Shalom begins with me. This is a simple, yet powerful mantra to remind ourselves to maintain an inner calmness despite any chaos that surrounds us. It is a reminder to be our best selves. I say it to myself at the start of and throughout each day, and it serves as my cue to remember that although there is so much I can’t control, controlling my own behavior can have very powerful effects—including inspiring others to also have a more peaceful response themselves.
In Judaism, Menuchat Hanefesh (calmness of the soul) is an essential part of our moral code, and we can make it our priority to have equanimity in all situations. This, of course, is much easier said than done, which is why it’s essential to maintain a regular practice of cultivating a strong reserve of inner peace, just as we might have a consistent regimen of physical exercise. That way, when we’re faced with life’s challenges (and of course there will be many each and every day), we will be better prepared to maintain Menuchat Hanefesh.
There are five practices that consistently help me (and may work for you, too) cultivate peace:
Sleep. Getting enough sleep just makes everything better — especially controlling our reactions to everything that comes our way.
Breathe. So basic, yet so powerful. A few deep breaths can help calm us, get perspective, and stop us from saying or doing something we would regret.
Exercise. This is an easy one to skip, but when we exercise, the powerful benefits are tremendous. It is both energizing and calming, and when done consistently, helps us keep our cool.
Read. Read something inspiring every day. It will give you fresh inspiration and help you stay on the right track. One of my favorites is Life’s Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day Based on Jewish Wisdom (by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitsky), which includes an inspiring quote and a reflection for each day of the year. Each passage takes less than a minute to read, but its positive effects last throughout the day and spill into the next.
Pray. Start every morning with an intention for peace. Pray to be kind, to be a blessing, and to bring peace to your little corner of the world.
There’s nothing surprising or magic about that list (and of course there are many additional practices we can have to keep our inner calm in tip-top shape). We all know these things, but we have to actually do them regularly to reap their benefits.
The day will never come when life’s challenges stop and everything is perfect; and Jewish teachings are very clear that escape from the turmoil of life should never be our goal. As tempting as it sounds to live by oneself in a cave, we need to be immersed in real life, have real struggles and emotions, and be engaged in making the world a better place in whatever way we can. At the same time, we can consistently devote ourselves to strengthening our inner core so that it’s easier to stay focused and be the best version of ourselves, even (and especially) when we’re faced with challenges.
Something for you to try:
Say “shalom begins with me” to yourself (or out loud—that’s great, too!) several times a day. Notice how it helps you maintain an inner calm and be your best self.