You Are Allowed To Cultivate Peace
Every day I hike up the shady ridge above my home. A welcome respite from the sun, halfway up the steep gravel, a small spring comes bubbling across the road. As we pass my pup usually drinks from its waving puddles and I bend down to touch this new water and anoint my brow. In the winter I usually call this elbow in the trail spring bend but in the warm months it becomes turtle hollow.
As the air heats up in summer, the box turtles return to this part of the mountain to cool off in the clear spring water and fresh mud made from forest floor. They don’t move very much. Often, they will be in the same relaxed pose on my way up the mountain as they are on the way back down. I can see the different wallows they’ve made over time, like tiny kivas or dye pots made in the mud. Sometimes they hide their faces under the lip of the little cool ponds, other times they peer up at me, their orange-rimmed eyes gazing serenely from the water’s edge. Every time I visit them, I feel distinctly more peaceful. Seeing them, I often wonder if, instead of cancer season, this time might be more accurately called turtle season after all.
In summer things always seem to get extraordinarily busy. Rushing from work to water the garden, rushing from the garden to make dinner, rushing to clear away dinner so I can get to bed at a reasonable hour. But like the dark side of the moon, there is a whole other half of summer we often miss. Like a calm cool pond, this hidden side of summer waits with a serene, turtle-slow type of permission— you are allowed to cultivate peace.
Whether or not we realize it, most of us create more busyness and complexity in our lives than we truly need. I certainly count myself among this camp. Every summer the to-do list seems to grow as gargantuan as the squash leaves covering the garden that I forget that so much of what I take on is actually optional. I don’t need to weed the garden until sundown. Just as I don’t need to attend three potlucks in a weekend or put up a gallon of pesto before the basil bolts. We often don’t realize that, outside of taking care of our basic needs, we have a choice of what to do with all our energy.That there are many things we can cultivate, and we are allowed to use our energy to actively cultivate peace. Most summer’s I have pretty highfalutin expectations of accomplishing, but this summer my only goal has been to grow one thing— peace.
What does peace look like? I’ll admit, for a long time I really didn’t have a clue. I was so used to filling my spare hours with endless tasks of self, business, home or relationship improvement, I wouldn’t have known peace if it bopped me over the head. Like growing a new plant in the garden, we don’t actually know what peace looks or feels like until we actively cultivate it. But after the past few months of tending and pruning my life with the sole goal of learning about peace,here is what I’d say— peace looks like having evenings free to lay in a dark room with my sweetie, hiding from the heat and recounting the events of the day. Peace looks like taking a long lunch with a fantasy book on my back porch. Peace is going out to the garden to eat a handful of berries and just sitting there for a spell to watch the leaves move in the breeze.
Peace looks like asking less of myself, knowing that sometimes just dealing with the unexpected of life is enough.
Peace is becoming aware of the people or things that cause disharmony in my life. Peace is not only choosing to spend less physical time with these people or things but spending less of my brainwaves trying to puzzle out why they ripple through my life so dramatically.
Peace is always choosing the option that creates the most well-being, even if that means my life is a little less flashy or exciting than it used to be. Peace is allowing myself to be a turtle during turtle season. To build a cool, mud-lined home for myself to be— and guarding that well-being with a calm, steady certainty.
I used to think that growth always came from pushing myself to the edge. So, I chose opportunities, relationships, and routines that were dramatic, tiring and unbalancing. Some of the greatest learning moments in my life came from the biggest upsets— chronic illness and trauma—so I figured that the path of real learning must lie in consistently choosing the hardest slog. But the truth is these hard lessons weren’t actually teaching me that I had to create a life of challenge in order to grow, but how important it was to learn how to cultivate peace in the midst of life’s hardships. When I actively cultivate peace, I complete the cycles that these traumas came here to teach me—how to be at home in myself and, like a turtle on a mid-summer’s day, at peace with my place in the world.
You can choose peace and still grow.
You can choose peace, even when everything in the world is telling you that you must push, strive, change, transform, end it all, or begin something new.
You can choose peace, even if that means upsetting the expectations of others.
You can choose peace and still change your life from the inside out. In fact, sometimes peace is the path to transformation itself.
You can choose peace and still be blessed with an abundance of creativity, love, nourishment and magic— it’ll just arrive differently. Less like an asteroid, and more like a white votive, glowing steady in a hallowed alcove.
So whenever a new opportunity or invitation comes up ask yourself: Will this increase my sense of well-being? Does this support me in nourishing my overall existence? Will this help me cultivate peace?
I used to ask myself— how can I do better? Now I ask myself – how can I find even more peace in the midst of all this growth? And that question alone has been like a fertilizer, helping me to blossom more splendidly than I ever thought possible. Maybe the only nutriment I needed all along was this…peace.
As we move into the last week of cancer season, let the turtle in you help reorient you towards the things in life you’ve felt you haven’t deserved— a calm pond of rest, the refreshing coolness of moving slow, a safe place to gaze out at your life with an even-keeled view and steady hope. Feel the blessing of the spring water at your feet, the coolness of the earth’s mud supporting you like the porcelain of a bathtub. Rest your head. Take all the time that you need. Let peace seep into you as easily as the spring leaps from the hillside, and allow it to flow, clear and sweet.