Inner peace is that cherished state of being where one is mentally and spiritually at peace. It’s a supremely healthy place to be, the opposite of a life filled with stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, most of us experience it only fleetingly.
If we find inner peace so desirable, why then is it so extraordinarily difficult to attain and maintain?
Caught up in an endless loop
Consider this familiar snippet of drama.
You’ve just dragged yourself out of the most desperate and dark period of your life and at last the sky is beginning to brighten. Your life is finally showing every indication of heading in the right direction.
Then wham, without any warning at all, your new flat screen implodes. Or your best friend publicly posts a picture from your teens immortalizing one of your semi-naked drunken binges. Or your pet iguana decides his living quarters in the heated garage are not worthy of his contempt and leaves for Arizona.
Whatever the calamity, your mood stumbles, loses equilibrium, and begins its fated downward spiral. Storm clouds gather and despairing dreariness once again becomes your daily companion.
You’re now caught in a gray limbo where all color and joy have been leached away. You still draw breaths like everyone else, but each inhalation feels as if you are sucking in the essence of grayness.
A reprieve that isn’t
But time passes, and after stumbling for ages along a well-worn but twisted path, you again find your way back to the light. As you tentatively step out into the sunshine, you spread your arms wide and sigh with the shaky relief of the condemned finding redemption.
And you laugh out loud, declaring, “It wasn’t all that bad now, was it?”
The butterflies alighting on your shoulders seem to nod in full agreement. You’re alive again, and everything will soon be perfect.
But then, of course, another unexpected whammy hits you broadside.
Perhaps that “best friend” has at last found her groove and now posts not one, but a whole portfolio of embarrassing moments from your past. Or your iguana has had second thoughts and returns home with an entire tribe of scaly friends in tow. Or…whatever.
Unsurprisingly your mood staggers again, desperately tries to right itself, then gives up and heads off down that familiar spiral. And as hope flickers and fades, you know in your heart it’s going to be an awfully long time till the butterflies return.
But is it unavoidable?
Need it be this way, though? Do you really need to jump back into that depressing mess yet again? Take a moment to look at this closely. In all your “life-going-wrong” moments, hasn’t every one of your responses followed the same general sequences of events?
Why do you accept gloom and despair as the major actors in this play called life. Why must joy and delight always be relegated to the occasional three second walk on?
Could inner peace be this simple?
Have you ever noticed that when especially bad stuff hits the fan and affects multitudes, there are always a few who manage to ride through the maelstrom with their dignity and composure intact? How do they do it? What’s their secret?
The short answer is “anchors”.
First, two definitions for clarification:
- In nautical terms, an anchor is any device dropped by a chain, cable, or rope to the bottom of a body of water to prevent or restrict the motion of a vessel or other floating object. We all knew that. Let’s save this one for our next boating excursion.
- In life terms, an anchor is something that can be relied on for support, stability, or security; it is a mainstay. Now this is something we can run with.
If strong anchors are in place before life slams you with a new challenge, you’ll find weathering the resulting storm of wildly swinging emotions can be accomplished with focus and, yes, even calm. Such anchors ensure that you are not swept away from your center by all that swirling chaos.
My personal anchors
Two of the most enduring anchors in my life are pieces of art. One is an antique hand-sewn Chinese robe, the other a print of a painting done by a long dead artist I admire. I obtained the robe from a friend many years ago in exchange for one of my paintings. The print was a gift.
While both items hold many precious memories and associations, more importantly they exude rare beauty and have great depths of spiritual meaning. My emotional connection to them is weighty.
I look at these artworks almost daily and have done so for decades. That looking has evolved far beyond a mere admiration of the objects’ aesthetics. The act of looking now moves me into places that seem at times fluid, at other times rock solid, but always wrapped in a pervading sense of tranquillity.
Whenever I find myself losing focus in my life, or perhaps even losing stability, I pause and choose to spend a little extra time with these artworks. And remarkably, just by being with one or the other, I’m gently but insistently nudged out of my “poor me” funk.
In fact the act of “being with” and “looking” often metaphorically loosens gravity and lifts me high above my petty troubles. From those lofty heights I gain a unique perspective that allows me to take in the whole picture as it really is. And while I’m up there, I’m encouraged to look at my life in relationship to everything that is presently happening. And inevitably I’m reminded of all the joy that has peppered my life and all the rich possibilities that still ache for expression. Without any great effort I’m empowered to carry on, to persevere, to surrender into what is, and to bask in the glow of all that has been and all that will be.
And when I settle back down to the here and now and again become enmeshed in all the unruly chaos this latest crisis is producing, I find myself strangely fortified and calm. I have found the strength to carry on.
Is this meditation? Could be, but it doesn’t require a cross-legged posture, the chanting of foreign syllables, or any brow-furrowing concentration to banish negative thoughts. This is simply an inner state of serene consciousness brought about by the gentle cultivation of observation and awareness.
Steps to anchoring inner peace
If you’re fed up with the unpredictability of life and how it continually knocks you about and threatens to unseat you from your stable center, try carrying out the following simple steps. And then watch as gloom and despair begin giving you a wider and wider berth.
1: Search out anchors that evoke deep passion in you
Although they can be anything, anchors work best if they are something that can be accessed readily.
For example, choosing the sea as your anchor might indeed work for you, but what about those times when you can’t get down to the beach?
Definitely let your heart choose your anchor, but temper that choice with practicality. In times of crisis it will only compound your stress if you need to drive three hundred miles to access the sea. Just ask yourself this, “Will I be able to access this anchor no matter what?”
But if your heart insists on choosing something like the sea, you could make a secondary anchor out of a cherished painting or photo of the sea and have that handy for times when the real sea isn’t available.
2: Cultivate your relationship with your anchor
Once an anchor is chosen, you need to deepen your connection to it. If you already delight in looking at it and just love being with it, then you’re halfway there. That love will spontaneously begin bouncing back to you, setting up a resonance that over time will only increase in power.
To test things out, just casually walk past your anchor. If your gaze naturally gravitates to it and caresses it with love and adoration, you’re there, it’s working. If not, spend more time in cultivation.
3: Learn to call on anchors in times of crisis
Now whenever a crisis is upon you and all of life’s dearly held values seem to be crumbling to dust, before taking any other action make a conscious choice to turn to your anchor for solace.
Take a deep breath and allow it to transport you to that quieter place you accessed in its company when times were less stressful. And when you arrive at that calm place, spend time looking at your current crisis from that perspective.
Stay with it, let the peace settle down around you, and quietly, gently, you and the crisis will be transformed.
Despite all the nastiness that people do to this earth and each other, life is actually meant to be lived with as much joy as possible. When you find ways to increase joy in your own little part of the world, you promote the worldwide growth of mindful living, happiness, and love.