Woman sitting peacefully by lake and hills
Peace and calm

Do you often feel stressed out, the tension gripping your shoulders, riling up your stomach or waking you up in the middle of the night?

You aren’t the only one.

Times are stressful. There is much tension, unrest, and polarization in our world. Even holidays can be stressful.

What can we do about it?

There are some sources of stress that we may not be able to change—a toxic work environment, health problems, and caring for a sick loved one. With some creativity and letting go we may be able to reduce the anxiety in these situations and come to finding peace in stressful times.

For example, instead of listening to negativity in the staff room, we can find a place to eat our lunch in the sun. When we feel the pressures of competition in the workplace, we can step out of the race and try to cooperate.

There is also the possibility of finding ways to destress when we can get away from the stressful situation. When I find myself being short with my family members and raising my voice, I can go for a walk. I can breathe with the trees and listen to the wind.

Small purple flower
Finding Peace in Nature

However, I have found that while these practices can be helpful, they don’t get to the root of the problem. I yearn for peace. I want a peaceful existence and know that to find this peace in my stressful world, it isn’t an option to hide away from what causes me stress. Times may be difficult, but it is how I react to these challenges which cause me stress. This is where I can have some control: in the inner source of my stress. This is an important step in my search for peace.     

Discovering the Source of Stress

I am working to discover what is the source of my self-produced stress. When I get up in the morning and greet the world, it is never the same world. We are in constant change, a change which seems to be continuously accelerating. On this new day, I can’t be sure of anything, for what was sure yesterday may not be the same today.  No matter how much I want the security of knowing exactly what will happen, because it has happened before, or because I want it to happen, I won’t find it. What I will find is uncertainty, and uncertainty is stressful for me.

Knowing that the uncertainty of a new day causes me stress, I asked myself what can I do about it? What I want to find in the new day is peace. Is it reasonable to say that since uncertainty is practically a given, then that is where I can start looking for peace.

Peace in uncertainty may seem like a contradiction, but I think that it is the only way I can find it. I’ve tried to work on changing the uncertainty, to make sure that everything is certain. I can ignore the uncertainty and pretend it doesn’t exist. I’ve even tried to control it, but none of these approaches seem feasible to me now, although I practiced them unknowingly for much of my life.

Image of artistic earth with peaceful image of dove
May there be peace on Earth

For quite a while I tried to control parts of my life that are beyond my control. I ignored the fact that this is not possible. What do you think was the result?—Stress. I already have the continuous changes that cause me stress, but I now added to that the stress wanting to control it. Change is something beyond my control. It isn’t personal, it just IS. I, being human, prefer security; the security that nothing will change except if I want it to.

Why did I continue to think that I could control something that is beyond my control? It made no sense, and it caused a lot of unnecessary stress. I decided to let go of that. Letting go of the need to be in control and feel secure proved not to be easy, but at least I got started. I got started because I don’t like being stressed out and I had figured out that I was adding to the stress, and that was on me. I wanted peace. Now, after taking responsibility for at least some of the stress and working to understand it, I know that the peace I yearn for lies within me.

Young man sitting near lake in meditation.
Finding time to meditate

Morning Meditation sets my day in the right direction and helps me find peace.

Each morning I sit down to meditate. This is the first act of the day before the pressures and worries of the day have an opportunity to become loud in my mind. In the moments of the meditation exercise I take control of my thoughts and direct them toward my highest self. Through this practice over many years, I have learned to know my mind and its habitual movements. To change these habits takes a great effort, but paying attention to what is going on in my mind and heart points the way to finding peace. Seeing that most of my stress is self-produced gives me the power to have a different perspective, a perspective which will help me find peace within.

Observing the movements of my mind, I discovered that there are various depths. When I am on the surface of my thoughts I’m in for a choppy ride. It is like being on a small boat is a rough sea. The whitecaps keep me bobbing up and down, and there is no peace there. When I dive deeper, I encounter calmer waters. The tumult of the surface is not felt below. There is a peace which allows me to be present and reflect.

How to get there? Since it is the choppy, rough seas of my surface thoughts that are interpreting life as stressful, I need to observe them. They are not going to go away, and they won’t change unless I want to work on them.

One of my biggest understandings is that I don’t have to think the way I am thinking. Tuning into my thoughts and finding them negative and unsettling, I don’t have to put up with them. I have befriended my mind and have let it know who is in charge—my higher self, the self that is searching for peace.  My mind can be a bit tricky with this. In a false surrender, it may approach a situation differently to appease me for a while, but as soon as I relax my vigilance, it resumes its negative rant.

