How many people do you know right now who are bastions of peace and calm?
Probably not many.
It’s very likely that most of the folks you know are dealing with all kinds of difficulties.
Unless of course most of your peers are Buddhist monks who could remain serene and smile in the middle of a hurricane. But that’s probably not the case.
Cultivating that kind of inner peace can take a lifetime, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Rather than focusing on withstanding being assailed by awful things around you, we’re going to focus on how to protect your overall sense of peace and well-being from interlopers.
These might be people in your life who either don’t realize that they’re clouding your good juju, or social expectations that just don’t apply to you and never will.
So how do you go about counteracting these intrusions, or stepping free from constraints that are smothering you?
How To Protect Your Peace From Other People
The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is famous for having said “L’enfer, c’est les autres“, which translates to “hell is other people.” While the people in our lives are often responsible for some of our greatest moments of joy and fulfilment, they can also be the cause of some of our biggest stresses and miseries.
Below are some tips on how to reduce their impact on your peace, and how to counteract their (possibly unintentional) intrusions.
Physical intrusions from loved ones.
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in close quarters with family members can feel overwhelmed by constant interruptions and intrusions. This is particularly true when there are small children or other dependents involved.
Trying to nurture your peace when you’re being interrupted or howled for every few minutes can madden someone to the point of hysteria. Even physical eruptions if pushed too hard for too long.
Anger is often the result of frustrated creativity and will seek a way out one way or another. While we can tamp down anger and frustration for a time, everyone has their threshold and will be pushed to the breaking point eventually. In fact, those who have the longest fuses and who keep their anger under tight rein the most can be the ones who explode most intensely when that last straw hits the camel.
So how does one go about protecting their peace from those they love in a healthy manner? How do they honour others’ needs while also fiercely defending their own?
It’s contextual of course (as is everything), but one key element is to recognize that everyone enjoys being occupied by something they love. Usually, this can be achieved by simultaneously vigorously stating your needs and demands for the day/month/week/life as well as lovingly providing opportunities for the other(s) to engage with something they enjoy or want to do without being too much of a drain on your energy levels or your wallet.
Think of this like distracting and occupying a toddler who’s dead-set on grabbing at your phone. If you just take the phone away from it, the kid will shriek for hours. But if you offer it something that it likes even more, it’ll drop the phone and occupy itself with the shiny other option. This way, both of you win without any snot bubbles to contend with on either side.
If you have the means and opportunity, then distance and locked doors are your best friends. Turn a spare room – even a big walk-in closet – into your fortress of solitude. When that door is shut, or when a “do not disturb” sign is on the handle, then God help anyone who tries to get your attention. You can make an exception for interruption if the house is on fire or if someone’s legitimately dying, but that’s it. That is your space, and it cannot, will not, be intruded upon.
Alternatively, if you don’t have enough space in your home to be able to have a room of your own to retreat to, then try to find a peaceful spot elsewhere that you can go to.
Do you find that yoga replenishes you? Then find a yoga class that you can attend at least a couple of times a week. This will rekindle your inner peace while also getting you away from whiny voices and grabby little hands.
Some houses of worship are very quiet and are ideal for getting some time away from those who are infringing on you. There may be meditation rooms available, but even if you’re sitting in the main area, you should be left alone in peace for a while. Some of these places may have music playing gently in the background, while others may be quite silent.
Online or verbal intrusions.
A person doesn’t have to be in the same space as you to interrupt or muck with your peace. How many of us get smacked in the face by texts and other messages from friends and family members who are eager to share the latest tragedy that’s going on?
Misery loves company, and miserable people tend to enjoy sharing horrific details with anyone and everyone around them.
The way to prevent your bubble of light from being darkened by these people is to set clear boundaries with them. Make it very clear that there’s a moratorium on certain topics, and that you don’t want to hear about them for X amount of time, nor see any images about them.
If people ignore or try to overstep these boundaries, make it clear to them that they’re doing so, and let them know that you will not be reading or responding to their texts for a period of time. Let’s say three days. If they do it again, you’ll extend that to five days.
Make sure to stay consistent with this, as they’ll likely try to push past your boundaries to get what they want. They’ll need to learn that there are consequences to their actions and they won’t be able to guilt trip or manipulate their way around them.
Do you know what the best part is about protecting your peace from text messages and such? You can just put your phone down. Or better yet, turn it off whenever you don’t actively need it.
