The spiritual path to lasting well-being often requires small steps, which is a challenge for an all-or-nothing person like me. As much as I want to be healthy and serene, I’m tempted to engage in behaviors that keep me stuck.
Sometimes I just want the comfort of snacking on a big bag of Twix fun-size candy bars or digging into a pint of ice cream. If junk food isn’t available, I make do with junk food for my mind: scrolling on my phone or watching TV for hours, often reruns so familiar I can quote from them. These are my favorite—but far from my only—ways to halt a familiar cycle of overwhelming anxiety and dread, caused by my fear of coming up short or letting people down.
I have so often thought Everything will be okay when ____. When I make the next deadline. When money isn’t so tight. When work isn’t so crazy. When the laundry is caught up. I thought “okay” was an attainable life level that was located outside myself. But I rarely reach “okay.” And even if I do, the experience is short-lived.
Listening to a Different Inner Voice
Turns out my ego has a loud voice, and I let it drown out the divine, the spiritual, the part of me that is so much more than human. To find peace of mind, I realize I need to listen to my spiritual self. Really listen. And I need to act, which is daunting because it sounds like work. But I want to be well, and I know that inner work is necessary to make real, lasting progress with the outer work.
I also know from years of frustration that trying to overhaul my life with grand plans for improvement leads to feelings of failure. This time I started with small steps that felt manageable.
To find peace of mind, I realize I need to listen to my spiritual self. Really listen.
Gratitude, Mindfulness, and Silence
I begin with a prayer of gratitude upon waking. In the evening, I take stock of the day’s events, large and small, and say a prayer of “thank you” before falling asleep. Beginning and ending the day with gratitude prompts me to look for things to be grateful for. That means my mind has less time to wander into “Everything will be okay when …” territory.
I also want to stay present to my life and not drift into the easy comfort of distraction. I started by putting my phone down, for half an hour at first and then for longer. Once I realized I was okay without my phone, I discovered I had more time for other things. I turned off the TV, becoming more intentional about screen time. I planned for TV programming that I wanted to watch instead of just leaving it on. I finally got comfortable leaving my phone in another room.
I discovered I was avoiding being alone with my thoughts. Once I realized this, I mustered the courage to face them. I started talking to myself as if I were my own therapist. Why are you feeling this way? What is making you frustrated? Why did that conversation bother you? By pausing and recognizing feelings of fear and anxiety, I could examine them calmly and without judgment.
Now I am learning to meditate, to sit in silence and quiet my mind. Some days I just hear the refrigerator hum as I think about errands I need to run. But I have moments when I dismiss a thought and return to silence … and peace.
Some folks use the term monkey mind to describe distracting inner chatter. I have an entire zoo in my head. And I still hear it. But now I don’t feel defeated by it. If I’m patient and don’t fight the chatter, it grows quiet as I become more aware of the Divine.
I haven’t experienced a sweeping, miraculous change, but I am improving. My progress unfolds a little each day as I learn to listen to the right voice. My real voice.