We live in an ego-driven world, and our egos are constantly telling us “Once everything falls into place, once I find health and happiness, I will find peace.” But if we were to drop our egos and listen to our spirit, it would say, “Find peace, and everything else will fall into place.”
But finding peace is not a simple task. It is not as easy as just deciding to be at peace. It is something that takes a lot of patience and practice to achieve. And that is for a normal person. Throw a chronic illness in there, and the task becomes daunting. But nevertheless, peace is something I have been working on a lot lately. Being at peace with where I am in life is important to my journey. And what I’ve come to realize in recent weeks is that it does not matter whether the journey is a story of recovery or a story of lifelong chronic illness. Either way, peace is the key to my ability to live a happy and meaningful life.
So, how do you find peace? To answer: it might be easier to start with how not to find it. Having a chronic illness, I feel like I am constantly trying to reach out and grab some semblance of consistency or normalcy. I feel like I am always trying to find a place in my life that is safe and represents solid ground to stand on. The only problem is that there is no such thing as solid ground. The only thing guaranteed in this life is the unknowingness of what is to come. Everything in this world is in a state of impermanence. What is now will never be again. And this freaks people out, including me. This struggle with trying to create permanence in the world where that is not possible is what prevents people from being at peace.
Once again we ask, how do you find peace, especially in a world of impermanence? Well, you have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. You have to embrace the fact that both you yourself and the world around you is ever changing and will never remain the same. Not even for a moment. When you no longer fight impermanence, but rather expect it, it becomes something safe and guaranteed that you actually can hold. The fact that everything in this world is impermanent becomes your solid ground to stand on.
Let me take this one step further with an analogy. We, as people, are rivers. A river is a fixture in our lives that seems to be permanent and constant. But take a closer look at it, and you will realize the river is ever changing, constantly being altered by and altering the world around it. From moment to moment, the river and its surroundings are unique to that specific instant in time. The water that flows through the river in this instant is specific to this moment. Never again in the river’s life or our lives will we have the exact same water flowing through us.
The banks that define the river are also ever changing, constantly eroding, shifting, and creating new channels. Never again in the river’s life or our lives will we be in this exact place. And while you might be able to find a sandbar, rock, or somewhere else solid to stand in the river, it is only a temporary refuge. Given the constantly changing nature of a river, you won’t be able to stay there long, because it is only a matter of time before that sandbar moves or that rock erodes into pebbles. The only way to stay safe in the river is not to depend on it to stay the same, but to flow with the river as it changes, moving from one safe spot to another. The only constant in the river and our lives is the constant change.
This can be a hard concept to follow and believe in the best of times. Throw a chronic illness in the mix, and it can seem impossible or incomprehensible. And this, this right here has been where I personally have been struggling lately. I do fine with feeling at peace when things are going according to plan, but when I crash or take a big dip, I can lose my connection with peace.
I was talking to a dear friend and spiritual teacher the other week about how discouraging and uncomfortable it can be to crash. Sometimes, I dip so low that I lose touch with my sense of spirituality. It becomes hard to connect with any and everything, so ultimately, I end up feeling isolated, discouraged, and pessimistic. When I feel this way, I try to meditate, but it seems impossible to be present. I try to be mindful, but my mind tends to spin stories about my symptoms rather than being a curious observer.
During this conversation, my friend told me another analogy, one of meadows and life, that has stuck with me and helped when I’m struggling. In this analogy, meadows are a beautiful and vibrant representations of life. When I imagine one, I picture myself standing in my favorite meadow up in the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful autumn day. The tall grasses dance around me to the beat of the wind, swaying and swirling as if the breeze choreographed them. The aspen trees stand tall and proud, displaying their vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges in sharp contrast to the evergreen of the pine trees. A brook gently babbles through the valley, reflecting the perfect and cloudless blue sky in its pools. Birds, elk, and all kinds of wildlife crawl, whiz, and wander about.
This peaceful image represents the beauty of life. But what happens if a storm suddenly rolls in? The fog and the rain make it almost impossible to see more than a few feet. You have lost sight of the trees, the animals, the blue sky, the grasses, and everything else that made that meadow and that moment so beautiful and peaceful.
Where did it all go? Did it suddenly vanish just because you could no longer see it? Or is it still there behind the rain and fog? Is the brook still gently babbling? Are the critters and animals still wandering around? Is the grass still dancing? And is the sky still blue? I think yes.
We must remember that, no matter how dark and stormy life gets, behind all that crap, the beauty of a meadow remains. We may not be able to see it at that moment, but it is still there. The meadow is a constant. Storms come and go, but hidden behind them, no matter how difficult it may be to see it, the meadow remains, patiently waiting for us. If we can remember this in our most difficult times, no matter how hard life gets or how disconnected we feel, we can remain at peace.