16 Leaders on Finding Inner Peace

Featuring: Maya Angelou, Deepak Chopra, Cameron Diaz, Melissa Etheridge, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Thich Nhat Hanh, Goldie Hawn, Arianna Huffington, Elizabeth Lesser, David Lynch, Dolly Parton, Tony Robbins, Kerry Washington, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey

Many of us are feeling stressed — with current events in the world and our own personal challenges and responsibilities, not to mention the overload of media and technology — it’s no wonder that we are feeling overwhelmed.

Finding the time to take care of ourselves can often feel like just another thing to do. Yet it is during busy times that it is most important to prioritize breaks for ourselves, to remember to “be” rather than to “do” all the time, to actually be present in our lives, to pay attention to and nurture our inner worlds with just as much attention as we do our outer worlds, and to carve out some quality, self-nourishing time for silence and stillness.

There are many benefits to doing this, not just for our mental and physical health and well-being but for our relationships with others and our effectiveness in all aspects of our work and lives.

But how do we begin? As a journalist and interviewer, I have had the opportunity to speak with a variety of leading thinkers about these issues. They shared with me their simple yet effective strategies on how we can avoid burnout, reduce stress and prioritize our health, happiness and well-being. I hope you find their words of wisdom helpful and inspiring.

Take Good Care of Yourself

This means making your own self-care a priority, including getting enough sleep, eating healthful foods, exercising and taking quiet time to relax and unwind.

“The better people are at taking care of themselves, the more effective they’ll be in taking care of others, including their families, co-workers, communities and their fellow citizens. When you’re on an airplane you’re told to ‘secure your own mask first before helping others,’ even your own child. After all, it’s not easy to help somebody else breathe easier if you’re fighting for air yourself.”

— Arianna Huffington

“I try to put myself first. If I don’t put my own physical and emotional health first, then I’m not really useful to any movement, to any work of art, to any creative endeavor. I have to be aware — not selfish and self-absorbed and self-obsessed — but I have to be self-aware of what my needs are and be willing to take care of my own needs.”

— Kerry Washington

At stressful times like these, it is all the more important to make sure you are addressing all dimensions of your health and wellness. Things like making sure to get a good night’s sleep, taking at least a few minutes every day to quiet the mind, exercising each day, and eating mindfully are all steps that I take to maintain balance.”

— Deepak Chopra

“I spend a lot of time, or as much as I can, in silence and at home…. I think all this zipping around the world is overrated. One of the things that I’ve learned is that I need to be more rooted, and so I’ve been working on that. I feel that has been so helpful to me — to cut out movement wherever possible instead of going here and there all the time. Talking a lot less. Being much slower and much more grounded with my animals, with my friends. Staying extremely simple. Dancing more, too. Just learning to really, really love the ordinary — that nice, well-made bowl of oatmeal in the morning and walking with my dog… just what is ordinary, what is simple and true.”
— Alice Walker

Redefine What “Success” Means

It’s time society made a shift from being overworked and money-driven to valuing well-being and making positive change in the world.

Photo by Marianne’s daughter, Lotus Kay, at Omega Institute.

“Over time our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power. In fact, at this point, success, money, and power have practically become synonymous in the minds of many. This idea of success can work — or at least appear to work — in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool — you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over.

More and more people — very successful people — are toppling over. To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”

— Arianna Huffington

“There is the obvious power that comes with money or success. But there’s also personal power that comes from someone working hard on his or her own internal process — the kind of power we talk about as ‘finding your voice.’ It requires you to turn within on a daily basis and not leave any leaf unturned as you discover what it really means to be alive.”

— Sally Field

“We must be willing to challenge the assumption that time spent in relaxation and meditation takes away from our realizing other goals, such as a successful career or successful relationships. As paradoxical as it may seem, when we take time for meditation we actually gain in the other areas of our lives. The truth is, there’s no limit to the positive changes we can make for ourselves and for our society through mindfulness meditation.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

“I really think that the true measure of success is in how you deal with it. I mean, there’s a saying and a song that says, “A man can make money, but money cannot make a man.” And there’s so much truth in that. You can make all the money in the world, but if you’re not happy, you’re not a success. And I really measure success in how you deal with the money you make, how you give back with the fame you have — that’s when you’re really successful is when you’ve made a difference and you’re happy.”

— Dolly Parton

Set Boundaries with Technology and Other Inputs

If we don’t set clear boundaries on our relationship with technology, media, and other inputs, we’ll never be able to achieve the balance and inner peace we so desperately need.