After checking your social media accounts, do you feel content and inspired? Or depressed, angry, and anxious? Then chances are you’re being inundated with all manner of information and imagery that you neither need – nor want – in your life.
Put some time and effort into curating your social media feeds so you only see things that inspire and nurture your spirit.
That doesn’t mean you have to unfollow or block friends and family members: there’s a “mute” or “hide” button for that.
And it’s absolutely okay to not immerse yourself in the finer details of everyone else’s life. A lot of folks are quite enthusiastic about sharing a great deal of information about their personal lives, whether others want to hear it or not. It’s great that people feel more comfortable sharing their difficulties publicly instead of hiding it out of shame, but there’s a lot to be said for keeping some information to yourself instead of splaying it out in a public forum.
Follow accounts that are full of positive things. These might be instructions on pursuits that you enjoy, images that inspire you to meet your own goals, ideas for projects, or images from around the world that sincerely make you happy. Art projects, sacred imagery, nature photography, recipes, you name it.
Be discerning in everything you consume, be it food, drink, or images and words that flood into your eyeballs. You are what you “eat,” so decide what it is you want to fill yourself with on a cellular level.
How To Protect Your Peace From “The World”
Other than the people you directly interact with, your peace constantly comes under attack from the world around you. It’s impossible not to see or hear things that might shake your otherwise content mood at any given moment.
But there are things you can do to reduce the potential damage these outside influences can have.
The effects of the news cycle.
If you think about the way news travels nowadays, the average person now sees and hears about more news in a day than their ancestor 100 years ago would have heard in a year or two. Now when you consider that over 80% of the news we get is bad, it’s small wonder that so many people live in a constant state of anxiety, rage, depression, etc.
While it’s important to stay moderately abreast of major goings-on in the world, there’s nothing wrong with taking a big step backwards in order to protect your own peace.
Some may try to guilt trip you about closing your eyes to other people’s suffering, but there’s such a thing as compassion or empathy fatigue. When someone is inundated with awful things on the daily, they often numb out in order to keep going. They might disassociate, or simply shut down emotionally so they don’t feel anything at all.
This numbness can leak into their personal lives, leaving them distant from their partners and children.
Much like being discerning about the social media feeds you subscribe to, be just as picky with the news you’re exposed to.
Determine which news sources you actually trust, versus those you feel sensationalize misery and try to rile people up. Then only check local things that are going on that might immediately affect you, or avoid the news entirely except for an occasional check in now and then.
Instead, focus more of your attention on your immediate surroundings. What in your home needs taking care of? Do your neighbors need help? How can you be of service in your community?
Actually getting out there and doing some good in your ‘hood will go a lot further than the “slacktivism” that many participate in. Putting a decorative banner around your social media profile pic to announce that you Know About a Thing isn’t really doing much other than virtue signaling, is it? Meanwhile, getting outside and working in a community garden or cooking for elderly or disabled neighbors means that your taking real action.
Stepping away from the doom and gloom news cycle will establish a strong foundation for your peace, while taking positive action in a direction will help it to flourish. Few things can calm and nurture a person’s overall well-being like doing something they know will do some good in the world.
Influence of societal norms and expectations.
A lot of people get torn up inside worrying about various social customs and such. For example, right now we’re seeing a ton of young people turning themselves into knots trying to determine what their pronouns are so they can categorize themselves properly.
Some people – regardless of age – will try to be diligently aware of current clothing trends so they can adhere to them and not be considered weird or abnormal because of the way they look.
Others might not be living lives true to their own nature or having relationships they truly want because they’re afraid of what other people might think or say about them. Depending on where they live, they might even face a real danger of incarceration or losing custody of their kids if they follow their hearts rather than society’s expectations of them.
If you’re dealing with a situation like this, then ask yourself what’s most important to you: being authentic during the one precious life you have to live, or conforming to what other people want of you.
Both options will mess with your peace in some ways, but the latter can be much more damaging than the former. Sure, living an unconventional life or having relationships other people don’t understand might cause you to get some flack from those around you. But having to live a lie, pretending to be something or someone you’re not for another 50, 60 years? That would be far worse.
The mental health effects of consumer society and advertising.
How happy do you think you’d be if you never saw another advert? Furthermore, how content and satisfied would you be with everything you have if media didn’t constantly wave things at you, insisting that you need said things in order to be fulfilled in life?
