Finding the Calm Inside: How to Cultivate Self-Awareness to Create Inner Peace

“When I squint when on my life, I see pain, mistakes, and heartache. When I squint in the mirror, I see strength, learned lessons, and pride in myself.” ~Unknown

Years ago, I wrote in my journal: “My life has no meaning. I’m sick of stuff miserable, of struggling and having to prop myself up. I’m tired of stuff alone, tired of feeling like I’m wasting my life, tired of feeling like a loser.”

I was that friend who unchangingly borrowed money, who was unchangingly in slipperiness or calling at 2 a.m. and saying dramatically, “I’m not okay.”

There are few pieces of self-knowledge worse than stuff enlightened of exhausting people or driving them yonder with neediness.

In 2010, I decided I would try to rewire my wildly yellow-eyed smart-ass for inner peace. As I squint when on how much has reverted (everything!), the throughline of my journey has been “developing self-awareness.” The increasingly I develop sensation well-nigh how this mind and soul work, the increasingly empowered and peaceful I feel.

Here are some of the key lessons I learned on the path to inner peace.

1. Fill your own cup first.

I grew in a culture where the social contract went something like this: “I’ll perform social niceties to protect you from uncomfortable feelings, and you’ll do the same.” (I was really not good at this.)

Nobody told the truth well-nigh how they were feeling or what they needed, and in turn, that made true liaison or connection impossible. As an adult, therefore, I turned to other people for my emotional well-being, when the truth was that the only solution lay inside me.

One day, when I was on a bus to a freelance job in downtown Vancouver, I received a voicemail that I’d been let go and that my last trammels would be mailed to me. I’d been counting on that check; I didn’t have the $20 I needed to get home on the ferry. In a panic, I tabbed a former colleague, who met me at Starbucks and, though she was visibly annoyed, lent me the money to get home.

On my way home, I had an epiphany: I could offer to myself the focus and energy I’d been so eagerly forcing on others. In the clunky vocabulary of my growth at that time, I tabbed it my “me first” project.

I began meditating and, as I inhaled, I tabbed variegated parts of my soul when to me, kind of like ‘defragmenting’ a Windows PC. To my surprise, not only did I uncork to finger whole for the first time, I moreover felt calmer and increasingly confident well-nigh my resilience.

If our well-being depends on someone else stuff comfortable, we will never finger peaceful. We have zero tenancy over how anyone else feels, thinks, or behaves. There are infinite factors that go into each person’s mood, and each of us is responsible, ultimately, for our own well-being.

That doesn’t midpoint we can’t work to transpiration systems of oppression, but if we’re relying on conditions stuff the way we want in order to finger peaceful… we could be waiting a long, long time.

2. Stay on the razor’s whet of this moment.

I used to undeniability myself a “Walter Mitty,” in reference to the James Thurber short story (and Ben Stiller movie) well-nigh a man who constantly fantasized well-nigh living variegated lives than the one he had, like stuff an emergency room surgeon or a fighter pilot.

“I want to be mindful,” I wrote in my journal, “but my mind runs all over.” I hadn’t yet understood that mindfulness doesn’t just happen; I had to put in the work.

That’s what the smart-ass does, though. It thinks. It ruminates. It creates stories. My mind still runs yonder with me sometimes, but over the process of increasingly than a decade, I’ve wilt yawner to its machinations, and it can no longer devastate me with thoughts of self-loathing.

Presence is well-nigh unsuspicious the facts of a situation, not our interpretation of the facts. I find it particularly helpful to remember this when thoughts are swirling through my throne like a tornado, or I have sensations associated with anxiety, like a racing heart or tight chest.

To bring myself when into the moment, I notice external sensations: In this moment, there is air versus my arms. In this moment, I can finger my feet on the ground. In this moment, I smell a mixture of supplies grease and roses.

I don’t label any of this “good” or “bad”; it just is. Focusing on reality, rather than thoughts, interrupts the pattern of rumination in the mind.

One of my favorite presence practices comes from Eckhart Tolle: Close your vision and rub your hands together briskly for fifteen seconds. Then separate your hands and focus all your energy on the vibration in your hands. If thoughts arise, redirect the mind when to the sensations in your hands.

This takes mental energy yonder from loops of rumination and places it when in the body, which—unlike the mind—is unchangingly present.

3. Learn to observe your thoughts.

The difference between my self-loathing rumination of the past and my present sense of peace when my mind is a runaway horse comes lanugo to practice in observing my thoughts. Most of us think constantly, and we’re not enlightened that we’re thinking. Thoughts enter and leave our minds continually, but we have to pay sustentation to those thoughts in order to understand that thoughts are not who we are, and thereby find peace.

