The real reason why peace is elusive

Anytime something happens that traps me in a debilitating state, I eventually come to a realization that there’s something off about how I’m thinking about things. Even when I’m angry or depressed, that insight comes through. My job is to listen to it.

Last week began on a high and then dipped into despair but it fortunately ended even-keeled. I was lucky. I could’ve continued to rant and rave about my perceived injustice and recurring frustrations. I did it on and off for a few days.

Anyone can relate to a number of moments in time when you’re so pissed you can’t think straight anymore. As Laurence Peter wrote, “Speak when you are angry — and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

But the reason I snapped out of it is a simple one. I simply had enough. However, the reason I stayed in anger is also a simple one but it is also a bit sad: I didn’t want to let go of my anger.

I just concluded doing that Marcel Proust thing where you sit in a room by yourself and not do anything. Every time I do it, I think to myself, “Why the hell am I not doing this every day, all the time??” It feels amazing, your mind is clear, you gain some great insights and you’re at peace. Isn’t this what you want?

No, it isn’t.

If you or I really wanted peace, it’s not like we don’t know how to get it. But the truth is, we think we need to hold on to stress and strain and anxiety and concern and tension and worry and pressure and pain. We don’t want these things. But at some level, we think that these things are how one arrives at peace.

“Yeah, I’ll bust my ass doing several years of schooling so I can be a whatever and then make tons of money and then life will be sweeeeet.”

Except it’s not. You might become a whatever but you’re still busting your ass anyway.

“Once I get the girl/guy of my dreams, then life will be awesome. I just gotta talk to a bunch of people and eventually I’ll find ’em. It’s a numbers game, after all”

But it isn’t and it’s not.

“When my religious deity arrives/returns, then I shall know peace.”

I can’t verify the deity claim but you make it sound like you can’t experience peace at all unless they show up.

Maintaining this religious note, didn’t Jesus say not to worry about what you eat or drink because even the flowers get blessed from God? In Sikhism, it is said that since God is worrying about you, one need not worry. How much more powerful and knowing is God than you?

But in our various efforts to attain peace, we often lose it. We get stressed out, not because our plans fail, but because we think that if our plans fail then our shot at peace of mind is compromised.

We have this idea in our head that peace can only come through war, that to struggle and fight and plot and scheme is The Way. But what if all this struggling, fighting, plotting and scheming only causes more struggling, fighting, plotting and scheming?

What if we’ve got it all wrong?

I got over my anger last week because I simply had enough of it. At first, I wanted to keep my righteous indignation, but when it just lingers and you start to stink of it, you go and take a shower. You address the cause. My cause was trauma revolving around judgment I experienced when I was a child.

I did the self-work. I got through it. I felt peace. However, I could see that there was a part of me that was jumping up and down like a little devil. It wanted to continue to hate, but it was fading. It was then that I realized that while peace does feel amazing, I didn’t choose it from the start.

And yet, even in anger all I kept saying was that I wanted the happiness I had at the beginning of the week to come back. Clearly, I had other ideas.

I also realised that this is probably something that pervades many areas of our lives. Professionally, you want to be on Easy Street but you work on Difficult Avenue. In your relationships with others, you do a bunch of things you don’t want to do just so that one day you can stop doing those things. Well, why not stop doing those things now? Why not just go to Easy Street? The reason you won’t do these things is because you think that to get what you want, it has to be hard. You have to suffer. Or, you think it’s the “right” thing to do and it just so happens that the right thing is sometimes the hardest.

When we consider The Hero’s Journey, there are a number of challenging times such as refusing the call to action, the first failure, meeting enemies, the death of the old self and stepping up to the final challenge. One would think that these events are challenging simply because the hero doesn’t yet know what he needs to know in order to return to his world with the new information and talent as a changed being.

It’s the same with us. We grow, change, adapt, adopt, discard, rinse and repeat. This is what life is about. But why can’t we approach these events in peace if peace is what we want? Sometimes we will be required to be serious. Sometimes it is natural to worry because we are uncertain and we care about the outcome. However, it seems to me that we have a notion that we must be serious and worry to get what we want in life.

All I can say is, it’s never worked for me and if I were to guess, it probably never worked for you either.

We don’t want peace. We want to stress until our hair falls out because the gods will look down on us and say, “Yes, very good. You have suffered much, now here’s your reward.” Whenever we’ve had a rough go at it, we often say, “Boy, I hope I get something good now. I deserve it.” You say you deserve it simply because you’ve been suffering a lot! And yet, you might suffer some more.

The solution to this is that we have to start choosing healthier outlooks and actions. The high stress stuff is played out. You don’t even want to do it in the first place! So instead, do yourself a favour, honour what you’re feeling (because if you don’t, no one else will) and take the steps that will actually lead you down Easy Street.

Photo by Phi Phi on Unsplash

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