We’ve been talking about the virtue of peace this last week. As always, I am ready and willing to acknowledge that “virtue” as a topic is by far the least sexy and potentially least entertaining of possible topics. But Aristotle tells us that “the pursuit of virtue is happiness,” and happiness, while it may not be sexy, is something we all wish for.
I promised that I would present some practical, down-to-earth ways of pursuing the virtue of peace, so today is the day when the Philosopher Princess, in all her infinite theoretical wisdom, is going to collide with me: stressed out, peri-menopausal mother of two small children.
The Ideal Life Exercise
That this be the first point of collision should come as no surprise, for those of you who have been following along.
One small thing I have managed to do, no matter my state of stress or bliss, is my very simple 5-minute daily Ideal Life Exercise, the one I’ve gone into so much detail about in past series. The exercise consists of getting up (at least) fifteen minutes earlier than anyone else in the house, getting my coffee ready, getting cozy, and asking myself how things are going in one of 19 pre-defined areas of my life.
The cycle of themes lasts three weeks, with one of the themes repeating on Sundays. This means that every three weeks, I do an inventory of how things are going in the most important themes of my life: sexuality, personal style, parenting, work, mental health, spirituality, etc,
While this is not exactly the pursuit of peace, it is a way of taking the temperature of my stress before it gets entirely out of hand. I also plan ahead each season, setting small goals for myself in each of the areas. For example, as the summer came to an end, and I knew that my family of scalawag adventurers would be returning to school, I used the last cycle to set goals about the transition from vacation to school schedule.
By regularly and actively doing my Ideal Life Exercise each day, I have a handle on what is working, what isn’t working, things I need to actually stop and think about, and things I can do today to get closer to my Ideal Life in that one specific area.
How easy it was, mid-August, before school started, to imagine a peaceful commute to my boys’ fabulous new school. Sure, we would have to go by car, instead of by foot as we have been for the last three years. Sure, this would mean figuring out what three-minute window would make the difference between breezy traffic and a traffic jam in the busy intersection we live on.
My indulgent husband worried about this before I got around to worrying–I was just too excited at the prospect of finally having both mornings and afternoons to work, while my scalawags were in school. The boys would have to be fetched for lunch, fed lunch, returned to school, but this seemed like nothing to be concerned about.
This was the first time in six years I could consider that I had a real, honest-to-goodness workday. My husband was already looking for “solutions” to a problem I hadn’t even imagined yet–namely, the afternoons were going to be much shorter than the mornings. I would waste a solid thirty minutes in the afternoon driving back and forth to school after lunch, leaving ninety minutes to work.
Ninety minutes is nothing. It’s not nearly enough. I need gigantic swaths of uninterrupted time in order to be creative.
As school got started and I realized just how short the afternoons were, I started to get antsy.
The commute started to bother me. I was getting stressed out. Each morning in my Ideal Life Exercise, I was writing about the stress that was stretching its little tentacles into each domain of my life. That virtue of peace was looking farther and more distant.
Stubborn as I am, I had to experience the disappearance of my peace for myself before I could start looking for a solution.
Methodical as I am, my peace didn’t have a chance to get very far before the solution presented itself.
The best possible solution
I had many ideas to make the commute less painful. One of them included riding bikes to school (not the most painless solution, but it was definitely worth pursuing). One of them included buying a cup of coffee at the McDonalds across the street from the new school and camping out there for the afternoon (I don’t love the smell of McDonalds, and with current COVID restrictions, this wasn’t necessarily going to be possible, either.)
It was, naturally, my brilliant husband who found the solution I had been too proud to listen to: the boys’ school is located on the University campus. Why not try to grab a study carrell at the University library? He used to do it when he taught classes at the University.
What neither of us knew was that over the last year, the University library and been completely rebuilt from the ground-up. Like…completely rebuilt. Like, had just opened the week before school started, and looked like this:
It was a three minute walk from the boys’ school. Registration cost me 20€ for the year.
But wait, you haven’t seen the inside yet:
Even now, as I look at these photos, I get an unthinkable sense of peace. It goes beyond the fact that the library is brand-spanking new and looks like Google headquarters, that I can choose from quiet carrells or Panera Bread-worthy booths, or that whoever chose that upholstery for the chair is my favorite person on earth.
No: it’s that the solution wasn’t as complicated as an immediate “we have to move closer to school.” It wasn’t “I have to stay stressed out permanently,” either.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: when peace comes, it feels an awful lot like magic. Like the pieces of the cosmic puzzle have come together and reveal that you are the center of the universe, at least for a few minutes.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.Hebrews 11:1
The regular, daily chipping away at the Ideal Life Exercise keeps us in tune with what we want for our life and what is putting up stumbling blocks between where we are and where we want to be. Putting our finger on what it is that we hope for, is the first step in pursuing it.
For me, virtue is what I, both Philosopher Princess and stressed-out mother of small children, hopes for.
No, the pursuit of virtue isn’t sexy. But please, let’s admit that this chair has a certain je ne sais quoi…