Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say "Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace." What is "this"? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another "this" that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only "the hope of peace some day."
~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart
I’ve been revisiting this piece on peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is one that I’ve referred to and revered over the years.
But, when interpreted in that way there is a possible warp in ones commitment to life, and a preference towards spiritual practice or whatever a person feels connects them to peace—it could just as easily be drugs or another addiction. This take on the importance of not feeling anxiety or anger (opposites of peace) could be used as an excuse to escape life.
Can we have peace and debt? Can I have peace and unmet needs? Can I be angry and be at peace? I think so. I think that the situation is that challenging. I can’t afford to neglect the calls of my life in deference to a fantasy of peace. That just closes me off: isolation is not an appropriate response to my life.
I think that what is being asked for here is a level of engagement with life that exceeds a casual acknowledgement of what is happening. So even in moments of emotional turmoil, an aspect of myself is patient, and I am present to experience that. Even in moments of anger, I feel the spark of love. And when I’m really sad, I also know and trust that the storm will subside.
I used to imagine peace as a pure, clear, undisturbed state of consciousness, almost as one could imagine deep sleep or death. If someone is going for that kind of idealized peace it might be almost impossible not to neglect one’s own life—one of the most precious gifts of life around!
One can get spiritual, physical or chemical highs that are experienced as pure ecstasy or total peace where someone might say to their self later, “I got it!” or “I had it!” While those experiences are awesome, those things are not the total “it.” The bigger picture includes one’s pains, ordinary pleasures and sufferings. The bigger picture includes living ones whole life with dignity and grace, or whatever words you might describe your best offering to the world.
So “living in peace right now” right now for me means that I am present for the full variety of experiences, always (as best as I can) trusting that there is peace along with my joy, anger, resentment, lust and jealousy. And perhaps with an openness towards fuller and deeper understanding I can make the best choices and say the most helpful things based on where I am at the moment. And when I completely loose it, I am there for myself to pick up those pieces and commit to the healing I need then.