Finding Peace Escaping for brief moments of solitude BY: Troy Murphy | May 2012
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In the depths of struggles, where do we find peace? Too many quiet days, we bore of the tediousness of life, too few days of rest and we sluggishly slow then collapse. We appreciate restful moments giving escape from the troublesome backdrop. The peaceful escape is most salient during troubled times. During the darkness of difficulty, treasured moments rejuvenates the soul and reenergizes us to face uncertainty.
We experience rough patches; an unexpected blast knocks the air out of us, dashing hopes. During the late months of 2008 and into 2009, I suffered a divorce, loss of a life’s work of equity, an unexpected lawsuit and eventual bankruptcy. Overwhelmed, I continued functioning at some level, but with the loss of a supportive friend I collapsed in despair. Hopes of recovery—a possible new life—crumbled. Sleep provided my only escape; the short hours of rest came only at the hands of complete exhaustion. Painful ruminations continually intruded on every activity. Fifteen months of mental hell. I’m not special; most people work through difficult moments—suffering. This was my time. I’ve heard the ashes of ruin fertilize the soil for new beginnings. In the deepest moments of despair, I discovered peace.
The light of peace—although only monetarily—broke through the agonizing days; at first just a flash, piercing through the darkness, delighting my soul. I could feel it. I relished the moment and then it was gone. A momentary glimpse of the possibility of healing. The mind was still at war, but the momentary ceasefire gave hope. The peace came when I forcefully created separation from the torments, experiencing simple nonjudgmental awareness of emotions. Soon another moment, and then another. Peace became a regular visitor, still in simple short bursts. In the sacred moments of pain, I discovered peace. The life problems remained, still haunting progress; but with tranquility gracing each day for a few moments, I could better focus on rebuilding a life.
Emotional unrest challenges self-confidence, dampens hope and discourages action. But we need action to resolve the troubles fanning the embers of emotion. Thoughts and emotions intertwine in a complex network, creating conscious feelings. Events stimulate emotions, the emotions stir thoughts, and then thoughts and emotions generate feeling. Our brain constantly organizes experience—emotions and thoughts—to create a coherent story. We experience life through the lens of meaning, meanings we assign.
Why do I feel this way? What does this mean? How do I escape these feelings?
Our mind obliges to the questions and fumbles for answers, giving meaning to experience. Meaning creates a sense of control—escape from vulnerability. We explain why something happens, even when we don’t know. When stuck in the mire of sorrow, our self-constructed meanings are sorrowful adding to the despair, giving catastrophic meaning to an otherwise mundane event. When sorrowful we think sorrowful thoughts. The answers (no matter how eloquent) don’t explain away pain instead often magnify the hurt. We don’t soothe pain by magnifying meaning. The lover is still gone, the bill collector still knocks, and the future still looms menacingly beyond control.
Stopping the incessant flow of thought, even for a moment, invites breaks in the action, giving space for refreshing moments of peace. We must create the breaks; this requires—instead of understanding—just experiencing. Trying to find answers that are not immediately available spins the wheels of the mind in the unforgiving sludge of the unknown; the more the wheels spin, the deeper we sink. Eventually information will emerge to solve the problem; but this won’t happen at our command. We must wait. But without mental escapes, we are overwhelmed; outmatched by experience. Depression, discouragement and helplessness are sure to follow.
The practice of mindfulness directs awareness away from words and towards feelings. This practice works well with nature, exercise, and meditation. We naturally understand with words when troubled, assigning meaning (with words) and creating connections flows naturally; stopping the thought flow may be awkward. Our first attempts to disengage and focus on feeling challenges our resolve as our mind stubbornly continues to return to the thoughts we wish to escape. We must catch our wandering mind and redirect it—over and over and over. This engages the mind in a new process, momentarily distracting the painful ruminations. Eventually these practices invite brief encounters with peace, providing needed relief from troubles, and refreshing our minds so we can creatively try new approaches. ~Troy Murphy