully aware of their presence, these blockages aren’t necessarily easy to overcome.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with worry a lot. I worry about ridiculous, highly unlikely situations like if there’s a tornado in my city, would I be safer in my house or my parents, and would I try to drive there if their house was safer? (For the record, a tornado has never touched down in the city I live in, but I have had nightmares about tornadoes since I was a child.) I also have some issues with anxiety that I deal with, but anxiety is different from worry. I worry about the situations those I know are dealing with, I even worry about the man who walked past my car with a sign saying he had brain damage and couldn’t get work but refuses to steal, and whether he's telling the truth, and whether he'll be ok even if he's not. Sometimes things like this will keep me up at night because my brain is usually a loud and often unkind place. But this is one of the things that made me realize how badly I needed to work toward inner peace and how to find peace in these moments where my brain went into worry overdrive.
Women aren’t all worrywarts, but we typically worry a lot more than men. Researchers have studied all sorts of potential causes of our obvious increased amount of worry than men, including hormones, genetics, social pressures, and cultural expectations, but cannot conclude precisely the reason why we struggle so much with worry (Pappas, 2010). This higher likelihood of worrying could actually be a good thing in some circumstances - for example, occupations that are considered the most dangerous (ie mining, off-shore drilling, deep sea fishing) have almost all-male employees, and occupational fatalities are overwhelmingly male. Perhaps this could be attributed to the female inclination to worry and therefore avoid occupations that lead to unease, or maybe we just believe that driving to work in rush hour traffic, or simply driving anywhere with children is anxiety-inducing enough, thank you very much.
Regardless of the reason behind our worrying, it is impossible to believe that it isn’t a serious blockage to attaining inner peace. There are some steps to take to manage your worrying and start achieving inner peace:
Understand that you are not in control. Releasing the desire to control situations beyond yourself is a huge part of achieving inner peace. Once you fully embrace that everything in life outside of your responses and how you interact with your physical environment is beyond your control, you will feel something akin to a deep, soul-led sigh of relief.
Learn about the power of your breath. We’ll discuss meditation in more depth later in the book, but a simple trick to managing worry in the moment is to be conscious of your breath. Breathe in very slowly through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth. This is called circular breathing (in through the nose and out through the mouth) and I use this technique often as a way to calm myself down and bring myself into the present. Another method of breathing that helps me a lot is to do the circular breathing, and visualizing that I am breathing in peace, calm, and love, and breathing out worry, stress, and whatever specific thing has distracted me from my peace.
Get outside. Go for a walk, breathe the fresh air deeply into your lungs, and spend time observing the details around you. If you can’t get outside, go for a walk around your office or go to a different room (or even the pantry or a closet!) in your home. Although, I live in a part of the world where it gets VERY cold in the winter, and I still go outside when I need to reset. The point is to remove yourself from the physical space in which you were feeling the overwhelming worry, and find a new, fresh space that isn’t polluted by the worry you were feeling, and spend time immersed in the details of that space until you feel ready to address whatever needed to be dealt with.
Give the voice of worry, your inner “mean girl” a name: I call my inner mean girl “Rude Ricky” (which may or may not be the name of a girl who was very mean to me in high school). When you externalize your worry and the unreasonable and mean voice from which it comes, it’s easier to tell it off and to be rational with it. Tell Rude Ricky or Mean Melissa or Judgy Jessie to beat it, and that they’re not the boss of you and that you won’t put up with their behaviour (if these are your names, it’s nothing personal, I’m just randomly rhyming!). Or if you’re feeling like your inner mean girl is just having issues that she really needs addressed, you can ask her what she needs and show her compassion. You can help her work through what’s bothering her, and then tell her that you will work hard to avoid situations in the future that freak her out, but now that she’s settled down, you have other things you need to attend to. This sounds silly, I know, but please trust me that it works. Once you realize that the voice of worry doesn’t reflect who you are and really isn’t your own, you can address it as such and place it where it needs to be, and work toward inner peace with that voice properly identified and acknowledged.
I’m not the only one, and I know this because I was late to the game of having kids and saw friends and family doing it: using kids as an excuse. I’d be lying if sometimes I don’t actually enjoy the fact that my daughter’s existence means that I have an out from doing stuff I don’t really want to do, or reason to leave a place I don’t want to be, or an excuse for being late when I actually took the time to drink a hot cup of coffee and watch my daughter pretend the box she’s in is a cloud and she flies around the world rescuing people.
If you don’t have kids, stay with me. The family excuse doesn’t apply solely to children, so don’t worry, we’ll talk about other family blockages in a bit.
For those of you with kids, what else do you use them as excuses for? How are your children your conscious blockages to inner peace? I fully acknowledge that a colicky infant, a toddler having an epic temper tantrum, or a teenager who resents your very existence is a very real blockage and one that you can’t control. But here we are again with control; you need to acknowledge that you can’t control these things and seek peace in spite of your surroundings and focus on what you can control. This is where tools learned through therapy, reading books, or listening to podcasts about needing to be in control will be paramount to achieving inner peace; these tools will be practical things you can do in the moment when you feel like you’re about to lose your mind or break or get into your car and drive and never come back.