“Let me just tell you, I don’t know how you survive in today’s world with all of the noise and the literal craziness that we are surrounded and bombarded with from the time you wake up in the morning — it’s coming through on the radio, it’s on your smart phones — the moment you turn on any electronic anything, you are bombarded by negative noise. If you have not prepared yourself, you then become a receptacle for all of that energy. So I literally prepare myself to be shielded from all of the negativity and to live and breathe in the space that I call God, live and breathe in the center of myself, so all this other stuff is going around, but I am just in my peaceful space. I live in that space. If you don’t do that, then you will take on all the negative energy that is around you. And that’s why by the end of the day, you feel crazy too! When I don’t prepare myself and I just get up and I’m late and I run to the shower, I feel by midday stress and negativity and a depletion of energy.

So my spiritual practice is to prepare myself. Sometimes, if I have the time, it’s twenty minutes of silence, or sometimes it’s not. Now I have on my little timer: twelve. I think the universe would be okay with twelve [laughs]. I take time… just to be still and fully present to order intentionally what I want for the day.”

— Oprah Winfrey

“One of the things that makes it harder and harder to connect with our wisdom is our increasing dependence on technology. Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden. We can manage our collective addiction by unplugging and recharging in various ways: meditation, long walks, exercise, yoga, reconnecting with family friends. All this will increase some aspect of our well-being and sense of fulfillment.”

— Arianna Huffington

“The way technology is grabbing our attention, stealing away our attention — I believe it’s stealing a lot of other things. It’s stealing the real circular human connection. It’s stealing the intimacy of our family. Our mothers are on their phones too much; our children are vying for attention for that thing [their parents] have got in their hand. It’s a big deal. We want to move toward a balanced society, and it’s wonderful to move forward technologically, but we cannot forget that we are human beings who thrive on relationships, interconnectivity, and sharing our feelings and emotions.”

— Goldie Hawn

“People say they are so stressed today. What we call stress today is just an extension of being busy without meaning. When you do things that are not meaningful to you, your spirit feels empty. So the most important thing for people to realize is that you have to control the flow of information in your life today. If you’re constantly responding to every text, every email, every input, you’re living in reactions of the external world. What you have to do is plant your feet and say, “This is what’s most important to me.”

If you’re not rigorously clear about what’s most important to you, if you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’re going to have to fit in everybody else’s plan. So it is a conscious decision to ask yourself, “Is this what’s really most important for me?” And make decisions about what you’re not going to do, because otherwise all of the demands, expectations, hopes, fears of other human beings eat up your life.”

— Tony Robbins

Find a Daily Practice that Works for You

This could be gratitude journaling, mindful breathing, yoga, immersing yourself in art, exercise or various forms of meditation.

You know, a couple of times I’ve gotten off track and you know what I realized? I realized that my happiness is in direct proportion to my gratitude. And when I get off track it’s because I had stopped gratitude journaling. It is really the truth that the energy you give to being grateful instantly changes whatever situation you’re in if you can figure out something to be grateful for, in that moment. And I would say that gratitude is a spiritual practice of mine. I do it in the morning when I wake up, physically journaling, and about what I envision for the day. I live an intentional day, and at night I’m grateful for the intentions that I was able to fulfill. That’s my practice.”

— Oprah Winfrey

“I have worked to integrate certain practices into my day — meditation, walking, exercise — but the connection that conscious breathing gives me is something I can return to hundreds of times during the day in an instant. A conscious focus on breathing helps me introduce pauses into my daily life, brings me back into the moment and helps me transcend upsets and setbacks. It has also helped me become much more aware when I hold or constrict my breath, not just when dealing with a problem, but sometimes even when I’m doing something as mundane as putting a key in the door, texting, reading an email or going over my schedule. When I use my breath to relax the contracted core of my body, I can follow this thread back to my center. And, of course, getting enough sleep.”

— Arianna Huffington

“Sometimes I meditate by sitting, sometimes I meditate by walking. Sometimes mediating is being on top of a mountain. But drawing inward and becoming still is the important thing.”

— Jane Fonda

“I recommend learning how to come into the presence of stillness and vastness. Learn any form of meditation. Spend twenty minutes every day if possible in meditation, listening to the crazy monkey mind inside you and learning how to still the thoughts and discover that big, deep soulful part of yourself. If you do that, it actually becomes something that you can call up at will in a hard meeting, on a crowded subway, in a difficult conversation — you can return to that still, wise voice within.”

