What is this thing, this notion of ataraxia and why am I hunting for it? What is this robust tranquility? It’s a creature of the mind, not necessarily one of a soul. It’s not fast-moving or elusive, but rather it lays about contemplating its rich internal life. Like a cat on a carpet in the dusty sun it rests, occasionally cracking heavily shut eyelids and sniffing the air, and on this brief investigation, goes the story, it will return to complete repose, seemingly content, the question never even asked, much less answered.
Look around awhile and you’ll find a few variations on a description of the philosophical principle: ataraxia. The most relatable and eloquent in my search declare it as “a peace that comes from finding no walls surrounding one’s thoughts; a peace that comes from the realization that we can try on the possibilities of the human spirit without conforming to the dominant shapes of the day….” and to that end, accepting and even embracing notions like “the number of stars one can see in the night sky is no more even than odd,” or something to that effect. It is the notion of not knowing, as a desired state of mind. Further, it is a freedom from the distress yielded by that oh-so-familiar need-to-know, described by early philosophers as a comfort, something to which one should aspire.
At times, I think it came to me effortlessly.
Then I started overthinking.
I came into reading and writing with a natural alacrity that earned praise from teachers and parents. My closest friendships hinged on a shared love of stories, dramatic and creative imaginings come-to-life in a field, a creek, a tree, or a living room floor on a craptastic windy-wet day in the Pacific Northwest where I have spent the majority of the last few decades. Always, I have been a story-person.
Whether compulsively lying about made-up adventures I had yet to experience in a misguided effort to garner respect and fellowship, or years later commanding small throngs with wildly animated physical portrayals of events both exciting and mundane, turned equally to hilarity, or even in exorcising the sometimes dark throes of my heart put to print, I have been fueled by the story forever. I left home intent on making deposits in the Life Experience Bank, such that I would have more about which to write and tell, someday. Sometimes that may have looked more like a drunken poet in confessional after hours, but I wasn’t always drunk. Or stoned. Or sober.
Now I have a family and friends, scars, travels, and degrees, and my account in the Life Experience Bank has grown fat, gathering interest the whole time. Meanwhile, I’m not allowed in confessional.
I realized the other day (okay, like, some years ago) that there are those who become very still and quiet and definitely the picture of ‘rapt with attention’ when I tell a story. My children, some friends, even my husband occasionally. Frequently my daughter will ask me to tell her a story, and sometimes I am hard pressed to just call one up. How do you choose when put to task, with so very many stories from which to select? I have felt a growing pressure with the onset of some silver, to get the stories out, as many as I can and as quickly as possible, if only for them. The ones who get all still and rapt. If only for my children, and even my husband, occasionally. So that when I am gone, they will still have the stories
And I realized it is as I planned. Having entered into the endeavor with as much doubt and moxie as I could muster, I have amassed wealth of experience enough to finally begin making withdrawals. Thus is born Hunting Ataraxia, the stories of frenetic me and my hunt for things specifically but not exclusively on this list: calm, direction, the self, adventure, for lights in the dark, for peace and forgiveness, for clarity and knowledge, for magic and evidence. The search has been long, arduous, and joyful, in crisis, in love, with opportunities and challenges, overseas and back, here with you, and oft alone.
I have no idea what will unfold. It’s perfect.