Main artwork pictured: "Serenity Prayer" Rustic Premium Canvas
Over the past decades, society put so much importance on being busy. We drowned ourselves in constant work, ever-escalating social engagements, and technologies that pulled our attention towards multiple places at once. Even our personal interests had to be on-the-go and convenient -- and they usually had price tags.
But as 2020 begins, many of us realize that calmness is vital. We need personal peace not only so we can avoid stress and health problems, but also so we can keep that space within us where we connect with our faith. A quiet, unhurried, and contented state is essential in listening to God and to our own spirit.
For this brand new year (and decade), try these hobbies and activities that help nurture your inner calm. And don't worry, you don't even need to spend any money on these. Inner peace is free!
1. Walking, hiking, or running
Moving yourself outdoors is a great way to stay physically in shape and refresh your mind and spirit. It's an activity that involves no mental strain, and yet it exercises your ability to be present and focused on just one thing. This is even better when done in a natural environment, among quiet trees, wildlife, and fresh air.
But if you aren't close to the woods or have little time, you can just practice neighborhood walking. It may not be as idyllic, but Minister Simon Carey Holt writes, "As a spiritual act, neighborhood walking is many things: it’s a routine act of intention; it’s a choice to be present; it’s an acknowledgement of community and place; and it’s a daily stride of contemplation."
2. Visiting a quiet church
"I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching," the great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. There is definitely a deep sense of sacredness in a place of worship that is hushed, with its lights low and its pews bereft of bustle. People who come to church during its quiet hours do so not out of obligation, but out of their own genuine desire to pray and find refuge. And refuge is exactly what you'll find in this beautiful pocket of stillness.
3. Mindful breathing ("breath prayer")
This is not just an activity but a valuable habit to develop. Breathing exercises are common methods to calm your inner chaos, and Christian therapist Katie Jo Ramsey recommends an enhancement: turn your breathing into a "breath prayer."
First, notice for a few seconds the rise and fall of your breath, gradually slowing it to an unhurried pace. Then, start pairing the flow of your breath with a prayer in your mind. It can be something you've memorized, or something as simple as "Lord, have mercy." Ramsey says this type of breathing may be the best way to pray.
4. Listening to peaceful sounds
Try this simple suggestion next time your mind races or your temper rises: pause what you're doing, lay down on a bed or sofa, and put on a soothing piece of audio. It can be a song, a recorded speech, an instrumental, or even some ambient sound like rainfall or a gentle stream. Try to focus your attention on the sound; close your eyes if that helps. Spend a few minutes like this until your heartbeat slows to normal and you feel 'reset.'
Writing in a personal journal is therapeutic, even cathartic. This is a place where you can let your thoughts and sentiments flow out freely -- no writing rules to keep in mind nor deadlines to catch. You can also use various expressions other than regular written sentences. You can doodle in your journal, put down lists, or even glue on mementos (such as tickets, stubs, and photos). The key is to release the things that weigh on your soul, so be authentic in whatever you want to write.
Tidying up our home or office has threefold benefits. First, it is an activity that makes us focus in the moment, brushing away extraneous thoughts and anxieties. Second, the result of this activity is a more peaceful environment, with more space to breathe (even just visual space) and less of the clutter that triggers stress in our brain. And third, it helps us get a better perspective of what we own and how much: our worldly essentials, our material excesses, and our consumerist tendencies.
Try decluttering as a regular activity -- once a week or so will do. Categorize your things as something you should or should not keep. Those you don't keep, you can donate. Those you keep, you can organize into neat arrangements or stow away in hidden storage.
Wall art pictured above: "We Will Serve The Lord" Premium Canvas
You don't have to be particularly skilled to dabble in arts. You don't even have to do it for recognition or for money. At its purest, art is simply a form of expression -- you can do it just for yourself, with no one seeing or judging or expecting. This way, you are really free to translate your thoughts or emotions without being self-conscious. Some artforms you can try: sketching, painting, calligraphy, photography, pottery, and even coloring (there are many adult coloring books available in which you can go all out with your crayons without feeling too silly).
Wall art pictured above: "Watercolor Cross Sunset" Premium Canvas
8. Playing an instrument
In the same vein as creating art for yourself, you can also make music just for yourself, for your own peace of mind. Take that old guitar or open up that dusty keyboard, and start tinkering with it for a few minutes. You might end up composing something, or you might not -- it doesn't matter. What matters is that you create a space in your psyche where music blows away the unnecessary burdens of your soul.
Growing plants may not sound feasible if you think you don't have a green thumb. But if you're open to a holistically nourishing hobby, gardening is actually something you can get into with some introductory steps. You can consult a few books or online guides for beginners (there are lots of them accessible for free).
Once you make progress in growing a plant or two, you'll find that this hobby is wonderful in so many ways. It makes you slow down and relaxes your mind. It puts you in the company of greenery, which is healthy for your mind, body, and soul. It produces a rewarding feeling. And it's a lovely way to be one with nature, just as the Creator intended for us to be. Bonus benefit if you're planting herbs and vegetables: you get the freshest produce right from your yard!
10. Good conversations
Have you noticed that our spirits feel unburdened after a nice conversation with someone we trust? Maybe it's a longtime friend, a parent, a spouse, or a good counselor. The conversation doesn't even have to be about substantial things or an in-depth discussion of one topic. It can simply be a flowing exchange between two kindred souls.
So in these days of texting and instant messaging, make it a point to sit down with a loved one every now and then, with phones tucked away in your pockets. Spend the afternoon talking face-to-face and enjoying each other's company.
One of the best ways to let go of our vain concerns and put things in perspective is by engaging in something that doesn't revolve around us. Reach out to others and participate in a cause that's bigger than yourself. You can find volunteering opportunities with your local church groups, non-profits, schools, and civic organizations.
12. Reading a good book
Reading is basic, but sadly, many people have forgotten the pleasures and benefits of actually sitting down and reading a book. The attention span of the modern person has shortened because information can now be consumed instantly via quick videos, infographics, and short digests. Try slowing this trend for yourself by practicing focused, deliberate reading for a certain amount of time each day. Peruse an actual, physical book, with no clickable links or sidebar ads to distract you. Of course, our number one recommended title is THE Good Book itself, the Bible.
We really hope these tips help you stay calmer in your everyday life. If you have your own ideas on how to maintain inner peace, do share with us in the comments. Here's to a wonderfully serene 2020!