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!