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Midwinter Options: When You Can't Find Peace Without, Choose Peace Within

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I ran into a friend at the gym last week. Originally from Switzerland, he has been living in Los Angeles for 20 years. Ten years ago he and his partner purchased a beautiful home, which sits at the end of a cul de sac in the West Hollywood Hills, where many enjoy a pristine, quiet life. He lives in a home many people would not even venture into for an open house because they know they couldn't afford it. I would go as far as to say he lives a privileged life. So I was rather struck when during our brief conversation my friend revealed that he was choosing to leave L.A.

He had always been a person who was quite fond of expressing his love and gratitude for living in Los Angeles. So, I asked, "What has made you decide to sell your beautiful home and move?" His reply came as a surprise: "This town has gotten so hectic and chaotic. I used to be able to relax here. I used to find it peaceful. I really don't anymore. I have not really been able to relax in LA for a long time."

His statement gave me reason to pause, and also gave me food for brain fodder. There have been times when I, too, have shared his sentiment about living in Los Angeles. It's easy to get caught up in the notion that one's surroundings can dictate his or her level of life enjoyment. But I've noticed that, more often than not, when I am running around chaotic like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off, it is on a day when I did not practice my morning ritual of centering and meditating.

Because my friend and I were both in the middle of our workouts, I did not share what was coming to mind for me, so we finished up our chat by talking about the recent holidays. He shared his experience going to church on Christmas Eve, and after he had moved on to a different machine in the gym, I found myself reflecting upon our conversation. I wondered if, during his trip to church, he had been instructed by the pastor to turn to his neighbor and say "Peace be with you." As a non-practicing Jew who's been to Christian services once or twice, I had always enjoyed this part of the service, but now I find myself contemplating the meaning of that phrase.

Although I know it means "I hope that you find peace," I've come to believe that "Peace be with you" is a somewhat misleading saying. And as I typed 'Peace be with you,' I found myself reminded of this when my word processing program suggested an alternative: "Peace is with you." This, to me, is the more truthful and appropriate thing to say to someone, for it suggests that peace lies within each of us and that we all have the capacity to access it if we choose to. Perhaps computers do sometimes know more than people after all.

It is easy to allow ourselves to get caught in the fear and chaos that can come with the state of current global affairs. Our economy is heinous. People are still killing each other in the name of oil and in the name of their chosen gods. Is peace really something we think we can find looking down to the cityscape from the hill we live on in Los Angeles, or from the 30th floor of the building in which we live in Times Square?

When we continue to seek peace as if it is an external experience to be provided sometime in the future by something or someone other than ourselves, it never arrives. The truth is that peace is a reality that lies within you. Just like love, joy, silence, and grace it cannot be created or destroyed. It just is.

The inner experience of peace is a choice we can make. For instance, for me choosing peace can be as simple as disengaging from the inner experience of fear and chaos that can come when I check the balance on my retirement account. Instead of giving in to that fear, I give myself permission to focus on the fact that in this moment my needs are more than met. It can be as simple as choosing to focus on my breath rather than the person who just cut me off in traffic. I chose to see being laid off from my last corporate position at the end of 2007 as a gift from spirit telling me it was time to stop dabbling in my coaching/seminar business part time, as I had been doing for years, and finally commit full time to a coaching career. And, a few years ago, when my brothers and I had to remove my mother from the life support that kept her breathing following a health battle, I chose peace. I left the hospital room to go to the chapel, where I intended to have a few moments of peace and silence. It was in that peace a very clear message came from spirit advising me to go back to her room, because her transition was imminent. I did, and within a very short period of time she made her peaceful transition.

Albert Camus once wrote, "In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." I think this sentiment best describes the idea that we all have the capacity to find within ourselves the peace that we normally seek from outside influences. So as we maneuver through the days of this winter season and the days following, let's all remember to keep celebrating the summer that lives inside of us.

Peace be within you.


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