‘I floundered into middle age and the great “Now What?”’
By Laura Paxson
I have a hard time sitting still. Yoga is not for me. Ditto, deep breathing. I have to be going somewhere, doing something. It’s not that I don’t admire people with a Zen acceptance of the world and extremely low blood pressure. The pursuit of inner peace was just never part of my growing up.
My family, had we been asked, would probably have regarded the idea as a self-indulgent excuse for avoiding work. Plus, we argued about politics a lot. The more we argued, the less peaceful we became, but we relished putting on the gloves and going nine rounds. It was our form of exercise. Eyes bulged. Arms flailed. Winners and losers stomped out of the room filled with righteousness. It was a full-body cardio workout.
I grew up to be a high school teacher. I taught history, so my predilection for all things polemical continued. There was something about the fire of debate that fed me long after the arguments burned out. Was it peace? No. Perhaps an odd kind of satisfaction from having “stirred the pot” with precision. And I’d go home with a smile on my face.
As I approached 50, crisis clichés clattered into place. My sons no longer “needed” me. My crumbling marriage fell apart. I floundered into middle age and the great “Now What?”
I eventually stumbled into hiking and found a kind of peace.
It didn’t wash over me in a gentle wave. It knocked me over the head. It was a peace that came from exhausting myself so that I could fall asleep, waking up with sore muscles and a clear-eyed certainty of accomplishment. I realize I may be cheating the whole idea of inner peace by my pursuit of exhaustion and strained muscles, but I don’t think there’s necessarily a road map here.
In my floundering, I discovered how lucky I was to have lived, for most of my adult life, near the Columbia Gorge, home to so many stunning hikes: Mount St. Helens, Dog Mountain, Mount Defiance. I’ve never done anything requiring ice axes or crampons, but I’ve done 12 hours on trails with various degrees of difficulty. I broke my kneecap coming down Hamilton Mountain during the pandemic, but hobbled (with the help of my friend) to the trail head, healed, and lived to climb again.
It occurs to me that I’m probably just changing the rules of the old family debates. Instead of beating up relatives, I’m beating up myself. Somehow, it feels better that way. The damage is self-imposed and the learning curve is greater.
A month ago, I moved to Ashland. My dog and I have walked all over town but we’ve yet to discover the hikes Ashland offers. I’m looking forward to this next adventure. For some, my later-in-life relocation might be disquieting. Disorienting. But, if I’ve learned anything in my circuitous life trek, it’s been to embrace the strange yet calming effects of change. It is, as the cliché goes, the only constant. I’m still itchy footed. Still restless.
Sometimes stumbling into peace.
Laura Paxson is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Paraguay), high school history teacher, and union president. She has two adult sons and an adorable, if headstrong, beagle. She loves theater and ballet and wandering around life’s trails. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org).