Lately I have been noticing some common patterns between my life and the lives of others. The two themes that keep popping up are the desire to “control” something while simultaneously being at “peace” with it. While these goals seem reasonable on the surface, they can often be paradoxical in practice, sometimes even perpetuating the same conflict we initially intend to extinguish.
There is of course a balance that needs to be made. The question is: where should we make the distinction and where do we draw the lines that guide our thoughts and behavior? In other words, when it is appropriate to intervene – to seek change – and when is it better to just let things be – and accept what is.
From my understanding, people are more prone to discontent over content, which means they have a greater desire to change than to accept. It may even be in our evolutionary make-up – our desire to improve, to move forward, to have more, to gain power, to indulge; and thus we find ourselves constantly seeking higher levels of satisfaction – new plateaus – instead of being content with how things are.
This is a reflection not only of the current state of affairs in Western consumerist culture, but a facet implicit in human action as shown throughout history. It is the struggle of obtaining “happiness” – by always wanting to get to Moment B, even though we are looking for peace in Moment A.
Look around. Even the most physically and financially protected of individuals, those who live in a world of luxury, whom have no need to stress over survival nor reproduction, instead, create their own stress internally. They continue to find themselves unhappy, disconnected, always separate from what they sought. They have fallen for the paradox of control, they want to find complete satisfaction in a world of infinite desires. To do this they must seek more control of their surroundings, and to seek more control means to have more possessions, more worries, more things to hold onto and force. Yet the more we try to hold on to, the harder it is to maintain a firm grip. We all face the challenge of finding that balance.
Real peace can be thought of as a relinquishment of this desire to control. It is a state of mind that comes in many differing degrees and shades: from mere tolerance, to acceptance, to content, and even bliss.
But consciousness as we tend to experience it is it odds with this peace. Instead, we live in a world of needs and wants. We must identify, discriminate, think, value, and act to fulfill. Even the most “enlightened” of monks must attend to his or her earthly and bodily desires if he or she wishes to continue to survive. These are not avoidable realities for anyone, but understanding them can lead to a sense of maturity about the coming and going of pleasure and pain.
We can’t live life and simultaneously avoid its burdens. There is a point where peace too comes with diminishing returns. At worst, a constant seeking of more peace – more relaxation, more content, less stress – may be one of the most deceitful temptations there is. After all, to be at peace is to accept what is, but to desire more of it is to not to accept what is. Peace then becomes an addictive drug, and the search for neverending satisfaction is ultimately an illusion. This is the paradox of peace.
While we may dream of someday achieving absolute control and absolute peace over our lives, it is this dream which contributes to our own unhappiness. Neither one is reconcilable. There is a fulcrum point that needs to be practiced, a so-called middle way, a path of moderation between the extremes of sensual indulgence and the extremes of self-mortification, a balance between action and inaction, speech and silence, stress and content, peace and control.