Maybe you feel like your life is out of your control or that things are spiralling. Or maybe it’s not that severe—maybe your job is stressful, your kids drive you a little crazy sometimes, or you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Whatever your situation, you want to feel more at peace—with yourself, and with your life. I’ve been there, and I still am there sometimes.
But I’ve learned a few things in my studies about anxiety, peace and joy. Here are some actionable tips:
1. Confront, examine, and let go
“Times will change for the better when you change.”Maxwell Maltz, Psychocybernetics
Many times in life we are constantly busy—always doing, striving, filling up our time with…anything and everything.
When we do that, we are essentially running from the truth—the truth of our emotions, stresses, baggage, fear and worries. When we run from ourselves, we’re running from God, which sabotages us. All of that unexamined inner mess always finds a place to go eventually, usually in the form of snapping at others, making poor decisions, or beating ourselves up.
We’re afraid of slowing down because we’re afraid of confronting our messy truth.
As Christians, we like to fill up our time with religious things. Pete Scazzero calls this “using God to run from God”. But many times those things don’t bring us closer to the love, joy and peace of knowing God.
Small groups, bible studies and church events teach us about God, but don’t necessarily bring us closer to God. That’s something we have to do on our own—in silence and solitude.
So the solution? Slow down. Stop, even.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.Matthew 6:6
Whatever you have to do, carve out some time in your schedule for quietly seeking God. Meditate on His holiness, goodness, love, joy and peace. Let everything else go—your worries, anxieties, to-do list…everything.
The best word I can use to describe this process is transcending. God is a transcendent being. When we let go of our inner messes and focus on Him instead, we are transcending those messes.
The Prayer of Examen
During this confrontation with yourself, you might find it hard to transcend your existing spiritual state. You might feel like you’re reaching for God, but something is holding you back.
In my experience, this is because you haven’t yet identified what it is you need to transcend and give to God.
In Ignatian spirituality, this is called the Prayer of Examen. It’s where we examine events in our lives, our thoughts, and emotions, and meditate on where God was in those experiences.
You might remember how you got impatient with your spouse or coworker or kids, how you give into temptation to sin, or you might detect a behavior pattern or insecurity that affected how you treat people.
Or there might be positive events, where you were compassionate and patient towards someone in a tense situation, gave to a homeless person, or made the effort to spend quality time with your spouse.
Whatever the case may be, Examen is a great way to become aware of areas in your life where God was present.
As a complementary practice, I strongly encourage journaling to more deeply examine yourself.
In my journal, I love bulleted lists:
- This is what I’ve been dealing with in the past week
- Also something I’ve been dealing with
- Something I’ve been feeling that’s preventing peace in my life
- This is why I’ve been feeling that
- Here are some solutions
- Another solution
- Another solution
- This is why I’ve been feeling that
- Etc, etc
Sometimes I go too long without examining my thoughts, feelings and stressors, and then it all accumulates and drags down my mental state, creating stress, burnout, impatience and more.
So when I do actually sit down and list the things weighing me down, I’m usually surprised to find out that a LOT of stuff has been impacting my spiritual state. There are more stressors and emotions than I thought which were affecting everything in my life, but I had no idea until I actually stopped and confronted myself.
If you implement these two practices—confronting and transcending—you will find yourself to be substantially more at peace.
Tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.Marcus Aurelius
Bonus tip: Breathing helps a lot! I promise, breathing in for 4 seconds, pausing for a couple seconds, then breathing out for another 4 seconds, will start to relax you from head to toe. Your muscles will become noticeably more relaxed, and you will feel more relaxed mentally as well. This was a game changer for me.
Student says, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” Master says, “Encourage others.”Zen Proverb
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”14th Dalai Lama
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”Jesus
This one is pretty simple—just give to others. It feels good! Yes, that is not the only reason we should do it, but it’s a nice added benefit!
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own messes, all of worrying and navel-gazing and introspection, that the spiritual logs get jammed.
Find a creative way to give to others or love on them, and you will not only feel more peace—you’ll feel joy!
An interesting philosophical side note: Isn’t it interesting how giving to others has the same essential ingredient as seeking God (as mentioned in the previous section)? They both involve transcending yourself. That is all. 😉
3. Acceptance and gratitude
I’m the least happy when I’m the least happy with my results in life. When my expectations are greater than my reality, I get frustrated and unhappy.
The solution? Accept your current reality!
This is not to say you can’t want better results in life. But when that desire for results saps you of your happiness…let it go.
Instead, practice gratitude. This gets your mind out of the rut of being frustrated with what you don’t have, and switches your focus onto what you do have. We forget about how far we’ve come, and how blessed we are in any given moment.
4. Open up
Doesn’t matter if it’s your therapist, a friend or a coworker—open up about what you’re feeling to someone you trust. Verbalizing your thoughts, like a journal, clarifies those thoughts.
How many times do you have a conversation and by the end of it, you feel better? That mental clarity creates inner peace.
5. Relax (and have fun!)
I used to be pretty bad at unwinding. When I wasn’t working my full-time job, I was thinking about something I thought was important, or knocking stuff off my to-do list.
I’m still like that to a point (I have been told I’m a type A personality), but I think I’m much more balanced. I know when to do, and I know when to let go.
Action, then passivity; striving, then letting go, doing all one can do and then being carried . . . only in this rhythm is the spirit realized.Pete Scazzero
Here’s a few things I love doing when I need to unwind:
- Listening to positive, high-energy music (you will often find me headbanging and drumming on my steering wheel when driving!)
- Working out or going for a walk (gotta get that Vitamin D!)
- Designing graphics and sketching designs of wisdom quotes that I love (which is basically what most of my Facebook posts are)
- Hanging out with my wife (she’s hilarious and makes everything fun)
That’s pretty much it! I hope this was helpful. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error in my spiritual practice, so a lot of this was learned the hard way.
What are your favorite practices for experiencing peace? What do you find are usually your biggest obstacles to peace?