Thinking about Peacefulness

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about what it means to be “peaceful”, goaded by restlessness and a sense that surely there must be ways to peace that I am overlooking, in spite of gargantuan efforts including meditation, quiet, exercise, spiritual reading, yada yada yada.

I’m discovering that peaceful does not mean happy, content, or similar emotional states, which is what I suppose I expected it to mean. A Google search turned up these definitions, among others:

• Not excited or emotionally agitated
• free from disturbance; tranquil

Peaceful, it seems, is actually an emotion-neutral state. Unconsciously, I had equated it with what I consider “positive” emotions, but that is not the case. Peaceful is neutral, observant, and tolerant, because it is untouchable by outside events. Peaceful takes a longer, broader view.

This is why wise teachers tell us that we can be peaceful no matter what is happening, a concept that takes some getting used to, for sure. Peaceful lies beyond: beyond the comings and goings of day to day experiences, both the happy kind and the upsetting, challenging kind. Here’s the catch: that peaceful place can be accessed only by willingly accepting whatever is going on in the moment, by agreeing to experience what is happening now. Fear tempts us to try to avoid discomfort, but avoidance only intensifies whatever we are feeling! A nasty, vicious circle.

I’ve been playing around with these ideas for several months with, predictably, varying success. In the process, however, I’ve had another epiphany: peaceful isn’t simply an “either/or” thing. It can be “both/and”, if I allow it to be. As an example, loneliness is an ongoing challenge for me. There are, however, two distinct ways I can experience that loneliness. I can be agitated, fearful, and grasping at potential solutions — and still lonely — or I can accept the state of loneliness peacefully. I will still be lonely, but minus those agitated, fearful, grasping emotions. It’s an odd sensation at first, but a very real one, a calm that actually diminishes intense loneliness simply by accepting it. The corollary is that a peaceful mind is also far more capable of coping, because if I’m not grasping at solutions for dear life, my hands (and heart) are free to be open to possibilities.

It’s a messy process. Peacefulness is our very core, but we have a hard time staying there because we are human, and perfection is not the human way… That said, it’s good to know that peacefulness is always there, quietly, patiently waiting for us to surrender to it. It is ironic that we fight something so inherently benevolent and good. Occasional glimpses, however, begin to loosen fear’s grip on us, and allow us to go to that singular place more frequently and freely.

I’m reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis: “No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home…”

Thus I choose peacefulness. Clumsily, but with renewed intention and self-compassion, thankful for all the experiences that lead me to hunger for the spiritual core that connects all things and all people in the Great Mystery.

The lovingkindness meditation gives words and wings to this intention:

May we be filled with lovingkindness.
May we be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May we be well in body and mind.
May we be at ease and be happy.

And may we, mercifully, simply lighten up, stop beating ourselves up, and take in the sunshine, knowing that “all will be well, all manner of things will be well.” (Julian of Norwich.) Truly that is the indestructible place of peace.

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