Having a nervous breakdown was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Before reaching the absolute end of my stress threshold, I never thought that finding inner peace – especially for a highly sensitive person prone to anxiety – was possible. Peace was a completely foreign concept to me.
But after undergoing multiple instances of mental breakdown, I finally learned what inner peace is. And it’s not what I expected.
As a highly sought after state or experience on the spiritual journey, inner peace is every spiritual seeker’s secret desire.
But what actually is it? And how do we ‘find’ or ‘attain’ it?
Table of contents
What is Inner Peace?
Inner peace is what we feel when our body, mind, heart, and soul is at rest. Instead of striving to control or resist ourselves and others, we feel a sense of profound acceptance, forgiveness, love, and compassion. Inner peace is synonymous with being in touch with your True Nature or Soul. And above all, inner peace can only and ever occur in the present moment (which is all we truly have).
The Key to Finding Inner Peace
Put simply, inner peace is the byproduct of letting go and surrendering.
It’s not about chasing, striving, and trying to ‘earn’ tranquility. You can’t. Trying to ‘fight’ for inner peace is contradictory and pointless: it just deepens our suffering.
Instead, finding inner peace is about relinquishing our need to control and fight. Essentially, you could say it’s about giving up – but not in a disempowering way. Rather, it’s a form of resignation that is based on a deeper understanding that Life is perfectly orchestrating everything we’re experiencing for our growth and expansion. Therefore, why the need to constantly resist everything?
“But doesn’t this mean I’ll become a pushover or doormat that people can abuse?” you may wonder. No. Living life from a place of letting go and surrendering isn’t about letting ourselves be used or abused. We still need to practice self-care, self-respect, and self-love. This can mean setting boundaries, saying no, and removing ourselves from harmful situations. But it also means surrendering our resentment, blame, and hatred toward others. Do you see the difference? Life is about balance.
Let’s try a simple exercise that will help you to viscerally understand what inner peace is like:
Sit down somewhere quiet. Then tense up your entire body. Imagine you’re being scrunched into a tight ball. Hold that for 30 seconds. Become as contracted as possible. Make yourself super stiff and uncomfortable. Then, release. Can you feel how spacious your body is now? That’s what inner peace is like – except it radiates from the inside out.
12 Ways to Find Inner Peace
As we now know, inner peace is a movement of opening, surrendering, and letting go.
But what exactly do we let go of?
As always, let’s look within ourselves first and see all the forms of inner conflict we carry. This might be a painful and challenging practice for our egos to handle, but it’s profoundly important.
Here are twelve ways to find inner peace summarized:
- Be aware of the self-improvement treadmill
- Stop expecting that life and people should be different
- Release grudges and resentments
- Sit with your emotions (and embrace them)
- Quit getting lost in the past or future
- Be aware of your obsessive need to control
- Embrace being dislikable
- Let go of playing the martyr or victim
- Forgive yourself (and therefore others)
- You don’t need to be “perfect”
- Release the need to be right
- Stop dwelling in the past (or future)
I’ll elaborate below:
1. Be aware of the self-improvement treadmill
To prevent this article from becoming another “X-Ways-to-Change-Yourself” kind of post, I want to point out that the spiritual search itself can be counterproductive. The desire to constantly improve, fix, and heal ourselves can (very rapidly!) become a kind of treadmill that traps us. There’s nothing wrong with seeking growth and change. But please know that at a core level, you are already Whole. Your mind might be fragmented, yes, but your essence is already Whole and Complete. Understanding this can save you a lot of stress and burnout, which keeps you from tasting the peace that is already there deep within you.
So in this context, please read the rest of this article with a light mind and heart. Everything will happen when it needs to happen. The following pieces of advice are simply pointers and places you can decide to explore and delve into at your level. No stress, no rush.
So with that caveat, let’s move onto the next mental contraction that deprives you of peace:
2. Stop expecting that life and people should be different
Here’s the reality: you can expect, and expect, and expect, and expect … but what happens at the end of the day? You feel worn out, resentful, bitter, stressed, and hopeless. What a waste of time, energy, and effort! So much of our unhappiness stems from expectations. And usually, our expectations are totally unconscious, in other words, we aren’t aware that we’re demanding so much from other people and life itself. Why are expectations burdensome? Expectations change nothing at all: they are like brain farts. Can you change other people? No. And that’s just life. People only change when they decide to. Understanding this is the beginning of inner peace.
Would you prefer to resist the truth of this present moment, or would you prefer to become an embracer of reality? Try to pinpoint what lofty and unrealistic expectations you have for other people. Here are some examples, “My husband should be tidier,” “My boss should care more about my feelings,” “My friend should not be such a loud-mouth; I wish she could be different,” “That driver should learn how to drive properly!” etc. Notice the prevalence of the word “should” here. What to do instead? Let people be what they are, understanding that when the time is right, they’ll change (or not). Ultimately, it’s not your place to force change within them (because you can’t).
