Learning to Be in Peace
“No one saves us but ourselves … we ourselves must walk the path.”
“We can never make peace in the outer world, until we make peace with ourselves.”
Phillip Gulley, Quaker pastor and Indiana author, asked recently in a Facebook post, “What one thing is essential for human happiness?” Struggling with unhappiness recently, I pondered his question as I sat on a park bench on a beautiful spring day, feeling intensely sad.
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without,” said the Buddha. I’ve also heard it said, “My happiness is an inside job.” In Buddhism, we’re taught to be in the moment. Whether that moment is sad or happy, it is transient and will pass, like the clouds overhead.
As I look up at the cloud wisps, I think about Buddhism and about the problem I am currently facing in my life. I feel like a failure because I’m not at peace, and my unhappiness is lasting much more than a moment. It’s been lingering for days like a bad rainstorm that just won’t let up. And that, of course, is because I’m focusing on what someone else did that I found hurtful. When my heart is wounded, my spirit doesn’t know what happiness even looks like anymore.
I return to pondering Phillip Gulley’s question. I take a few deep breaths while glancing up at the sky. Then I close my eyes and feel a gentle breeze against my arms.
When I open my eyes, I see a young couple not too far off frolicking together in the way that only 20-something couples in springtime tend to do. She is wearing a flowing lime green skirt with a white summer top and has the thin build and graceful mannerisms of a dancer. He is more reserved and walks at a steady pace, until she suddenly turns and sweeps her arms around him. Young love. It’s a courtship dance that is both timeless and universal.
Earlier today, I did something I truly enjoy. In addition to spending time at the park in the sun, I wrote. For me, writing is spirit repair work.
Now, I try a Buddhist thing: I notice what I am doing in this moment. Sitting on a wooden bench, observing spring blossoms—along with the occasional honeybee or wasp—I feel the breeze and watch the young couple drift off. Assessing my current emotions, I realize that I feel neither happy nor sad. I feel something else: content. That state of mind may not sound as glamorous and exciting as “joy” or “bliss.” But don’t underestimate content. Content to just be here, right now, despite outside circumstances: It feels good.
Before leaving the park, I decide to walk—slowly and mindfully—to a nearby fountain. While at the fountain, I say a silent prayer, releasing my problems to a higher source and asking Spirit to guide me.
To answer Phillip Gulley’s question, maybe the essential cause of happiness is not seeking happiness and not running from sadness. But rather, just emptying out enough to be present to what is.
How do we do that?
For me, taking some time for self-care, quietly breathing, and doing something that nourishes the soul allows space for inner calm to surface. Gratitude also helps. Whatever negative thing may be gnawing at your serenity, find one thing in your life for which you can say “thank you.” My gratitude today is for my circle of friends. When times get tough and the night seems long, they are like Carrie Newcomer’s Three Women song, “Here’s to the women who bind the wounds tight … And here’s to the strength in women, holding hands.”
Peace in your heart this day,
Diana J. Ensign