The freedom of inner peace

I can remember in my early twenties reading something about attaining inner peace and feeling threatened and scared.  Being at peace just seemed so boring. How could you live your life with all the highs and lows and the tumbles and resets if you were constantly trying to be at peace?  Little did I know then I was addicted to the drama in my life.   And that’s ok too, except the drama in my life wasn’t particularly happy.  In many of the dramas I became embroiled, and I suffered deeply.  For years my quest for self-awareness was simply to try to prevent any more pain.  I soon switched my aim to try to achieve happiness.  I was definitely on the right track here.  It took a few more years to realise that where my soul and heart wanted me to go was to achieve inner peace.

Raising my self-awareness has been a life-long quest for me.  Even as a child, I was reflective and analytical about my own and others’ behaviour.  I was always curious about how people ticked.  Having said that I didn’t make great inroads into my journey to achieve inner peace until I was in my 30’s. Too many dramas have made me realise there must be a better way.  I could write thousands of words about the lessons and the journeys I have been on since then, but here are 6 of my top realisations which helped me achieve inner peace.

1. Be your own best friend

I can’t begin to tell you how deciding to be my own best friend transformed my life. It was a whole new paradigm.  Deciding to be my own best friend meant I could ditch that negative pervasive inner critic.  I could recognise when I was beating myself up. While I was getting used to this new player in my mind, whenever I found myself falling back into old habits, I would ask myself the question “What would you say to your best friend, who you love deeply?”  That would always stop the inner critic in its tracks.  It took a long time to break down the negative patterns which had been with me for years. Now my inner best friend automatically intervenes when negativity enters.

When coaching clients, some find the idea of being their own best friends easier than others.   If you find the concept difficult then you likely need to think about practising self-love more.  Mirror Work by Louise Hay may seem a little self-indulgent and for some a bit too introspective, but if you practice the techniques, you will grow in self-love and learn to be your own best friend.  You may have a different experience, but I don’t believe you would be able to achieve inner peace if you were not able to be your own best friend.  If you aren’t already, try it.

2. See the best in others

If you’re not your own best friend, then it may be difficult to always see the best in others.  This is because if you’re not used to eliminating that inner critic for yourself, you will likely find it difficult to eliminate negativity towards others too.   I was once told that one of my problems was seeing the best in others.   I realised that the criticism towards me was not that I did, it was because they believed, as a result, I ignored the worst in others.  However, that wasn’t true.  You can still be aware of and make contingencies for someone’s worst traits and still choose to find the good in them.

We’ve all been in or known about relationships which start with such promise and then disintegrate into two people who once loved each other being sworn, enemies.  When you achieve inner peace, you realise there are good factors and not-so-good factors in everyone and you can accept it all.   When you are at peace with yourself,  you can walk away from a relationship because it isn’t right while still seeing the best for and caring for the other person.

And so it’s true in less intense relationships, or with family members, or work colleagues.  Whenever you are thinking or feeling negative towards someone, pause, and find something good about them you can like.

3. Forgiveness

Forgiveness involves you being able to cut through the negativity and the experiences you may be having with someone, which is not positive and letting your hurt and negativity go. When you feel angry, confused, or hurt by someone else’s actions, this is difficult.  Some people equate forgiveness with letting someone off the hook.  They feel the other person will benefit, and that person just doesn’t deserve it. But forgiveness is always about you.  Being able to forgive others for their thoughtlessness, lack of presence, or whatever they did which you did not like, is the road to freedom.  Freedom from anger, hurt and suffering.

Wanting to forgive someone and feeling at peace with their actions are two very different things.  It’s difficult to feel at peace when you have feelings of hurt and anger within you.  However, the intention to forgive is where you need to start.  You may find intellectually you are saying the words “I forgive you”, but letting go of your emotions may take much longer.  Still, it can be done.  The trick is to focus on healing your painful emotions rather than focusing on the person you associate with causing them.