Would you be happy with your body if adverts weren’t always telling you what you should look like, and trying to sell you equipment and pharmaceuticals to change your appearance? How much time do you think you’d spend worrying about the look of your skin, the color of your hair, or the whiteness of your teeth if ads that preyed on your self-esteem didn’t blare at you about your shortcomings?
Dr. Bruno Frey from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, did a study that suggested that watching TV made individuals significantly less happy.
First and foremost, most TV programs (and it’s called “programming” for a reason) focus on very materialistic value. Furthermore, unless you’re using a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, etc., you’re likely to be inundated with a dozen or more adverts over the course of an hour-long show.
The shows themselves AND the interspersed adverts all place emphasis on all the things you aren’t, or don’t have. This can contribute to a feeling of lowered worth and depression which causes most people to want to counteract those feelings. They do so either by buying items that will help them achieve the mostly unrealistic goals portrayed on the shows, or that will give them a temporary dopamine high.
The three most important human needs are autonomy, interaction with others, and competence as individuals. As you may have noticed, watching TV for several hours a day doesn’t do any of that. Furthermore, it keeps you from interacting from other people and will likely make you feel more competitive with them and judgmental towards them rather than wanting to spend quality time with them.
Turn off the TV, put down the magazines, and pick up some books. Or, even better, spend some time with wonderful people whom you love dearly.
Play games together, plan some cooperative projects you can do as a team, and discuss topics that truly matter to you. If you play musical instruments, then have some jam sessions together, or some harmonic singing.
Hell, you can just sit quietly and do a puzzle together if that’s your thing.
If you’re more of an introvert, then try to get engaged in things that challenge you and expand your skill set. Put on an audiobook by an amazing author – I highly recommend Terry Pratchett – and make something. Paint if you like color, do some wood carving or whittling if you like practical things, or if you’re like my partner, take up knitting or embroidery. Whatever inspires you and makes you feel accomplished.
Then check in with yourself after doing that for several hours and ask yourself whether you had any inclination to buy a thing or compare yourself to someone else during that time.
Reduce as much exposure to advertising and consumer culture as you can. You don’t need 90% of the stuff you have around you, and you certainly don’t need to buy the Shiny New Thing just to have worth in this world. You’re a sacred being; a speck of the Universe experiencing itself. No new smartphone or pair of shoes can compare to that.
Stop violence towards your own peace by (almost) any means necessary.
One major tenet of Buddhism is to be able to find peace within oneself regardless of external circumstances. Whether you’re deafened by a crowd of people or enduring a hailstorm beating down on your body, you can find that inner sanctum sanctorum to retreat to.
As mentioned earlier, this is all well and good, but it’s also important to remove yourself from that hailstorm so you don’t lose an eye or get your skull cracked open.
There’s a lot to be said for internal strength and peace regardless of circumstance, but the active principle is just as important. For instance, if there’s a stone in your shoe that’s hurting or annoying you, then by all means – remove it.
The key here is to take the time to look at that pebble and determine the lesson in why it appeared in your shoe to begin with. You may discover that the stone that was annoying you is actually a raw diamond, or has a message etched on it that you needed to see.
Ultimately, the goal here is to stop violence.
Violence means “to violate,” and that includes disrespecting and ignoring other people’s boundaries. There is nothing wrong with forcefully defending your boundaries to protect your peace, as well as the peace of your loved ones if need be.
To be truly peaceful, one must have the strength and the resolve, and the capability to either fiercely defend personal boundaries, or to restore harmony within a situation.
If you’re worried about potential unpleasantness if you confront people about disrespecting your boundaries, there’s no need to fear. You can comfort yourself with the knowledge that when push comes to shove, most people are cowards. They might be loud and belligerent in an online forum, but when actually confronted with their behaviors, they’ll back down and play victim, but will also respect your space in the end.
Sometimes, the simple awareness that you will, in fact, stand up and defend your peace will be enough to put your opponent in their place (and likely keep them there).
Few things in this life are as important as your own peace and well-being. They’re the foundations of your existence and you’re of absolutely no good to others if you don’t care for yourself first. Consider your peace, your boundaries, to be top priority in your world, and guard them as diligently as you would your own beloved newborn child. Do that, and all else should fall into place much more smoothly.
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