That Elusive Peace of Mind

By Michael Kimmel

We’re all clear on what we’re supposed to do in order to be happy.  Get the right job. Check.  The right partner.  Check.  The right house.  Check.  The right life with all the proper accoutrements.  Check.  So how come so many of us get all this stuff (or come close enough) and still can’t relax and enjoy our life?

What many of us are missing is peace of mind.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) this is not something you can buy in the designer department at Neiman-Marcus or build from carefully chosen lumber from Home Depot.  Peace of mind means that your mind is your friend:  it doesn’t continually try and mess with you, bring you down and tell you that you’re a worthless piece of shit.  Peace of mind means we like ourselves and we like other people; we feel safe in the world and trust ourselves.  A peaceful mind is full of thoughts that create good emotions for us.

No one I’ve ever met lives in such a place all the time, but we can all live here more-and-more. This column explores some ways to do so.

Religion:  There are more LGBT-friendly religions around to choose from than ever-before.  Religion offers you a structure in which to pursue your inner peace.  It also offers a community of fellow seekers.  This is no small thing: to be part of a community seeking inner peace can be powerful.  For some of us, this kind of structure may be a good fit, for others, it’s too constricting.  If you’re looking for a community to support you and with whom you can share the highs and lows of a journey towards peace, a church, mosque, temple or religious community may be helpful.

Meditation:  Meditation has often been portrayed as some big mysterious thing.  The truth is, meditating is about being quiet and listening to yourself.  Period.  Your thoughts can drive you crazy – have you noticed?  Meditation is simple:  the hard part is just slowing down enough to do it.  There are lots of different ways to meditate - check it out.  The real benefit of meditation – whatever type you try – is that it helps you slow down and see what you’re thinking and what’s going on with you internally.  This greatly increases your access to feeling peaceful and contented more of the time.

Cognitive therapy and Affirmations:  In some ways, cognitive therapy and doing affirmations are similar:  both help you experience more peace of mind by replacing disturbing thoughts with neutral or positive ones.  A simple cognitive technique is “thought replacement”:  you notice your thoughts, stop thinking the destructive ones and replace them with neutral or positive ones.  Saying affirmations is similar:  you repeat positive thoughts so they gradually replace your old, habitual negative thoughts.  Here are some affirmations you can use in your search for more peace of mind.   

To calm yourself down:

May I be quiet.
May I be relaxed.
May I be still.
May I be calm.

When you’re going through a rough time:

May I be free of sorrow.
May I be free of pain.
May I be kind to myself.
May I be patient with myself

When you wake up in the morning, lay in bed and repeat these four thoughts every morning for a month (it only takes a minute or so):

May I be safe and protected from harm.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be happy and content.
May I live with ease.

Cognitive thought replacement and affirmations are most effective when you do them consistently over time.  You may not feel immediately peaceful today, but if you affirm “may I be peaceful” for a week or two, you’re likely to experience feeling more peaceful each time you say it.

What is a spiritual path and what does it have to offer?   Most of us start on a spiritual path because we want a way out of our misery…we’re tired of suffering.  We want happiness and peace of mind.  Most of my clients on a spiritual path have some sort of structure that supports their process of questioning and discovery: they may meditate, pray, go on silent retreats, etc.  One good place to start on your own path is a book like Jack Kornfield’s “A Path with Heart” or Pema Chodron’s “The Places That Scare You”.  Yoga, chi gong, gardening, hiking in nature and even good ole’ psychotherapy can be components of a spiritual path. 

Lots of us have no idea how to pursue peace of mind, but we have a helluva lot of questions about our life and purpose: this is a great place to start.  Without asking the right questions, we may foolishly believe that our happiness lies in external events or people that we cannot control.  To find peace of mind we need to do inner work: it’s a journey into yourself.  You have your whole life to enjoy this journey, so relax.  It’s like growing a flower:  you plant a seed, water it, care for it and allow it to unfold in its own time, or you can get out there with a knife and try to force the flower petals to open faster.  Peace of mind is the same way: we plant seeds of peace and contentment, water them with prayer, meditation and whatever nurtures us, and allow it to unfold.  And, when we do the work, it will…

Brief Bio

Born in Northern Ohio (the oldest of four children), I grew up in a small town of two thousand sassy farmers.  I was named after my great-grandfather Michael, who reportedly had the first Ford dealership in the State of Ohio (he ran it out of his hardware store).  In 1971, I escaped the farm and made it to the big city of Cincinnati, where I earned a B.A. in Personnel and Group Development from the University of Cincinnati.  In the 1970's, I worked in Louisville, Kentucky; New Haven, Connecticut and London (England) in personnel and human resources.  In 1980, I earned a Master's Degree in Developmental Psychology from Sarah Lawrence College while interning for "Sesame Street" in New York City (yes, I know Big BIrd).  

After moving to San Francisco in the 1980's, I was Clinical Director for the Homeless Children's Network and Clinical Consultant to Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (aka "COLLAGE") while earning my second Master's Degree from San Francisco State University  From 1996 to 1998, I worked as a Middle School Counselor in the San Francisco Public Schools.  I came to San Diego, California in 1998, where I maintain a private psychotherapy practice and offer workshops for the Southern Californian LGBT community. 

I am currently editing my first book: "Life Beyond Therapy" (LGBT non-fiction).  The book has been picked up by a major American publisher and is expected to hit the bookstores sometime next year.  I can be reached through my website (www.lifebeyondtherapy.com).

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