20 March 2011

Peace Be with You

I used to think that peace was something that other people felt, people who were more enlightened than I, people who understood more about life than I, people who were more able to control their own thoughts and actions better than I.  I used to be mistaken, I’ve found–peace is anything but unattainable for most of us, and it’s usually the result of making a series of decisions and having the gumption to stick with those decisions.

First of all, peace results from a decision to be at peace.  Stress overwhelms us when we let it do so–it never really is unavoidable or inevitable.  Yes, there are things beyond our control that stress us out, but don’t we choose to let them stress us out?  If my spouse is being overbearing and damaging our relationship, then I choose to let that behavior be stressful to me.  I do have other options–talking over the situation, seeking counseling, trying to understand the sources of the problem, even leaving the marriage.  And while not all options may look attractive or appropriate to me, they are there.  So I can choose to be at peace, knowing that the current situation isn’t the only one available to me.

I had a moment of epiphany once.  I was working at a job that I found incredibly stressful when one weekend I went to the mountains with some friends (this was in Germany, and the mountains happened to be the Alps).  I tried skiing and got hurt, so the next day I was just hanging around during an absolutely beautiful snowfall–huge flakes that came down softly and completely filled the sky with their wonder.  As I watched the graceful fall of the flakes, it suddenly hit me, almost out of nowhere, “Wow–I can leave my job any time I want.  I don’t need it to survive, or to be alive.”  And from that point on my job didn’t bother me any more.  Whenever something stressful happened, I’d ask myself, “Is this worth leaving over?”  And the answer was always no.  So I stayed on the job and enjoyed myself, knowing that if things ever got too bad, I would just find something else.  I was at peace, even at a formerly stressful job.

Peace to me also is a result of the decision to let go–to let go of expectations, fears, worries, desires to control others or outcomes, envy, jealousy–any of those things in our life that when we hold on to them, they make us kind of miserable.  It takes practice to let go of things, but when I do so, I feel a strong sense of peace inside.  And I love that feeling.

If I could give any gift in the world to anyone, I always would choose peace–peace of mind and peace of heart.  But I know that I can’t bring peace to you–it’s your own decision to be at peace, and I wish you the clarity of mind to be able to make the decisions that bring peace into your life and take it with you wherever you go, all the time.

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim
large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace,
and to reflect it towards others.  And the more peace there
is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.

Etty Hillesum

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