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A Peaceful Place

Babbling Brook, Budding Tree

1-14-02

 

            Green leaves, soft grass and a gentile breeze; what makes a peaceful place? The light filters through the thin dark branches of the larch filling the bottoms of the marshy hollows. A narrow boardwalk winds its way across the spongy peat that hides the mysteries of the acidy bog. The pterodactylisc shadow of a Palliated Woodpecker glides silently through the trees skirting the bog. Grey Jays and a myriad of warblers fill the air with their chorus of song. The warm gentile breeze of late spring soothes the soul of those who visit and wander below these cerulean blue skies, cooled by the transpiration of the dense vegetation in these northern woods. A squirrel effortlessly jumps from branch to branch.

            A peaceful place for one person may be a quiet bog tucked in to the Northern Hardwood Forest of New England. For others it may be in the middle of the city. The green lawn of Ghirardelli Square, gracefully drops down the hill to the bustling trolley yard just before falling into the sea. Street performers, tourists, picnickers and local residences fill the green with a joyful hustle and clamor of life unique to the warm sunny coastal city. Lovers sit with their arms around ach other, crowding the benches looking onto the busy San Francisco Bay and the regal Golden Gate Bridge. The gentle fragrance of sea salt fills the young lungs of children as they run around the grass trying to get their bright red, blue and green kites to take flight. A young student lies on a soft fleece blanket, buried in Tolstoy. In ease and at total peace with the hum of the well oiled machine of the city working around him, the words of his book envelope his thoughts, pulling him into another place, another world.

            With each step moving a little faster, each stride stretching a little longer, his breathing eases. His pulse quickens the heat from the fresh warm blood works his tense muscles. With time his calves and thighs begin to relax. As they warm up, their sinuous stands lengthen, releasing the knots and tension. With the release in his legs comes relief in his back and shoulders. With his relaxed gait, he rolls his neck and allows the tension in his neck to escape. Soon his entire body is flowing with fluid motion. Flowing across the country trail, he resembles a rolling river. With the eased relaxed gait, the tensions of the day and week slip away. The toils of work and family pass from the deepest reassesses of his mind. All that is left are the elation and peace found in strenuous physical activity.

            What ever it is that creates a peaceful place for an individual, it is important that it starts as a place inside. The most peaceful place regardless of location is a peaceful heart and calm mind. I am most comfortable ambling through the woods and gazing upon passerines. I become extremely self conscious or anxious around crowds or busy areas. I recently was on a cross-country ski trip though a pristine beautiful area. There was not a soul to be seen. Snow was gently falling through the trees. This should have been the quintessential, perfect peaceful place for me, save one thing. My mind was extremely busy. My mind was on many painful and occupying thoughts. My mind was not at peace. For me, this place, while beautiful was not particularly peaceful. In contrast I can remember having visited the Longwood Gardens Bromeliad exhibit. This exhibit was packed with people that were mostly in continuous movement. While I gazed upon the beautiful Guzmania cascading off of the epiphytes, or admired the wall carpeted with miniature Tillandsia, the waterfall, which flowed through the room, lulled me into another place. Slowly the magic of this room pulled away all of my toils and for a few minutes I found myself at true peace, there among a crowd of people. I know that it was simply because my mind was in a place receptive to the peaceful suggestions of the arboretum.

            By no means would I discount the value of the actual place in the experience of peace. But with out the mindset and the openness of the heart to a peaceful mood, is one really going to find peace, despite how beautiful and calming a location or activity might be? James Allen begins his small literary work, “As a Man Thinketh” (Peter Pauper Press, Inc., NY) with the thoughtful words on the thoughts of men. “The aphorism, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,’ not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life.” Later in this same book, he talks more specifically about the mind affecting you and your physical well-being. “Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body, and lays it open to the creatures of diseases; while impure thoughts, even those if not physically indulged will soon shatter the nervous system.

