zenhabits : breathe

Tied Up in Knots? The Minimalist’s Guide to Inner Peace

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ ~Victor Frankl

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Gail Brenner, Ph.D. of A Flourishing Life.

Are you ready to be a warrior for inner peace? Doing less and organizing more simplifies for sure. But until you deal with the ways you get knotted up inside, your life will be complicated, and the glory of inner peace will elude you.

Inner peace is revealed when the inner war ends. We stop looking outside ourselves for solutions to our problems and, instead, turn our attention inward to make peace with our own experience. This simple movement of attention is revolutionary. It heals, calms, and clarifies like nothing else.

From Darkness to Light

We are experts at denying our experience. Take any habit that doesn’t serve you – compulsively shopping or staying busy, self-judgment, jealousy. If you trace it back to its root, you will find an expectation or feeling you have been avoiding.

These hidden aspects of ourselves thrive when we ignore them, leaving fear, desire, and lack to unconsciously drive our behavior. Once they are illuminated by becoming aware, we see how they operate, and we can make a different choice. No more conflict. No more confusion. Finally, peace.

Unearthing our inner experiences is like treasure hunting. Each one is a breadcrumb leading us out of the wilderness of discontent and into the light of a simple, conscious, lovely way of being. Suffering ends and freedom begins, leaving us available to happiness, wonder, enjoyment, and creativity.

The How-To

Exploring your triggers takes courage and openness. Prepare yourself for the journey by being willing:

Now, begin to explore. Showing up as a loving presence to yourself is one of the most sane and compassionate things you could ever do.

  1. When you are triggered, rather than playing it out in the usual way, stop and breathe.
  2. Simply notice the thought patterns, feelings, and bodily sensations that are present. Don’t freak out – just be curious. What are you thinking? What is the energy behind the thoughts? What feelings and physical sensations are present? These questions allow you to become familiar with how your habits work so they no longer control you.
  3. Find the most loving place inside you – the soft spot that melts when you encounter puppies, babies, or those most dear to you. Pour this love into the tension and painful feelings. This is the healing balm that untangles the knot.
  4. Rinse and repeat every time you are struggling.
  5. Move forward in a way that supports your clarity, happiness, and well being.

Example #1: Holding a Grudge

Say that you have been carrying around a grudge for a decade or two. To keep this grudge alive, you must be telling yourself a story about what should and shouldn’t have happened. You feel churned up inside, and your reaction is activated every time you face a person or situation that triggers the memories. This is no way to live.

Your thoughts about what happened are keeping you stuck. Release yourself by letting go of the story and feeling right into the pain. Break it down into its elements – thoughts and physical sensations. This is the experience that’s been plaguing you all along. Love those tender feelings, then go forth with fresh eyes.

This process doesn’t condone what happened, and it has nothing to do with the other person. It’s a choice you make for your peace and happiness.

Example #2: Relationship Problems

How many of us blame the other person for struggles in our relationships? We get caught in the trap of “if only” – if only the other would change, then I will feel more peaceful. This mindset will never solve the problem because you are making your peace dependent on something you can’t control – what other people say and do.

If your relationships bring you stress, make peace with your own reactions. Turn your attention inward to lovingly meet the frustration, disappointment, or fear that is triggered in you. Even though you may not like what you realize, when you accept things as they are, you are at peace. And seeing your role in the problem unlocks the possibility of experimenting with new and compassionate solutions.

Example #3: Habits and Addictions

Maybe you engage in a compulsive pattern that involves your actions, thoughts, or feelings. All challenging habits mask an unexplored emotion, usually fear or sadness.

Do you want to bring ease to your inner world? Stop, breathe, and move your kind attention into the feeling you’ve been avoiding. Love it every time it arises. Then follow Leo’s advice on changing habits, and you are well on your way to freeing yourself.

Can you see the value of becoming aware? Any inner knot can be untangled when you pay attention to it. Start with whatever is troubling you right now, and know that every moment of awareness simplifies.

The process of becoming aware is not a panacea that instantly cures all your ills. But you will notice some changes – space, ease, and, a depth of peace you never knew was possible.

Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist who blogs at A Flourishing Life. Stay in touch by subscribing to her feed.

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