The first 32 years of my life were void of inner peace as my mind silently tormented me. The following words were accurate in describing my unconscious way of operating "“ perfectionist, over-deliverer, over-achiever, control freak and risk averse. Strangely enough all these factors combined to make me successful in my former corporate career in consulting. This became a trap.
As my employers liked the results this equation created (the ultimate dedicated, hard-working employee), I diligently kept going. Yet, as you can imagine, it left me a stressed-out and highly-strung wreck at the end of each day and this became worse as time went on. From the outside I looked like I had it together, but inside I never felt peaceful or fulfilled.
This negative concoction eventually sparked a strong desire within me for personal growth and I became fascinated with learning about the mind. This included reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, which teaches detachment from ego/mind, and creating presence in your daily life for greater inner peace. I was a bit of a slow learner, however, and often didn't practise what I was reading. I'll be honest, a decade passed and I reached my peak of non-peace! But as with all challenges, that difficult peak became a pivot point. My mind-set become so intolerable that it propelled me into a committed practise of peace in the face of whatever life served up. Now, inner peace has become my new normal.
Here are 8 stark realisations I had (sometimes hard learned lessons) on my journey into inner peace. I hope these may prove useful to others who are interested in living beyond the noise of their mind.
1. Life has natural ups and downs, it's not personal
In life there are plenty of inevitable cycles and events that we all experience at some point. Many people rally against these ebbs and flows, draining themselves mentally and emotionally. It is exhausting to compound that resistance on top of what are already challenging events. Whether it is facing the death of loved one or feeling the impacts of a cyclical downturn in the economy, you might find yourself saying things like, "Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? This is wrong. It shouldn't be this way. There is something wrong with my life. There is something wrong with me". This only leads to one place "“ added pain and suffering.
When you remember that there are some inevitable natural cycles in life, and that change is inherent, then you realize it is not something you have done wrong. You can remember that life is not beating up on you, and everyone experiences these challenges to some degree. You then instantly have access to a greater level of inner peace amid that challenge, helping you to move through it more freely.
2. Life doesn't cause our pain or our peace
It's easy to look around and point to the cause of your pain and suffering as being something outside of yourself. You might be able to name people you don't like, a difficult situation, or a gap in terms of something missing in your life. You can identify the "thing" that makes you angry, frustrated, confused or sad. You link your inner pain to that outer cause. Most people do this. It's quite a natural and common conclusion to jump to.
There is a major issue with this. It means the cause of your pain is outside of yourself, and thus outside of your direct control. It puts your inner feelings in the hands of other people and life. It means that uncontrollable factors dictate you emotional state. This creates an instant sense of helplessness and often throws up a desire within you to try even harder to control things in order to feel better, which only leads to more pain when that doesn't work!
However, the truth is this "“ everything that goes on around you is not the cause of your pain, it is only a trigger.
What is it triggering? You. But more specifically it is triggering certain "hot buttons" in your mind. In a split second your mind can automatically perceive everything around you, filter it through your unique mind-set (including all your beliefs, expectations and fears) and then make an interpretation. This generates your thoughts and feelings as a result. You experience either pain, or inner peace, based on your mind-set and your way of processing the world around you.
Your power exists when you name the things that trigger you into pain, you watch for them in your daily life, and you then practise observing your reaction inside. As your uncomfortable feelings rear up, you get to choose a different way to perceive. With awareness and a deep breath you can seek a new and better perspective in that moment. In this way, you guide yourself away from inner pain and into inner peace.
This is why two people could face the exact same situation and one can be in upset while the other might hold inner peace through the challenge. It is entirely based on your mind-set. You certainly don't have to accept, endorse or embrace whatever the "thing" is that triggers you, but you can consciously choose a peaceful response to it. This liberates you.
3. Circumstances don't need to be "good" to have inner peace
I remember the time when I used to think, "I will feel really great when I finally get to relax on vacation", or "Once this contract gets signed at work, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief", or "If only I knew what was going to happen with X, then I could be peaceful".
Happiness might be somewhat dependent on circumstances, and even in tough times you can muster happiness with a gratitude attitude. However, inner peace is always available to you, irrespective of circumstances, even during the most grievous of times when happiness seems so far away.
If you lose a loved one and are grieving, you can simultaneously have a small, calm centre deep inside yourself because you know that people passing away is an inevitable part of life, and that you will be okay with time. That calm sits deep inside of you like the still eye in the storm, below the grief.
If you lose your job and are worried about the future, you can simultaneously still have a slice of peaceful trust deep inside of yourself, because you know that sometimes the Universe rearranges things so that you might find your way into new and better arrangements in your life. You can foster inner peace by remembering that uncertainty is the breeding ground for all possibility. This peaceful knowing can sit below the worry.
