Give Peace a Chance
In case you don’t make it to the bottom of the article, let me get to it: The opposite of stress isn’t relaxation – it’s peace. Relaxing, while still a valid activity, is a temporary escape before returning to the world of overwhelm, sadness, or whatever negative state is on continuous play for you. This brings me to spoiler alert #2: knowing that peace is the opposite of stress doesn’t mean you’ve learned the lesson – peace is something you have to practice. But what IS peace? Having grown up in a religious household, the call and response of “Peace be with you/And also with you” was a familiar phrase uttered at church services, devoid of any feeling or meaning. At times, the word Peace was seen on a holiday card or other such religious gifts, again without context. Even the oft-seen bumper sticker of “Visualize World Peace” or the John Lennon song, “Give Peace a Chance”, felt like nebulous relics from the 1960s that offered unattainable solutions to heal the world. Never realizing that peace could heal my own hurt, admittedly, I never did give peace a chance.
Fast forward 20 years, and being in the massage therapy industry, I could not escape the overused marketing message, “If you’re feeling stressed, you should relax with a massage”. While an hour or so on the table can help break the frenetic cycle of over-productivity, I noticed the cycle started right back up the moment their feet hit the floor. Relaxing wasn't enough. There had to be more to it.
It was by working with the body that led me to understand Peace. While the physical tension our bodies hold may crave the benefits of a therapeutic session, the end result is muscular release, not muscular relaxation. The difference is not just semantics... For example, if I ask you to relax your leg, you’ll let go of using it at the moment. The act of releasing chronically tight muscles means working in an intentional manner to encourage the bunched and bundled fibers to let go in order to restore balance – and the same is true of peace. Watching TV or taking a nap are activities of relaxation, a temporary absence of use, whereas Peace is a deeper, more powerful letting go – releasing not only in this moment but for good. Being at peace means being able to release negative thoughts and expectations; it means accepting our past, our bodies, and accepting what is, is. Only through acceptance can we change anything, yet because peace asks us to change internally, it makes external changes less important or necessary. Ultimately, stress comes from holding on, whereas peace comes from letting go. It may only be letting go of one part of the issue, maybe letting go of your role, thoughts, or expectations, and not letting go of the whole thing. In time, this will become second nature as peace becomes your way of being.
The next time you feel stressed about something, can you ask yourself: “What am I holding onto and what can I Let Go?”