Give Inner Peace a Chance

What is inner peace, and is it possible to get any in New York City? The short answers, for those who can’t bear the suspense, are “Whatever you think it is” and “Maybe, but the odds are against it.” Still, we try. New York, which once prided itself on hostility to all things New Age (that was for flaky Californians), has been overrun by yogis, healers, and hypnotists, who realize, not incorrectly, that there’s a big, moneyed market of inner turmoil here seeking its opposite. But how much good is it doing us? As we prepared this issue, I asked 100 friends, acquaintances, and random people whose e-mail addresses I happened to have, “What do you do to achieve inner peace?” There was nothing the least bit scientific about my poll. It skewed toward, though was not limited to, people in their thirties and early forties in the throes of newish parenthood. The results, which are excerpted below and can also be found in the margins throughout the issue, surprised me. Some of the respondents, I know for a fact, see shrinks, go to yoga, get massages often enough that they can recommend a guy, and attend religious services of some sort. And yet, for the most part, these were not what they cited as their main source of inner peace (well, okay, yoga showed up a lot). Their definitions tend to go no deeper than mere relaxation, finding a moment or two during the day when they can quiet the static in their heads by doing things like:

Watching Sunrise Earth on Discovery Channel each morning at 7 a.m. on my MONSTER FKING HI DEF TV. Seriously, it’s the best show on television. A slowly rising, Hi Def sunset, w.out ANY COMMENTARY, beamed directly into yr shithole little apt, direct from THE GRAND TETONS, or YELLOWSTONE, or the banks of the YANGTZE.

Sparking a J and doing the crossword.

Perusing the real-estate listings and imagining an ideal future life of sparkly countertops, well-appointed interiors, and massive amounts of closet space.

If I am stressed during the day, I often sneak out of the office to check out the half-naked male models standing in the doorway of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Running 5 miles, lifting weights, then taking a short break and drinking 2 martinis and smoking 2 cigars.

Awakening to a televised sun, smoking weed, fantasizing about real estate, ogling beefcake, and guzzling martinis—my little survey confirms the nation’s worst suspicions about godless New York. But what can I say? We New Yorkers, or at least the ones I know, have a weakness for convenience, and recklessly mix virtue with vice. Plus, we like our pills:

For me—Inner Peace now means anti-anxiety medicine. I have tried therapy—I know I should exercise more, but who has the time?—so drugs are the route.

First let me tell you, as a doctor, that the only people who have achieved inner peace are neither Buddhists nor Hindus. They are the throngs of patients prescribed SSRIs. Some of these people actually do not feel pain, nor do they cry. I am guessing these people should not be on the medicines! But every once in a while, it would be good to feel a little too happy.

Few respondents mentioned relationships of any kind as the source of inner peace, including the married ones who seem happily so. In fact, getting away from the people in your life seems to be a major facilitator of inner peace for them. Also, getting away from themselves. For some, this is as simple as zoning out to crappy television shows, which have the amazing power to simultaneously inspire feelings of intense shame and inner peace:

I’m very sad to report, and I wouldn’t report unless you’d promised confidentiality, that the only way I can relax is by … watching really, really shitty reality television.

Photomontage by Peter Rad

She’s not really sad, of course. She knows, I’m certain, that while she’s blissing out to Laguna Beach, the rest of us are not studying the Torah. When it comes to TV, though, the big winner in my poll is Law & Order, which, with its tidy, world-ordering plotlines, is a first-rate inner-peace-ifying narcotic. Passivity, though, doesn’t satisfy across the board. Many prefer total absorption in a task, even if it’s not an interesting task. There is hope in the mundane:

Doing the dishes. Don’t tell my wife this, but cleaning up the kitchen gives me some sense of control in my life.

Doing laundry.

I unwind by fixing things and single-mindedly learning how to do manual tasks. My car is a favorite subject. I’ve replaced its timing chain, power-steering pump, radiator. For a while, I got into upholstery, I have recovered a couch and several chairs. I knit 5 scarves then stopped. Lately it’s been carpentry, I built a closet then a woodshed. Cooking is another thing; used to be stews, now I’ve started to bake bread.

Besides yoga, pills, and Law & Order, the most popular response was some variation on “inner peace is not possible in New York.” One respondent put it this way:

I wonder how many people in NYC are actually seeking “Inner Peace.” It’s not on my list of things to do. People might be a lot more serene if they settled for a nice slice of pizza.

That’s not a cop-out, it’s a solid piece of advice. What he’s saying is, savor the abundant pleasures of everyday life. Just stop grinding away. Of course, it’s hard not to when we’re so accustomed to it, so in this issue, we offer a bit of both big ideas and small: We examine the relationship of inner peace to faith and conquering addiction and we talk about spinning classes and what kind of red wine best puts you out. Somewhere, let’s hope, there’s something that works for you.

Give Inner Peace a Chance