— Elizabeth Lesser

“Everyone knows there’s so much more input these days, so much more information coming to us. It’s no longer just from around the house or around the neighborhood, but it’s coming to us from all around the world. All this adds to the stress, the worry, the fear and it causes people to do strange things, sometimes violent things, sometimes hurtful things. Transcending [through Transcendental Meditation] gives a human being a chance to think before acting. And experiencing this beautiful treasury within gets rid of that torment and replaces it with happiness, inner peace, creativity intelligence, love, energy. This fuels a real good life and fuels an appreciation for all human beings. It’s so powerful and it’s a blessing for humanity.”

— David Lynch

- “Art reminds us that we are not just flesh and blood and that our hungers are not going to be set aside as just flesh and blood — that indeed we have souls. And if a person is religious, I think it’s good, it helps you a bit. But if you’re not, you can have the sense that there is a condition inside you which looks at the stars with amazement and awe. That listens to water with a river flowing or water falling in rain and is lifted up by that. Listens to a wonderful singer, wonderful musicians, maybe Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Odetta, or Mary J. Blige and thinks, “Yes, all right now, my soul has been washed. I feel better. I feel stronger.” Listen to some good poetry. You see? It keeps us from thinking we are only what our blatant appetites describe us as.”

— Maya Angelou

“It is very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus and find creative solutions to problems. We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Spend Time in Nature

When you are feeling disconnected or overwhelmed, going outside and being in nature can be very grounding.

“It’s been shown several times that contact with nature is actually important for psychological development. So children who are in a concrete jungle with little opportunity to learn about the natural world — or equally, children everywhere who are glued to their computer screens and computer games — this is becoming really frightening.

— Jane Goodall

“I’m very lucky that I live in nature. I feel really blessed that I get to be in the wildness of nature because it reminds me of the wild parts of my mind and heart. I am grateful that I learned to meditate and do other spiritual practices starting at the age of nineteen because I can at will calm the voices in my head. That comes from having a practice, and I highly recommend it…. Those are things I do: nature and practice.”

— Elizabeth Lesser

“Connecting with nature is really important. Unfortunately, we don’t get to do it very often in the nature that is truly nature. But go to the park; I love going to the park. Whenever I’m in a city, I always go to the municipal gardens and I’ll just take off my shoes and put my foot right on the ground. It does connect you in a totally different way.”

— Cameron Diaz

Turn Inward to Find Happiness, Strength, Clarity and Peace

We need to remember that all of these things — true happiness, strength, clarity and a sense of peace — come from within and not from external sources. We just need to slow down enough to make the time and space to turn our attention inward.

“Happiness, I think, has to come from feeling a sense of well-being within yourself. If you don’t, then you’re grasping outside for all things that you think are going to make you happy — whether it’s a job or money or status or recognition — all of these aspects of ego that are being fed. To me it’s that incredible sense of belonging and peace within your own self and heart that really is joy. You own it. It is all yours, nobody else’s.”

— Goldie Hawn

“To paraphrase Camus, even in the midst of winter, I find within me an invincible summer. That’s what I feel. I am a big believer that the unexamined life is not worth living. The first place to go is within and really examine what your own process is and all the pieces of you. Then you will find within you what you desperately want. You will find the strength that is just there. There is your invincible summer. It isn’t always outside you. It isn’t always somebody else that’s going to help you feel seen and teach you the strength of your voice. In most instances, it’s going to come from within.”

— Sally Field

“People need to know that they have all the tools within themselves. Self-awareness, which means awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships — not only with each other, but with life and the ecosystem. Self-reflection, asking questions like, ‘Who am I? What’s the meaning and purpose of my existence?’”

— Deepak Chopra

“You know what happens if you’re completely still? Your mind — that little tape that’s running ‘bup, bup, bup,’ all the noise — it eventually runs off the reel. And you have nothing left to think. All of a sudden, the answers are just there. I think we are way too busy, we are way too noisy… and we need some stillness in our lives.”

— Melissa Etheridge

“We do carry an inner light, an inner compass, and the reason we don’t know we carry it is because we’ve been distracted. We forget that we have our own light — it may be small, it may be flickering, but it’s actually there. So what we need to do is to be still enough to let that light shine and illuminate our inner landscape and our dreams — especially our dreams. And then our dreams will lead us to the right way.

— Alice Walker