If you have a relationship break up after being treated badly and you feel devastated and heartbroken, you can simultaneously experience a calm deep down by knowing that you deserve better and you would rather be with someone who treats you well. Disappointment is surface level, but peace and wisdom runs deep.
Inner peace is your reliable anchor when the waves of life get stormy. You nurture it by focusing your awareness onto the perspectives that promote your inner peace.
4. Most stress triggers don't deserve your energy
I spent most of my life reacting to everything and anything going on around me. It took a lot of honest self-reflection for me to evolve beyond that way of living. One of the most profound realisations on my path to inner peace was realising that the majority of what I stressed about day-to-day simply did not warrant my precious energy. And upon that realisation, I found this to be true for most people around me too. So many of us waste our energy on what is not important and not truly meaningful.
Perhaps someone was rude to you in the grocery store, or a car cut you off in traffic. Perhaps you missed the train, or the kids didn't listen and wouldn't clean up after themselves. Maybe your partner forgot to take the trash out, or your mother-in-law was judging you. Perhaps your boss was piling an unfair workload on you, or your friend didn't return your call. All of this triggers you. But how much of it genuinely deserves your precious energy via a negative and stressful reaction? Well"¦ none of it.
Your personal power never comes from depleting your energy via a reactive, negative state. This doesn't mean it's easy, of course, but the first step to turning what I call "Painful Reaction" into empowered "Peaceful Response" is to acknowledge that you don't have to react and that you honour yourself when you don't react in pain. Instead, you acknowledge there is another choice, and that choice is to learn peaceful response in the face of things you don't like. This is not about being peaceful to benefit other people, it is about inner peace as a gift to yourself.
5. You have limited energy each day and painful reaction steals it
While you have access to unlimited consciousness, inspiration, creativity, possibility and intuition (what I call your "soul energy"), you know that you have limited "human energy" (physical, mental and emotional) to give into this world each day. You know this to be true because when you expend all your energy you get exhausted, burnt out and can't do all the things you want, and you don't feel good!
So, given this, you want to be consciously aware of what and who you expend your precious energy on. Each time you expend energy on negative and stressful reactions, you deplete your reserves. If you give your energy to reacting to the person who was rude to you, you have less to give to yourself, your relationships or your work. If you give your energy to resistance and worry about something going wrong in your life, you have less energy to visualize, plan and make positive changes to manage the situation.
Each time you choose inner peace, you conserve your energy to focus it on things that are meaningful and important to you.
6. The more you react negatively to life, the more challenging life becomes
Have you ever noticed the direct correlation between how you are being (your mental and emotional state) and what is going on around you?
Think about a time when something didn't go well, then you got upset and interacted with the situation/people from that state of upset, and things got worse. Now, think about a time when something wasn't going well and you managed to remain relatively calm, and somehow life unfolded into a reasonable solution.
Without a doubt, the more you react negatively to things going on in your life, rallying against them with frustrated energy, the more challenging life becomes. Other people pick up on your energy and react, escalating the situation. You feel worse mentally and emotionally the more you react, and because your energy is sucked into that stressful state you have less clarity and your decision-making ability becomes impaired.
Your practise of inner peace means people respond to your energy differently, plus you have your precious energy reserves intact, and a stable mental and emotional foundation from which to make calmer, clearer decisions, with more connection to your intuition.
7. Inner peace creates outer effectiveness
Your entire life experience stems from within you, in how you perceive, filter and interpret through your beliefs, thoughts and feelings, creating actions and results.
If you feel chaotic and confused within yourself, then your actions will reflect that to a certain extent. You might be able to hold together a faÃ§ade for a period of time and keep life ticking over "taking care of business" but generally speaking, over the long term, the way you behave paints a picture of your inner state of being.
So, if you want to make effective decisions, to take targeted action, to achieve outcomes you want, then your inner world of beliefs, thoughts and feelings need to be balanced. Not perfect, just balanced. Perfection is, after all, an illusion. We are all imperfectly beautiful people!
8. Inner peace is a personal choice
I used to get stressed over small things and then I would talk about my concerns and questions over and over again to other people. Often underneath I knew the answers I was seeking. I knew that the only way forward was for me to find detachment from things I could not control, to take the most intuitive action I could in any moment and to allow life to flow and unfold. This always worked, but it sometimes took me a while to remember this and trust it.
There did come a point on my journey when I realized that my old pattern of stressing out and constantly asking others for insight did not have the power to magically bring me consistent inner peace. Support and advice from others is important, but the only person who could practise detachment and peaceful perspective was me. The only person who could chill out was me. I knew the fundamentals of what created inner peace, and that it worked, but I had to provide leadership to my mind and consistently practise my tools in order to create that peaceful state.
It is so true that knowledge is power but it is nothing without action. All the enlightening books, videos and courses mean nothing if we do not apply what we know to our unique life situation in the small moments of our lives day to day.