The other day my wife, in a quiet moment as we sat on our back deck watching the sun set, asked me if I was happy. I didn’t hesitate as I said yes. She asked me why, and I said I don’t know; I just am. Her question got me to thinking about happiness, and why I felt I’ve found it. I’ve had many struggles in my life, made many mistakes, been as low as a person could be, fell many times and picked myself up, and been alone for the majority of my life. I came to realize that I was happy because I believe I may have finally found my own personal peace.
I’ve learned over the years that gaining personal peace is so important in not only finding happiness, but discovering meaning and purpose in our lives. Learning what personal peace is, as well as how to achieve it is a key to living a good life. The sad thing is that so many of us don’t understand what it is or how to achieve it. You may have sometimes heard people call it “inner peace.” I like to call it personal peace because it is different and unique for each of us. The path to personal peace is not only a long and difficult road, but it often varies for each person.
Let’s take a look at the definition of inner peace. The dictionary says that inner peace is, “A state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress.” It also says that, “being at peace” is considered by many to be healthy, and the opposite of being stressed or anxious. The term “peace of mind” is generally associated with bliss, happiness serenity, calmness and contentment.
Most definitions of inner or personal peace talk about being calm and serene. They talk about being strong enough to face obstacles in our lives. While these are true, they are only a small part of what personal peace is. We should all understand that personal peace is not a fleeting emotion that comes and goes. It is a state of existence that takes an incredible amount of work as well as personal self-discovery. If someone were to come up to me on the street and ask my opinion of what I feel personal peace is, this is what I would say.
“Personal peace is a humble acceptance of who we are. This includes not only an acceptance of all the good we possess, but also all the bad we each carry deep inside ourselves. It is an understanding of who we were, who we are now, and who we are yet to become; and being happy with that understanding.”
I have a favorite quote from Victor Hugo, a famous French poet, novelist and playwright. It often gives me comfort during trying times when I’m struggling to hold on to my own personal peace.
” Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”—–Victor Hugo
I love this quote by Victor Hugo, because a part of finding personal peace is to realize that we are never really alone. We don’t have the entire burden of our lives on our shoulders. There is someone or something, depending on our own beliefs to turn to. It is also important to realize that finding personal peace doesn’t mean that our entire lives will be wonderful, full of joy and happiness, and devoid of any sorrow or adversity. Even a person who has found personal peace will face trials and tribulations, sadness, pain, fear, possible illness or disease, and distress at one time or another.
You should understand that people who have found personal peace aren’t better or more special than anyone else. They have just accepted the fact that they, as well as life are not perfect. Bad things may happen. They may lose their job or home. Someone they love may become ill and die. They may also make mistakes, or stumble and fall, but they will have the strength and personal peace inside needed to accept what happens and move forward. They will understand that for all the bad in the world, that there is so much more that is good and decent. They intuitively realize that personal peace will not be found in material things or in other people. There are many of us who may have a great job, a loving family, a big house, a new car and many friends, yet we may still find personal peace as elusive as water pouring into are hands and slipping through are fingers.
How do you move towards achieving personal peace in your own life. I’ve listed ten steps which I have tried in my own life. I hope that when you leave you will take something with you.
“The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” Dalai Lama
TEN STEPS TO FINDING PERSONAL PEACE
1. Have an open mind. Part of finding personal peace is being able to change. You may need to change your way of thinking, and learn to reach out to those you may have avoided in the past. You may have to change how you look at others as well as yourself. In order to make changes you have to learn to keep an open mind. You need to be willing to look at other points of view besides your own or those you are comfortable with. To find personal peace you’ll be required to take a good hard look at yourself. When you do this you will need to have an open mind because you will have to bare yourself to the bright light of day. I’ve found in my own search for personal peace that I haven’t liked some of the things I’ve found.
2. Believe in something. We all have our own beliefs. Many of us belong to different religions and have a belief in a God. Some of us believe in a higher power. Many other people have their own personal spirituality, and believe in different concepts and ideas. What is important is that you believe in something. Belief is what gives us the strength to face the adversity we all face in life. Personal peace is gained by facing all that life throws at us, and moving forward humbly and with dignity.
3. Live your life by a set of rules. Most of us have a set of rules we try to live our lives by. They may be religious commandments, they may involve societal rules of law, or they may be a personal set of rules we try to follow. The important thing is to adhere to these rules without exceptions. The rules must be absolute in all circumstances. The key is to learn not to cut corners or justify any rules. If one of your rules is not to steal then it most include not only material things, but time as well. This includes things like punching out of work early, or not giving an honest day’s work.
