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Musings on PEACE, in Honor of International Peace Day

September 18, 2009

It’s International Peace Day on Monday, Sept. 21st, and since I posted on peace last year at this time, I thought I would do so again. You can check out Peace Day related events around the world, read about the Peace Alliance’s efforts to establish a U.S. Dept of Peace, or read about the founder of Peace One Day’s efforts to establish a world-wide cease-fire on this day.

Of course on this blog I write more about inner peace than global peace, but probably anyone reading this doesn’t need to be convinced that the two are related. I have been musing about what true inner peace means lately, and came upon this quote in a book I recently read by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron:

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace, or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.” (emphasis mine, from Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron)

I think this idea, that peace is “an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened” is what is really resonating with me this year. It’s partly because the national dialogue here in the U.S. lately seems even more vitriolic than a year ago – and I really didn’t think that was possible. Peace of any sort seems very, very far away. And it’s clear that everyone is speaking – spewing often – from a place of feeling threatened. Defensiveness leaves absolutely no room for any kind of dialogue or progress.

Obviously this is something we all already know from our personal relationships. In a disagreement, once our buttons have been pushed, once the conversation has become about defending or protecting some aspect of ourselves that we don’t want to lose or are afraid will get hurt, it’s all downhill. It becomes more about getting the next good zinger in than trying to reach common ground.

And I think the same is true for the experience of inner peace. When I think of my most peaceful moments, I definitely think of time alone, spent in a favorite spot, meditating, reading, or communing with nature. And I think we all need those moments, the space in our lives to experience that. But I’ve observed – in myself and others – that it’s also very easy to become so attached to that kind of peace, that we become irritated when anything disturbs or challenges it. And that irritation is a form of contracting, of defending, not of opening and expanding.

It’s tempting to try and control every aspect of our lives so that our peace is never disturbed. But of course, unless you live alone in a cave, that’s also completely impossible (and maybe not even then.) Learning to accept what arises, to open  to it, instead of fighting it off, is the only real path to peace. This was a big lesson for me when I became a parent, as I had been meditating daily, and undisturbed, for many years. Learning to accept whatever happened when I sat down – the possibility that my meditation would end before I planned, because of the needs of one of my children – taught me (and is still teaching me) about opening on another level.

It’s also shifted my perception of peace, and spiritual practice, and this is why the quote above struck me just right. As Pema says, “peace isn’t an experience free of challenges.” Who would want that, really? Challenge is part of how we grow, how we achieve, how we discover ourselves, how we go deeper. I was talking to a young friend recently who by her own definition has had a really blessed life, everything has come easily to her, with few challenges. But last year she got her heart broken for the first time. And that has totally opened her up in a new way, because she felt true pain for the first time. And through her pain, her capacity for compassion deepened. It was all intellectual compassion before, now it’s based on empathy.

Recognizing this has so many implications, for our own pursuit of inner peace, for parenting, for politics, you name it. If we can open to disagreement, challenges, even pain (without seeking it out, of course – that’s a different kind of problem), instead of shutting down in the face of it, instead of becoming threatened and going on the defensive, these things are transformed from hindrances to peace into stepping-stones to it. They are no longer things we need to fight off, in our minds or the world, in order to experience peace – they are themselves what we need to accept and understand, what we need to go through, on our way there.

This gives me some hope even, about the current U.S. social dialogue. Perhaps everything is coming to the surface, getting aired out, instead of getting repressed or pushed down, on the way to moving through it. Only time will tell. Certainly it’s interesting to think about the 1950’s, which are often held up as some kind of national hey-day, with economic prosperity and elevated morality for all, when in fact, much of the country could not ride in the front of a bus or drink from a water fountain of their choosing based on race, and the overall poverty rate was even higher than today. The 1950’s were a heyday for very few, but there was seemingly less conflict. That’s certainly not peace, that’s repression. So maybe now, at the very least, the repression phase is ending, and as tumultuous as things are now, we will move through this to a new kind of understanding. I choose to remain optimistic.

So those are my thoughts on peace, inner and outer. What are yours?

27 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2009 8:19 pm

    Beautifully said, Lisa. I don;t even know what else to say, This is just…beautiful. Thank you.

  2. September 18, 2009 10:25 pm

    Hi Lisa,

    I’m with Jay – not too much you can say except — wow – beautiful! 🙂 Thank you. This is why I fell in love with your writing about a year ago and asked you to contribute to Heroes of Healing – so lovely!

  3. September 18, 2009 11:24 pm

    Another speechless reader over here. I love how you covered areas inside & out.

    When I was reading about being attached to inner peace and accepting interruptions, I immediately thought of an area I am working on (the impact of my kids). I kind of chuckled as you mentioned that next. It is something some of us have to work on to adjust to and accept.

  4. September 18, 2009 11:46 pm

    This post is so timely, Lisa. I hadn’t been keeping up with the news, but happened to turn on the radio the other day only to be shocked to learn what’s been going on in the healthcare debate. For a moment, I felt so sad, frustrated and hopeless. To tell the truth, I just turned the radio off and decided to block it out and not think about it. It wasn’t to stick my head in the sand, so much as to avoid sinking into a vibrational match with all of the nastiness.

