How do you find personal peace? By looking for it? Or by creating it? In your mind, in your home, in your thoughts? Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary asks four women to piece together the jigsaw puzzle to inner peace.
"When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others."
– Peace Pilgrim,American peace activist
Peace is not a quality to read about in books, nor is it a vacation bonus confined to tranquil getaway havens adorned with windchimes and wisps of wafting incense subtly altering your mood. Peace has to do with nourishing and caring for your soul, which in our present-day world is turning out to be quite a challenge. What's made this challenge more thorny is that we have developed an obsession for external living – our appearance, image, profile and even the shape ... not just of our bodies but also of our cars, homes, driveways, gadgets ...
We spend agonising minutes deciding on how the world perceives us because we have chosen the trendiest hair colour, the snappiest handbag, the sleekest gizmo ... surely, we must be worth a second look for the umpteenth time. So distracted are we thinking about our external image, we forget that it is merely window dressing. The true you is within, probably living in cramped conditions, like a timorous comma cowering, crushed under the weight of a thousand exclamations of 'Wow, what a life!'
Is it really so? The wow factor in your life?
Because peace does not know how to say wow. Distraction does.
Peace resides in the warm, tranquil centre within you that is filled with silence. To listen to that silence and to be able to enter that zone, you need to step within and take a journey inwards.
Many of us look for peace in places where it is least likely to be found. Because we really do not know its address or even how to reach there. But the quest is pushing us forward and it can be an exhausting search.
But what if someone told you that you don't have to walk a thousand miles and turn left and then take a right to see a spot marked 'peace'. All you have to do is go home and take a good second look at it and its rooms. Somewhere in your home is an area where peace resides, as do you. Only, you did not realise it was waiting, silently, to be chanced upon by you.
For me, my Aunt Nina's home was a haven. The moment I stepped past the heavy teak door, I instantly felt calmer. Her home was an effusion of warm, earthy colours. Bright hand-embroidered cushions tumbled off the sofas to rest at the feet of cool, green plants. Vases of fresh flowers sprung up like mini gardens. They gave her home a sense of being one with oneself.
Soft music played unobtrusively, and her reading room, with its burnished parquet flooring and aroma candles was like an alcove where I could curl up and drift away into far-off lands and mingle with people between the pages of a book. The rocking chair helped. Its constant gentle back and forth rhythm was like a soothing hand being placed on my forehead to quell the tumult of thoughts. Soon, as the chair enfolded me in its gentle motion, my mind quieted, body relaxed and the book fell softly to the floor as I felt my eyelids coming down languorously.
It was only much later, all awake and fresh that I experienced a sense of being refreshed as though someone had just changed the soiled sheets of thought in my mind and replaced them with soft, white, freshly-laundered and delicately scented ones.
It was quite a magical feeling.
You may not have an Aunt Nina, or a cosy library like she has but you could create your own corner of calmness at home, a sanctuary you can retreat to after a hard day's work.
After you've slipped on and off the various masks you need throughout the day to greet, meet and lead people, after you've left behind the madding crowds and the even more maddening road rangers, step into your home and imagine it's a cocoon into which you will crawl and snuggle up to peace, calm and floaty mind workouts that clean up your mental sky of all harsh streaks of colour leaving it pure, soft blue and relaxing. This is the time to memorise the address of peace and know how to reach it. This is the place to say hello to the real you.
There are many things that can help you start the cocooning process. To begin with:
- Identify a room or place where you might want to create a 'sanctuary'.
- Ensure it has a lot of natural sunlight and sufficient ventilation for a good flow of energy.
- Remove or turn off any noise-creating gizmos such as clocks, mobile phones and television. It's amazing how much mechanical buzz these gizmos create and how they can interfere with magnetic fields and disrupt the peace.
- Create a mood in the room with the use of soft colours in things, accessories, perhaps even the colour of the walls. Calming colours and soft textures help.
- Try to declutter the space. Less is always more when you want to concentrate on your inner self. Remove heavy furniture, piles of books, newspapers, junk, etc, from the room. Let it have space, light and calm, all very important handmaidens to help you unwind.
After you've got rid of the clutter, add a few essentials to enhance the sense of tranquillity.
- Candles: Switch off the electric lights and use candlelight instead. Soft dancing flame from a candle has amazingly soothing properties. The mind instantly enters another zone. (Have you ever wondered why bright lights or harsh interplay of neon can make you edgy? Because there is something about low light that produces a sensation of peace.)
- Burn aromatherapy oils: The relaxing fragrances of aromatic oils calm tired nerves and frazzled minds. Lavender, geranium or eucalyptus, choose an aroma for your mood and need. When the aroma is released by the burners, it suffuses the room as well as your senses.
- Play soft, new age music: The power of music to heal, calm and soothe has been scientifically established. Play music that incorporates nature sounds such as water, laughing streams and humming windchimes. These melodious effects work wonders to relieve your stress.
- Unwind with a short session of meditation and deep breathing. This helps you to stretch your muscles and release the tension in your shoulders, head and back.
Of course, your space needn't be a room. You could unwind outdoors as well, provided the weather is good. A swim in the pool or a walk through a park can be extremely relaxing too.
The language of relaxation and de-stressing is universal. We are all patronised by stress in this day and age and we are now devising our own ways to make stress feel unwelcome. Friday asked four women from diverse professions and nationalities how they unwind best.
Fleeting moments of 'mom time'
Ugo Ajuluchuwuu, from Nigeria, is a full-time mother of three children – Franklin, 12, Nwaife, 9 and Joshua 3. She thinks being a stay-at-home mother can be more stressful than holding a nine-to-five job.
