I used to associate the idea of 'peace' with the notion of escape. A nonspecific removal of myself from the current circumstances of my life.
It wasn't that my circumstances were at any point particularly horrendous, but just that there was some element that was jarring and unsatisfactory. An element that was challenging and exhilarating perhaps yet simultaneously exhausting. I have always considered myself to be rallied by challenge, yet there is a point that this no longer holds out, and I need to step away from the cognition and the understanding of it all.
I would long for 'peace' for escape, into the vastness and quiet of nature. A lake to swim, a forest to explore. And perhaps it is because of our tendency to positively bias our memories, I would seek that literal retreat, remembering the last time I gazed down at the path I had just climbed as my heart pounded and then settled slowly; or else I would watch documentaries about communities that live removed from all the modern physical and mental clutter I had crowded myself with and felt overwhelmed by.
And then I would get there... to some lake, or the base of some gnarly track as the rain began to drizzle and I would feel at once free and exhilarated and terrified! Totally terrified. And in the same way that I would doubt myself sat at the computer, I would doubt myself as I climbed into my gear. I would be undeniably confronted by my smallness, by my fragility. My impatience. My ego. Mostly, most probably my ego.
There is a popular analogy of meditation as slipping beneath the ripples on the surface of a lake; a beautiful analogy that describes the sensations of immersion, and of subversion. The muffled quiet that is uncomparable to any noise we experience in our daily land-based, oxygen dependent existence. It conveys the sense of simply being in something vast, yet simultaneously supported. We feel held in that gentle compression of the water. We have a sense that we are operating beyond our normal axis of operation. We wish for a moment that we could stay there forever... and for a moment it is easy to do so... but then the urge to breathe begins to build and eventually we must re-emerge. A cacophony of rippling water and earthy sounds and we are back on that edge of vigilance and of fear of the darkness beneath us, that only a moment ago felt like home.
Perhaps this is the biggest challenge of meditational practice. That moment when we must return to the surface. The moment that we are presented with the inherent emptiness of idealized escapism as a proxy for peace. We see that our deadlines haven't changed and perhaps we begin to feel foolish for thinking we could carry that sense of achievement and clarity triumphantly back with us.
Worse still, as our practice deepens and we begin to experience more profound and deeper levels of ourselves we begin more keenly aware of our neurosis and the greater range of our human experience that at some point became arbitrarily categorised as good and bad, tolerable and intolerable, and we deny ourselves any further progress for fear of what may be underneath. There is a saying (whether it's true I dont know), that one of the primary reasons for a fear of heights, is just how powerful our curious mind is...what would it be like to jump? And we don't trust ourselves.
But now I'm mixing metaphors... lets go back to our lake.
We long to be in it... submerged. Held. Quiet. Endless. Untouched by the surface world. We have surpassed the fears and the trepidation of the surface. Of the unknown and dive willingly from our outer worlds into our inner. Whether it is a seated practice, or interwoven into the flow of our yoga asana, we are in our lake. And we want it to live up so badly to our static ideal, yet more often than not it doesn't. We had that first taste of serenity in the absorption of the challenge of the balance of virabhadrasana 3, yet now we float there with ease and our mind is free to roam again. And if we can hold that energy there, after the physical resistance has shifted, then it is here that the magic of our practice begins to unfold.
We are all familiar with the term karma; our accumulated and collected deposit of energy that lurks in our root and risks cycling us through the same unenlightened existence lifetime after life time. Yet above that, in the second chakra we hold our Samskara, or our 'colourings'. They are the thoughts (vrittis) judgements and the assumptions that overlay, and underlie our understanding of the world around us, that we have become so attenuated to that we cannot see them or how they limit us. How we respond to them, affects then how they are proliferated through the rivers of our body.
Enlightenment is often associated with the notion of vanishing into thin air, or becoming totally transparent, and perhaps, that understanding has its roots here. Importantly for my personal practice, is that the idea of resolving these samskaras is not a path of transcendence but a path of acceptance and understanding. Whilst our thoughts are still 'coloured' (klishta vrittis), as with tinted lenses, they change in some way our view. Our process then is to understand them so that they become uncoloured thoughts (aklishta vrittis), that yes, are still a part of our world and our experience of living now, but that they do not change our incoming perception. We can literally, so to speak, see through them. We become transparent. It is the proverbial mud churned up in our entry to the lake settling again to reveal the true nature of the bottom of the lake, and the middle and the above. It certainly isn't a comfortable process, it isn't even a linear process, and perhaps the end of it is more elusive than we can imagine whilst no maps of the route exist, only of the terrain and all the possible roads you might go down. It isn't often a dramatic and sensational route, but rather a steady and determined trudge.
We do not become peaceful by means of escape, or of disconnection and apathy. Rather, we attain peace through understanding how we obscure our innate peacefulness.
Perhaps then it is better to describe peace alongside equanimity, and equilibrium. More even than understanding that we are the calm and central 'I' in the middle of a storm, but that we can courageously continue the journey of searching for the eye of the storm, with the knowledge that primarily that journey is about getting out of our own way on that route, or letting go of everything that pulls us back into the maelstrom. Of finding that vastness, and that quiet, and that acceptance and that peace within us, and of learning how to resist the urge to take hold of everything that pulls us out of it and into the mundanity and judgment of daily life, until maybe one day that fantastic memory of swimming backstroke in a lake with the blue sky above and crystal clear darkness beneath is no longer separate from our daily life.
--- so, for the International Day of Peace, an intention, not of fantasising about a glorified, static and frankly fictitious state... but an intention. An intention of being brave enough, and humble enough and patient enough to continue on the journey towards rediscovering what it is to exist in peacefulness, and emanate peacefulness and embody peace (at least most of the time!)