“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Quest for Inner Peace

It can sound a bit like an advertising slogan: 'Inner peace and how to find it.' I have come to realise in recent years that inner peace is one of the most difficult things to obtain, and yet harder to hold on to. And I'm not the only one by a long way. Go into any bookshop, and look in the Mind and Spirit section. You will find the shelves groaning with titles like The Little Book of Calm or Chicken Soup for the Soul or De-stress Your Life in 30 Days (I made the last one up, but I'm sure that such a title exists). And there are DVDs you can buy to teach yourself yoga or pilates to regain control of your life. But as a Quakerly-inclined Unitarian, I believe that there has to be a God-element as well. I love the words of our Unitarian hymn:

"I sent my soul some truth to win; / my soul returned these words to tell: / 'Look not beyond, but turn within, / For I myself am heaven and hell.
And as my thoughts were gently led, / half-held beliefs were seen as true; / I heard, as new, words Jesus said: / 'My friend, God's kingdom lies in you.
Now though I labour, as I must / to build the kingdom yet to be, / I know my hopes will turn to dust, / if first it is not built in me."

Inner peace spiral by Carol Hansen Grey

As usual, the Quakers have got it spot on: number 3 of their Advices and Queries sums up what I am trying to say beautifully:

"Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. ... Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God."

I want to be able to do this so much, and yet it is so hard. How can we attain inner peace in the hurly-burly of everyday life? Most of us spend our lives rushing around from one task to the next - work, shopping, looking after the children, housework, laundry, socialising - the list is endless. People find it more and more difficult to relax, and to attain inner peace, because they've forgotten how to stop.

But we're not supposed to be like this. Every person needs to have some time to centre down, to be at peace, to recharge their emotional and spiritual batteries. I believe that one of the most important of God's creations is the Sabbath - a time to rest, to re-group, and come back to our everyday lives refreshed. One reason why my faith is so important to me is that it has taught me that there is another way of living your life, even if i don't follow it all (or even most of) the time.

There are times when being busy, busy, busy just gets too much. The thought crosses your mind "Stop the world! I want to get off!" But it won't stop, so you have to consciously make the effort to schedule some time to step off the treadmill. It may take a little creative selfishness to realise that you are quite entitled to do this, and quite a bit of planning to reschedule your activities, and find a free time-slot, but it can be done. It doesn't have to be a long time, this 'Me-time', even ten minutes can be enough (depending on what you are doing) it just needs to be regular and consistent.

What you do in your me-time will depend on you. The ideal for me is to follow the Quaker advice and "find a way into the silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength", although I find it very hard to stop my mind buzzing round and round, flitting from concern to concern. I have some prayer beads which I made at Summer School a couple of years ago, and they really help me to focus, and to let everyday life go.

Prayer can also lead to a deep sense of inner peace. I have friends who do this, and I am sure that it helps them to see more clearly and live their lives more serenely. Many people find that listening to a piece of really beautiful music can whirl their minds away, and they come back to earth with a bump at the end of the record. Reading something inspirational may also help - this is something I do a lot, to remind myself of what I'm supposed to be doing, and to regain my perspective.

Physical exercise is also a good way of achieving inner peace. I know that sounds weird, because flogging up and down a swimming pool or playing a game of football may seem the complete opposite of peaceful. But certain forms of exercise really do help you to relax and centre down. Yoga is an obvious one - the fact that you have to concentrate on your breathing clears the mind wonderfully. Personally speaking, I find that going for a gentle run is one of the best stress-busters in the world. If you're not pushing yourself too hard, and can get into an even rhythm, running can be very cathartic.

Going for a walk is another good method of relaxing and centring down. Again, the rhythm of your strides can be soothing, and if you start to pay attention to what you are seeing around you, there is beauty almost everywhere - whether it's a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream, or the bark of a tree, or the architecture of a particular building. Many people find that a spot of gardening, or doing a craft that you love, can have the same effect, if you do it in the right frame of mind.

All these things can bring you, in Sidney Lovett's words, "wisdom and patience and solace, and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world."


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