A Businessperson’s Guide to Inner Peace
May 20, 2010
Hurry Slowly ~ Zen Saying
So many of us feel anxious today. There are seemingly infinite sources of stress all stemming from things we cannot control. Will we have enough money? How do we ensure we are successful in life? The pressure to keep up at our jobs, in our businesses, with our families, friends, hobbies. The great stress and pressure from the need to stay ahead financially, or the need to be a good parent, a good son or daughter, a good sibling, a good friend and the list goes on.
Our sense of inner peace, which is our birthright, is under constant fire and is replaced by a sense of not being enough. And in the wanting desire to become enough – an aim that can’t ever achieve the perfection we often seek, we are left with a feeling of anxiety. I would assert that accompanying the age of information is the age of anxiety.
While we cannot control our external environment, we can control our reactions to stress triggers. However, many of us have not built up the natural “stress inhibitors” and instead fall victim to our conditioned responses of worry and fear that we’ve learned from our culture – parents, teachers, society. The worry is totally useless, does not serve us in any positive way, and increasingly sucks up positive life force energy from our daily existence.
Living in anxiety certainly cannot be the intent of a friendly universe designed to support our individual and collective well being. So how do we cultivate inner peace in a practical way in our busy day to day lives – without enrolling as an apprentice in a Zen monastery? It is certainly possible, but it requires practice and a commitment to becoming more conscious of our mental emotional reaction patterns – events, thoughts and feelings that trigger us into unconscious reaction – which are so often the cause of our inner disquiet. Stress reduction techniques can be broken down into three categories: physical (body), psychological/emotional (mind), and spiritual (spirt).
Three Dimensions of Stress Reduction
We cannot reduce stress and anxiety if we neglect our bodies. Diet, sleep and exercise are the obvious pillars of well being – so simple, yet not so easy. Exercise enables our bodies to abort the production of stress hormones, releases physical tension and promote relaxation. As well, with breathing, we regulate oxygen intake and carbon dioxide, and when we exhale in conjunction with our musculature, we can access deeper peace and serenity. Yoga is a powerful combination of both.
We cannot reduce stress and anxiety unless we become aware of our thoughts, and the emotional reactions they produce. Without awareness there is no control, only reactivity to the incessant stream of daily forms that bombard us. This is the heart of mindfulness practice – developing increasing awareness of your thoughts, emotions and the accompanying awareness of physical sensations. Mindfulness minimizes anxiety, as you create space for yourself and become the observer of the anxious mind, vs. being the anxious mind.
We cannot reduce stress and anxiety unless we create perspective of the big picture -which means releasing attachments to the ever-so-dramatic “story of me”. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily only mean being religious, or praying in a church, mosque or synagogue . It can also mean internalizing spiritual qualities like gratitude for what is. Investing time into making a difference to others or the world – being of service. Spending time in nature and feeling a sense of sacredness in the natural world. Having a sense of being a part of something greater than ourselves, a sense of the presence of a higher power. Cultivating compassion for the human race, the earth, and a better world.
The following practice has helped me get through my most anxious days, and it is with gratitude and a desire that you find peace, that I share it with you.
Daily Practices for Stress Reduction
Breath is the life force of our worlds, the oxygen rich fuel that powers our sense of being. Yet so often we unconsciously move into shallow and choppy breathing when our lives become overwhelming. Consider committing to a week of steady, consistent breathing throughout your day, and feel the wonderful results.
2. Be mindful.
Become the observer of your thoughts, not the reactor to your thoughts. This is the ultimate practice of presence, or mindfulness. We are constantly in reaction to the incessant stream of thoughts that bombard our daily lives, and we expend most of our existence in our heads. We have 60,000 thoughts per day, and 90% of those thoughts are the same! We repeat them over and over, consuming tremendous amounts of life energy to no avail! So often these thoughts center around mentally avoiding something we fear may happen, or mentally desiring something for our futures. They take us out of the present, and out of the flow – the juice of life. Begin watching your mind in this pattern of thinking that causes emotional volatility, and creating some space between you (your Self, Consciousness, Observing Ego) and your mind.
3. Embrace stillness.
As your practice of watching yourself deepens, your consciousness arises – and your levels of inner peace increase. Take quite time for yourself. Begin a meditation and/or yoga practice. Use yoga as a moving meditation (the original intention of Yoga) and observe how your thoughts manifest as emotional reactions, often in resistance to a pose or thought form. I’ve studied different forms of meditation and yoga for many years, and found that Jon Kabot Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living, provides a simple and elegant methodology for beginning practice.
4. Practice gratitude.
There are always infinite interpretations of reality. See the proverbial glass of ‘your life’ half full, and invoke a feeling of deep gratitude for all the blessings in your life. Do this daily.
5. Practice acceptance. Surrender resistance.
When an event arises that creates a negative reaction in your system, feel it in your body, watch the reactive thoughts in your mind. Be with the thoughts and feelings. The thoughts are neutral, it’s the meaning we create that gives them the toxic charge. And know that you have the power to let that go. You can choose to hold on to the negative reaction – whether anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, rage etc., or you can choose to let it go in the moment.
Realize Greater Peace in 7 Days: Turning Knowledge Into Practice
There is a common understanding among business managers that what gets measured, gets done. I’ve extended this practice to my inner world, and the results have been significant. One way to start is to set up a spreadsheet, Word table, or use a paper notebook and create one row on the left hand side, and one column at the top. On the vertical row list each behavior. On the horizontal column list the days of the week. At the end of each day rate yourself on a scale (1 – 5 works) on how conscious you were of each behavior. At end of 7 days, enjoy the progress and keep the evolution moving.
Inner peace is the ultimate source of happiness, joyfulness ~ Dali Lama