"That's because as a mother you can never have a day off," she says. "On holidays and weekends, there is always more to be done at home."
But she immensely enjoys being a mother and managing her home.
"My husband has his own business and usually keeps late hours. He is there for us on Fridays, but on other days, I have a full-time job as a mom and a housekeeper."
As her home is her workplace, Ugo cannot think of creating a sanctuary at home.
"I have to make time to unwind. I get up very early in the morning – at 4 am to find time for myself. That is when I meditate. It relaxes me immensely. On Fridays, going to church and listening to gospel music helps my fatigue to drain away.
"In the evening when I am too tired, I ask my eldest son, Franklin, to take charge of his siblings and go and play in a park nearby. The kids love it and their playtime away from the house is the time I use to unwind and enjoy a few quiet moments to myself," says Ugo.
She loves socialising and doing charity work and is also part of a women's support group. By listening to the issues of other women and consoling them, she feels more able to deal with her own concerns.
"There are troubles that others [in the group] face which are familiar and this helps me understand myself better. It helps me to cool down faster too," she says.
Surprisingly, the thing that really calms her is television.
"People might find it difficult to believe, but sometimes noise on the outside helps to silence the noise within. I switch on the television and watch some inane programme without really paying it any attention. Soon enough, I doze off to the steady drone in the background.
"Frankly, the pleasure of bringing up children is a great de-stresser, especially when they come home and hug or kiss me. But it's opening those little windows of relief – meditation or when I am by myself early in the morning – that help greatly in keeping my sanity intact."
Working out her woes
Karina Lance is a young, sporty French woman who leads a busy life as the assistant director of sales at the new hotel Raffles at Wafi, Dubai.
But no candles or soul music for Karina. She unwinds and rids herself of tension by playing sport, going for a long walk or by dancing to Hip Hop.
"I am a very outgoing, social person and I hate spending time alone at home," she says. "Occasionally on weekends, I swim in the pool or spend some time reading, but by and large I prefer to remain active – to feel alive and positive.
"I believe that a sound mind can rest only in a sound body and for that I love playing sports such as tennis, basketball, etc. I am not a tai chi or yoga person by temperament although I have spent a long time in Beijing, China, where I learned to speak Mandarin. But for me, it has to be sport."
Her energetic trait is an inheritance – from her French father, who loved hunting in the countryside.
"I spent my childhood in a big home in the countryside in Lyon. My father was a hunter and would often ask me to accompany him on these trips. I learned to listen to sounds and smell the air in the forest while tracking animals and I think that is a great way to unwind. When I really want to de-stress, I just go for a long walk. It could be along a green stretch or into the desert."
Having a Moroccan mother, she loves to incorporate Moroccan or Oriental design elements and features in her home. "I love open courtyards, plants, water features and low seating. I always look for a place that has lots of streaming daylight. I try to allow as much natural sunlight [as possible] into the house as it lifts my spirits. I do go to spas but I only opt for head massages.
"I like going on walks so I can hear the chirping of the birds and enjoy natural habitat such as gardens or the desert."
Relaxation through parenting
Samar Ajami Ballout, a Lebanese healer and holistic therapist, de-stresses by picking up the threads of bonding with her three children – Ayah, 12, Bilal, 22, and Hammoudi, 18, back home after a long day's work.
As her profession demands her to be with people through the day and even though she spends time in surroundings that are soothing with music and aromatherapy, when home, she prefers to unwind differently. Being a mom, interacting with her children at home is a great destresser, she says.
"I feel no one can heal anybody, everyone has to heal one's own self," she says. "I talk to people to help them lead a healthy lifestyle and help people know themselves. But there isn't any one formula for life. What I do is to point towards a signpost and people use that as a way of finding their direction in life." It is futile, she feels, to seek peace in external things.
"The sanctuary is within each of us. It is a space within us that makes us feel stable and centred. What external aids do is help you tune into that frequency of peace within you. So soothing music, soft voices, soft moods ... all help in taking us closer to peace. Meditation helps. If you are too involved with yourself, then it becomes difficult to unwind. So it helps to silence your mind and get to a peaceful place within yourself. I think you have to tell yourself, 'I owe it to myself to know that I am not perfect and I am allowed to do mistakes.'
"Our thoughts are mostly negative and one must work on this negativity and eliminate it. One has to take responsibility for one's self and say, 'I can do it; I can create my special space. If I set my mind to it, I can do it.'
"What supports you in doing this is your diet: eat only as much as your body needs. And exercise – but if you can't exercise, then at least go for a walk.
"You ought to ask of yourself: 'What is my family life like? What are my strengths? My weaknesses? What area of my life do I seek to change?'
"Incorporate a bit of philosophical thinking into your daily thoughts.
"From a very young age I felt that there was something more to life than meets the eye and I was always questioning life and wondering what it was really all about," she says.
In her quest to nourish the soul, Ballout learnt a series of mind and body control techniques – such as healing and transformational breath – which have had a profound effect on her.
"I discovered that it was really the breathing technique that helped with the process of healing and if you continue to practise deep breathing, it returns you to you," she explains.
When at home, she has her family life wherein she plays the roles with relish – being a mom, a provider, etc.
"After my children have gone to bed, I engross myself in books. I read a lot and feel that in every word of wisdom I come across, I find something beautiful to ponder on," says Ballout. "I believe that the special space within you is what is the most important self- discovery. Once you have found that – you could be anywhere – you will always be at peace with yourself."