When do you feel most at peace?
It’s a hard question to ask yourself, and an even harder question to answer for another.
There may be pressure to think of the perfect response—”Am I silly if I answer ‘in nature?'” “Am I silly if I don’t?”—which implies there is a perfect response. (Hint: there isn’t.)
In conjunction with Wit & Delight’s December theme, I decided to ask the people in my life this very question. Asking this question many times over the course of the last month, I figured a pattern would emerge: a clue, a key, a thesis about the importance of disconnect that would reveal a discrete understanding of serenity.
This wasn’t the case.
I heard anecdotes about cooking with friends and walking the dog. I thought about the moments when you’re in the midst of a good conversation, and the seconds when it clicks that you are where you’re supposed to be.
Instead, I heard anecdotes about cooking with friends and walking the dog. I thought about the moments when you’re in the midst of a good conversation, and the seconds when it clicks that you are where you’re supposed to be.
Everyone is different, as are their answers. To summarize (though I really can’t and shouldn’t!), peace may simply be about accepting where you are at any given time.
To fully make peace with myself, I must admit I asked more than ten people this question. It’s hard to stop when the answers are rolling in; it’s an easy way to find out interesting tidbits about someone that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.
To summarize (though I really can’t and shouldn’t!), peace may simply be about accepting where you are at any given time.
The last answer I received was my grandfather’s—someone who, to me, embodies calm. He eats slowly and mows the lawn in a way that makes it look like a purposeful labyrinth. He’s a man who’s content to just be.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Sophia,” he wrote to me. “Time for some self-examination.”
“I do what I think I can do for myself and for those for whom I feel some responsibility, but to feel really peaceful I have to recognize my capabilities and relinquish absolute control! My mother said that at one time or another—’God helps those who help themselves, so don’t stop rowing.’ Or something like that.”
A lovely answer, isn’t it?
So are the other ten.
So is whatever yours is!
The first 10 seconds after I wake up before I check my phone.
Logan Jones: artist, filmmaker
When I am in wonder of something; when I am experiencing the moment without expectation or judgment. Often this can happen in a chaotic or even stressful setting, when I feel fully there and surrender to being there. Sometimes there is work, sometimes it’s in a busy kitchen with my Italian family, sometimes it’s in my own brain. But I think one of the most exciting places to find yourself at peace is when you are very close to freaking out! There is a sort of peace in the power of composure.
I recognize myself at peace when I feel like I have given all I can, in all areas of my life. That feeling creates the ability to have such deserving rest.
Cracking the window open while laying in bed with my kitties and a good book, being reminded of the whole world outside with frogs croaking or coyotes howling or birds chirping. The silence the snow brings, like it is packing in all the sound into the earth and saying shhh. it makes everything feel like an adventure into new territory. Listening to Oprah, or even thinking about her. Walking in the woods in the backyard while my puppy and cats explore, especially when the snow is fresh and heavy on the trees and every step I take in my Sorels I hear a satisfying crunch. When I am cooking in the kitchen with a glass of wine in my hand in the midst of great conversations, like all the women who came before me. The feeling of a good long hug after a fight with someone you love.
Sara Bacigalupo: host, budding sommelier
I don’t think peace necessarily means serenity, but rather when you feel you’re on the right path. I always feel like this when 1. I’m running, in nature, to house music. 2. At church after communion (preferably in a really pretty cathedral—I’m vain). 3. When I’m [gossiping] with my mom and sister.
Isabella: journalist, proletariat princess
Getting ready and choosing an outfit with unlimited time.
Peityn Otto: hairdresser, fashionista
The first thought that came to my mind [was] when I’m on the stair machine at the gym. It seems weird, I know. But maybe it’s a feeling of climbing up, up, and up. I might be accomplishing nothing, but it feels like I’m in control of something.
My most peaceful memory is canoeing with [my husband] John at the lake a couple of years ago. It was late summer, all the summer boat traffic was done. We canoed to a little island. There, at the water’s edge was the beautiful cobalt blue bottle gentian. This gem is a late bloomer. After everything else is done, and things are turning brown, this beauty can be found. The water was calm, the weather was beautiful, but there was also a peace from just being with someone who has such a deep understanding of nature and always knows the names of what we’re looking at!
Paulette Cervenka: activist, writer
When I take time to slow down enough to be present for the truth of what I need in each moment. For example, I literally broke down on Thanksgiving morning. Yep, my family was an hour late for the gathering we were expected to be at because I couldn’t keep calm and carry on.
It felt fake and forced to keep stuffing my feelings down for a “more opportune” time, so I said “ya know what? It’s time for me to reclaim this holiday story. What do I need right now?”
What I needed was to take time to slow down and release pent up overwhelm because on the other side of that would be the truly authentic smile and presence that I really wanted to bring to the Thanksgiving table.
So that’s the way it went—from overwhelm to breakdown to release, and finally, to true presence. It took an extra hour of my day to shift the story from merely going through the motions of the holiday because I “should” to feeling capable of embracing the day in a way that felt good to me.
I may have looked the same to any observers, aside from the late arrival, but that one hour was totally worth it because on the inside I was much happier.
Liz Orchard: doctor, healer
When I’m painting a landscape outdoors, when my easel is set up next to a rushing river, with a nice breeze whistling through the pine trees and the sunshine dappling its light on the pathway.
Bob Upton: plein air painter, creative director
Chilling at a coffee shop in an unfamiliar city…
Fresh out of the shower in my clean sheets with mint essential oil in the air.
Hannah Allen: social worker, naturalist
A place: Ruckle Provincial Park. Salt Spring Island.
Where I hiked and beach-combed and swam and had picnics every summer of my childhood.
[My husband] Rolf and I got married there.
And I try to go at least once a year to get calm and centered.
If I do a meditation where they say go to your most comfortable place, I imagine the sitting mossy floor of the forest with cedar and madrona and oak trees over my head and dappled sunshine coming through the trees.
Rebecca Dipti Alderson: artist, art therapist, doctor
After whatever I had to do in a day is done, I come home and hop in my bed. It’s cold and my pillows are just right—exactly where they were in the morning. I call my cat Edwin in and he crawls up on the bed and lays right next to me. I close my eyes and think about what I accomplished that day and what’s left to consolidate. I take a little nap, he takes a little cat nap. I wake up with him by my side.
Austin Wessel: student, computer scientist
BY Sophie Vilensky - December 20, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.