Thinking is like breathing. Sometimes we think in order to solve a particular problem. Other times, thoughts just towards and disappear like signals on a car radio in the mountains. We don’t purposely generate those thoughts; they just appear.

As I learned to meditate, I became used to seeing thoughts floating in and out of my mind. I learned that they don’t last unless I put some effort into keeping them around, like thinking, “This shouldn’t be happening” or “I don’t like this situation.” Neither of those are helpful, as the situation—whatever it is—is happening.

Then I tried watching my thoughts in real-time, off the cushion. It took me several months to uncork noticing my thoughts. At first, I walked virtually with my throne tilted, like a dog trying to icon out where a sound is coming from. I was unswayable to reservation myself in the act of thinking, but considering I’d spent forty-four years thinking nonstop without stuff enlightened of it, this took a unconfined deal of practice.

Sometimes I’d finger terrible, and I’d put on my investigative cap to discover what thought was causing the distress. Other times, I’d be thinking for half an hour surpassing I’d suddenly snap out of it and go, “Aha! I’m thinking!”

It was such a revelation to understand that I am not my thoughts. Thoughts upspring within this field of mind and soul I undeniability “me,” but they are not part and parcel of this being. Stuff trapped yoyo thoughts is a special kind of hell; when we understand that those thoughts aren’t who we are, it creates a space in which we can uncork to outbreathe and to climb out of hell.

4. Separate facts from stories.

I’ve been a creative writer for increasingly than thirty years. I’ve unchangingly enjoyed writing humor, considering humor requires placing a judgment on a situation. I wrote essays and spectacle sketches (and plane did stand-up briefly) well-nigh how awful or hilarious or terrible a given situation was.

Long ago, when a minion therapist was diagnosed with a recurrence of melanoma and sealed her practice, I laugh-cried that …And My Therapist Has Cancer would make a unconfined typesetting title. I felt terrible for her, of course, but not as bad as I felt for myself, losing one of the weightier therapists I’d overly had. OF COURSE this had happened to me.

Except that it hadn’t. I could have chosen to focus on gratitude for my own health, or for what this woman had once given me. I could have seen this as impermanence, and let go with grace. But I didn’t have those skills yet.

When I became serious well-nigh finding inner peace, I stopped writing humor and essays for several years. At some level, I understood that repeating those stories—each one designed to be witty but moreover to make me the righteous victim—continued to wire my smart-ass for feeling bad.

Marshall Rosenberg’s typesetting Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life talks well-nigh separating facts from our interpretations of the facts. For months on end, I noticed my responses to variegated situations based on the stories I was telling myself. Then I’d pull when and practice listing “the facts in evidence.” These often had little to do with the stories I’d created.

Making judgments is so automatic, like thinking or breathing, that we don’t plane notice we’re doing it.

I began to develop a vocabulary of my feelings and needs. Having lived so long from the neck up, I had to learn how to identify my emotions, and to understand which needs were giving rise to which feelings.

Every human on the planet has the same vital needs: to be safe, to be healthy, to be voluntary and loved (among others). When those needs are met, often speaking, we finger good or at least peaceful. When those needs aren’t met, we might finger anger, anxiety, depression, or resentment. Learning to identify our feelings and needs in each moment is a huge step toward self-awareness and inner peace.

Ultimately, this comes lanugo to taking full responsibility.

We have to take responsibility for our own well-being considering no one else can heal for us. We can’t tenancy people, situations, or events. Heck, we can’t plane tenancy our own thoughts or feelings! But we can examine our thoughts and feelings, be increasingly deliberate with our actions, and practice awareness.

Rather than asking the universe to help us like a lost child, we can realize that we are part of the universe—we’re made of the same chemical compounds; we share DNA with all living things—and we will contribute to our own healing.

This is important so that we don’t project trauma responses from our childhoods onto others, and we don’t repeat old patterns or contribute to systems of oppression. Developing self-awareness is taking radical responsibility for our own well-being, considering if our inner peace depends on what others say or do, or unrepealable conditions, we’ll never find it.

Self-awareness is a necessary skill for finding inner peace and living from our wiser nature, yet it’s a skill that isn’t taught in schools or plane in most families. That ways that it’s on us to cultivate it in ourselves.

About Sarah Chauncey

Sarah Chauncey is the tragedian of P.S. I Love You Increasingly Than Tuna and a nonfiction writer, editor and writing coach. She writes Living the Mess, a newsletter that helps readers slow down, live deliberately and find inner peace. She moreover writes the newsletter Resonant Storytelling, which focuses on the craft of writing.

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