Thursday, December 21, 2023

Peace it Together

“The truth is, something about you makes me feel calm, or more centered or something.  And I could use that.”

These lines were uttered by Anne Hathaway to Robert de Niro in the delightful movie, “The Intern.”  The scene in which this exchange takes place is actually a rather casual one where Hathaway acknowledges the steadying influence of her “intern.”  But revisiting this scene recently made me pause and reflect on the significance and relevance of the sentiment expressed.  

I am 42 years old.  If I were to create a word cloud on what I sought as, say a 22-year old, words such as ‘excitement’ and ‘happiness’ would probably appear in font size 72.  The rush of adrenaline felt when I sped away in my first car, only to receive a traffic ticket from a genial cop, was probably symptomatic of the rush of blood of youth in general.  We all needed someone to slow us down!  When we would talk about someone we had a crush on, we would use terms like, “oh, my heart skips a beat.”  Poor thing that little heart, we taxed it to…our heart’s content!  I was, by and large, responsible. (Those who have known me for a long time - please note, as you snicker, that I wrote, “by and large”!) So, I really do not have any regrets about that phase of life.  But things change.

Flash forward to the present, I know that as I go through the ups and downs of adulthood, the quest is more for peace, inwardly felt, outwardly expressed.  I have realized that I can have more control over peace than I can about happiness.  But at least for me, I have to work towards it.  As a non-believer, I am reliant on what is within and around me for that peace.  Upon introspection, I could narrow down two things that can make or break that inner balance that I seek.  The first is, giving ourselves the time and space to travel inward.  And the second is, carefully choosing, thoughtfully nurturing and fiercely protecting our circle of trust.  These two elements are not mutually exclusive.  But they are distinctive enough to warrant separate mention.

I firmly believe that it is vitally important to invest in our physical and mental health.  As we grow older, as responsibilities increase, we need to be able to be in a physical shape and mental state to weather more storms than we did during the relatively shielded existence of our younger days.  In order for us to be able to fulfill our responsibilities, be it personally or professionally, we truly need to be able to have strength of the mind and of the body.  To do so, it is imperative that we focus on the things that keep our physical and mental health in check.  This may vary from working out in the gym to going on a long drive, listening to melodious music.  The means don't matter, the end does.  Because if we let our mind atrophy and our shoulders droop, how can we be a shoulder for someone to lean on?  Many a time, our self-preservation becomes a casualty in our desire to keep checking the never-ending to-do lists of our life.  If this doesn’t get checked off, neither can other items be.

And the second contributor to our peace is a carefully chosen circle of trust.  As we grow older, we must ask ourselves the tough question whether we are spending time with and on the ones who have a positive or at least a neutral impact on our level of peace.  If that is not the case, it is best to shield ourselves from the people who have a negative impact on us.  The boundaries of our circle of trust cannot be so rigid that that immutability paralyzes us psychologically.  We will, over time, have to be keenly aware of whom we trust our emotions with and who has stopped earning that trust.  We need to be aware that the ones within our circle are the ones that may not necessarily make us skip a beat.  Instead, they do the far more difficult job of actually ensuring that our hearts beat at a steady cadence.  We must identify these people, treasure them, make them feel our gratitude and pay their generosity forward.  

At the same time, we have to force ourselves to have a very detached view towards anyone outside of that circle.  That detachment helps in cases where a certain amount of exposure to them is unavoidable due to societal or professional obligations. In order to safeguard ourselves, we have to be doubly careful to not let anyone outside of our coveted circle feel like they have the privilege to hurt us.  I remember telling a former colleague about creating a mock ballot for kids at the time of elections, to teach them the concept of voting.  He wrote to them, “Choose wisely, kids.”  That advice extends to adults too.  If we don’t choose, we lose.

Now, at 42, I know exactly the words that will be conspicuous in that word cloud that describes what I seek. It may not be as exciting or adventurous as the one from 20 years ago.  But the knowledge that I can, through my actions, have more control over it than the things that I sought in my younger days, is an immensely comforting, calming thought.  And just like Anne Hathaway in “The Intern”, I could use that!