Frankly, I suck at inner peace. I suspect I’m not alone; I think we all kind of suck at inner peace. Maybe there are some monks somewhere who’ve mastered it, but I think even they would confess merely to being seekers, not finders.
Philippians 4:7 is a lovely verse, but I have to admit my experience of life has left me plenty of room to grow in this “peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” Is inner peace interchangeable with this peace of God? I don’t know.
Truly, even when I have a couple of good days, depression afflicts and hounds and chases away inner peace, and I’m left grasping at a vapor trail and seeking anew. Substitute worry, fear, anxiety, anger, stress for depression, too. It’s often like that; I didn’t realize that I was feeling inner peace or contentment until the feeling began to dissipate. I suspect the presence of inner peace is more often measured by its absence, i.e., we notice its absence more than its presence. How sad that our stories are full of this “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”-ness.
What’s the opposite of inner peace? Turmoil, unrest, confusion, feeling troubled, harried, worried, out of balance. The opposite of inner peace is inner war, inner conflict, right? Our selves are at war; we’re internally divided against our own selves. What are some of the selves that are conflicted? The self in me that wants to be happy and carefree and lighthearted is at odds with the self in me that struggles with depression and anxiety and grief. The self in me that wants to reach for dreams is fighting with the self that just wants to get the bills paid on time. The self in me that wants a different job wrestles with the self in me that wants the security of the current job. The self in me that never wants to risk heartbreak battles against the self that wants to love and be loved.
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think about inner peace? And I mean first image, no cheating. For me, the first image is still water (probably influenced by Psalm 23). One of the things that strikes me when I reflect on that image, pun intended, is that water isn’t ever really still, is it? Every pond, no matter how remote, how deep, how wide, is subject to disturbance: by wind, by insect, by animal, by bird, by gravity, by people, by evaporation, by time.
Another thing that strikes me is that I never see myself in the image (in spite of Psalm 23); I’m just imagining some lovely wooded scene or a cave deep underground without picturing myself anywhere nearby. So, the very image that I associate with inner peace is in conflict, at odds with the idea that inner peace is still and imperturbable and “inner” at all. What can I learn from this image?
First, inner peace isn’t stagnant or stationary. By necessity, it must be flexible, movable, ripple-able. Inner peace isn’t a forcefield which disturbances bounce off of; it’s a pond that disturbances ripple through, then it returns to relative calmness.
Second, inner peace necessarily evaporates at times simply because we’re human and incapable of sustained inner peace. Experience of internal and external conflict is part of our human consciousness.
Third, inner peace is not an acquisition that can be held onto (or a unicorn to be ridden), but rather a consciousness that exists in many states. Water that has evaporated hasn’t really disappeared, after all.
Fourth, I need to start putting myself in the picture. Perhaps the image feels so fleeting and unattainable because I’m not tangibly putting myself anywhere near the still water. Perhaps I’m the basin for the pond, or a water-lily on its surface, or a deer satisfying its thirst. But wherever I am, I think I have to put myself in the picture, to see myself choosing to exist in relation to inner peace, not invisible to it.
I leave this post with what I shared last week when talking with my neighbor over the fence (a la Wilson in “Home Improvement”):
It can be hard to find peace, harder still to hold on to it, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find it again. And each time we do, perhaps finding peace the next time will come a little bit easier.