The Problem with Peace


There's this glorious, if not intimidating, box that sits square at the bottom of the first page of my intake paperwork.  Every time I meet with a new client, we go over this paperwork, namely, the content of that glorious little box.  Scribbled down in that box you’ll find the holy grail of said paperwork…the hallowed treatment goals.  In other words, what do you want to accomplish in therapy?  What do you want to get out of our therapeutic work together?  It gives me a final destination from which we co-create a roadmap that will hopefully take you there.  Housed in that box lives a very powerful thing--desire.

There’s one whopping problem though.  More times than not, I read a familiar phrase that goes something like this: “I’d like to find more peace in my life.”

You’re probably thinking to yourself right about now, “Umm…and why is that a problem?”  

Fair enough. Yet, what if constant peace is not actually what we need in order to heal, grow, and thrive?  

What if we are really mistaking peace for comfort?

Expansion is by nature an uncomfortable process.  I’m thinking of growing pains here.  Take pregnancy for example.  Throughout the course of forty weeks (give or take a couple), a mother undergoes serious expansion and changes in her body to facilitate the birth of a tiny human.  

Not only this, but baked into the change process is a heap of loss.  In step with our pregnancy example, this same woman will inevitably incur losses: loss of some control, loss of a certain independence and “freedom”, loss of a waistline, loss of sleep, and loss of energy to name a few.  This type of physical expansion is certainly not comfortable, and at times, even terrifying I can imagine.  My guess is that peace is not a constant companion, yet there is no more beautiful expansion in my mind.

When we seek to find peace in the self-development sense, we must keep in mind that in order to grow and live into our highest selves, we must be open to the discomfort that accompanies expansion and change.  Peace is not always the litmus test here.  In fact, often times, quite the contrary.   

Make no mistake, feeding the narrative of your existing anxiety is not recommended.  If you are suffering from debilitating anxiety due to trauma or situational depression, the goal is always to reduce that.  However, part of our work as human beings is always to learn how to relate to negative feeling emotions better, with openness and curiosity, as opposed to avoiding them like your mother’s dry, overcooked meatloaf.  No amount of salt will make it palatable.

Perhaps the real goal here is learning to lean into the tension and be okay with it as opposed to being free from all discomfort.   As Harvard Medical School psychologist, Susan David, says in her brilliant TedTalk, the desire to be free from negative feeling emotions is really just “dead peoples goals.”  I love this because to be free of all discomfort in this life is not really living at all!  It’s actually hiding.

Are you mistaking peace for comfort?  If so, guess what?  You’re not alone.  But I’ve got really good news for you--your fear, anxiety, or guilt won’t kill you.   When these feelings come up they are  actually signaling you to growth and, you guessed it, expansion.  Your emotions speak in order to be heard and create balance where there is imbalance.  Ten years ago I would have punched myself in the face and pulled out all my hair reading this as panic was something I experienced nearly every day at least once.  

I’ll never forget my pragmatic and cool as a cucumber therapist saying, “You know Katie, your panic won’t kill you, I promise.” The brightest “aha moment” in my personal work was learning how to breathe deeply and say (out loud and with feeling) “I’m okay” in the midst of that panic.  It was believing no emotion is final and to quote St. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” As I surrendered and let those terrifying waves wash over me, feeling all of it down into my weary bones, a hauntingly beautiful reckoning was beheld.  I didn’t know it then…but now I see that that reckoning broke me in all the best places.  

Peace comes when we are willing to experience all the stuff...the good, and the bad, and the ugly.  Peace comes when we learn to stay present when it sucks.  I believe peace does in fact surpass our effort and understanding.  

Peace will catch you, embrace you, the minute you let go.

Love & Gratitude,


P.S. Didn't catch my invite to this week's event? I'm hosting a FREE Intro to Essential Oils Class with my good friend, Mary Hyatt. This Thursday from 6-7:30.


Katie GustafsonComment