I hear a lot of people these days shouting about peace and their desire for it, while they also perpetually allow themselves to be enthralled in petty arguments, endless debates and constant drama. As I’ve said many times, peace comes from within. It isn’t hinged upon what the surrounding circumstances dictate so long as you keep your own mind and heart focused on keeping yourself peaceful inside. But I am not Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi or any other prophet delivering some kind of God-given spiritual message of enlightenment. I am just a person who has had the unenviable task of discovering these truths through innumerable times of personal failure and inadequacy. I only speak from my own perspective of peace, brought on through personal experience.

Three years ago, I was dealing with a world of chaos with my ex-husband, trying to manage the co-parenting of our child, and desperately looking for some peace in my life, but could find it nowhere. It seemed like every direction that I turned, there were equal amounts of drama, commotion, and calamity, all feeling to be outside of my control.

My current husband and I got to the point where having some peace and a place of refuge from it all, was top priority and when we by chance staid over in the serene countryside while coming home from a funeral, we instantly knew that this is where we would find it. The next weekend, we uprooted our lives and moved out of state and to the country. To help you understand how desperate we both were for this peace, I will give the humbling details of our situation — We were a one income, blue collar family, with no savings, living a life with only the very basic of necessities, and no extras of any kind — Not even cable TV. When we were faced with illnesses or emergency situations, there was no breathing room to provide for that need. There were no luxuries to cut out of our budget to make room for whenever the belt tightened. We are what every day Americans, look like. So for us to pick up from all that we had both grown up to know as home and move to another state, not knowing what to expect or if we would even thrive, shows that our need for peace was dire.

Even though I felt a huge weight of stress lift from my shoulders each day after the move, that abounding peace that I was searching for, still had not come. The issues that I was having with my ex-husband over our daughter, only amped up to the millionth degree. My family and I were now in a house that had major problems from previous neglect, and we were charged with somehow taking care of the expenses of it all, ourselves. Quickly that idea of living the simple, peaceful life started to again, become a distant dream. Though we were running towards peace, within new surroundings, we were still faced with the same realities as before. Scrounging around to find extra money to replace the home’s busted plumbing, and motor for the air conditioning unit. Personally cutting down old trees that were destroying the roof during the brutal storms that the countryside sees and removing and repairing mold spores in the drywall. Each day it seemed there was another issue that we had to deal with on our own and if anyone knows about what it’s like facing emergency home repairs, you’ll know that it is beyond stressful.

I didn’t think that the issues I was facing with my ex-husband would just go away all because my family and I moved far away from him, but I did hope that they would become easier for me to handle if I had a little bit of peace around me and more space between us. What I didn’t understand then, was that changing my surroundings to that of more peaceful in nature, would only solve a very small part of it. The real work came from within myself.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had just hung up with my ex-husband and was sitting on the living room floor, after the hundredth over-the-phone brow beating from him, silently weeping as not to wake up the baby. I remember begging anything higher than me, to give me the peace which I was searching for. To show me a better way of handling my ex’s tirades, that would bring that peace around for us all – Including him. Though I was trying my best to stay calm and collected in my dealings with him, even letting him scream at me instead of being equally combative, I still could not help but walk away from our exchanges seething with rage and personalizing every single thing that he said to me. Outwardly, I handled the situation much better than in previous years, but inwardly I was still incredibly angry and blaming his actions for my anger.

That day as I cried and begged the Universe to give me the direction to be free from the chaos, a lightbulb went off. It was like an awakening to a truth that I had not yet realized. My lack of peace was not because of all that my ex was doing, it was because of how I was letting all that he was doing directly affect me. It dawned on me that he was always going to be who he was, until he wasn’t any longer — And there was not a single thing that I could do to change this fact. But what I could change, was how I chose to deal with it. Which for me, meant, not personalizing it anymore. Not responding to it at all and understanding that his rantings were his problem, not mine. The message was in realizing that his reactions were completely his own issue, separate from me, and not something that I could change. In that second I completely understood that my response would only be reflective of me just as his would be of him. If I wanted to stop walking away feeling angry, hurt and disgusted, then I had to put up a wall between his emotional reactions, and my emotions. I had to understand that personalizing his ways, were holding my own mind and emotions, hostage.

