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Finding Inner Peace – How Does That Work?

Thoughts racing, emotions running wild, tension in the body – many people endure a sense of inner unrest. Often we try to search for reasons why inner peace is so elusive, but in doing so we get increasingly entangled in agitated thoughts.

The inner battle

The good news is that you don’t have to go on a gruelling quest to find the reasons for your inner turmoil. Instead, you can recognise that inner peace is often lacking when you are engaged in a mental battle against what’s going on around you and inside you.

It may be about certain events that are haunting our minds, things we are trying to mentally process or prepare for. Or it could be thoughts and feelings that we want to avoid, yet they keep creeping back in. Finally, we may be fighting against this unpleasant feeling of inner tension itself.

One thing is certain: if we engage in an inner struggle with something, we amplify it by giving it this attention and deprive ourselves of inner peace.

Not wanting to go through stressful experiences is a completely normal and healthy wish. However, if this ends up dictating our experience and our behaviour, we are engaging in what’s called experience avoidance, which can prevent us from finding inner peace.

Finding inner peace in 3 steps

Here we will talk you through 3 steps you can take to help you find inner peace.

Step 1: Take notice

As long as you are darting from one thought to the next and your feelings are tumbling around unobserved, it will be difficult to find inner peace. So the first step is to switch on your “inner observer”. Simply notice that you are restless inside. From time to time during the day, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is my body tense?
  • Are my thoughts racing?
  • Am I experiencing an unpleasant rollercoaster of emotions?

Even if this step of noticing seems superfluous to you – it may be perfectly obvious that you are far from inner peace right now – don’t skip it.

Imagine yourself standing beneath a waterfall, with the water cascading down on you. Then you discover that you can simply step back and watch the spectacle. You don’t have to be submerged in that torrent of water – or restlessness. All you need to do is take a step back and observe.

Step 2: Flip the switch

We would constantly experience inner peace if we were to accept everything inwardly. Of course, this is almost humanly impossible and, besides, not always desirable. It is perfectly normal to want to get rid of burdensome thoughts and feelings and to make an effort to do so.

However, if this desire gets out of hand, creates inner unrest and you notice this (step 1), you can consciously and symbolically flip the inner “struggle switch”. This is a technique from acceptance and commitment therapy.

Simply imagine that you have an inner lever that is set to “struggle”. Mentally move the lever in exactly the opposite direction to set an inner intention and declare the struggle over. Instead, allow all thoughts, feelings and inner images to be. As unpleasant as they are, they cannot harm you.

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”

Eckhart Tolle

Step 3: Make space

Accepting everything doesn’t mean you have to be flooded with unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Instead, bring some order to proceedings and put everything in its right place.

For example, you could imagine a house with many rooms. Everything that arises inside you now gets its own room: sadness, anger, jealousy, fear, but also joy, wellbeing, love, stressful and uplifting thoughts, frightening or delightful ideas. What form these thoughts and feelings take, whether they are represented as people, objects, animals or any combination of these, is entirely up to your imagination. Give all these things the form and the space they need in your house. Then, soon enough, inner peace will move in as well.

Be patient with yourself

Noticing inner turmoil, stopping the struggle and giving space to all experiences takes practice. Though acceptance is a healing process, it can make us very anxious. We would prefer to have nothing to do with stressful inner and outer experiences. Doesn’t acceptance make us aware of what is unpleasant and therefore amplify it?

It’s best to face these anxieties with openness and curiosity: does acceptance actually bring more unpleasantness and discomfort? If so, how long does it last? How does it change in the longer term?

To find inner peace takes courage, practice, patience and openness. It may not always be easy to walk this path, but it will be worthwhile.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.

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