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Calm in the midst of chaos

Long ago, there lived a king who asked the artists in his kingdom to paint the best picture of peace. The king announced a handsome reward for the best painting. The royal court received many paintings and the king selected two of them. 

The first painting was a picture of a calm lake. In its waters were the reflection of serene mountains and clear blue skies. It was the perfect picture of peace. The other painting too had mountains. But they were rugged and the sky above them was black with rain-bearing clouds. And on the side of the mountain was a roaring waterfall. The picture portrayed anything but peace. But something in the picture caught the king’s attention–a bird’s nest hung delicately on a bush behind the waterfall. A bird and her little ones resided in the midst of a raging waterfall! The king announced that this painting would be the winner.

All the courtiers wondered how dark clouds and rugged mountains could even remotely portray peace. “Because,” the king said, “peace does not refer to a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means being in the midst of all those things and still being calm.”

As the wise king in the story said, peace is not about being in a place where there is no noise, unrest or conflict. Like happiness, peace is a state of mind. The chaotic world around us should not be an impediment to finding that peace within. Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza once wrote: “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”

Given life’s challenges, peace might still seem elusive. But the moment we understand that all we need to do is look inwards, we take the first step on our path to find peace.


Peace prevails within and it means different things to different people. For some of us it is the absence of pain, for others peace means solitude. For some it comes from acceptance. “Peace comes from accepting failures and mistakes. Only when a person accepts who they are, can they be at peace,” says Lahore-based graphic artist Dania Zafar. True. When we start accepting things as they are, there is a sense of contentment. And, contentment leads to peace.

After all this talk and introspection, we may know the meaning and means to achieve peace, but, it often seems easier said than done. We dwell on the mistakes of the past or dream endlessly about the distant future, while peace is experienced right in the middle–in the present moment, being aware and conscious. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life: “Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.”  

Peace could indeed be experienced by savouring each moment. It is amplified with gratitude for such moments. Dancer Tony Pius feels the same. “Peace is about appreciating all the big and small things for what they are… It is an innate sense of gratitude and appreciation for all that surrounds you,” he observes.

Given life’s challenges, peace might still seem elusive. But the moment we understand that all we need to do is look inwards, we take the first step on our path to find peace. Dania found it through acceptance and Tony through appreciation. No matter how we choose to seek it, one thing is clear: Peace is innate. If the mother bird and her young ones could reside peacefully by a roaring waterfall, then, we too can find it within to be at peace despite the chaos around. As the American singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye put it: “If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.” 

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