We need to acknowledge that some of these blockages are things that you have put into place. Did you over-schedule your life or the lives of your children, terrified that boredom will lead to some destructive behaviour? Have you subscribed to the notion that idle hands are the devil’s playthings? We’ll discuss this more in the next section, but children shouldn’t always be entertained; when you think of your childhood I bet you have some fond memories of running around outside until dark, making up imaginary foes, playing with your friends or on your own, and filling time and space while your parents told you not to come home until it was time to eat. This taught you invaluable lessons about how it’s not others’ responsibility to keep you entertained, and also fostered your imagination.
Using the excuse that your children have too much going on is a blockage that you put into place that is stealing your inner peace and preventing you (and your children) from being present in the moment. One of the amazing things about 2020 is that we were forced to allow our children to “be” as we attempted to manage our everyday lives while they were at home and weren’t at their activities. Removing the blockage of needing your children to always be busy and active is a key step in achieving inner peace.
What about other family demands? What is your relationship like with your family members? Are they overbearing or the opposite, completely uninvolved in your life? How do you manage these factors, and are they blockages to achieving inner peace? Throughout my life, I’ve had a number of medical issues, and this led to my mother feeling as though she needed to help me manage my life, and still see me as someone who actively needed to be guided, even in my 40’s. I allowed this to happen, and I strongly believe that you teach people how to treat you, so I am at fault for allowing this blockage to my inner peace to be there. I started setting up healthy boundaries and talking honestly with my mom about what I need, who I am, and what I need from her. I wasn’t hurtful, she’ll always be my mom, after all, but her constant questioning of my ability to run my life as an adult wore on me and stole my joy and peace. And her response was amazing; she told me that she was proud of me for setting up boundaries; perhaps she needed to be released from worrying about me all the time, and this gave her some inner peace?
Do you need to set up healthy boundaries? How is your relationship with a family member a blockage to your inner peace?
If you have an estranged relationship with a family member, is this your blockage? Do you need to work on forgiveness (of them or even yourself) in order to unpack this baggage and remove the blockage? I didn’t meet my father-in-law until my wedding day, and never saw him again. While it wasn’t my relationship to manage, the strain this relationship put on my ex-husband wore on me, and I tried to manage it and get him to fix it. But that wasn't my place nor a job I even could do. These are examples of two blockages that we can have with our families: coming to terms with estranged relationships, and trying to manage the relationships our family members have with others.
Do the work that needs to be done in order to remove these blockages, because our families can greatly impact our ability to achieve inner peace, and maybe we're affecting their inner peace too. It doesn't have to be a conversation with that person, it could be seeing a therapist, writing a letter you never send, meditating or praying through it, but find what will work for you.
Busy, busy, busy
I don’t know why, but I have always hated the word “busy”. It feels dismissive and even ostentatious, like the person using the word is trying to make a point about how important they are. How many times now have I mentioned this: I was about 12 years old, and my father said these words to me that are forever imprinted on my brain: “You have exactly enough time for everything that is important to you”. So when you say that you’re “too busy” for something, it means that it just doesn’t rank high enough on your priority list to attend to it. The simple fact that you’re reading this blog means you have placed inner peace into your list of priorities, and that’s a commitment you should be proud of.
Let’s unpack my Dad’s message a bit: I received a pretty harsh response to this quote when I said it to one of the vice-presidents of a company I worked for, because he was complaining to me about how he was too busy with work to spend the time with his children that he wanted to. So I shared that quote with him and he lashed back at me, saying that he needed to make money, and he had job expectations and that in order to keep his job, he needed to work as much as he did. Because I wanted to keep my job (which ironically I was laid off from after 3 months), I didn’t say exactly what I wanted to, but I did tell him that children don’t want the things that high-paying positions bring, that they want love and time. What I didn’t say was that he had made the choice to climb that corporate ladder, that he had chosen that over the time he could have spent with his family, and that his current busyness was his choice.
We put up our “busy” blockage all the time, and we are often praised for our external achievements and for being busy. Words like “hustle” and “grind”, and even the simple phrase “work hard” don’t invoke feelings of joy, quiet, reflection, or inner peace. Our society today has us believing that in order to be worthy of whatever it is we strive for, that we must constantly struggle and force through things. I do believe that nothing worth having comes without effort, but this doesn’t mean that there can’t be an ease and flow through the process in which our achievements come.
What do you really want, anyway? When I think about my life, I often think about myself at a ripe old age, reflecting on what I’ve done, and whether I would be proud of myself. We will always have questions and some regrets, but if we can identify what these may be, why wouldn’t we address them? A life lived peacefully is certainly much more fulfilling than a life lived busily. Remove the busy blockage from your life. Achieving inner peace takes effort, but the effort is found in ease and moments of quiet reflection, and allowing ourselves to disengage from the noise of the world and find the harmony.