3. Release grudges and resentments
Grudges + resentments = self-righteousness … and let’s face it, feeling righteously indignant is extremely addictive in a toxic way. When we obsessively store away past wrongdoings from others we are essentially telling ourselves, “I have a right to perpetuate my own misery.” But on your deathbed will you really care about who is right and who is wrong? Holding on to grudges is not only infantile, but it is also poorly spent time focusing on the details of life.
Visualizations and rituals can help you to let go of past hurt and start a fresh chapter in life. For instance, you may like to write down what someone did to you on a piece of paper. Once you are done, burn that piece of paper until it crumbles to ash. This is a powerful ritual that can help symbolize “letting go.” Alternatively, you may like to focus on cultivating forgiveness by focusing on how to forgive yourself first.
4. Sit with your emotions (and embrace them)
None of us like feeling uncomfortable emotions, and so it’s very common for us to suppress, resist, or avoid them. Unfortunately, this creates emotional repression which is a block to inner peace. Here’s the thing: hiding your feelings isn’t the same as dealing with them. Just because your feelings temporarily disappear doesn’t mean that they are completely gone. In fact, the longer you suppress them, the bigger they grow. And the bigger these emotions become, the more you feel an extreme lack of inner peace.
Choose to gently and compassionately let your emotions arise without resistance or judgment. Understand that they’re not you, you’re the space experiencing them. If judgments come, let them rise and fall away. While it may be very difficult at first to let yourself feel your emotions, you will thank yourself sincerely in the long run. (Note: remember to find a quiet place to do this and breathe deeply.)
5. Quit getting lost in the past or future
The reality is that the past and future don’t exist in this present moment; all that exists right now is NOW. While this makes sense to most people, most of us don’t take it to heart. By getting lost in past regrets or future fears we completely lose touch with the grounded present moment. Inevitably this = heartache, tension, and overload … the stuff nervous breakdowns are made of!
Use your emotions as mindfulness triggers. Alternatively use the uncomfortable sensations in your body as wake-up calls to ground yourself. Is your heart racing? Take that as a sign that you are drifting off into the world of your mind. Use these grounding techniques to bring you back down to ground control. This will help you to reconnect with a feeling of inner peace.
6. Be aware of your obsessive need to control
As a former ‘control freak’ myself I know how much it sucks to constantly be in a frazzled, wired state. If you have the obsessive need to control everything you will be a master planner who tries to predict and coerce every situation into what you want or feel you can handle. Of course, this equals humongous loads of stress and anxiety – the antithesis of inner peace.
Control is a product of fear, of distrust towards yourself and your ability to handle whatever life throws at you. Once you come to see the innate resilience and strength of your spirit, you will start to trust yourself and therefore you will open to life. Read our article on finding your inner strength for more help. The obsessive need to control is also closely tied to being a perfectionist. Learning how to love yourself is a powerful antidote for perfectionism.
7. Embrace being dislikable
Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions.– Pema Chodron
Wanting to be liked by everyone is such a big issue in our society. In a world where we’re taught to gain our self-worth from external achievements and how popular we are, it’s almost inevitable that nearly all of us fall into this trap. We let our fear of what other people think control our lives. Others’ perceived thoughts become our prison cells. We have such a poor foundation of inner self-worth and love that we almost always seek it from sources outside of ourselves. When we override our authentic selves in order to be more likable and acceptable, we give away our personal power.
Learn to accept being unacceptable to others. Learn to embrace the absolute worst: being disliked. This doesn’t mean being an ass, but it does mean learning to honor your needs and wants. Picture the very worst that could happen if someone disliked you, e.g., “My conversations with them may be awkward, they may gossip about me …” etc. But can you deal with that? I’d hazard a guess to say yes, you can! Learning how to practice self-compassion is a powerful way of seeing through the fallacy of wanting to be liked by everyone. It all starts with compassion.
8. Let go of playing the martyr or victim
Adopting the role of a martyr or victim in any circumstance is an act of self-sabotage on an unconscious level. What is a victim? A victim is someone who believes that they have no personal power and that they are a casualty of fate. They are defined by self-pity. What is a martyr? A martyr is a person who sacrifices themselves unnecessarily for others, using this as a form of manipulation. They are defined by self-sacrifice. Both of these roles sustain chaos and stress – the opposite of inner peace.
Think about the beliefs you have about yourself, others, and life. Victims and martyrs are sustained by a barrage of unrealistic, illogical, and harmful beliefs such as, “I can’t change my destiny,” “Humanity is always selfish,” “Life is against me,” “My self-worth comes from how much I give,” and so forth. See our article on overcoming the victim mentality for more guidance.
