One morning this week I opened my journal to write and discovered the words, "How can we have peace if we don't practice peace?" The evening prior I had been reading several articles about world events that clearly demonstrated that we are not practicing peace very well. I thought about some of the great teachings on peace-
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
― Fred Rogers
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
― Gautama Buddha
Pondering the question, where does peace begin? I thought of the words to an old song, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me" I am sure many of us have the grand utopian thought that the world would be a different place if each of us were to address within us what needed to be addressed so that we could move forward in a beautiful and loving way. Why yes, the world would be at peace..
In January of this year I wrote a worship service for seminary that was honoring some of the great peaceful leaders of our world, specifically Martin Luther King Jr,, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. I started to wonder if they had peace within..
More importantly in this moment, is for me to take the look inward and notice whether I have peace within and what areas need a bit of work, gentle guidance or strong encouragement, to come to some resolution or at minimum some movement toward peace. I think for many of us the turmoil and inner struggle may arise when we only live from one aspect of ourselves, namely the mind. The mind is not meant to be the master. When given control, it often takes us on a trajectory that includes judgement of others, especially those who are different or see the world in a different way. The mind left to its own devices wants to be right and will fight to be right often in irrational and yes, even violent ways. Quite often this "war" is first an inward battle, where our mind points out all the ways we are not good enough, not measuring up, never going to get what we need or be perfect enough. As you can see, as with other violent battles, this is a losing one.
It serves us so much more, to bring in the other aspects of ourselves, heart, soul and body, to be in conversation with the mind. The mind, or ego as it is often called, has value and we do not want to annihilate it. We really want to train it to be a team player, along with the heart, soul and body, the mind makes a great player on the winning, peaceful team.
Practices such as prayer, meditation, and reading poetry and other forms of inspirational writing can begin to access the beauty of the other parts of us and their desires. Paying attention to our bodies by moving them through exercise, dance and walking meditation can help us reconnect the relationship between our minds and bodies. They often become so disconnected in our daily lives. When we pay attention to what we eat and how much rest we need and we begin to notice the feelings we get in our bodes when something is wrong, or when something feels so right, and we begin to trust those intuitive urgings, we are practicing peace. We practice gratitude and lovingkindness meditation and other activities and states of being that encourage us to drop into our heart space and open up to the beauty within us and then in the world. We ask our soul the big questions of why we are here and what is our hearts desire. We practice compassion and self forgiveness, before we carry that out into the world. There is so much we can do to cultivate a loving and peaceful relationship with all the parts of our self. Perhaps the most important step is to begin.
A powerful book that changed my life and began to help me cultivate peace within, was Peace is Every Step by the wonderful Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. This book arrived in my life at a time when I was struggling with self hatred and a self loathing of my body. It is hard to believe there ever was such a time as I look back from the beautiful place where I live now, but there was. I was in my 20's and life was different then. Perhaps I will tell that story another time. For today, just the title of that book, Peace is Every Step can be a gift to us. As in the powerful 12 step programs that help to transform so many lives, one day at a time, one step at a time, we can achieve an inner peace that will over time effect the outer peace of the world we live in.
When you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the worlds problems, let it be a time for an internal check in. Am I at peace within? Where are the places of my inner life that I need to cultivate peace and compassion? Am I listening to my body? Is my heart open or closed? What is calling to my soul? What steps can I take? Then one step at a time, one day at a time, we practice peace.
Peace is Every Step
Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.
~Thich Nhat Hanh