Smith: Chaos within, chaos without

“How can we find peace and joy in the middle of a chaotic world? First, find your peace within. If you have peace, you have everything; if you lose your peace, you lose everything. So whatever happens, don’t lose your peace. Treasure your peace of mind so much that you allow nothing to disturb it. And when something does come along to disturb your peace, that is the most important time to practice being peaceful.”

~spiritual master Swami Satchidananda

The pandemic was a weird year for sure, but It was 2021 when true trouble came to my home. My family has been stalked by Old Testament-style plagues this year: darkness, death, pestilence, and fire. I’m waiting for water to turn to blood any day. It’s been that terrible, confusing, and chaotic.

Most of it affects the people I love directly, so I don’t write about it. It isn’t my story, so I keep going through the motions of being a functioning adult. Which is especially hard because I  am also rolling around in the midlife hellscape that is perimenopause. Was I always this forgetful? This angry? This weepy? This stupid?

When my people are struggling, they pull closer to me, moths to a flame. I want instead to pull away, be silent, be alone. In desperate need of a break from the mayhem, I got online and found a posh hotel within driving distance. Their website showed a sparkling pool, a lovely sitting area by a resplendent fountain, a cozy bar where you could order a bourbon flight. I booked myself a weekend, planning  to lie in the sun, sit on my balcony and stare into space, maybe treat myself to a massage. I would unwind and get grounded.

But when your mind is as tumultuous as mine, chaos dogs you like a bad smell. The hotel property was being renovated. And by that, I mean completely reconstructed. It appeared that I had arrived at the part of the overhaul where everything had been demolished but nothing rebuilt yet. The fountain was a concrete rubble, the lobby filled with piles of lumber and scaffolding. The pool was a giant hole in the earth, encircled with orange construction fencing. The bar seemingly had been razed to make space for a new wing. There appeared to be more workers than guests, although it’s entirely possible the guests were hiding in their rooms, drinking heavily and hiding from the ceaseless and cacophonous jackhammers and bulldozers.

The workers had accidentally cut some cables and the front desk was struggling to get people checked in. After a long wait, I got to the head of the line and was given a key. I wheeled a luggage cart out to my car and pushed the heavy load up a temporary ramp made of plywood to the elevators. Luggage covered in concrete dust, I opened my room to find it filled with men in hard hats working on the balcony. I pushed the heavy cart back down the hallway, into the elevator, and down to the front desk. They apologized for the error and gave me a new room. I repeated the process, only to find that the second room was missing the handle to open the balcony. So, cart, hallway, elevator, front desk, rinse and repeat. I was exhausted by the time I lugged my bags into the third room. I sat down on the bed … and looked straight at a broken coffee maker. Now, I can endure a lot of inconveniences. I could handle the closed pool, the missing bar, even the dust and yelling. But no coffee? Tears sprung to my eyes and I could feel a tidal wave of self pity start to engulf me. I mean, for pete’s sake.

Then I started laughing, finally in on the cosmic joke. You cannot outrun external chaos. The crazier your life gets, the more you must lean into your peace within. I didn’t need to drive towards solitude. I needed to sit down and reconnect to my breath.

Chaos is inevitable. The second Law of Thermodynamics reminds us that, at the atomic level, not only is everything in complete chaos all the time, it’s moving towards disordered entropy every moment.

Breathing is both the question and the answer. It’s the place where the chaos stills and is always available to us. Lose your peace, lose your shit, as I like to say. Peace isn’t a destination but a state of mind.

So I sat down on the floor and closed my eyes. I didn’t do any yoga poses or complicated breath exercises. I didn’t run from or to my thoughts. Didn’t push anything away. Leaned into the chaos instead, let the frenzy and confusion wash over me like a tidal wave. I just breathed.

When I finally opened my eyes, the world was right again. All my problems had completely disappeared. Nah, just kidding. That’s not the way it works. I was still worried about my daughter and husband. Sad about the current events in my life. Angry that my hormones are so out of whack. Frustrated that the hotel pool was closed. These things were still true, and still existed. But my inner peace had been restored, so that I could see them with more clarity, more grace, more self-compassion.

Then I walked across the highway for a cup of coffee.