9. Forgive yourself (and therefore others)
Refusing to forgive yourself for any past mistake, mess, perceived failure, flaw or deficiency is often a product of low self-esteem. And when we go to the roots of this low self-esteem, we often find toxic core beliefs that tell us that we’re “innately bad,” “not good enough,” and so forth. Sadly, a lack of self-forgiveness means that you’re more likely to hold onto resentment and bitterness toward others. Why? When we don’t know how to forgive ourselves, we don’t know how to forgive others. How can you give to others from an empty cup?
Learn to become your own best friend. Start the journey of learning to practice self-care and self-love. You’re with yourself 24/7 – so remember how important it is to treat yourself kindly. You’ll also benefit from closely examining your core beliefs if a lack of self-forgiveness is an issue for you.
10. You don’t need to be “perfect”
Perfectionism promotes chronic stress and burnout. I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to do everything perfectly, say everything perfectly, and essentially be the perfect person. What a waste of time! We intellectually know that no one can be perfect, but yet somehow we still tend to get stuck in these kinds of negative cycles, usually unconsciously. If you are never quite happy with what you do or who you are, chances are you are a perfectionist. Remember that there really is no such thing as perfection in life as life is about growth and change. Perfection, on the other hand, is an unchanging state, a state of death, a state that is not possible in life for us to achieve.
Understand that there’s no such thing as perfection – it’s totally mythological, false, and unrealistic. It’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to have flaws. In fact, embracing your flaws through a practice such as shadow work will make you more attractive to others. People are drawn to vulnerability. Most importantly, embracing your imperfection will help you to feel more inner peace.
11. Release the need to be right
I grew up in a religious family that always felt the need to protect their sense of being “right,” even to the point of constantly arguing and viciously debating among themselves and other people of different perspectives. It wasn’t long before I adopted the habit as well (and have since worked hard to release).
It is absolutely exhausting trying to protect your need to feel “right” and superior to others. Embracing the possibility that you might be wrong breeds open-mindedness, empathy, humility, and inner peace. We are not always right, and that is okay.
Understand that you can actually learn and grow from accepting that you’re wrong. Refusing to be mistaken leads to a type of inner stagnation – a form of inner death where you are firmly and stubbornly locked in one position. That sounds kind of like being a frozen corpse to me. The nature of life is change and transformation. Yes, being wrong is a sting to the ego, but that’s much better than staying in an egotistical, dead-ended position of rightness that steals your inner peace. If you struggle to release the need to be right, you can always try a practice such as morning affirmations. Affirmations help to reprogram unconscious habits. Saying an affirmation such as, “It’s okay to be wrong,” “I accept the pain of learning and growing,” or “I embrace the innate humility within me” will help you open to new perspectives.
12. Stop dwelling in the past (or future)
There are many reasons why we choose to live in the past or future, but all of them are pointless. Living in the past is living in death because we dwell in what was rather than what is, right now. The more we are stuck in the past, the less we can truly live our lives to the fullest in the present. The same applies to the future: it hasn’t happened yet. Stop delaying your joy and inner peace for some fantastical moment or idealistic situation in the future that will probably never happen.
Perhaps the biggest danger of dwelling in the past or future is that you never truly feel alive in the present moment (which is the only moment). You can’t feel grateful for what you already have. You can’t absorb the magic and beauty around you. Not only is that tragic, but it is a huge reason why so many of us lack inner peace.
Practice gratitude or finding joy in what you already have, right now. See our article on being grateful for more guidance. Learning some mindfulness practices, which is a path to present moment awareness, will also help tremendously.
Other Ways of Experiencing Inner Peace
Now that we’ve explored the main inner mindsets and habits that create suffering, here are some other simple inner peace practices you can explore:
- Spend time often in nature – this is a powerful way of connecting with your inner wellspring of peace and tranquility
- Make space for solitude – spending time alone helps you to re-orient to your heart and soul’s innate serenity
- Embrace essentialism and minimalism – simplify your life and commitments and prioritize your inner peace (the external world influences your internal world, and vice versa)
- Meditate each day – even if you’re not “a good meditator,” realize that there are so many forms of meditation out there to try, from mantras and visualization, to dancing and vipassana
Obviously there are many paths to inviting in more inner peace to your life, but these are the essentials. Feel free to share what has worked for you in the comments!
Remember that, at your core, you are the stillness and inner peace that you seek.
Liberation isn’t about searching and seeking: it’s about letting go. It’s about connecting with what’s already and always here beneath the turbulence of the mind. The more aware you can become of your mind’s contractions and conditioned patterns, the more liberated you will be to dwell in the Ocean of your being, rather than just getting caught up in the waves.
Has this article helped or inspired you? You’re welcome to share it with a loved one! I’d also appreciate hearing from you in the comments. What is your biggest block to inner peace?