Someone recently asked the question: Where have you experienced the most peace? Is it now a memory that has become your "happy" place?
My response is a contradiction. When we think of the word peace we think of the glassy, undisturbed surface of a body of water, or the stillness of the morning at the break of dawn. We think of times of silence, worship, prayer. We think of meditation, sleep, rest or even death.
Yet the most expansive peace I ever felt happened like this:
It was my first trip to the outer banks. I brought Emily with me to celebrate my graduation from college. We rented a shabby but cozy motel room in Nags Head, conveniently situated on the ocean side. After unpacking our bags and eating a snack, we drove to 7 Eleven for a bundle of firewood and stopped at the fire station for a permit. Back on the beach after sunset and before our campfire, I became unexpectedly swept up in euphoria. The energy of the waves charged the atmosphere with invigorating, hair-raising pulses. Swhoosh. Ripple. Pause. Swoosh, thundering crash. Ripple. Pause. Silence. Repeat.
After dropping the firewood and camp chairs in a heap, I sprinted down the beach, barefoot. A full moon rose over the Atlantic as the sky deepened from indigo to black. Emily and I ran together like liberated captives. No one was on the beach to see our inhibitions fall away. Were there crabs in the sand? We were northerners unaware. Like people who don't fear leaf piles because they are unused to copperheads, our bare feet were unafraid.
That heart-pounding full sprint under a pristine white moon brought the complete surrender and release that allowed peace to fill my being. I have spent my life fighting hard instead of waiting for it to arrive on the tide; struggling for needs, for the impulsive something I think I desperately want, for the something that needs to be done. If the laundry ever gets caught up, it's because I'm literally fighting my way through it. If I need to write for a grade, I'm battling all of my ignorance, all of my insecurity, everyone in the class, the people who write academic jargon, and my professor too. If I'm working for money, I'm battling the boss, proving I can excel and master the work. It is a headstrong me that succeeds.
On that night on the beach, after five hours of driving (and battling my way through motorcycles...it was Bike Week! How nerdy I felt driving next to hogs in Grandma's yellow Buick!) instead of being exhausted I was completely energized, so awake and alive I thought I might ascend from the sand and fly. Which I was able to actually do, the following day, when we went hang-gliding together on Jockey's Ridge. But even though actual flight was intensely euphoric, it was that sprint on the beach under the moon that brought the most complete and extensively deep peace. During the running, and afterward.
I've not been able to experience that depth (Or height? Which direction is peace? Submersion or ascension?) while meditating or praying, sitting quietly in silence, or sleeping. Peace happened when I was absolutely the most active my body can be. And it happened after the marathon of paper writing at Guilford College, a place that nearly broke my spirit with nearly impossible standards of achievement.
This somehow makes perfect sense. The peacemakers of the world are activists. They might have meditative or spiritual practices that support the work they do in the world, but mostly, they work incredibly long and grueling hours to help people, sometimes in utterly devastating and dangerous conditions.
What this notion of "active" peace means for me is not to be afraid of doing the work that comes with my life. It means not being lazy about my writing practice, my parenting, or my relationships. It means staying focused on my food choices and exercises. It means not falling into the rut of despair when the work just seems overwhelming and endless.
For me, peace happens during intense sprinting, when I can do nothing else except surrender it all.