In personalizing the reactions of others, we are taking responsibility of their behavior off of them and placing it directly on us. We are possessing someone else’s thoughts, words and actions into our own personal quarters, as if they were ours. In this, it makes sense to me now, how whenever I have been in a heated exchange, that I wind up re-living it in my mind for days on end — All the while remaining in a state of confusion as to that person’s response. Only they can clearly understand their own responses which comes from their personal perspective and perception of reality. But because I took their reactions and made them my own by personalizing something that I do not understand, now my brain is frantically trying to connect why I’m hurt, angry, upset, etc., in order to fix it!

It was incredibly frustrating for the first year after coming to the knowledge of this truth because I was actively making changes in how I dealt with my ex-husband, while he stayed exactly the same as he’d ever been. But the more that I learned of what I personally had control over, the more that I felt liberated from the drama that before was hijacking every part of my life — And the more that I felt the peace I had been so longing to have.

I spent years blaming him for my personalization of his reactions. I spent the same time not only thinking, but believing that if he would just change as a person, I would no longer have to feel this way  and could have a normal, enjoyable life. In that thought, I unknowingly kept the control and power over my own life’s happiness, firmly within his grasp. All of those years wasted fighting, I could not see my own culpability in my misery. I could not understand that if I wanted peace, I had to create it. I had to give peace the proper environment in which to grow and flourish. Here I had moved a state away thinking that would solve it, and the solution was living right inside of me through the control that I had over myself and my thoughts.

It’s easy to play the blame game and put your misery on someone else’s doorstep. “If they wouldn’t have said this or done that, then I wouldn’t be angry.” If they wouldn’t have this, then I would be that. Within this way of thinking, we wind up feeling totally helpless to our very own emotions and reactions, when we’re really not. We feel on the outside of our self-control, by our own doing. In kind, by harboring these negative emotions and thoughts for a person or circumstance, we thus perpetuate that same reality to continue in our lives. It creates a vicious cycle.

Have you ever gone through something that has tested every ounce of your ability to restrain yourself, only to open up social media and see nearly every post remind you of the problem that you’re facing? It’s always when I’m dealing with a looming issue where I open up my various social media apps and scroll after scroll, is a sea of quotes, memes and articles about the very thing that I am trying to let go of or work through. Each time that this is the case, I wind up thinking negatively on the very things that I’ve been working hard not to, which spins into hours and days of those negative thoughts replaying in my mind. This is how the cycle of negative thought, works. When I hang up the phone after an argument and then work myself up thinking on what I should’ve said, or how angry it made me then I’m unknowingly sending out that same negativity through thought — Keeping me firmly planted in its continuation. Whereas if I’m trying to let those negative feelings go, I can assert my control by not keeping an open dialogue of it running in the background of my mind.

The first step that I made in my “evolution of peace,” was in the action of accepting that I only had control over myself. In how I respond, in my allowing another person’s reactions to invade my personal space. That was huge, for me. Though I was changing, I could not adopt the belief that just because I was changing, that my ex had to or was as well. I had to accept that he might never come to understand about himself, what I had about me. If I based us ever having peaceful communications in the future, on where he was in his own personal evolution, that peace may never come. The answer was in learning to take control over my own thoughts after each interaction. If it was a bad one — Me not dwelling on his part or taking it personally, but accepting it as something that I had no control over. If I was the one to handle it wrongly — Then owning my culpability and learning from where it was that I had gone wrong in the effort not to do it again. I had to re-wire my brain to focus on what was positive and what I could learn from the bad parts, in which case weren’t so bad after all, because I could take something positive away from them. The bad served its own purpose in helping me understand more about his perspective – Giving me insight into how to handle my interactions with him in future.