4. Learn how to switch perspectives

Pivoting as it is called is such a powerful technique which you must master if you are going to get to that state of inner peace.  This is the art of switching perspectives.  Let’s take a simple example which we can all relate to.   We get up and pull back the curtains and find that the sky is grey and the rain is lashing down.  It’s a winter day it’s so dark and gloomy, but it’s in the middle of summer.  So, on the one hand, you could look at the situation and think “My day is ruined” “Bang go my lovely walk in the park with my friend”  etc.. we close the curtains and go back to bed, and feel miserable.

On the other hand, we could say, “I’m so glad it’s raining, the flowers need it so much.” “It’s going to be exciting getting waterproofed up and talking to my friend in the rain”. “I’m excited to see them” I know it sounds a bit of a stretch, but we do have the choice.

So we can practice switching perspectives with easy situations like the weather, or if something doesn’t turn up when we expect it for example.  It’s harder to pivot when more significant situations present themselves.  A friend of mine was devastated when they didn’t get the job of their dreams. They had prepared for years, and so it was a cruel blow.  Eventually, they were able to pivot their thoughts about the situation and instead of lingering on the disappointment,  chose to focus instead on what they were learning.   We get stuck in patterns of thinking which often don’t serve us well.  Observing our patterns can help us to identify those times when we need to switch perspectives.

5. Surrender

To feel at peace with yourself you must be able to practice the art of surrender.  Surrender, like the act of acceptance, is designed to alleviate suffering.  Surrender is the decision in your mind to stop resisting a situation and accept it instead.  Years ago I was in an intense relationship.  In hindsight, I realised it was never going to work, but at the time, I was determined it would.  After far too much suffering and angst, I got the realisation that I had to simply let it go. I had to release the vision I had, release the expectations I had built in my mind and accept what had seemed intolerable to me, that it was never going to be.  The relief and the happiness that flooded me once I made that decision was unimaginable when I had been tied up in the resistance.

There are many situations where I have had to practice surrender.  It is always giving up on the resistance to a situation you want to be different.  Practising surrender leads to building our muscle of acceptance.  Accepting things as they are is another important route to achieving peace of mind.

6. Look after yourself

For many years I have looked after my mind. Growing my thinking and emotional intelligence has been paramount for me.  However, along the way, I have sometimes forgotten to look after my physical well-being.  Yet, looking after yourself across all aspects is crucial.  There are many habits you can adopt to make sure you have a good grounding in caring for and loving yourself.   These can be making sure you eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep from a physical perspective.

It would help if you cared about your relationships. Make sure you nurture positive caring ones and put those which are less positive out of arms reach.  You can practice mindfulness, meditation is excellent for well-being.  Building a positive mindset with some of the techniques outlined here is helpful.  Whatever aspect of well-being you are not paying attention to, you need to redress that balance.  You are very unlikely to achieve true inner peace if you don’t look after yourself.   So getting a plan for healthy habits and looking after your mind and body is essential.

Mindful Practices To Achieve Inner Peace

Mindfulness is key to developing conceptual and emotional intelligence. In essence, when we are mindful, we are pausing to either think act or feel differently. Mindfulness is the buzzword in the business world right now. The jury is still out for many people as to whether mindfulness helps in other than a personal way.  Practising mindfulness in specific ways can bring demonstrable benefits. What I want to share right now are three simple mindful practices.  These can be used to deepen your sense of peace and help you at stressful times.

1. Meditation

Of course, you are all aware meditation is one of several mindful practices. There are lots of different techniques which can be used to meditate. If you can remember the basic principle of meditation,  you can harness the benefits of meditation without giving up with exasperation because you haven’t got it right. Simply stated, meditation is the act of disengaging from your thoughts. This then opens you up to being able to get in touch with your intuition.
Much stress and agitation are caused by either overthinking or negative thinking. The act of meditation shuts your thinking down and gives you a well-earned rest from constantly thinking about whatever is worrying you. All you have to do is:
a) become aware of your thoughts
b) concentrate on your breathing, and
c) simply watch your thoughts coming and going without attaching yourself to them.

