I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a story of a man who sets out on a journey, both metaphorical and literal, in search of inner peace and acceptance. A friend, after hearing about “the boxed set series” project I’m working on, recommended the novel as a complementary “research tool.”
It was a good suggestion.
Harold is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a former colleague – a terminally ill woman with whom we understand from the beginning he has unfinished business. On his way to the post office, to drop off a return letter to the woman, he instead decides to deliver the message himself, by journeying on foot across England.
In addition to the truisms delivered throughout the book – wisdom worthy of highlighters and stars in the margins – I walked away with a sense of hope … and of more time. After all, if I am facing and acknowledging my past now at 39, I’m a few steps ahead of Harold, aren’t I? Doesn’t this mean I might actually find my inner peace SOON?
I smile even as I write the words. I know how silly this mindset is – how contrary it is to the intention of finding inner peace.
“Finding it” requires work. “Soon” implies a deadline. Neither of which allows for the relief that I associate with inner peace. Did I learn nothing from Harold Fry? My imaginary book club asks me right now.
What I did learn from Harold is that we always think we are wiser than we are; that “now” we finally get “it.” And this is where we trip up.
At least, this is where I trip up.
So often, I cringe at or even attack my younger self, as if I am oh-so-much-wiser now than I was then. (I’m not.)
As if I am not making the exact same mistakes now that I did then — just with different supporting characters, and saggier boobs. (I am.)
What if the way to inner peace actually is acknowledging we will never truly be wise? Just more aware. Just more willing to learn from our past and from our present. Just more compassionate of ourselves and others when we trip up (again and again and again).
And what if the work to do was actually not such hard work? What if the assignment was to simply be more open to not knowing.
Not knowing the way to inner peace; and saying, “cool.”
Allowing for the possibility of finding it in unexpected places, faces, and moments.
I imagine a fat, happy Buddha smiling at me and nodding.
“Yes, my young padawan, that is Buddhism 101.”
What can I say? I’m a slow learner.
Very, very unwise, indeed.