The Quest of Peace
The quest for peace and contentment is at the very core and purpose of human existence. We yearn to experience a level of inner emotional, mental, and spiritual balance that will literally result in us achieving peace and contentment – not just the idea or illusion of such. Joy is an emotion of the spirit; peace and contentment are the result of joy.
We feel it deep within our soul. Peace and contentment are only attainable through healthy, authentic living. It comes as a result of living with a sense of trust in life that all things will ultimately work together for one’s good – the ability to say yes to life no matter what. Peace and contentment are not casual or shallow feelings.
As with all emotions, peace can only be experienced in the present moment. One cannot experience peace or contentment in the past, or the future for that matter. When peace is felt, contentment is realized in the now.
When I question a client as to the reason they have sought therapy the answer is almost always some variation of “I just want to be happy.” What is happiness? Happiness is a word that is used frequently to explain so many different situations and as a result gets diluted in depth and power.
When clients say they just want to be happy I believe what they are actually seeking is peace and contentment with self, relationships, and life. Why do peace and contentment seem so elusive? It appears that many seem to be ever seeking it but it always seems to remain just beyond their grasp.
Most people equate fun, money, possessions, and a life free of pain with happiness. While these things can result in moments of happiness, they are not the lasting source of peace or contentment we so desperately crave. When clients tell me they just want to be happy, I always ask them to define what this actually means to them.
Usually clients paint a general picture of happiness as a life free of pain or stress combined with a heavy dose of pleasurable experiences. Peace and contentment have very little in common with fun, pleasure, or living free of pain. Fun and pleasure are fleeting; peace and contentment are enduring. Yet, we cling to the illusion that the key to happiness is a fun and pain free life. Fun is the least permanent thing there is in life because pleasure is momentary. We can participate in a fun activity and not feel happy at all. The fun passes. Fun is shallow.
Peace in the Present Moment
Peace and contentment are real. They exist! Where and how do we find and retain peace and contentment? They are only to be found in the here and now. They are not to be found in endless worry or stress because worry is the storm that disrupts the calm waters of peace. Worry and peace cannot co-exist for one will always dispel the other. It is not found in the past or the future. It is with us in the present moment.
Waiting to live and failing to live now stifles peace and contentment. When we look forward to find peace we will not find it. Life is happening right now. The secret to peace is in the now.
Living in the present moment is like recapturing the enthusiasm of childhood. Children are masters at living in the here and now. A child can have something go wrong, cry or even throw a tantrum and only minutes later they are laughing again as if nothing wrong ever happened.
For instance, two children may be fighting as well as very angry with each other and quickly return to playing. They live within the present moment which allows them to return to a state of peace and not stay caught up in the precipitating incident that has already entered into the past. In this lays their formula for contentment. (See Empowered Life Solutions – Healthy Living Article – “Feel Your Feelings”)
Traumatized children may become hyper vigilant. They may become anxious about anticipating future traumatic events – parents arguing, dad coming home drunk, etc. This hyper vigilance removes their ability to remain in the here and now. They begin to live in fear and lose peace. When working with a child in therapy, one of the goals is to be present with the child in the here and now while guiding the child back to the present moment.
The process is no different for adults. It is necessary for them to negotiate their way back to living in the present. This requires giving them an opportunity to have a safe encounter with their fear; recognizing that their fear is not literally being re-experienced in the here and now but is merely a past memory or future anticipation of their trauma. (See Empowered Life Solutions Video Presentation – Healthy Living – “Living in the Present”)
The Transcendent Power of Peace
If peace is associated with happiness, we may think pain is associated with unhappiness. Although upon closer review we discover that peace is not a stranger to pain. In order to feel deeply enough to become acquainted with peace, our hearts have experienced pain. A heart may not be big enough to know true peace until it has been stretched and pulled by trials and troubles that have caused it pain.
One of my Mindful Living instructors would greet each student with this salutation, “May you find the source of your pain and thereby encounter your peace.” Our ability to feel peace and contentment actually increases as we allow ourselves to feel the complete range of emotion that include painful experiences of life; then accept and embrace them.
Speaking personally, I have not been able to begin any number of personal journeys towards peace until I first acknowledged and embraced not only the source of my pain, but the very pain it produced in the present moment of my life at the time. It may seem very odd to include the subject of pain in a discussion on peace, but to understand and experience true peace and contentment one must understand the intertwining of the full range of emotions in the human experience.
I am often encouraged by the following quote from author, Patricia Lynn Reilly, “As deep a cavern as sorrow has carved within you, this will be your capacity for joy.”
Peace and contentment can only arise from the inside-out. Nature is the master teacher of this principle because all life originates internally then manifests itself externally. From the shell encrusted embryo of a bird that will burst open externally only when it has experienced sufficient internal growth to the emerald green leaves of a tree which are an outward manifestation of an inner growth process.
The great deception is that you can accumulate enough things to be happy giving you peace and contentment. Wisdom teaches that there is not a house big enough, a car fancy enough, or clothes enough to result in true peace. While you may experience some momentary happiness it will not sustain the depth contentment has to offer. Believing that if I can just get that big house and then I will finally be happy is just a variation of the belief that pleasure and a pain free life will give you peace; this is untrue.
Discovering that having things has little to do with obtaining peace can be a lifelong mission. There are some people in the world that have more and some have less but as long as basic needs are met there is no correlation with the accumulation of wealth, material possessions, and peace. Nothing from the outside seems to be able to bestow peace or contentment. There are many things from the outside that we think will bring us happiness such as the perfect job, losing ten more pounds, the big promotion, or the dream vacation. Peace is much deeper than these experiences.
Some believe that if all their children turn out successful (however success is defined for that person) this will bring them peace; if their husband would stop drinking, or if they were healthier than they would be content. Peace is not about getting recognized or living in the limelight. In the end each of these falls short and will not result in true happiness.
Make Life Your Close Friend
Making friends with life, come what may, invites peace and contentment into our lives. The human experience inherently has numerous ups and downs such as; the car breaks down, we do poorly on a test, we get fired, or a child becomes ill. These are all part of life. This is what my father exemplified in his response to “How are you?” with a “Might as well be great.” He had created a friendship with life even with the roller coaster of ups and downs that come with daily living.
When we make friends with life we accept it is hard, that it takes effort, and that it is not fair. We must recognize that if we embrace and accept life in return life will accept and embrace us.
Then we are in harmony with life, like a teeter-totter in a state of equilibrium, even though still prone to periods of imbalance there is a promise of returning to balance. This attitude allows the peace to enter our heart more easily because the energy is toward living rather than resistance towards what is.
Peace comes from trusting and being trusted. Peace comes from living an authentic life with faith in the process of life and learning. Contentment comes from working hard to overcome obstacles. Peace comes from serving others and satisfaction in life of giving back to the world.
It comes from the inside. Peace comes from the wisdom to learn from our whole human experience. Peace is the manifestation of the right choices and the right attitude. We recognize the sweet only after we have tasted the bitter. We live with greater depth when we choose to live life without fear and resistance. May you find peace and contentment.
I have not addressed the importance of living in accordance with the values and principles that are congruent with one’s moral code and higher power. Peace and contentment are assured when your values and your behaviors are congruent. This principle is discussed in more detail in the article titled (Empowered Life Solutions – Healthy Living Articles “Change Unhealthy Habits” and “Make Choices Based on Values”)