4. Make good choices. We have all learned the difference between right and wrong. What is the right thing to do, and what is the wrong thing isn’t a mystery. What it comes down to is what choices we make every single day. You will never find personal peace if you continue to make the same bad choices over and over. I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about things I had done wrong in my past I’m not talking about minor indiscretions. We all do small things that we’re sorry for, and apologize for or try to fix. I’m talking about such things as hurting other people with words or actions, lying, cheating or stealing.
5. Accept yourself for who you are. A big part of gaining personal peace is to take a long and winding journey of personal discovery. You need to take a good hard look at yourself. Personal peace comes from knowing who you are and loving that person. Remember that we all have some bad deep inside us fighting to come up. We all have imperfections which we keep hidden. We must learn to love and accept not only all our goodness and strengths, but our many weaknesses and failures as well. Only then will we find personal peace.
6. Gain knowledge and understanding. In the last step I talked about a journey of self-discovery. To find personal peace we need to never stop learning and continue to question not only our own life, but the life of everyone and everything around us. You should always be asking questions and striving for answers. Who am I? What is my place in everything? Why am I here? How do I become better?
7. Live each day with appreciation and gratitude. Life is tough. Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful when moneys tight, the bills need to be paid, your car breaks down, you lose my job, or you face illness, disease or even death. Life isn’t easy. It’s like being a cowboy and climbing on the back of a huge and powerful bull. He knows that it’s going to be a rough ride, and that the chances are pretty good that he’ll be thrown off and even end up in the dirt, and possibly trampled. Why then does he climb up on the bull’s back? Why does he climb back on that same bull or another one? He does it because he knows that for all its danger and pitfall’s, that it is still one heck of a ride. The secret is to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that you have the strength, skills, and determination to ride that bull. You may also have other people riding along with you and helping you to hold on and keep your balance. Appreciation and gratitude along with personal peace are gained when we realize that life is a gift. It’s just how we look at and use that gift that really matters.
8. Learn to be humble. It’s a lot easier to find personal peace when you don’t have the pressure of being number one, the first person in line, or the one standing high up on a pedestal looking down on everyone else. It also takes a lot of wasted effort to push your way through a crowd, knock people out-of-the-way, and maybe even step on a few. Personal peace is found by being humble. It is acquired by learning to put others first.
9. Make amends. One of my own personal rules for living my life is to take responsibility for my actions. Making amends is just another step. Have any of you ever had trouble sleeping as your thoughts drifted to the past and things you’ve done. I’m not saying we have to make amends for every single wrong we’ve committed, but we have to make an honest effort. You may not be able to find that boy you bullied in seventh grade, but you can never pick on anyone again, protect those who are bullied, and be a friend to those who have faced the wrath of others. We all need to realize that there are always second chances. You may feel that there are things which you can never make up for. You have to learn to do the best you can with an open heart and with true contrition for the things you’ve done. It may take a lifetime, and you may never make total amends, but you will gain personal peace from the effort.
10. Let go of the past. I left this one for the end because it is often the most difficult. All of us like to hold on to what happened in the past. We grasp tightly to the memories of real or imagined slights. We keep hate and anger burning inside from distant memories. I have had people in my life that I pushed away because of anger. They are gone now, and I don’t even remember what I was angry about. How many of you have regrets for past actions, or things you wish you had done or did differently? We all at one time or another have wished that we could go back in time and change things. How about all those mistakes we’ve made? Do you still think about them? To find personal peace you have to let the past slip away. It is over and done with. You need to wake up in the present and say, “I need to start fresh. I need to live in the present and make a difference now. Be a better person, friend, partner or spouse, now. I can make a difference in other people’s lives now. I am who I am right now.” You may have been a sad, lonely, angry, mean, or even a not very nice person once, but ask yourself this question. What am I, right now?
If someone were to ask me what my own personal peace is like, I would say this.
“It is like lying down to sleep in a comfortable bed after a long and tiring day. As I drift off to sleep, I feel calm and at ease. I relax and drift closer to sleep and my eyelids grow heavier. I think back on the just completed day and all that I accomplished, but also some of my inevitable failures. I think to myself that it’s okay. No one is perfect. I’m actually a pretty good person. I know that I did my best, I didn’t intentionally hurt anyone, I tried to help, guide, and push forward as many people as I could, I didn’t break any rules or commit sins, and I loved just a little more than I did the day before. As my weary mind wanders, I realize that I don’t feel anger, even though my boss made my day very trying. I also don’t have any regrets for any of my actions. I made some small mistakes here and there, but I fixed them. As I lie poised in that state between consciousness and the realm of dreams, I think how grateful I am for all I have. My wife is lying beside me, and I know she loves me. My son rests in the next room. I can’t believe what a fine young man he’s becoming. I breathe deeply as the air moves in and out of my lungs and my strong and healthy heart beats steadily in rhythm with the clock on the wall. As sleep finally overtakes me, I can sense the start of pleasant dreams.