Are You Finding Peace or Avoiding Life?

Virginia Woolf once said, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” And of course, she is right. Peace as we generally think of it can be elusive at best, changing with circumstances and mood. But true peace, lasting peace, is earned through the hard work that comes with facing and walking through life’s challenges.

The trouble is “finding peace” can look an awful lot like avoiding life.

We “keep the peace” by avoiding difficult decisions, delicate discussions, and painful circumstances. We “make peace” with something that if we were honest about it, we would admit makes us uncomfortable, angry, or discouraged. We search for “inner peace” by creating a facade of outer peace rather than risking a painful encounter or conflict. We content ourselves with being “at peace” with something, though this “peace at any price” comes at the expense of what our gut is telling us — until finally we “rest in peace” after possibly never really living at all.

Honestly, I am as guilty as anyone of avoiding the messiness of life under the guise of “finding peace”. In fact, I have probably raised avoidance to an art form. But “peace of mind” (and heart and soul and spirit) cannot be found through avoidance. Life has a way of leaking into our facades no matter how carefully we try to contain it.

So what are the choices?

  • Let go entirely. Drop the issue, the relationship, the job, the friendship — just walk away. But this strategy can feel like giving up, and worse, giving up on something or someone worth keeping. It doesn’t result in peace, but in a constant state of wondering, “what if”.
  • Lie to yourself. Hide behind being busy. Tell yourself that really everything is OK, there’s nothing wrong, it’s all good and you are doing all that you can do. A very wise friend tells me often that it is impossible to lie to yourself, but I am not so sure we don’t try. Either way, though, this strategy is nothing more than a band-aid and there will be no peace.
  • Have a plan for dealing with the issue — but at some nebulous time in the future. Think “if this happens, then I’ll do that” or “I’ll give it until (fill in any date or circumstance) and then I’ll decide what to do.” While this strategy can allow you to feel a temporary moment of peace, it doesn’t work in the long-term. The plan will need to be constantly revised, the timeframe pushed back, and the terms re-negotiated with yourself — not a peaceful process, to be sure.
  • Acknowledge the issue and its context before taking steps toward the outcome you want. Recognizing the issue and defining its context is half the battle. Maybe you want a new job, but you are afraid to leave the security of the one you have. Acknowledging the issue of wanting new employment and the context of fear allows for a manageable approach. You can address the fears as they arise and watch them dissipate as you begin to achieve your goal.

Obviously, the last choice is the best choice.

Virginia Woolf was correct that real peace does not come from avoiding the trials of life. It comes from meeting those challenges and growing through them!

Monday Morning Inspiration: Ten Blessings

“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” — Buddha

It’s Monday morning and here in Illinois, we are beginning our fifth week of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. It is gray and cold, and the wind is literally howling. The word ‘bleak’ comes to mind. It’s a good morning for a little inspiration, so challenge accepted!

After a little bit of thought, here are ten blessings that I recognize on this otherwise bleak Monday morning:

  1. I am inside. No kidding – the wind is howling and it is 35 degrees. I am on my couch with blanket and a cat as I write this. Blessed, indeed!
  2. I have nowhere to go. Normally at this point, I’d welcome a place to go, but see #1. It is also a blessing to have to stay home.
  3. I have recognized that lack of time is not really an excuse for why certain things are never done (cleaning out closets, for example), and this leaves me free to discover what my real reason for procrastinating is. Truth and clarity are blessings, too, right?
  4. I have accepted that certain projects (cleaning out closets, for example) don’t inspire me and I am likely to continue procrastinating. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.
  5. I have learned to effortlessly use Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Marco Polo to stay in touch with family and friends. In some cases, we’ve talked more since the quarantine began than we did before. Win-win!
  6. I have come to appreciate the simple act of running errands. Everything from grocery store runs to Home Depot – these little “chores” are so taken for granted, and while maybe they are not “blessings”, I am ready to embrace them again.
  7. Conversely, I also appreciate being able to order anything from groceries, garden soil, and tonight’s dinner online. I have discovered services like Instacart (that I will continue to use when life gets busy), and local restaurants that have already become favorites. We are blessed to have all these options even when isolated.
  8. I am picking up old hobbies again, which has been fun. To have a stretch of uninterrupted time to make a mess with craft supplies, sewing, or painting is a total luxury. Do we really need a pandemic to allow ourselves this time? Lesson (and blessings) learned.
  9. Ditto with cooking. I like to bake and have found some fun desserts to make (like Umm Ali, which I will make again today). It has also been strangely entertaining to play Chopped with what is in the pantry. Creativity, no matter where it is found, is a blessing!
  10. Without the structure and busyness of a typical day, I have learned to listen to myself and as much as possible give myself what I need to manage this difficult time. This valuable lesson has been the greatest of blessings and worth the isolation and stress of the past four weeks.

Without a doubt, this time has been strange and unsettling. But as Buddha so wisely said, there are blessings in every situation, including this one. The challenge will be to remember these lessons when this stay-at-home time has passed.

Five Ways to Release Anxiety and Imagine Better Outcomes

Cairn with a sunset in the background

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra

It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.

Anxiety and Imagination

For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.

As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.

Imagine a Better Outcome

But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
  2. Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
  3. Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
  4. Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
  5. Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.

Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.