It’s difficult not to feel disheartened when looking at the world around us. Temperatures and sea levels are rising, the global population continues to increase as resources dwindle, and political differences threaten to tear apart the very fabric of our society. While these are certainly serious issues that must be addressed, it is unhealthy to allow problems far beyond the realm of your control to affect your sense of inner peace.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to quiet negative thoughts and cultivate inner peace. Some people choose to meditate, while others invest time in hobbies or comforting relationships. Naturally, finding inner peace is a highly personal journey. However, I’d like to share a personal method that I have found particularly uplifting: stargazing.
To be clear, I’m not referring to watching celebrities. While some people might find comfort in chasing down famous people, it’s probably not the best way to find inner peace. Instead, I am referring to the act of looking up at the night sky.
The great thing about stargazing is that it almost has to be done at the end of the day, when people are usually at their most vulnerable. When you’re tired, you’re less able to deal with stress or resist negative thinking. So, why not use the natural cycle of night and day to cultivate inner peace?
Another reason to appreciate stargazing is that anyone can do it. You don’t need to be an astronomer to observe and appreciate the night sky. You don’t need to know which cluster of stars make up the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt. Much like other forms of stress reduction, you simply need to passively observe and quietly contemplate. There are not any obligations when it comes to stargazing.
So, how does stargazing cultivate inner peace? This is a particularly hard question to answer, but I will use my own experiences with stargazing to try to explain its effect. Keep in mind that this is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it any less valid:
When I was around 15 or 16, I started to feel uneasy about life. The stress of school, social obligations, and finding a sense of purpose all gave me unbearable anxiety. It wasn’t the kind of anxiety that could be solved with medication (at least it didn’t feel that way). In fact, it was more of an existential crisis.
I started to question the purpose of everything. I actively wondered how I fit into the world, and how much of an impact (if any) my actions would have on the future.
These are certainly not unique thoughts. Just about everybody experiences at least one, and sometimes many, existential crises in their lives. In any case, I had no interest in therapy or anti-anxiety medication. Actually, I had no interest in finding a solution at all.
It seemed to me that there was no solution, and thus, the only “solution” was to accept it and try to move on. This is around the time that I accidentally stumbled on an activity that would completely change my perspective and help me cultivate the inner peace that I desperately needed.
Years prior, I had begged my parents to let me get a dog. When they finally gave in to my pleas, I adopted a Miniature Schnauzer puppy and named her Heidi. Though she is gone now, she was my best friend and companion for well over a decade.
It was my responsibility to take Heidi for a walk every evening before I went to bed. Some days I enjoyed our walks, and other days it felt like an obligation. Now, I wish I could get those walks back, as they represented some of the best times that I spent with her.
In any case, on one particular evening, Heidi was taking a very long time to do her business. It was autumn, so there was a slight chill in the air. I hadn’t worn a jacket and I felt somewhat annoyed as she continued to sniff around, searching for the perfect spot to mark her territory.
That’s when it happened. In a moment of boredom, I craned my head upwards and gazed at the clearest night sky that I had ever seen. It may sound like a very common thing to do, but it was highly unusual for me. I often find myself stooped over, staring at the ground, uninterested in anything above eye level.
But that night I looked up, and it gave me a sensation that I will never forget. The anxieties of my life suddenly felt unimportant, even nonexistent. I saw how far the dark night stretched above me, dotted with millions of distant points of light. It humbled and comforted me. My problems, that just moments before had consumed me, suddenly melted away.
Some people find the vastness of the universe overwhelming, even frightening. So, for those people, stargazing may not be a good way to find inner peace. However, contemplating the universe as you observe its beauty is an inherently peaceful activity. There’s no sound or chaos or problems. It is only you and the night sky.
From that moment on, I appreciated my nightly walks with Heidi even more. They gave me time to escape the troubles of my life and recalibrate my priorities. The stars have an interesting way of putting your problems in perspective. After all, in such a large and wondrous universe, why should we allow ourself to stress over the small part we all play?