“Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations” –Rebecca West
Sitting on the steps of a temple in a remote retreat in Karekare, New Zealand, I look at the sunset and the distant waves and think how easy life would be if I chose peace. If I chose sunsets, dirt trails, and crickets over the bustling metropolis of my own mind...if I took a note from the Buddhists and finally unplugged the cord of desire from the base of my skull. The problem is, no matter how hard I think about it, I can’t help but believe that peace is not for the living.
The place I’m staying, Sacred Earth Retreat Center (I decided to do a WorkAway job here instead of returning to The Flower Barn) emphasizes the “oneness of all people and all religions” and all the Buddha statues have me thinking again about the Buddhist idea of dukkha. 'Dukkha' represents pain in all its forms (Read more about that here and here). Buddhism says that the root of all suffering, or dukkha, is desire. It also says that even happy memories can be a source of pain, because when we look back we think of how happy we were and how we aren’t in that place anymore. So in the hopes of reaching nirvana, many Buddhists aim to live without any kind of desire.
Peace is appealing, don’t get me wrong, but there are two main points that put me firmly on passion’s side:
1. There is so much injustice and pain in the world that needs righting and only passionate people with a strong desire to fix these problems can make a difference.
2. I’d rather have pockets of happiness or adventure than peace. Even if it means I also get pockets of sadness, loneliness, and anger, the moments of pure happiness are worth it.
I know this view is problematic though. In the nights that are darker than others and tinged with loneliness and nostalgia I’ll wish I’d chosen peace. When things seem to move hopelessly slow and progress seems out of reach I’ll want to not want anymore. I’ll think to myself “I should have chosen dirt trails” and then let my mind run down the same twisting streets it always does.
But in the moments of happiness and victory, I’ll know that the darker nights were worth the sunny ones and I’ll thank myself for choosing passion. I’ll look back on my life and see that the struggle was the most important part of the adventure. So yeah, you can keep your peace for now and I’ll light the matches.
That is, just as long as I get to see sunsets like this every once in a while…
A few days after I wrote this I decided to look more into the leader whose picture adorns many walls at this retreat and who the temple is dedicated to- Sri Sathya Sai Baba. What I found is that there is controversy surrounding him, including sexual assault allegations. In response to these allegations, Baba compared himself to Jesus Christ, saying, “Jesus Christ underwent many hardships, and was put to the cross because of jealousy. Many around him could not bear the good work he did and the large number of followers he gathered…” He also accuses the media of lying and trying to tarnish his name.
The complete dismissal of these claims, the shifting of blame to the media that opened up this controversy, and the colossal ego a person would have to have to compare themselves to Jesus Christ makes me suspect that there is some truth in these claims. So this leads me to an extra point I’d like to add:
3. Peace is also found in ignorance and denial. I believe strongly that it is everyone’s responsibility to constantly question everything around them and I have no interest in peace if it requires me not to think.