2. Contemplation

This practice is very like meditation except it is more purposeful. While helpful insights may well arise when you are meditating, the main objective is to rest and refresh your mind. Contemplation is, however, one of the mindful practices which can provide you with a distinct focus. So if you have a knotty problem, you may wish to use contemplation to ask your inner self about what the next step should be. To allow the answer to come through, you would pose the question, while emptying your mind, in a meditative way. Often the answer will come during the practice but do not be disappointed if it doesn’t, it will likely pop into your mind soon after.
The trick is to let go of getting an answer and it will come. When we have problems, we inadvertently overstress by constantly thinking about what we are going to do.  Alternatively, we become engaged in diversions which simply avoid the problem. Contemplation can be a less stressful way of approaching situations which cause us to overthink or become diverted.

3.  Non-judgement

Practising non-judgment is indeed a mindful stretch!  After many years of awareness, I am automatically still drawn to judging situations or people.  But judging situations or people can create inner stress.  How many times have you fumed about someone else while they are happily getting on with their lives and are completely oblivious to your distress?  Mostly we don’t think there are any alternatives to judging others.  Some of us think non-judgment is some kind of religious practice When you begin to pull away from judging people and situations as good or bad, then it frees you up from those negative thoughts which stress you, not whoever or whatever you are judging.
When you can think of people or situations you judge in alternative ways, then all the stress is removed.  To move away from judging, you can mindfully consider people or situations either as “it works”  or “it doesn’t work.  So when someone is doing something you don’t like or agree with, then you can think well that works for them, but it doesn’t work for me.  Just try this practice and you will see how much more peaceful you feel when you are simply evaluating something which works or doesn’t work, rather than judging something good or bad.

Aspects of Neuroscience That Contribute To Inner Peace

Achieving inner peace, a state often associated with calmness, emotional well-being, and a sense of harmony with oneself and the world, involves various aspects of neuroscience. Understanding these aspects requires delving into how the brain processes emotions, stress, and relaxation.

Neurological Foundations of Emotion Regulation

  1. Limbic System: This brain region, especially the amygdala, is critical in emotion processing and regulation. It plays a key role in our responses to stress and fear. Achieving inner peace involves learning to manage the responses of the amygdala, leading to a decrease in anxiety and an increase in feelings of safety and calmness.
  2. Prefrontal Cortex (PFC): The PFC is essential in cognitive functions like decision-making, problem-solving, and controlling impulses. A well-functioning PFC helps in regulating emotions by providing rational thought processes to counteract emotional responses. This balance between the PFC and the limbic system is crucial for maintaining emotional stability and inner peace.

Stress Response and Its Management

  1. Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis: This system controls the body’s response to stress. When stressed, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland, which in turn signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol, a stress hormone. Chronic activation of this axis can lead to health problems, whereas finding ways to calm this response can lead to a state of inner peace.
  2. Autonomic Nervous System (ANS): The ANS, especially the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, controls the body’s fight-or-flight response. Techniques that promote relaxation, such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing a state of calm and helping to achieve inner peace.

Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness

  1. Neuroplasticity: This refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. Practices that promote inner peace, like mindfulness and meditation, can lead to changes in brain structures and functions. For instance, regular meditation has been linked to increased grey matter density in the hippocampus, known for memory and learning, and in areas associated with self-awareness and compassion.
  2. Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices are associated with increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and a decrease in amygdala activity. This shift can lead to better emotional regulation, decreased stress, and a heightened sense of peace and well-being.

The Role of Neurotransmitters

  1. Serotonin and Dopamine: These neurotransmitters are often associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Activities and practices that increase the levels of these neurotransmitters, such as exercise, exposure to sunlight, and engaging in enjoyable activities, can contribute to a sense of inner peace.
  2. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid): GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can induce relaxation and reduce neural excitability. Practices like yoga and meditation have been shown to increase GABA levels, contributing to a calmer state of mind.

In conclusion, achieving inner peace involves a complex interplay of various neurological processes. Practices that enhance emotional regulation, reduce stress response, foster neuroplastic changes, and balance neurotransmitter levels can all contribute to this state. As neuroscience continues to evolve, it provides deeper insights into the brain mechanisms underlying inner peace, offering more targeted ways to achieve this desirable state.

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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.