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What do nihilism, hedonism and existentialism have to do with inner peace?

Inner peace is not everyone's cup of tea. Let's face it. It certainly wasn't mine when I was young. I was enamored of the kind of life favored by raving maenads, beatniks and later, hippies. Just the word placid filled me with revulsion. Why would anyone want to be placid? There were so many more decadent choices, so much angst, drama and torment. It was more exciting to be anguished, alienated and wildly moving from one drama to the next.

But by the time I reached the end of my 20s, the lure of nihilism (it's all meaningless anyway), hedonism (do what feels good in a big way), and existentialism (such a complicated subject — free, but responsible for your acts?) had grown tarnished. I had escaped from a difficult, dangerous marriage. I had a young daughter.

In those days, if you were a free spirit or wannabe free spirit, you aspired to relocate in California. Poor California no longer has the cachet it did then. But it was the right place at the time. It would be fun to blame the way I began to change on the expansiveness of hippie culture or on California. But it would not be entirely accurate. Two things happened when I still lived in New York. My beloved fell ill, and we went to stay with his friend Lex Hixon, who lived in a big house in Riverdale.

The night we arrived, I couldn't sleep because I was worried about my friend's illness. Walking through the house I came to a room empty except for a few meditation pillows. That room made me uneasy, and yet it magnetized me. On the fireplace mantle there were photos of people who were definitely not ordinary folks. One had an amazing smile. One had piercing eyes. They must be spiritual teachers, I told myself. Their faces were no-holds-barred somehow and deeply peaceful.

The other thing that happened was this: I was working for a filmmaker who was about to release "Chappaqua," which has since become a cult flick. There was a big party at a nightclub to celebrate the film's release. The air was smoky; it was very loud. I, as usual, felt alienated. Then a golden luminous quality caught my attention. My sense of time shifted into slow motion as I watched a tall, thin man wearing a saffron colored robe walk past me. He had long silver hair and a long silver beard, and his face was beatific. I learned later it was Swami Satchidananda. After he left the room, the place seemed so much darker.

So I guess you could say that my heart had already chosen to turn away from valuing emotional turmoil to espousing the possibility of inner peace. Settling on the West Coast, I longed to find someone who embodied the qualities I hoped to cultivate, such as compassion, spontaneity, generosity, loving kindness. I've been very fortunate that way. For the past 35 years, I've studied and meditated with many wonderful Tibetan lamas. I've learned a great deal from them, though I am still at the threshold.

Inner peace is at least as much work as inner turmoil, that much I can say. And the way the one turns into the other sometimes! Well, a sense of humor is useful. Over the years, some of the things that have helped me cultivate inner peace are prayer, meditation, doing healing work (on myself and for others), creating healing art, learning self-acceptance and acceptance of others, resting in the essential interconnectedness of everything, communing with the complex beauty of nature and dealing with difficulty. Last but not least: dealing with difficulty. It's the real test of inner peace.

May the blessings of peace, inner and outer, soothe and inspire this world and its countless beings.

Ashlander Gaea Yudron is at work on a musical play about aging. Gaea is director of "Sage's Play," a new venture that focuses on personal growth and spiritual deepening for people over 50. Visit her blog at sagesplay.blogspot.com

You are invited to submit a 650 to 700 word article about your path to Inner Peace. E-mail your submission or questions to Sally McKirgan at innerpeace@q.com. For previous articles, visit dailytidings.com.