This past winter, when my living room view offered only bare trees and gray skies, I practiced anything but peace. I practiced some anxiety, a bit of crankiness, the occasional cry, and a quite a bit of corn-chip munching while staring out the window. I was really savvy though; I knew that peace was right around the corner, and I just needed to wait.
So I waited. Waited for my next nap. Waited for dinner. Waited for the kids to fall asleep. Waited for them to get over their colds. Always with the hope that surely THEN the peace would descend on me, like petals from heaven. And of course, whenever the anticipated moment arrived, something other than petals would fall. An extra large cup of orange juice would crash to the floor, maybe, and the following week of squeaking shoes would remind me of my insufficient mop job. Bedtime would stretch long past the expected 8 o’clock. When I finally had a quiet house, I would sink into the couch with my computer and a cup of tea, and get lost in internet oblivion. Of course, I did not feel great afterward. The deep peace I craved kept dodging my grasp.
Finally, a great idea came to me. What would REALLY offer peace and happiness? A beach vacation. With a full week of no responsibilities, feet buried in the sand, face in the sunshine, I’d be ME again. I’d be the cheerful, loving, productive creative Sasha that was just waiting to break free again.
Eager to make this dream come true, I booked a flight – my first vacation without family members – and joined a friend in her Florida beach house. I arrived late at night and fell asleep on the shell-patterned guest bed, visions of myself with a gorgeous tan dancing in my head. When morning finally dawned, I saw nothing but a cold, gray sky, with palm trees bent low in the wind. It couldn’t be true! In flip-flops and a summer dress I stepped outside. The cold wind whipped away all my illusions and I turned right around and headed back for a sweatshirt. The second day didn’t offer anything better.
So the third morning, when I woke up to sunshine, I headed right to the condo pool deck with towel in hand. Not a moment of sun would be wasted. When my friend suggested I wear some sunscreen to mitigate the intensity of the Florida sun, I gently reminded her that I have a very olive complexion. Clearly, I could handle a lot of sunlight. “Are you sure?” my deeply tanned friend asked, “I burned pretty badly the first week I was here.” I was sure.
A few hours later, my face, shoulders, arms and legs had a deep, pinkish glow. By nighttime, I was in so much pain I could barely sleep. Around midnight, when I got up to apply more aloe vera gel to my tender skin, I began to see stars and headed to the bathroom for water. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the bathroom floor. I had fainted from dehydration. Looking up into that bathroom mirror after reviving, I saw my hair a mess, a swollen pink face, a broken front tooth, a bleeding lip, and a wild, scared look in my own eyes. What had I done? It hit me that this was the result of my attempt to chase a shallow vision of peace. My friend had heard me fall and had come to help. As she wiped my head with a cool towel and offered me sips of water and words of reassurance (without a hint of “I told you so!”) I felt extraordinarily grateful to her, and humbled.
For the next few weeks, as my newly-glued yet still-sensitive tooth healed, I had the opportunity to eat my meals at the pace of a picky three year old. If I didn’t, or I happened to bite down wrong, anyone standing behind me was in danger of a head-butt. I was practically forced to savor each bite. And the surprising benefit was that while eating slowly, I began to breathe more. And as I breathed more, I began to feel more connected to my food and to those around me. And as I did this, I actually began to feel…yes…peaceful!
The relationship between love, awareness and peace is one that is beautifully described by Emanuel Swedenborg in his work Secrets of Heaven. “Before we are regenerated, or created anew, we are in an anxious and restless state. . . . but as soon as the good of love has been implanted, the fighting stops, and rest ensues. Thus we are in peace” (Secrets of Heaven 8893).
Swedenborg goes on to explain how the process of moving from anxiety to peace is a hallmark of the human condition. Beginning in darkness and ignorance we eventually awake to the presence of love, and discover a new ability to prioritize. This is followed by various states of learning and change, and culminates in a day (state) of peace and rest. He explains how these stages parallel the Biblical story about the “days” of earth’s creation.
As I type this today, I still feel the sensitivity in my right front tooth. Despite my dentist’s careful work, I can see the crack when I get close to a mirror. But instead of seeing that tooth as an irritation or eyesore, I have been trying to use it as a reminder of the value of slowing down, being present, and appreciating the peace that is always available. Peace that doesn’t necessarily come through achieving the best tan, the fewest responsibilities, or the perfect environment, but from awakening to the loving connections and sweet moments that are abundantly available.
Sasha is a Content Developer for New Church Journey programs, the latest program is Seven Practices of Peace.