A few months ago I came to the realization that everything was perfect just as it was. It was one of those mornings in late spring, when the trees and surrounding environment had fully acclimated to the change in season and were now exhibiting their best and brightest colors. I was taking one of my half-hour walks, admiring the few cotton ball-like clouds hanging in the sky and the Robins pecking for worms on the freshly mowed suburban lawns. The street now quiet after the rumble of cars drove off with bleary-eyed owners at the wheel, I was left in a kind of peaceful sanctity preserved for what seemed to be only me and the friendly orange bobtail cat from the neighborhood. He was walking in the same direction several feet ahead and, like me, he didn’t appear to be in any hurry. He seemed to be enjoying the view from down there and those things he could smell and touch with his nose, whiskers, and paws. All that was missing was a Cheshire cat–like grin from the corners of his playful and curious face. Watching his morning promenade from a respectful distance, it seemed to me that this tabby was having a perfectly ordinary day that appeared perfect. It was right at that moment that I realized I was too.
How did I get here? I wondered. It certainly wasn’t something that had happened overnight. Through a series of daily habits incorporated over days that led to weeks that led to months and so on, I realized that I had fashioned myself a life that had once only been fantasized about while taking time-crunched walks during my lunch hour. During those minutes of fresh air, feeling like a prisoner sprung from her cell with a quickly eaten sandwich digesting in my stomach, the life that I fantasized about was not one where I had escaped all of life’s worries, household chores, bills, and unexpected difficulties. Nor was this a life spent on some tropical island or a never-ending tour around the world. This life I imagined was simply one with more ease and simplicity; one that allowed more time for stillness and reflection. More freedom. This life I imagined would still have tough days (and perhaps even tough years) but with the attention given to these practices over a period of time could learn how to peacefully surrender to the ebbs with a sense of expansion versus contraction. Accepting versus resisting. Allowing versus fighting.
When I arrived home I knew there would be dishes waiting for me in the sink. I also knew that I needed to call the doctor for a follow-up on a questionable scan, wade through the pile of mail waiting for me on the kitchen table, and give the bathrooms a good once-over cleaning. The accompanying feelings of stress and agitation, however, that once felt implanted in my body and made themselves known at the slightest incoming aversion—even as mere thoughts during a peaceful stroll—now seemed to have skipped town with no forwarding address. Where had they gone? And why didn’t I notice them leave? These questions seemed to have no answers, but my curious mind went about asking them anyway. Instead of offering a response, a new word in my vocabulary suddenly sprung forth into my awareness: equanimity. Defined by Merriam-Webster as an evenness of mind especially under stress, equanimity is said to be a pathway to greater peace. Despite the challenges I faced both big and small, peace was open to me if I was willing to accept the value I perceived in wellness versus the value I perceived in upset. Author Alan Cohen states that once we can do this, inner peace shall be ours.
My new emphasis on valuing wellness had taken center stage in recent years. Thanks to my daily intentional practice, I no longer valued being right at any cost, succumbing to the commonly held beliefs about our need for resistance or allowing myself to feel upset simply because a situation might warrant that type of response. Everything was perfect just as it was because I did not see any wisdom in changing it. What I valued most now (tranquility, peace, and evenness of mind) meant that I had to let go of deciding to engage with those feelings tempting to my ego but damning to my soul. Sometimes they may sneak attack me—and I was fully aware of that too—but the best defense I had was choosing each day to protect and preserve these gains in peaceful living as well as anyone could.
Just like a newly acquired skill or benefits obtained from regular exercise, I knew that I needed to maintain my sense of inner peace with a continuation of the intentional activities that got me here. I also knew that while these things like meditation, healthy and mindful eating, walks in nature, and allowing moments of stillness throughout the day were important additions to this newfound sense of peace, there was also the matter of continuing to curb or disallow those things that only diminished these hard-earned gains. Therefore, I continued my complete lack of engagement on social media. I limited my time watching television or mindless videos that sent you tumbling down black holes on the internet and carefully tried to manage the amount of time spent under the spell of advertisements. Additionally, I kept drama to a minimum by keeping limits on those who tended to bring it to the fore. This was not a time to (forgive the phrasing) rest in peace. But I also knew that I needed to handle this differently. Unlike the job of training to run a 5k under a certain time or do the perfect two-minute plank, this was not the situation that called for drill sergeant demeanor. After all, we cannot scare peace into place. Those tactics will only result in a complete lack of what it is that we are trying to protect and preserve.
Being gentle with ourselves, I’ve learned, is the path which gives peace a fighting chance to stay. While we know that what’s uncovered can easily be recovered, we don’t maintain our peace by doggedly chasing this feeling or chastising ourselves when we fall. Instead, we wisely intuit that there will be moments when our sense of inner peace seems to float away, but only when we go easy on ourselves and allow things to unfold without becoming entangled in the mire can we more quickly return to this new baseline.
Peace brings wisdom, and wisdom brings peace. The beautiful unfolding from one to the other offers us a chance to find, revere and protect that which is most important: a feeling of well-being in a world that often feels unwell.