Maintaining Inner Peace to Provide Certainty During Uncertain Times

I noticed this piece, What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous, on the cause of anxiety in the Op/Ed of the NY Times this morning. In it, Daniel Gilbert shows that people are happier with certainty, and that uncertainty is the cause unhappiness. To make his point, Gilbert cites studies showing that faced with the certainty verses the uncertainty of an unfortunate circumstance, such as a chronic disease condition, those with certainty of the unfortunate event were less nervous than those for whom the predictability of the event is uncertain. In other words, it is the the ‘not knowing’ that causes mental unrest, not the actual event.

Gilbert relates this information to the uncertain economic times we live in. People have a lot of fear about their economic future, their job security and so forth, which is causing an upswing in the incidence of depression, anxiety and insomnia. According to Gilbert, it is the uncertainty about the future that is causing the mental angst, not the actual outcome. If people were certain about the outcome, even a negative one, such as job loss, they would have more mental stability. Certainty gives one a course to chart, rather than aimless drifting which is difficult for the mind to deal with.

This is where one’s spiritual convictions come to play. Knowing that one is in this (physical) world, but not of it (of the spiritual realm) helps one to avoid the pitfall of getting tossed around by the drama of the day. Knowing that we are mere players on this stage, but that our real place is in another dimension allows us to step out of the set, and gain perspective on the scene being played out.

I will cop to a panic weekend last November, when the markets had crashed and the economy had plummeted. I credit my meditation practice with getting me through the emotional crisis. In meditation one connects to our true nature (spirit, soul . . .) and gets out of the ego-driven mind. Our true nature is our connection to the divine (tao, universal consciousness . . .). Operating from this place we are able to navigate the trouble waters, whatever they may be. Maintaining this soul-connection we have the knowledge and strength to weather the storms of life. The real challenge is in maintaining this connection to our core being. If we are able to do that the rest falls away, allowing the underlying peace and stillness of our true nature to emerge.

For this reason, I advocate developing and maintaining a daily meditation practice to calm the mind, to foster this connection, and to stay plugged in.

One of the keys to getting through this recession intact is to take care of oneself. Due to the increased stress of economic uncertainty, now more than ever it is of vital importance to maintain one’s physical and mental health. In doing so, you send a firm message to yourself that you are taking care of yourself. Knowing that you are able to take care and provide for your needs, and are doing so, works to develop peace of mind and eliminate the uncertainty of the future. It is certain that you will take are of your needs because you are doing just that. Taking care of yourself means developing and maintaining a regular exercise program, eating regular nutritious, satisfying meals in a relaxed space, incorporating stress reduction activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking in nature . . . , and treating any health conditions as they arise. By taking care of yourself you reinforce that regardless of the external circumstances you are providing for your well being. In doing so you gain peace of mind in knowing that you are providing for your physical, mental and spiritual needs and maintaining inner harmony. KB

Daniel Gilbert is professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of “Stumbling on Happiness.” More of his writing and videos of his appearances can be found at his Web site.