Particluarly at this time of year, it’s easy to feel a little bit overwhelmed by the long list of things which need to be prepared, planned and purchased for Christmas. That’s before we undergo the stresses of holiday season travel, and before we have to navigate the inevitable differences of opinion which will arise on a host of subjects, ranging from the environmental state of the world, to how long the turkey should be cooked for. Or even what time the Christmas feast can actually – realistically – be expected to be ready.
So what better time to consider how we can develop our sense of calm and inner peace?
It’s true that some people naturally have a disposition that’s calmer and less prone to agitation than others.
But it’s also true that inner peace isn’t only the preserve of the likes of yogis, hermits or monks, living in some far away place, praying or meditating all day long. It can also be attained by people living an ordinary life – who have jobs, are married and have children.
Another truth is that everyone desires inner peace, even if he or she isn’t aware of this desire. Few realise its importance and benefits, and still fewer know that it is a skill that can be learned.
Inner peace contributes enormously to our overall health and wellbeing. The benefits of minimising stress alone go way beyond avoiding a momentary surge of discomfort – they include reducing the likelihood of suffering from illness and even disease. A state of inner peace also helps us focus, feel centred, grounded and stable; it helps us show patience, tolerance and tact (imagine that when the subject you’ve been avoiding – for the sake of family peace – arises); it eliminates anxieties and worries, and removes negative thoughts, stress and unhappiness.
It’s a state of being in control of your thoughts, emotions and reactions and because true inner peace is independent of external conditions and circumstances it engenders an ability to remain this way – even in difficult and unpleasant situations. So it’s important not only while things move smoothly but even more so in times of trouble, difficulty or danger. Then it’s invaluable.
So, the question is not whether we desire it, but how do we develop it?
Firstly, in a culture that venerates busyness and constant stimulation, we have to make peace a priority if we want to reap the benefits. Here are some pointers:
Make your own inner peace more important than achieving, impressing or living up to expectations:
Stay true to what’s good and important to you, rather than being swayed by other people’s opinions or expectations. You’ll be happier and more confident in your own decision-making for it.
Clear up any large, unresolved issues:
These issues can continue to sap your energy on a day-to-day basis. Even if they cannot be resolved overnight, coming up with a plan is not only practical, but also helps psychologically.
Surrender and accept what you cannot change:
Constantly thinking, worrying or feeling anxious or helpless about a situation doesn’t just inhibit your mind, it takes a toll on you physically too. Being in that state doesn’t help the situation or enable a creative solution. If there’s nothing you can do, stop resisting.
Learn to view your thoughts objectively:
This is one of the key benefits of mindful meditation. By observing your thoughts you can create some detachment from them. Learning how to slow, or even pause, the ‘monkey mind’ and how to have more choice over your thoughts can change how you feel and the actions you take.
Take full responsibility for how you respond to others:
Other people don’t make you behave in a certain way – you choose your behaviour. Learn how to control yourself and mentally prepare yourself for a calm, unflappable response even during trying times.
Become aware of and sensitive to feelings:
Don’t ignore your feelings when they are uncomfortable. Feelings of discomfort are sending you a message, so take time to discover what is behind them. Try to understand why you really feel that way. If you don’t, the feelings will come back in more unpleasant and unexpected ways.
Get to know your true self:
Become aware of what comes from your mind, your ego, your needs or from past experiences. Take the time to understand who you really are. What are your virtues and values, your goals, your joys and passions? Those are what define you and make you authentic.
Finding inner peace is more about being than doing. It’s being accepting, aware and fully present. It’s about actively choosing, rather than struggling against.
The most profound impact of inner peace is that it spreads to the world around us. Peace between families, communities and countries begins with each individual. Inner peace is contagious: as you find it for yourself, you become a model for others and spread the seeds of peace everywhere you go.
Let’s plant the seeds amongst this year’s festivities 🙂
Associated resources in the GSC spotlight :
‘Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Living’ with Padma Gordon