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Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

— Buddha

Peace.  It is something that we all seek.  And yet, it means different things to each of us, depending on where we are in life.

When we were kids, peace was booorrring.  It meant that there was nothing to do.  Why would anyone want peace?  Give me excitement!

As we got older, peace came to signify the plaintive query spoken by Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?”  And it was a movement aimed at ending war – for all time – back when we thought that if we just marched enough, protested enough, etc., we could force “the man” to quit fighting wars.  Perhaps, we were just a bit naïve.

Now, at “our age”, peace represents our ability to accept life on its own terms.  Often, acceptance is difficult.

Life does what it does.  It’s our response that determines the effect.

Life is Difficult

Either I have a way of attracting people to me who are struggling with overwhelming problems, or life is difficult.  Since “Life is difficult” is the beginning of M. Scott Peck’s bestseller The Road Less Traveled, I’d guess that it ain’t just me.

When I first read those words, “Life is difficult.”, I’d just gone through a difficult patch and successfully come through to the other side.  I was feeling just a bit cocky and very capable of dealing with whatever difficulty I encountered.  That was many years ago, when things were “easier,” and, I thought, solvable.  Well, these last few years have done their best to reshape my head and although I’m still here, I’m definitely not the same.

Reality — Yuck!

I think that the primary change is that I really get, in my bones, that some things will never be healed.

Dementia is one of those things.  It may progress quickly or slowly, but progress it does and nothing seems to stop it.  Lately Dad has been sleeping a lot.  There are those who claim that the problem is that care facilities keep these patients drugged up.  Perhaps that is so in some facilities but it isn’t the case with Dad.  Because the facility was concerned with Dad’s sleeping habits they took him off the meds that they thought could have been causing the problem.  The result:  Now that he was awake, Dad preferred to be “free” when he walked around – i.e., no pants, or tidy whiteys either.  There were other behaviors that were less than pleasant, but in the end, it was back on the meds.  There’s only so much naked 80ish old man that anyone can take.  (Thank heavens I missed that show.)

Mental illness is a challenge that may result in things getting temporarily better; two steps forward.  After a while, the family member may regress and it is at least one step back, sometimes more.  I have a friend whose son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10 years ago.  Initially, he was medicated and successfully completed a certificate program and found work.  Then, he chose to move to be closer to his father.  His father believes that his medications are tools of the devil and that God will heal the bipolar disorder if his son just has enough faith.  So, now the son is unmedicated and has deteriorated significantly.  His father won’t tolerate his new behavior so he is back with his mother who has been struggling with this for 15 years.  When she attended the NAMI (National Association for the Mentally Ill) Family to Family class, the attendees were asked what outcome they wanted for their family members: independent living or compliant behavior while living at home.  Most of the attendees wished for independent living but felt that the best that they could get was compliant behavior while their family member lived with them for the long-term.

The people attending the NAMI class came looking for solutions for their family members with acute depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  What they found was a community of people struggling with the same issues.  They are also struggling with coming to grips with the pain of knowing that the choices they face are difficult and may or may not result in a better life for them and their loved ones.

Choosing to Accept What Is

In Seeking Peace – Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, Mary Pipher suggests that peace comes when we can stay in the moment.  Like many of us, Pipher felt responsible for everyone around her.  In her case, she had been raised by a mother who felt that there was no excuse for not doing your best to relieve someone’s suffering.  Her mother was a country doctor who would stay up all night with a sick or dying patient and then come home, change clothes and keep her office hours.  This was the standard that Pipher attempted to emulate.

The problem was that Pipher was a best-selling author and everyone wanted something from her.  Being a woman who had spent most of her life in rural areas of the mid-west, she wasn’t prepared to manage the emotional onslaught that she experienced when she spoke or signed books.  By her mother’s standards, Pipher was never able to do enough.  Finally, Pipher melted down.  As she put herself back together, she discovered meditation.  For a woman who had spent her life trying to get more things done all at once, the idea of focusing only on her breath was enticing… and almost impossible to accomplish in the beginning.  But as she discovered, it wasn’t just about her breath, it was about being present in her life.  In the classes that she took, bells signaled the beginning and the end of a meditation exercise.  As she became aware, she decided that she would use bird song for the same effect.  Whenever she heard a bird singing, she would deliberately notice where she was and what was going on around her.

And this practice created joy.  For as she says:

When we learn to face our pain and the pain of others, we start flourishing.  The opposite of despair is not a surcease of despair. (Sorrows are all around us.)  Rather, its opposite is an explosion of liveliness and joy.

And we find that joy by being present – for the scent of lilacs, for the beautiful blue windswept sky left behind by the Santa Ana winds, for the sun shining after many gray days, for our morning coffee (if we actually notice it as we drink it down), for the joyfully wagging tail of our canine companions.

Remember, our brains have a negative bias.  They react more strongly to the negative.  And when we aren’t present, we may be reinforcing that negative bias by worrying.  The negative event occurs.  We get on with our day, but we keep worrying.  While we’re worrying, we’re missing the lilacs and the sky and the dog wagging her tail.  So our brain doesn’t have the opportunity to “balance itself” with the potentially positive input.  Instead, it’s still worrying.  If we are here in our own lives, then we are present for the sorrows and we are present for the joys.  By being present for both we create a kind of peace and we can accept life on its own terms.

Life does what it does.  It’s our response that determines the effect.

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Take a short break and consider the following:

“Pain deserves the truth, not preferences.”


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