Inner Peace

Inner peace.

Where does one go to find it? I’m not someone with experience in the elusive object of our aspiration, but I’ve read quite a lot about it. After reading and thinking about how people embrace tranquility so fully it becomes part of them, I have some ideas.

First, a person must be open to serenity. Not necessarily engaged in an active search for it, mind you, but willing to allow it to slip into one’s consciousness. I suspect the energy spent in an active search for inner peace would generate so much mental “heat” that tranquility would burn to ashes during the hunt. So, one must be willing to gently embrace a state of mental calm if and when it comes.

Next, one must be willing to abandon thoughts and activities that intrude on quietude. I do not know what thoughts and activities interfere with calmness; perhaps all thoughts have the capacity to derail our efforts to achieve inner peace. Maybe that’s why meditation seems to be an almost requisite endeavor for people seeking serenity. Meditation can, I am told, empty one’s mind of thoughts, replacing them with images or sounds that act almost like anesthetics; but they don’t dull the senses.

Another aspect of finding serenity, I’ve read, is accepting oneself without judgement. The idea is that we are not who we were, but who we are at this moment, having shed all the blemishes of history. Depending on who is writing about this element of finding inner peace, it requires either forgiveness of oneself or abandonment of the person we once were in favor of the person we wish to be. For me, that seems to be the most overwhelming stumbling block. I find it virtually impossible to forgive who I was and who I am. I would have to abandon my old self; that would require amnesia, because otherwise the memories would haunt me. I remember, when I was in junior high school, bullying a younger kid. I don’t even recall his name; that failure of memory means I can’t even find him to apologize. That flaw is by no means my only one and not my worst one. But, collectively, they paint a picture of someone I’d rather not be. But, still, maybe abandonment really is an option. Maybe.

Finally (maybe), finding inner peace necessarily involves engaging with others in ways that don’t interfere with their path in the march toward finding it. I think that must require active efforts to avoid reacting to one’s environment and, instead, responding to it. The difference between reacting and responding is a bit hard to explain, but I think it’s essential. Reacting is automatic and unthinking; it allows one’s reptilian brain to control our actions. Responding is analytical and measured; it requires us to process inputs and allows us to behave in ways that enhance communication. This non-intrusive engagement requires both empathy and compassion, two internal traits that I think most (but not all) people have but that can be trained (or beat) out of them.

So, where does one go to find inner peace? It’s in one’s head. It’s there, but it must be taken out of it cage, groomed, fed appropriately, and allowed to grow. I make it sound easy; it’s not. The cage is surrounded by by a thick webs of steel chains padlocked to one another and to the cage. Depending on how much rust must be removed from the locks, they may be very difficult to unlock. The chains are heavy and cumbersome. The hinges of the door to the cage are old and corroded; the door must be forced. But, wait, didn’t I say “I suspect the energy spent in an active search for inner peace would generate so much mental “heat” that tranquility would burn to ashes during the hunt.”? Yes, indeed. I said that. And that means one must first attempt to unlock the cage, doing everything in one’s power to remove the chains and the locks. Only then, when the one’s energy is spent and the cage is open, can one be open to allowing serenity to slip in.

I am like the consultant who offers expert advice on matters with which he has no experience. The advice may be good, but the consultant cannot point to examples in his own experience to prove it. And so it is with me and inner peace. I wish us all luck in finding it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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