A state of peace is among the most sought-after human experiences. You, like the rest of us, want it, yet you may struggle to achieve it.
One reason, according to spiritual teacher and self-help author Eckhart Tolle, is you may mistake peace for unconsciousness. However, in his guide to spiritual enlightenment, “The Power of Now,” Tolle describes peace in the reverse: a state of heightened awareness of your thoughts and feelings.
Although many of us interchange the term “feelings” with “emotions” in everyday language — and the two are certainly connected — it’s important to understand how they differ. Neuroscience explains that emotions are the complex reactions the body has to a certain stimulus. For example, if you’re afraid of something, your heart may begin to race; your muscles may contract; your skin may turn pale.
This emotional reaction happens in your physical body automatically and unconsciously. Feelings, on the other hand, occur only after your brain becomes aware of the physical changes. At that moment, you consciously experience the feeling of fear.
If you perceive the feeling of fear as bad, your knee-jerk reaction may be to detach and try and not think about it. However, if you can train yourself to stop and understand what’s evoking the feeling, you might find that the stimulus isn’t so threatening, dangerous, or scary after all.
With that in mind, here are some strategies to help you consciously rediscover your feelings and, through that process, start to create a sense of peace.
Give Yourself Permission
Let’s say your friend invites you out for dessert and coffee. It sounds lovely, so you go. You’re having a great time, sampling desserts, and sipping a latte while catching up with your friend. Then, almost as if your mind has been hijacked, the voice in your head says: “That’s enough fun today. You should get going. You have errands and work to catch up on today. Also, you shouldn’t be eating this dessert.” In that moment, you suppress your positive feelings and replace them with negative ones.
This reaction could be deep-linked to childhood modeling or attached to a more recent script you’ve adopted in adulthood. It’s up to you to spend time trying to understand the reasons why you seized your positive feelings.
Working with a licensed therapist can help with this, so that you can learn to give yourself permission to accept yourself and feel exactly as you do without guilt or shame or an urge to invalidate your original feelings.
So many of us spend many of our waking hours plugged in, switching from device to device — phone, computer, smartwatch, repeat. Being constantly connected to devices can cause you to lose touch with your feelings because a) you’re distracted and b) you aren’t giving yourself the time or space in the present moment to actually feel them.
To stay in the present, I’m a fan of using the Focus mode on my smartphone, which allows me to customize alerts or turn them off altogether. Most days, I completely pause all notifications and don’t look at screens between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
I prioritize going to bed by 9:30 p.m. so that I can be up by 5:30 a.m. During the early morning hours, before alerts, calendar reminders, Zoom calls, and the rest of the day’s activities begin, I spend at least a few minutes connecting with how I feel.
Do a Body Scan
Scanning your body can help you dive deeper into what you’re feeling. To do this, simply sit or lay on the ground and bring attention to what’s going on inside, noticing different sensations, as you mentally scan from head to toe. Don’t try to change anything; simply observe.
The purpose of this practice is to help sync your mind and body. If, for example, you notice the sensation of a lump in your throat, this may be a clue to help you understand how you’re feeling.
Pause Your Thoughts Momentarily
Because feelings are conscious, it may sound counterintuitive to not think about them as a way to discover them. However, just as discovery can come when you unplug from technology, there’s also a power and healing in silencing the mind for a little while.
An overloaded or fatigued mind can cloud the way you perceive your feelings. At one moment, you may think you feel one way about something only to find that, after you’ve stepped away from it, you actually feel another way. Note that reevaluating your feelings isn’t the same as invalidating them. Re-examining is the act of simply taking another look to determine if what you originally felt still stands.
Free-writing is essentially journaling uninhibitedly. You simply write whatever comes to mind without editing yourself. When you go back and read it, you may start to pinpoint patterns or other information that can help reveal how you feel.
A therapist encouraged me to do this a few years back. I recall initially rejecting the tactic and saying to her, “But I’m a professional writer and editing myself is part of writing. I can’t write in any other way.” She, being the good therapist that she is, challenged me to forget the day job for a few minutes and try it.
I’ll never forget one particularly rough day when I finally sat down to my notebook, let my feelings reveal themselves all over the page, and didn’t edit myself. It was messy and freeing at the same time. I’ve been doing this practice ever since. It has helped me discover patterns about how and why I feel certain ways and provided me with greater self-understanding, which has led to more inner peace overall.
It can be hard to put your feelings into words, but the act of trying to explain them to someone can help you explore them.
It’s important to be thoughtful about whom you communicate with. Do you trust this person? Do they understand the context of what you’re expressing?
Before speaking, ask the person if they’re in the right mental space to listen. If they are, let them know you need to communicate how you are feeling in a judgment-free place and that you will ask for advice if you want to hear their perspective.
If communicating out loud doesn’t feel doable, you could also use non-verbal communication to express yourself, such as creating a piece of visual art.
Whether you try out one or a combination of these methods, take note of how each activity impacts the discovery of your feelings. In this heightened state of awareness, you might just arrive at a place of self-acceptance and create the inner peace you desire.