If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” - Mother Theresa
While working a yoga and writing retreat in Tulum, Mexico last month, I decided to take advantage of the resort’s renowned spa services. As I waited in the resort spa reception area for my masseuse, I took a moment to look at my email.
I see an email from my ex.
Don't read it. Don't read it! Don't read it!! You are about to spend an uncertain amount of dollars (I can never get the pesos to dollar conversion right) to improve your mood and relax. Don't sabotage it!
But I ignore my better self and read the email.
I feel the tick tock of my heart as molten lava rises to my forehead.
"Oh yeah?" I must have said this out loud because the Spanish speaking spa receptionist looked at me strangely. I pointed at my phone and shook my head "no" so she would understood I wasn't talking to her.
I started typing an email response and quickly sent it before I can talk myself out of it.
God that felt good. Even though I meditate, practice yoga and try to be grateful, sometimes I just get fatigued from the higher road and need to call a spade a spade.
But now that I have read and responded to the offensive email, how am I going to keep this incident from sabotaging my day, demeanor and diet?
I will try to dip into the peace that passes all understanding. Oh, where did I leave it?
Ah there it is. Between the past and the future in a little cove called "The Moment."
I close my eyes and take notice of my breath. It is rapid and centered in my chest. I redirect my breath to my belly and begin "the Peace that Passes All Understanding" breathing practice - remembering that if I can't experience peace - maybe dreaming about it being possible is enough.
The Peace that Passes All Understanding Breathing Practice
Breathe in, let the past go on the exhale.
Breathe in, let the future go on the exhale.
Breathe in, on the exhale - engage mindfulness tools (touch fingers to thumb, notice sounds, feel the light through your eyelids, etc.).
Repeat as needed.
After practicing, I feel a little bit better. But my mind still wanders - ending up deep in my heart where my father resides. Every service he presided over as a minister ended with a benediction that included the "the peace that passeth all understanding" phrase. This phrase is from the New Testament (Phillippians 4:7) but the concept of transformative peace is found in numerous religions including Buddhism, Muslim and Judaism.
The spa tech who has come to take me to the therapy room takes one look at me and asks, "Is something wrong?"
"No I am fine," I reply.
I can almost hear her say, "Liar." Why did I pick a reiki specialist for my deep tissue massage?
As I lay down on the massage table I am reminded of the day my father was buried.
In the days leading up to his burial I had no chance to grieve. I was too busy tending to my mother who understandably cried every night over the loss of her husband of 43 years. As a result, I was exhausted and in need of a good cry myself.
As they lowered his casket into the ground, the presiding minister unknowingly chose benediction from Phillipians that my father always used.
"May the peace that passeth all understanding carry your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ."
Hearing the words I began to cry in an embarrassing way. In a way no self-respecting preacher’s daughter would cry for fear of making a scene. But I wouldn't have to worry about that anymore - and I would never hear those words from my father again. I found it hard to imagine ever being peaceful again.
But during my yoga teacher training last year the phrase “the peace that passes all understanding” was uttered by my instructor during a discussion of the Buddha and how he sought Nirvana (also known as the peace that passes all understanding) to escape a world of Dukkha (suffering). It was like my father was speaking to me after decades of silence.
The yoga path I am on is largely because of my dad's example. I am not following directly in my earthly father’s footsteps as he was a Christian minister. But I believe he would be accepting of my yoga path, as he was the one who explained to me, at a very young age, that most spiritual doctrine is very similar. So, although I am not following directly in his footsteps, I am definitely traveling in his “lane”.
I have been thinking a lot about my dad lately - even though he has been gone longer than I knew him when he was alive.
During the yoga and writing retreat I attended, one of the attendees shared an amazing piece about how she helped her father during his last moments of life.
I slept poorly the night after that reading thinking about how my father died. Despite the many times he held the hands of the dying and bereaved, helping them find peace on their journey to death, he died alone.
He died tending the small tomato plants he had grown from seeds. My mother realized something was wrong when he didn't pick her up from work that afternoon. They found his still body beside the plants and under the UV lamp my roommates had used to grow “plants” when I was in college.
Did my father find the ultimate peace that passes all understanding under that lamp? The peace that exists despite suffering and pain? I hope so. I am sad that he was alone at that moment and I wish I had been there to help him on his death journey.
As the massage therapist continues her efforts, she keeps telling me to relax. After several admonitions I feel I have to say something - anything. I tell her, "I am sorry - I just had a tough conversation with my ex."
Although she does not speak English, she nods as if she understands, and we both are better for sharing.
Once the Tibetan bells sound the end of my massage, I walk from the spa into the exquisite Mexican sun. I remain a bit unsettled from my earlier email conversation, but with the aid of the massage and peace seeking breathing practice, I am able to steer clear of the lure of the resort bar and buffet and make my way to the beach.
After sensory rich contact with the smell, sound, and touch of the waves - I am able to stay in the moment and imagine what true Nirvana must feel like.
Even though the full “peace that passes all understanding” experience is a bit out of reach today – dreaming about it seems to be enough.
How can experiencing - or just dreaming about - the peace that passes all understanding help you during difficult times?
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” - Gautama Buddha