Peace - a top theme during the festive season - is often thought of as the cure-all for problems on different scales, whether global, local or familiar. Understandably so, because when we achieve peace, we thrive as nations, communities, families, and individuals.
That said, here is to peace on earth, not only during the holiday season but also, all the time.
But here is the thing about peace, at least when it comes to human nature: it is an internal state of mind as much as it is an external state of being. That means that sometimes, even in the midst of chaos, people of strong will can achieve peace. Have you ever seen someone who is going through a rough time, yet seem to have a halo around their head?
The other day, I heard of a couple on the morning news who had every right to seem broken, as they likely felt, having lost their young adult son eleven days earlier to a tragic accident. Yet they were campaigning for organ donation and reflecting on how their son had been a blessing to someone by being a donor.
Somehow this story got me looking in the mirror, so to speak. A few days before this, some friends had commented that I seemed far more serene than they thought they would find me, giving all that is going on in my life with family illness and so on. I must have looked in a right state when we got together a few months ago!
I confessed my secret: I am at peace with the situation. Admittedly, however, I am not always at peace with the troubles and worries in my life, whether serious or quite trivial. I just happened to be in good form at that particular moment.
Years ago, I remember moaning to a writer friend about not being able to create within earshot of a jack hammer. She sympathized with me, but knew of another quite prolific writer who had little or no empathy for either of us, insisting that creativity is managed within.
He said he could write anywhere, anytime, as long as he had the will to do so ... was at peace with it.
On reflection, I think he is on to something. If peace is truly an internal state of mind, then I have wasted oodles of time looking to change the external situation. Of course, I understand that all too often chaos happens beyond our control, and that some things need changing to pave the way for calm. Ultimately, however, achieving peace is about how we respond to distress internally.
Years ago, a close friend, whose lifestyle isn't traditional, confided that his father had asked one thing of him: to give him peace in his older years. If I had that conversation again I would tell my friend that giving his father peace is not within his gift. At the end of the day, peace comes from within.
His father was, and still is, in the driver's seat on that one. Yet, achieving peace in the midst of upset is easier said than done. There is no surefire formula for it, but I've come across a few helpful tips over the years, mainly through trial and error.
First off, at the risk of sounding redundant, it is crucial to recognise that the gift of peace lies with the individual. Ultimately, only the relevant person can claim it.
Often, doing so means accepting the situation for what it is. In the case of illness or loss, acceptance plays a big role in healing and achieving internal peace. Acceptance opposes denial, which all too often keeps people stuck in a rut. Also, willingness, if you will, combats anger, in the form of forgiving and letting go.
For example, an acquaintance shared that she didn't find peace about her divorce until she forgave her ex-husband. Now, though they are no longer married, they have an amicable relationship; something she thought could never happen. Another doesn't speak to her ex, not because she is angry, but because they have nothing in common. Peaceful acceptance for both of them, which is a good segue to taking responsibility for one's own peace.
Most people find it hard to own something that they don't believe is their fault. In the case of terrorism, for instance, particularly when it hits home, taking responsibility might feel impossible.
Recently, I heard a notable speaker talk about how the London bombings affected him back in 2005. Until he found internal peace, he was unable to go outside without fear.
He took some practical steps, including prayer, to start his internal peace-seeking process, which is another tip. For some this involves meditating, running, walking, and so on. Ultimately, it is about finding a physical escape route to make way for peace, even if some people, such as the writer mentioned above, chooses to stay fixed right where they are.
Others, such as those who are bedridden, have no other choice but to stay put; trapped in a dedicated space. Thus, the practical tips, barring prayer and meditation, might be a bit harder for them to achieve.
But all is not lost, says one care expert in the US: 'Though we can't claim peace for them, there are some practical things we can do to help, like entering their room quietly, leaving our baggage outside, and sparing them of a pity party, particularly about their health.'
In reality, most of us, bedridden or not, would have a hard time achieving peace, if unable to escape external noise and imposed distress. Let's face it: getting to peace might not cure our illnesses, or solve our problems, but this sense of harmony puts us in a better space for resting, and for succeeding at whatever we are trying to do ... at living.