Strong, pure, and happy thoughts build up the body in vigor and grace. The body is a delicate and plastic instrument, which will respond readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects, good or bad, upon it.” The point of habits is an especially crucial one to re-emphasize, especially with the pace and tension sustained by our society today. Humans are creatures of habit. If you are one in the habit of seeing the proverbial glass half full then the waters of the river of life is more apt to flow smoothly. In contrast when your habit is to always see the empty half you likewise will also always see rough waters and conversely feel them. Changing these habits is no small task as any one who has tried to stop a habit as trivial as snapping fingers or fidgeting can tell you. Not to belittle the challenge of over coming other habits, but try to over come something as pervasive as your very thought patterns. That is what I am suggesting. For those that tend to the side of the glass half empty, your challenge is to work you mind to see the other side of the glass first. The benefits are unending.

But is habit all of the battle. Certainly not all of life is dictated by how we look at it. If that were the case, no one person would ever allow themselves to see the empty half. We are all given difficult card in our life. Perhaps no one persons is ever worse then another’s. God and life gives each of us what we are individually capable of handling. From that lens, if I am in a small boat with a quarter sized hole or a big boat with a fist sized hole, when am I worse off? The answer is that you do not want to be in a boat with a hole. I am given pause to think of John Muir. His writings teach us to be stewards of the land and to love, cherish and respect the natural wonders around us. His life gives us legend and lore, many true many questioned. Perhaps one of the best lessons to be gained from his life is his approach to adversity. Two tails of adversity in Mr. Muir’s life illustrate this. When he was still young, he felt he could no longer deal with the oppression of his childhood home so he walked to California, from his Midwest home, to start a new life.  When he was older and his wife was ill and his marriage was having difficulty, he felt he needed a new look at life. Hiking to the top of Yosemite into Tuolumne Meadows, he climbed the tallest tree he could find to watch a thunderstorm. Muir developed a reputation, through his life, of exploring the world around him. John Muir shows us through the lore of his life exploration and an open mind can help one find a sense of peace. His writings also help us to see that this was a belief he held personally. In his book “The Mountains of California”(Doubleday Anchor Book, American Museum of Natural History, 1894. P.63) John Muir writes, “ I have crossed from side to side of the range at intervals of a few miles all along the highest portion of the chain, with far less real danger than one would naturally count on . . . only those will ever know who give the freest and most buoyant portion of their lives to climbing and seeing for themselves.” This brief excerpt and the entire work, gives the feeling peace in the mountains. But perhaps more importantly, it outlines a formula of how to a search for peace, “only those will ever know who give the freest and most buoyant portion of their lives to climbing and seeing for themselves.”

Edward Abby Opens his beautiful description of life in the retreat of Arches National Monument, “Desert Solitaire” (Simon & Schuster, 1968.) with these descriptive words that fit with Muir’s search and exploration of California’s High Sierra. “Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” These words so clearly fit the example set by John Muir. The key is to continue to seek the peaceful place that is right for you. For these two environmentalists the path to finding peace was through solitude and nature. For you, your seeker may take you to the streets of the Village or to the art studios of Provincetown. Where ever it is you must keep seeking. Your search must stat in your mind and finish in your heart. Your tapestry should be the world.

For the GLBT community there are three searches for peace there is the search for peace in the individual coming out process. Once out, an individual is confronted with a new person that they now must get to know. As they get to know that person, the must now learn what peace is for their new self and spirit and then go in search of peace. There is also a community wide search for peace that is confused, confounded and changing every day and the community discovers whom it is comprised of. Going through the, “Coming Out” process there is three small points that can help lead to a more peaceful journey. Remember that this is all terribly new and every day will be for you and all of those around you. Any one who says differently is lying. Also remember that you have probably been thinking about this in your head for some time while the people you share your new found self with may not have had the same insight, but they also might have. Finally, always be healthy. This is the most important part. If you do not take care of yourself and stay healthy your mind will not be open to peace your heart will close to peace and you will only see the glass as half empty. Translation, rough waters. Know that there are others out there that are like you and that you are accepted. You may not have met them but they are out there and believe me, they are cool people and they love you.

