Once in a while I achieve a state of inner peace.
Not in religious terms but in the simple attainment of momentary peace of mind, an absence of stress and a feeling of calmness.
It can come at the most unusual time. On the last occasion it occurred in a packed departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, amidst delayed, tired travellers, scattered luggage, the smell of fast food and chatter of flight announcements.
Before that it was on a snowy plateau on Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Wicklow Mountains, last April. Hiking across the ice flats behind my walking companions I stopped, stood and looked.
Beneath the soundless snowfield the range of mountains and hills stretched out, across a clear and windless morning.
The feeling was one of serenity, the oneness of person and the environment. Buddhists call this esho funi, the inseparability of life and the environment. For me it’s simply inner peace, a feeling of existential contentment that you want to have last as long as possible.
This sensation isn’t easy to describe in words.
Two writers I’ve read in recent months have managed to do it. In both the figure who encounters inner peace is on a journey, tired, “cut loose from purpose”, as Charles Bukowski describes his protagonist below.
Both resonate with inner peace. Having read each, there’s little more to be said.
The first excerpt is from Anton Chekhov’s 1902 short story The Bishop. The cleric of the title suffers an emotional breakdown at a packed evening church service in Moscow. Emotionally drained and physically exhausted, he travels home in his carriage, observing the scene.
“The road from the convent into the city went over sand, so they had to travel at a walking pace, and on either side of the carriage there were pilgrims trudging through the sand in the serene, bright moonlight. Everyone had become lost in thought and was silent, while everything all around – the trees, the sky, and even the moon – looked so young, friendly and so close that it made you wish it would always be like this.”*
Decades later, in a cafe on the other side of the world, a young man sits among fellow bus passengers in the Bukowski poem, ‘Nirvana’.
“…the meal was
the waitress was
unlike the women
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
the fry cook said
laughed, a good
the young man watched
the snow through the
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
the curious feeling
swam through him
that it would always
then the bus driver
told the passengers
that it was time
the young man
thought, I’ll just sit
here, I’ll just stay
*Anton Chekhov, “The Bishop”, trans. Rosamund Bartlett, About Love and Other Stories (OUP, 2004), p 190
**Charles Bukowski, “Nirvana”, as recorded by Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards (ANTI-, 2006)