These things were not easy for me. Not at all. In fact I would wager to say that the only reason I was able to do it, was because I was so desperate to have peace in my life, family and home. I spent my previous years never backing down from a single situation, especially a fight. It just wasn’t who I was back then. Which is why I had no peace in my life, because I didn’t know how to walk away. As well, I didn’t know how not to personalize everything said and done to me. And I certainly didn’t know how not to respond to nonsense. I never sought out chaos, but I always answered it in kind and I was miserable for it.

When I first started on this road to find peace, starting with my ex-husband, my head was in a constant battle with my emotions and it was a to-the-death fight. As soon as he would start the conversation off screaming, calling names or berating — I would immediately feel that surge of hot blood coursing through my veins, flushing through my face and my heart violently pounding out of my chest. My body was having the same physiological response to rage, as it always had. It was then, when I felt that visceral response, when I told myself that I had the control over how I reacted and that how I reacted would define how I felt after the conversation was finished.

Over time, as I became more adapted to putting up that invisible shield between myself and other’s emotional reactions, it became a lot easier to keep the negative from reaching me on a personal level ad disrupting my peace. Each time after, it became effortless to step back and clearly see that their emotions had nothing to do with me, personally. I didn’t create their feelings and I wasn’t personally responsible for carrying their feelings. It was hard to do this with my ex, due to our history until I was faced with a problem with people that I loved. Ones that I had no anger or hostility towards whatsoever. When they came at me, everything that I had learned, flew right out the window. I was hit with a similar situation that was so much harder to remain in peace and carry out my knew-found truth, within it.

It’s hard not to take something personally, that is in fact quite personal. When it’s from someone you love, it is soul-crushing and doesn’t make sense to your heart. Here I was, having finally gotten through the years of destruction with my ex by gaining control over myself, and I had to use this knowledge to fight an internal enemy who to me, was not an enemy at all. The process started all over again. I failed many times at first, trying to keep my emotions out of my reactions and not taking their behavior personally. Eventually, I got there but not without making a ton of mistakes along the way.

That’s how life goes. We get hit with something repeatedly until we learn from it and then, the next thing to pummel us is relentlessly harder until we learn the next level of that same lesson. It’s like taking math in school. You work so hard to understand the concepts which that grade level of math is trying to teach you. Once you finally get those principles down, you’re thrown a new level of that same subject which you then must apply the previous knowledge to, in working out this new equation. Except this new equation is harder because it’s something you haven’t quite faced yet. We don’t take Math once, and then we’re done for the rest of our education. There is always a new level that we haven’t yet learned, to the same subject.

I will never completely master the art of staying calm and emotionally unattached from things that I have no control over, because there will always be something new that comes my way. But I have the foundation to apply these truths that I’ve learned to those new situations, and hone my understanding in order to keep my peace intact. For someone whom has had a life filled with drama, to now having nothing but peace day in and day out, I can say that understanding these tough lessons through seeking peace, were the very things that saved me.

The actions of peace are, controlling what you allow to perpetuate in your mind. Not dwelling on the negative, the things you have no power to change. Learning from each minute aspect of bad, and embracing the good. Controlling your emotional response to situations within your control, as well as outside of it. Keeping a guard up against personalizing others’ emotional reactions and behaviors. Reminding yourself that if you want to have peace, you have to actively bring it to being by sending it out in all that you do, say and especially think. Peace is a subtle dance. When we make way for its free-flowing movement, we clear and widen the space for its presence. As you move towards it, it moves towards you. And you as you move away from it, it does the same, in-kind.  

In my original tear-filled plea to the universe, I had no idea that asking for peace would come with such difficult lessons before actually obtaining it. I didn’t know that the road ahead would be so much harder at first, in order for me to realize that the peace which I sought was within my control, and not subject to outward circumstances. Ironically enough, I wouldn’t change having gone through one solitary bit of it, because each step taught me something that I did not yet know. We can change jobs, change relationships, change where we live, how we dress and what we do, but until we take that change to our minds, we will never have the peace that we seek and is in-turn, seeking us.