So you’re out. But have you found that peace full place? What makes a peaceful place? With luck it will be easier to now see the full half of the glass and the smoother waters. Open your mind and feel the freedom to accept the rewards from the climb up to the up to the beautiful vista that is now before you. You are giving the buoyant portion of your life. Feel the uplift of life beneath your wings. Now that you are out, each day, come out to your self. Start your day by introducing your self to that new person in the mirror. Learn what that person wants in a peaceful place. Seek out in your own mind what you truly want in life. When you think you know, ask your heart. In his essay, “What do our Hearts Treasure?” E. B. White clearly illustrates that the things our minds desire and tell us that we need are often not the needs of our hearts. As he tells the tale of his first Christmas in Florida with his wife, you hear him listing off all of the survival tactics that his mind has him maneuver through. Purchasing things for the house and buying a plant instead of a traditional Christmas tree. You also hear his heart cry out for the comforts of home in Boston. You hear his heart aching for the familiarities of the life they left, “in lands of fir tree and pine.” E. B. White shows us that it is as important to listen to our hearts as it is to our minds, if we are ever to find peace. So get to know the new you both in mind heart and spirit. Enjoy your journey.

Recently I have begun my own exploration of our colorful and amorphous community. With its ever changing, growing and maturing citizenship, I am finding it difficult to wrap my arms around and embrace its national context as an American might the U.S.A. What I am finding is that in my own neck of the woods of Northern New England there are a lot of people like me. I am finding that our local community is beginning to find its own and we are beginning to find our peaceful place; and our voice from that place with which we can speak when we wish.

But on the national front I still find myself unable to see a community at peace. I see the collective body. I see the literature, music, art, all of the forms to build a culture. I hear the politics and banter and see the organizations. I see all of the parts to make a body of a society. The businesses are there to sell for commerce and the media for publicity, hype and entertainment. Even the services for the community are forming. But there is no sense of place that I am able to discern, not on the national picture. For me it is still to muddled by the other side of the door. I have begun reading, “All The Rage” by Suzanna Danuta Walters (University of Chicago, 2001). In this expose Walters illustrates many of the different ways that the GLBT community has launched into mainstream media. She discusses television shows such as, “Will and Grace”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “ER” as examples of way in which the stigma affixed to homosexuality has been removed or lessened by displays in modern media. In concurrence I must admit I just saw an episode of “Boston Public” that illustrated the briefest hint of some of the issues faced by a teen coming out of the closet. But, and as I have not finished Ms. Walters book this is not a comment on her book but rather a comment on the modern media, I feel that the media has done little for the life of the homosexual other then to give them an alternative to the frequently homophobic, appalling “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The improvements and changes to the life and coming out of a GLBT have been developed and formed not by the heterosexual population in our world but by our own community. This point drives back to the feeling I was noticing earlier, the lack of a sense of place. As a community, the sense of pride and the ability to take credit where credit is due often seems to be like a tide. It comes and goes. Perhaps it is that way with all things. But we as a community nationally are in a very vulnerable place and as individuals we are all crying out, “where is our peaceful place.” We must find a way to come together as a community.

As the community grows stronger it will be easier for the individual to find their own inner strength. But regardless of what path lies before us, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Heterosexual or what ever you orientation or challenge in life we must all find the seeker in us and continue to ask our minds what they want in life and then ask our hearts. We must always seek out and find the perfect peaceful place wherever it may be.

The beautiful orange and white Koi is accented with flakes of gold. Swimming beneath the giant petals of the Asian lilies, gentle bubbles rise from its massive gills. Shaded from the powerful sun, free from harm, bliss, the Koi is at peace. On the surface of the pond not even a ripple stirs. A majestic monarch, flashing its radiant gold and black, floats south toward the coastal eucalyptus where it will feed for the winter. The soft breezes of the coast pass across the tip of the peninsula, hinting at the cold night air to come. Fog, building on the coast threatens but does not break the pristine tranquility of the pond and the surrounding beauty. Rhododendrons, in full bloom, fill the air with sweet pungent aroma. Tea trees shade the pagoda proudly yet mysteriously sitting beside the pond. A young child sits swinging her leg off the edge of the pagoda, watching a fish swim by. She giggles. She is in a total place of peace. Across the pond a pack of bicyclists races by rounding the corner and turning down the city street. They make a few more turns and head into the military base. Passing underneath one of the busiest bridges in the country at the peak of rush hour they head out across the tip of the peninsula toward the open coast. A quarter inch between each tire, two inches between each hand, they are focused, and working like one tuned system. They are in a place of peace as a team. They pass a small house, with a light on inside. Is it your house? Are you at peace? I hope so.