Some sense of longing seems to be a part and parcel of human nature, and will never go away. It comes from the fact, as John O’Donoghue wrote in Anam Chara, that the human person is a threshold where many infinities meet. This can explain why, for many of us, a deep lasting peace is very hard to find in a world which is finite.
We intuitively know it exists, and look to find it in many ways. However, it seems to me that true rest, in a lasting and definitive sense, is something which slips from our grasp. As much as we try to realize it and make it our own, it never seems to linger with us very long. It stays a while with us and then takes flight. We are restless and often struggle to find security within ourselves, to get our lives together, to create a real home for ourselves. However, even when we have fulfilling days, or a job that goes well, we can still go around with a subtle awareness that there are unfinished tasks, unrealized possibilities. We have a feeling that there is something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. An underground sense of being unfulfilled underlies our filled lives.
Some profound sense of restlessness remains and will always do so. Recognizing that a complete answer to our deepest longings cannot be found in how hard we work, or how much we possess, is a fundamental first step to attaining deeper peace. It means, paradoxically, accepting that we will always be somewhat unfinished.
However, there are real ways that we can increase our actual fulfillment and contentment in our day-to-day lives. Often it requires that we shift our focus, away from making life problem-free, to giving our ordinary, everyday life a depth and value. In a sense, we have to turn away from always looking for certainty and fulfillment, and instead, look more deeply at the reality of what is actually happening in our life. A focus on something external keeps us from resting on our own centre, leaving us outwardly turned and inwardly disconnected. If we imagine that others will be the source of our complete fulfillment we are attaching our hopes onto something that can lead to betrayal and let down. We have to stay with what actually is, not what we would like to be there. And not just the parts which we like. Because if we keep running away from what is unpleasant, thinking that we should only have pleasant, and put an emphasis on control, then we have a recipe for a a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, which leads to us feeling weaker and weaker.
The ways and means vary as to how this peace comes to us, how we find it. Amidst the hectic activities of our days, and the rush of modern life, we try to clear some space to be alone, to still the chatter in our heads and to taste a little bit of solitude. Peace comes dripping slow, as Yeats reminds us. We cannot rush it by grasping after it.