Who is it that does not yearn for peace? With the bullet train pace of modern life, zipping by as we grapple to grasp the meanings and ace the challenges it throws our way, peace becomes the biggest casualty. Everyone seeks material comforts of life, and yet who could say with certainty that they value all of that above peace?

Ancient sages isolated themselves on mountain tops to reach that place of inner quietude. ‘Normal’ People often seem to find peace in places of worship. Why is that, I wonder? Is peace really available in select sacred locales?

Eight years ago, I went on a trip to Mecca and Medina for Umrah, a shorter version of the Hajj pilgrimage. On my return, a colleague asked half-jokingly, “So, how do you feel? Cleansed of sins?”

I was amused and, mostly for the lack of a better answer, replied, “Not at all. Just, at peace.”

It made me wonder later though, why do we perform pilgrimages at all? In my case, the reasons had less to do with a cleansing-of-sins incentive than the desire to see and feel for myself the places that I had heard so much about since childhood, to see the land where Prophet Mohammad had lived. Now, before one begins the actual Umrah, one is required to take a sacred bath, during which one is supposed to imagine the water cleansing not just the body but also the mind of all negative thoughts. While the water flows over your head and your heart, you must consciously forgive those who hurt you, let go of your anger and your envy, let go even of your desires.

You must focus on nothing but this: I am going to be in a sacred place for a sacred communion with the divine.

The clothes you then put on are completely white in colour and are called Ahraam.  During the time that the Ahraam is on your body, you must necessarily remain in a state of mind that is steered away from all that is worldly. You are forbidden even to look in the mirror, for that would mean the admiration of your physical self, leading perhaps to feelings of vanity. No, you must remain in a state of absolute humility, of oneness with the universe.

On hindsight, that was the point I found my peace. Not because I was in a place of worship wearing special clothes, but because my mind was in a place of absolute equilibrium. I had let go of all the negativity I harbored, and all my dreams and ambitions had ceased to matter for that period of time. The hurts I had accumulated inside me were dissolved and the agony caused by unfulfilled dreams vapourised.  I was happy, content. And therein lies the secret of peace.

Which is why it is mostly available on mountain tops.

In the practical, day-to-day world we will always be hurt by people, there will always be situations that irk us, and there will always be things we yearn for. To think that we could reach a state where none of this matters is to live in not a fool’s but a saint’s paradise. And yet amid all those rushed, stressed days, there will always be one simple moment where you feel content. Perhaps those few minutes when you sit in the breeze and watch the trees. Perhaps when you spontaneously hug someone you love, or when you share real, uncomplicated laughter. A small, ephemeral moment, but it makes you forget all else. A split-second of pure bliss, without regard for past and future. And that right there is peace.

Zehra Naqvi