“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
I have always liked this quote. While I have to admit that I would like, often, to be in a place or condition described by the first part of this quote, I have come to realize that life, true living, cannot exist without challenge and change. Our survival and well-being is a testament to our having met, and continuing to meet, many challenges. Most of us, most of the time, accept that life is a place of noise, trouble, and hard work. We take it in stride, knowing that we will get through it, because usually we do. And anyway, if we could be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work, we would probably have to isolate ourselves from everyone and everything, and the result would probably be a very quiet, lonely and unfulfilling existence.
But sometimes it is not so easy to make it through, or to make sense of our condition. Anger, sadness, discontent, despair, etc.: our emotions are an indicator of our ability to cope with life events, and an expression of our perceptions of these events. I say “events” because depending upon our perceptions, we may see them as challenges or difficulties or even as opportunities. Sometimes we are able to see events from multiple perspectives. For example, we might see the glass as half empty or half full. Sometimes we can see it in both ways at the same time.
Depending upon how we view the events life hands us, the easier it is, or harder it is, for us to navigate our way. If we have a way to make sense of our situations or circumstances, then we can feel we have control or direction, or, at the very least, a sense of purpose for living the experience. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to give a few words of encouragement, or to know that we are not alone in having an experience. Support from others can go a long way. Recently, someone reminded me to “take one day at a time.” A small encouragement, but a great way to help me shift my focus away from the Big Picture my mind created to the momentary and ever-changing day-to-day.
I think the second part of the quote speaks to this ability to adjust and cope when we feel we’ve been thrown into uncertain, unpredictable, and, undesired life events. It tells us to be calm in our heart. “How do we do that?” we wonder. “Isn’t that too much to ask?” we think. When I first thought about this quote, I imagined myself working at my job in the center of difficult middle- and high schoolers, a stressed-out principal, disenchanted staff, a demanding and unreasonable supervisor, in a program with an uncertain future (translation: uncertain future for my job). All of these conditions were actually a part of my life at the time. And I thought about being calm in my heart, and needing to be that way 100% of the time. A tall order. But having lived through these circumstances and having moved past them, I realize that it is not about being able to maintain calm 100% of the time. It is more about being able to recognize that there are challenges that put stresses on us and that we can choose how we want to deal with them.
Sometimes we give in to our emotional responses, and that’s okay. We are human, after all, and that’s a part of our make-up. But then we can pick ourselves up and face the challenges and stresses again, knowing that life is moment-to-moment and that what we are going through is temporary. We can know that the stresses are not Us; they are separate from Us, not a part of who we are. We can know that we might have the ability to effect change or that we may actually gain something from the experience. And we can know that if we detach ourselves, even just a little, from our circumstances, we might be able to see the situation better than if we were to hold on with every emotional fiber of our being.
It is in this ability to recognize our relationship to the situation and to detach from it that we can find calm, and therefore, peace. Will we do this successfully 100% of the time? No. We will need to remind ourselves over and over again. We will need to assess our situations and decide how to cope and adjust over and over again, because life is ever-changing and we learn as we experience. But we can remind ourselves of how we have coped and adjusted before. We can remind ourselves that We are not our challenges. And we can remember that life is temporal, that nothing, not even our challenges, will last forever. Staying in the present moment, we can learn to stay calm in our heart and, in this way, we can find peace, even if it is for but a moment.