I want it. My daughter wants it. My closest friends want it, and I’d bet my life on the fact that you do too. There are classes on how to achieve it, books written about the subject and philosophers have always mused about lifestyles that are most conducive to it. Yet with all of this longing, all of the resources on how to grasp it, it’s still very hard to come by. I’m talking about inner peace. The most fortunate of us have to contend with day to day stressors of making ends meet, getting the kids’ lives in order, finding and keeping a good job, and finagling the time and money to pay our ever-mounting bills. But in extreme cases, some of us have to contend with fear and literal threats to our physical, financial or emotional survival – sometimes all at once. Regardless of our experience, we all want the same thing: to find a state of serenity and wisdom, a sense of purpose and contentment that would rival the life of a Buddhist monk. The truth is we can find it, it’s just that sometimes you have to fight like a gladiator to get it.
I know what you’re thinking: Fight for a feeling of peace? Yep, that’s what I said.
A dear friend of mine is going through difficulties of epic proportions as I write this week’s post. I recognize the war she’s about to fight and I wish, with all of my heart, that I could save her from the battle. I’ve “been there,” unfortunately, and I know how grueling it will be. There was a long period of time, a long time ago, when I was convinced that I’d never find contentment again. After all, how could I ever hope to find inner peace when there was always someone actively trying to demolish it? How could I believe that I’d ever find happiness when drama and disaster seemed to go hand-in-hand with my life and in the lives of people I cared about? I worried. I mourned. And then I read a quote by Mhargs Abuda. “Sometimes,” she said, “you have to fall from the mountain to realize what you are climbing for. Obstacles were put in our way to see if what we want is worth fighting for.”
In extreme cases, finding inner peace often requires slogging through a swamp of discomfort, uncertainty and fear before making it across to the other side. It means shielding yourself and setting limits when people consistently hurt or take advantage of you, or leaving them behind on the battle field when those limits aren’t respected. It means strategizing and sacrificing. It means taking risks. It means rebuilding your foundations and your stronghold. It sometimes means running out of munitions and having nothing to rely on but your bare hands. It demands nothing short of absolute belief in yourself – either in your ability to succeed or to survive the onslaught of grenades being launched at you. And it insists that you respect yourself enough, that you love yourself enough, to work, search and struggle to gain the ground you desire and deserve.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that inner peace is our reward at the end of a great struggle. But I believe it can make its first appearance during the process, because achieving inner peace is a process. It shows up as a seed of hope, and continues to evolve as you become more aware of who you really are and what you really want out of life. It’s fed by making changes in the way you think, by letting go of negative situations and negative people, and by accepting that the very circumstances that happen to you are opportunities to learn and to rebuild, even when those circumstances are painful. As Cheryl Strayed once said, “Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”