I am working on creating peaceful positive thoughts that can replace my habitual negative ones. When I hear myself judging someone unkindly, I take that as a red flag, and replace that thought with “She’s doing the best she can.” I can just feel a spark of love lighting the way to peace.

Taking a different point of view is also a useful approach to replacing self-centered destructive thoughts that produce stress. I can revel is self-pity when my flight is canceled because of fog, or I can be thankful that the redwoods are getting some water. What is my inconvenience in the life of thousand-year-old giant trees?

Expect Delays

That road sign always helps me remember not only that I may be delayed by road construction, but there will be many delays in life as well. I allow these delays to cause me stress when I expect something else: I expect life will go along as I expect it to. It is not the delays that necessarily cause me stress, but my expectations based on a short-sighted view of life.

In my self-centered view I see a very limited perspective. For example, I get stressed when I have to wait to see the doctor for more than an hour. I expected a shorter wait, as if I was the only one who needed medical attention.  I don’t think of the doctor who is working hard, or the very sick patient who needs more time. When my impatience kicks off, my point of view is limited. I am stuck in the surface thoughts of “hurry up, I’m tired of waiting” instead f thinking about someone other than myself.

I am working to develop patience. It started with learning how to wait. Seeing that I expect to get what I want when I want it, I realized that this view is self-absorbed and unrealistic. I don’t take into consideration if someone else has time or the inclination to give me what I want. And I don’t think, “Is this what I really want?”

Looking for instant gratification steals away the time to reflect: Is this what I really want? If it is something I really want, then it is worth waiting for? Maybe the person I need to fulfill my expectation says, “OK, I can work on it next week.” I should be very happy to receive this response, but I expected something else. I expected it now. And so my thoughts take off again, creating more stress.

Hand held out with words Let Go, above.
Let go in order to be in peace

Letting Go of Expectations to Find Peace

I also have had many expectations about my life and how it should be. I’ve had to examine what these expectations are based on, and if what I expected is something I really want. So I decide to explore how I learned to want what I want? Will getting it bring me the peace I yearn for?

I’ve come to discover that what I was doing was fulfilling someone else’s expectations for my life, not even my own. I felt pressured to fulfill these expectations to be the person they wanted me to be. Then I ask myself, why was I trying to fulfill those expectations of other? Did I expect to get more love, or approval? And, has it been worth the cost of maybe not finding my authentic self, which is my true individuality.

Maybe I wanted the relative certainty that it was enough to fulfill my parents’, society’s, and friends’ expectations. At least if I fulfilled that, I wouldn’t have to ask, “Who am I really?” “What is life asking of me?” “What can I give?”

We can pose these questions at each turn in life. I may not know the supposedly right answer at the time, but I can base my choices on my best understanding. Practicing this, is helping me to find my peace.

Certainly at times, the stress may still rage on the surface. My surface thoughts may still be impatient, demanding desires to be fulfilled, or living the life expected of me by others. However, I have learned to go within, into deeper depths where I can find clarity in my thoughts. I can calm the agitated mind and body primed for fight or flight. In these calm waters I can see a bigger picture. I understand that others have needs and realize that I don’t always have to get what I want. I don’t need it right now, or ever.

It’s like taking a deep breath. In this moment of clarity, I can find peace.

It’s like lighting candles, and giving myself the time to look at the flame and quiet my mind.

6 pretty candles burning
Light a candle and slow down

Practicing Peace to Relieve Stress

As my days race ahead and I allow stress to build up undetected, I have found that in addition to my meditations, it is important to stop and observe what is going on within. What I found helps me do this more often is to take a moment to glimpse beauty.

There is beauty all around if I care to pay attention. Outside, finding beauty is not difficult. I can look up and see the clouds, and can observe the light on the trees. I can stop and look at an anthill. Even in the gray days of winter, the bare branches of trees etch out a certain beauty. Inside, I keep beautiful things to see. And there is always the special rock I keep in my pocket or a ring on my finger. I can listen to sounds around me, the rustle of leaves, the rumble of traffic, the singing of birds. I find delight in touching roses in bloom and feel the sun’s warmth on the softness of the petals.

Once I start looking, I realize that beauty is all around me.

Pink flower with raindrops
Noticing the beauty around me

This moment of glimpsing beauty takes me to the present moment. It frees me from the grasp of the thoughts that stir up unease and produce stress. It helps me find the peace within.

I wish you luck on your journey to find peace. You will be thankful for taking it. Your body will be grateful for the smoother ride. In this calm state of mind, you will find possibilities you hadn’t dreamed of. Not only is it good for you, but it is a balm of healing for all the world.

About the Author(s)

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Diana Autumn lives in a spiritual community in Southern California. She likes trees, walking and being with friends.