Skip to content

How to keep going (when the world feels fucked)

Inner peace can help you find strength in hard times. Here's how you can build it over time.

Cory Zanoni
Cory Zanoni
6 min read
5 people push a carriage bogged in mud while 7 people sit atop said carriage.
Got Tired, Émile Bayard (1882).

Table of Contents

One day towards the end of last year, all the feel-good chemicals in my brain left like the tide.

I was standing in my backyard, in between the spinach plants and the magnolia trees, and couldn’t move. I stared at legs, thought “move” but nope. No dice.

So I swayed. I swayed until I stumbled. And went from there.

I was burned out. Totally and utterly. I spoke to a doctor and a psychologist; I took a bunch of time off. I embraced, for the first time in a decade, rest.

Part of that was learning sustainable ways to focus my energy on worthy causes. I want to enrich my life and my world without setting fire to my soul.

That’s a big ol’ project but these three things are part of it:

  1. Learning how to find inner peace from moment to moment
  2. Unravelling yourself from things that aren’t truly yours
  3. Understanding how you connect with the world and the people in it

Peace starts within

Any attempt to change the world – or your place in it – starts with you. You need to find a level of peace within yourself. Otherwise you’re trying to put flowers in a cracked vase.

In his book The sun my heart, the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers a simple meditation topic: “If you want peace, peace is with you immediately.”

Peace is within you, whenever you want it. You just need to reach for it in the here and now. “Peace can only exist in the present moment,” says Nhat Hanh. “If you are not living in peace in this moment, you will never be able to.”

I use two small meditations to help find peace in my mind. Do them both with a half-smile (it helps).

The first is from Nhat Hanh‘s classic book The miracle of mindfulness:

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful

After a few cycles, I move to this:


The second is even more simple:


In breath, calm. Out breath, ease. Do it for seven in-and-outs. It’s a cut-down version of the Calm - Ease meditation from Sister Peace on the Palm Village app.

You can do either meditation in under a minute. If I notice feelings of stress, discomfort or restlessness, I put on a little half-smile, focus on an in breath and think “calm”. Out breath, “ease”.

With some practice, peace follows.

Undo yourself to find focus

Angel Kyoto Williams was the second black woman to be recognised as a Zen teacher. She has argued that any attempts to change the world start with your willingness “to come undone”.

That means understanding how the world shapes us and shearing its influences away.

In her book Radical dharma, Williams argued that “we cannot have a healed society, we cannot have change, we cannot have justice, if we do not reclaim and repair the human spirit.”

Truly knowing yourself is the first step of changing the world.

She expanded on this on Krista Tippet’s On being podcast. “To do our work,” she says, “to come into deep knowing of who we are — that’s the stuff that bringing down systems of oppression is made of… For us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals.“

Williams compares it to the junk drawer in your house. If you don’t think about it, you just assume everything in it is yours.

But, if you open it up and start poking around, you see it’s filled with things that just arrived in the mail, trinkets people left at your house, curios your parents brought around that one time.

The forces that shape your life aren’t so different. Everything from the way you were raised to cultural stereotypes to systems of oppression – they’re not yours. But, if you don’t look at them, they feel like they are.

Realising that they’re not helps find the things you can change (both about yourself and the world).

Looking back through my life, I’ve had to jettison parts of myself to become who I am:

  • The anger I had about my parents’ divorce when I was 2 (and the way my life played out in the years that followed).
  • Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, based on my education and class growing up.
  • Body image issues.

I’m sure there are more. But acknowledging that these problems weren’t mine let me focus in on the things I needed to change about myself.

The way I treated myself. The fact that I needed more help with depression. The way I treated the people I dated. The way I treated friends.

From there, I could direct more energy towards the world.

Keeping hope (and energy) alive

Trying to improve yourself, your relationships and the world around you can feel insurmountable. How do you keep on going? Let’s go back to Thich Nhat Hanh.

In The sun my heart, he describes helping a group of asylum seekers stuck on a boat in the Gulf of Siam. The governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore wouldn’t let the ship land.

Nhat Hanh, working with several others, organised four ships to bring refugees supplies and get them to Australia and Guam. Unfortunately, the Singapore government shut them down. Singaporean police surrounded Nhat Hanh‘s house and ordered him to leave the country within a day.

Here’s how he described what he did next:

I decided that I must practice the meditation topic: “If you want peace, peace is within you immediately.” And in that state of mind, I was able to overcome this difficulty situation… I vowed that if I could not have peace in that moment, I would never be able to have peace. If I could not be peaceful in the midst of danger, then the kind of peace I might have in simpler times would not mean anything.

“This peace,” Nhat Hanh says, “makes us indestructible.”

Find strength in peace

This peace isn’t just for you, though. And you don’t find inner peace to become some blissed-out person floating through the world dressed in off-white linen, totally disinterested in the world.

As Nhat Hanh explains, “the peace we seek cannot be our personal possession”.

He continues:

We need to find an inner peace which makes it possible for us to become one with those who suffer, and to do something to help brothers and sisters, which is to say, ourselves.

In the process, finding a deep inner peace helps ground you. It becomes a source of strength to draw upon when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Here’s a small-scale example.

Recently, I stopped for a beat in a supermarket while getting a carton of soy milk off the shelf. I thought about how much of it my partner and I go through. Then I thought about how much cow milk one family would use. Then I thought about how much cow milk all of Australia would use and the sheer number of cows that would take to produce.

And, look, the conditions dairy cows live in isn’t great. So I felt for the cows. I spiraled a touch. Took a moment. Stared into space for a beat. And recommitted myself to cutting dairy out of my diet.

It was a lot to go through in the long-life milk aisle.

The point isn’t to just take on the suffering of the world. That would walk back all the quality undoing of yourself you did in step two.

The goal here is to acknowledge the deep interconnectedness of the world – rather than shy away from it – and find strength in the peace inside of you. In the process, you see what you can do in the moment.

Peace helps keep you going

Inner peace isn’t “a barricade which separates you from the world,” says Nhat Hahn. It brings you into the world and gives you the strength to make change.

It combines these 3 things:

  1. Peace from moment to moment
  2. A clear view of the things you want to change
  3. A sense of how the world interconnects

Together, they can help you find the strength to carry on in the most trying moments.

It doesn’t mean being perfect or even consistent in every moment of every day. It’s about finding a moment of calm, however brief, and trying to make a small difference in the life of someone else.

Along the way, you can make a difference in your life too. Even in the long-life milk aisle.


Cory Zanoni Twitter

Writer, teacher, tired.


Related Posts

Members Public

The 4 parts of clear thinking

Thinking clearly is difficult. But these four things help you get better at it.

A print of someone walking through a picturesque England garden on a clear day.