01 August, 2013

Making [Inner] Peace

Subtitle: Metaphor Mashup

Literally, constructing it. I’ve been having conversations with a few friends lately about making peace. Some have already located the ethereal building blocks for this castle, others are still roughing in the architectural drawings. Still others are hiding under a cardboard box, drawing in the sand with a finger or a stick. Each of those friends understands the crucial truth that peace can be made. It can be built: constructed to serve as a fortress for the soul.

I have other friends and acquaintances who seem to view that feeling of peace, or love, or contentment, or excitement, or anger, or any of the other many and varied important emotions we feel come from without rather than within. They search high and low for the things that “make” them happy or content without finding those things.

I truly do believe that external keys to inner peace are a holy grail: they don’t exist. There have been times in my life when I felt completely out of control. Depression bogged down my inner workings, grinding gears anytime I tried to shift. It felt like driving with the floormat bunched up under the clutch. Being a “fixer” by nature, I would try and identify the things that were “making” me depressed. Funny enough, when I changed those things, I only felt marginally better. What relief I did feel was also temporary. I hadn’t yet figured out that these external factors weren’t truly what influenced my ability to have a peaceful life.

It’s not all hearts and flowers. I am not saying I never feel anger, anxiety, fear, sorrow, hurt, depression, jealousy, rage (especially road rage!), betrayal and any of the other myriad emotions I felt before. I feel them, but they no longer ruin me. There is much more work left to do, but I am at a place where I am comfortable in my skin. I can be upset by something, live the process of being upset and come out the other side realizing my baseline stability has not changed. It has been a lot of work, it continues to be a lot of work every day.

I have found I can be angry, irritated or just plain pissed and still find compassion in my heart for myself and for the object of my anger once the initial adrenaline has worn off.
My life has not been easy, but neither is anyone else’s. We each have our own scale of suffering and joy. The extremes on either end can only be measured in relation to our own experiences. This isn’t about comparing tragedy or fortune and using someone else’s life as a measuring stick. It is not a competition to see how miserable we are. I don’t need to have anyone tell me, “buck up, I’ve been through so much worse.” Nor do I need to say that to someone else.

I’ve been through a lot in my life so far.

Imagine I have a friend who has lived a charmed life (She is imaginary, I PROMISE). Stable family, loving relationships and never had any real injury or loss. She gets into a car accident, totaling her car and breaking her leg. The doctors say in 8 weeks she will be as good as new and the insurance company covers the cost of the car. To her, this will feel impossibly horrible. She has never felt physical pain like this, financial pain like this, the embarrassment of a traffic accident, her family’s disappointment and anger, etc. Her continuum of  [pain]--------[joy] has been recalibrated with a new low point. That new low point is the lowest low she has experienced.

It would be easy for outsiders to judge her pain and say “it is only a broken leg,” “it is only a car.” They don’t realize that to her, this is as bad as it has ever gotten. Suffering is entirely relative. The kids today would understand if I said “that’s so META.” It is not a competition.
While I have been through a lot that seems empirically “worse” than what this imaginary friend is experiencing, we were both in the same place. The bottom end of that continuum of 
[pain]--------[joy] . My job is to provide support so that my friend can have the stability to experience this pain without it ruining her, and weather the experience wiser but not less peaceful.

Some say adversity makes us stronger. WhatEVER. Adversity gives us opportunities to learn what our character and nature are, and work to change them into what we want them to be. Adversity is relative and everyone has equal access to the amount of adversity necessary to help us become the people we want to be with the emotional lives we want to have.

Physical life is different from emotional life and we have less control over physical life. We would all love to be young, beautiful, thin, drive an expensive car, have a great house that is self-cleaning, the perfect partner(s), and a job or non-job we find fulfilling every day. But why? To be happy? It has taken me until this point in my life to realize that happiness won’t come from any of those things. If I am discontent under lesser conditions, I’ll find a way to be discontent under greater conditions.

This is a lesson other people will try to tell you, just like it seems I am trying to do today. Other people have attempted to “tell” me this for years, possibly even since I was a little girl. People telling me this was what gave me hope that it was possible. It lit a fire in my belly to learn how to cope with the human condition as best I can.

I’m coping, and I’m continuously making progress. There are plateaus along the way, but my castle is well under construction. I’m building a few guest bungalows for those of you who want to visit.