From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust
“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” ― Tich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Do you ever have fantasies of running away? Do you imagine living in a small cottage on a beautiful, serene island? Would you like to escape the relentless tug of other people’s needs, or of constantly being ‘on’? Have you lost your self and think you could find her if you just had even 15 uninterrupted minutes alone?
The answer is not found in running away. The answer is the bedrock of all recovery: SERENITY. Our inner emotional world can be afloat in the flotsam of unhealthy habits, compulsions, obsessions, and addictions. Somewhere on the surf we might also find anxiety, resentments, and the sticky muck of shame and guilt.
Recently I reconnected with an old friend I haven’t seen in years. She has faced enormous trauma and tragedy in her life and yet what I felt most in her presence was serenity. She did, in fact, run away so to say. But rather than running away from herself, she was returning to herself. She retreated from the everyday pressures of her old life and found work gardening. Her soul bathed in the peace of being alone yet connected to nature. As she worked she prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more.
And gradually she found herself restored to serenity, and fully reengaged with life.
Life is difficult and it is so easy to seek self-soothing through unhealthy habits, addictions, compulsions and obsessive thoughts. Anxiety often underlies these emotional escape mechanisms.
Let’s look at a few definitions:
Addiction is overdependence on a substance or activity that interferes with our life and can cause a physiological dependence that leads to withdrawal symptoms if the addiction is stopped. People persist in addiction despite negative consequences in life. They are drawn by the pleasure the addiction offers, but as deeper work is done, uncomfortable emotion precedes addictive behavior. Despite the temporary pleasure, a person becomes owned by the addiction and as they say in Narcotics Anonymous, “One pill is too many and a thousand are never enough.”
Compulsion is a persistent, uncontrollable impulse to perform a stereotyped, irrational act that is not necessarily pleasurable. The compulsion is engaged in to find relief from obsessive thinking. But one can never wash one’s hands enough to be free from those thoughts. Compulsive behavior can also include engaging in any recurring activity to manage our feelings. But compulsions usually end up managing us!
An Unhealthy Habit is any systemically repeated behavior pattern performed automatically, or without thinking that causes a person negative consequences.
All of these dysfunctional conditions have something in common: They take us away from ourselves.
Serenity is a way of coming home to our true self. We claim serenity when we come to our own assistance, instead of abandoning ourselves through destructive behaviors. We learn healthy self-soothing practices. We become very familiar with the feeling of peace and how it is created in our lives. We learn that vital to serenity is accepting what is. That doesn’t mean that ‘what is’ is alright, but it is, in this moment, reality. We don’t overcome our realities by escaping.
Mary O’Malley, author of The Gift of Our Compulsions, A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing, successfully overcame a lifetime struggle with compulsion. It brought her to a place she could write these words: “I trust myself . . . I also trust my life. I know how to wake up each morning and open to the unfolding of my day—both the easy and the difficult parts of it—aware that whatever shows up is a part of my journey into an ever-deepening connection with life.”
When we trust ourselves, our lives, our God or Higher Power, our anxiety lifts. While conscious effort is required in life, controlling is not. As we let go we feel the hummingbird energy of anxiety gently fly away.
But trusting ourselves can be especially difficult. We are often held back by fear. The unknown is daunting. And past mistakes can cause us to doubt ourselves. Despite our humanity, we can hold onto trust by meeting ourselves with compassion and curiosity. Our past is no longer baggage, but compost—a natural fertilizer from which we can blossom.
I wanted to run away this week. I couldn’t without being completely irresponsible, so instead I ran to my journal for a bit. In my writing I found clarity and formed an intention to say “no” to requests for my time that carry me away from my purpose. I increased my commitment to continue paring down an excess of possessions that complicate life. I decided I am going to stop rushing, that I am going to exit—wherever possible—the impossible pace of life in our culture.
I vowed to seek serenity each day through stillness, more self-awareness, acceptance, prayer, sacred study, and offering myself the gift of my own presence.
It is time to fully come home to ourselves and to therein find spirit, peace, and serenity, the bedrock of emotional health.