“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” ~Robert Pirsig
The other evening I was I was lying in the bath following yet another hectic day in the office. As I sat there in the bubbles, I could feel my tension rising. I tried my hardest to block out the banging of the washing machine in the next room and the great stomping footsteps from the flat above.
All of a sudden, this peaceful treat was starting to feel more like a battle of wills—me against the world.
This made me think: how far do we have to go in the pursuit of peace?
There’s no denying the fact that we live in an amazing age. We’ve seen unprecedented change in our lifetime and technological developments our grandparents could never have even dreamed of.
I can share pictures with my emigrated best friend instantly. I can manage my work emails from the park. I can even ‘poke’ my old travelling buddies on a different continent. We truly are lucky, aren’t we?
Do you ever find yourself wondering why, when we have all this technology that is supposed to help us to do everything quicker, we’ve never felt so busy, frantic, and shortchanged? Or why we feel like shouting Stop the world—I need to get off!? I certainly do.
So we take out our to-do list, find the end, and just under grocery shopping we add the magical, elusive, seemingly impossible find peace.
Perhaps there’ll be time next Tuesday between dropping the kids off at school and picking up the dog from the vet. Just maybe.
There my pursuit of peace began. I had a variety of companions on this journey: a painfully short attention span, a tendency toward irritation, unacknowledged irrational thinking patterns, and an overbearing sense of obligation toward others.
What a happy group we made as we set out together to pursue our elusive prey—peace!
The journey took years and saw us follow a well beaten path that started in bubble baths with clenched teeth—the guilt rising as we just couldn’t quite relax—to yoga classes where we pretended not to hear the police sirens as we balanced in tree pose.
Determined not to be put off, my mental companions and I signed up for mindfulness classes and attended regularly even though the stress of leaving work on time and then battling through rush hour traffic made us feel sick with tension.
We found ourselves asking “Where is this peace—this sitting cross-legged, on a sun-drenched rock serenity?” Where the hell was it?
It wasn’t there when we tried Buddhist chanting. It wasn’t there as we prayed in silence with the Quakers. It wasn’t on the holistic retreat itinerary, and we couldn’t find it on the organic health food website.
We’d looked everywhere, tried really hard, failed, and therefore proved that finding peace was impossible in today’s hectic society.
That is until one day we were at work and we had had enough—me, my short attention span, my irritation, my irrational thinking patterns, and my obligation toward others.
Together we stormed out, leaving the office mayhem behind us and spent a whole lunch break walking. And not just walking; we muttered, we worried, we apportioned blame, and we stewed over the morning’s failings.
Then a good thing happened followed by a not so good thing.
Suddenly, we noticed the first of the flowers of spring. It was a sign—hurrah! At last a real, live sign that there’s a reward for slowing down.
We stepped forward to see, appreciate, and smell this beautiful symbol of the receding darkness and emerging light. With rising anticipation we reached out and stepped forward—straight into a large pile of dog poo.
Now this could go one of either two ways. Would we see this as a second sign of doom and gloom, demonstrating that good things are always tainted? Or alternatively, would we wipe our shoe, laugh it off and say “I may have stepped in dog dirt, but at least I’ve seen the first flowers of spring”?
Then it hit me: I’d never be able to find peace if I kept waiting for the world to give it to me, while smothering it with my thoughts.
It wasn’t a case of me against the world after all. It was just me against me.
Realizing I’d let my short my attentions span, irritation, irrational thinking patterns, and sense of obligation go, in that brief moment I felt at peace with the world. I stood alone in my dirty shoes feeling happy and relieved in that moment.
Of course, I had to go back to the office; and I forgot about the great peace pursuit and picked my companions up on the way. But that tiny, fleeting moment had shown me something.
Peace isn’t about shutting yourself away from the world, chanting while wearing white Lycra. It isn’t about finding a sun-drenched rock and sitting there cross-legged. It’s the acknowledgment of tiny moments when you realize that although the here and now isn’t perfect, it’s pretty darn good.
I didn’t find peace by hunting it down. Yoga and meditation teachers didn’t hand to me wrapped up in a bow. I didn’t manage to add it to and then cross it off my to-do list. I found it was always there, within me. I just had to let it out. If you look within, I’m pretty sure that’s where you can find it, too.
About Natalie Smith
Natalie Smith is a thirty-something living and working in London who enjoys looking for the small pleasures in a big city. Visit her on Twitter @Nat_by_blazes.