    I do believe that we affect others with our energy, and it isn’t just limited to people we know. I’m holding firm that the more we individually embrace peaceful states of being, -in all situations, like you mentioned,- the closer we come to creating world peace.

    I find hope and solace in your closing comments about having moved through repression and seeing this time as perhaps the rising up of the last bits yuck that need to be healed and released before we reach a new understanding. I, too, am optimistic. Thanks so much!

  5. September 19, 2009 8:20 am

    “Learning to accept what arises, to open to it, instead of fighting it off, is the only real path to peace”. This is something I find to be so true and I try to remember this on a daily basis.
    It’s also linked with relinquishing the belief that we have control over anything don’t you think? In moving towards the emotions that we find disquieting or uncomfortable, instead of pushing it all away can for me be a source of peace. I find the more I try to control, and the more I fight (and I am a fighter from waaay back…sigh), the less anger/fear that arises. It’s the relief of that that can bring me a sense of peace.

  6. September 19, 2009 11:13 am

    Hi Lisa,
    Inner peace. Something I too, find through those quiet moments in my life. I think they help to ground me. And maybe lay the framework for dealing with whatever lies in front of me. I’ll just take family and kids, for instance. Since we have three of them – household peace is sometimes a very distant thought. What I’ve found, though, is that when my day begins with some time to connect with my soul, I’m much more able to “peacefully” address those non-peaceful moments that come up (daily).

    And, while I don’t have a national platform by any stretch of the imagination – what I believe is that when “issues” can be brought up – and that’s wherever – home, local community, national presence – and viewed with open hearts – so much can be accomplished. And a deeper level of outer peace can be achieved.

    Is this easy? No. I think emotions and ego get in the way. And that’s where inner peace can really be the base upon which outer peace is built.

    So good to read this today. It really just puts me in a very personal place of connecting to that inner peace….

  7. mommymystic permalink*
    September 19, 2009 3:12 pm

    Jay/Jenny – thanks for your kind words and continuing support. (And Jenny, the Stumble too!)

  8. mommymystic permalink*
    September 19, 2009 3:28 pm

    Suzanne – yes, there’s nothing like kids to reveal our inner ‘control freak’ (and maybe you weren’t that far gone, but I’m sure I was!) With a newborn, life is completely out of our control, and it’s either accept that or go crazy (and I think most of us do both.) We gradually get some control and autonomy back, but life is never the same. And I think it offers huge opportunities in letting go, on many lessons. Thanks for visiting!

    Alexis – I haven’t been able to listen to the news as regularly as I used to in the last couple of months, for exactly this reason. I’m making myself do it to a certain extent, although I pick my sources carefully, because I do want to be engaged personally (although at times I take breaks, this is just an ‘engaged’ phase right now.) But it is brutal out there. And because we are all impacted by this energy, it’s increasingly difficult to stay balanced ourselves. So this post, and Pema’s book, were really timely for me also. And per your interests on parenting today’s generation, I think this has a lot of relevance too – what tools do they need to deal with this energy and psychological climate?

    DW – I do agree with what you say about relinquishing control. But I’m realizing this isn’t such a popular position right now – the dominant message out there in spiritual writing is really that we CAN control everything, by shifting our thoughts. And I do believe that we can impact our reality so much through shifting our awareness. That’s part of the connection between inner peace and global peace for me too. But I think those efforts can go awry, and become repressive, and prevent us from facing the very causes of our angers/fears, as you suggest. As a recovering control freak (and fighter, definitely that too) I am trying to strike the right balance between the two approaches, accepting and shifting, opening and manifesting. I think both have a place. I think of it like yin and yang.

    Lance – I couldn’t agree more, you should write a post on this! (Or maybe you already have at some point?) I do think having that time to center ourselves each day, whatever our method, is so essential for us. We clear out and gain a reference point for the rest of our day.

  9. September 19, 2009 10:05 pm

    Okay, I’m smiling…
    No, I don’t think I’ve written on this. Now you’ve got my wheels spinning.

  10. September 19, 2009 10:27 pm

    Pema Chodron is a timeless writer, a soul who invites kindred spirits to awaken to what thye already know. Inner peace is accesible to everyone, all the time. One is invited to engage in a process of remembering and this is an incredible experience to come into you.

  11. September 20, 2009 2:25 am

    Hi Lisa. I know you’ve been thinking about challenges for some time. I’ve seen you mention it in comments. I’m glad the Chodron book helped you find the perspective you were looking for. It’s funny how when you hold a question in mind long enough the answer will come. Thank you for sharing the idea of unconditional openness to all that arises.

  12. mommymystic permalink*
    September 20, 2009 3:14 am

    Brenda – have I been commenting on this alot ?? You know, this has been my perspective for a long time, but Chodron reminded me of it. The lineage of Buddhism she comes from focuses a lot on facing our ‘shadows’ in various forms, and transforming them. Other lineages of Buddhism do not emphasize this as much. And I see a trend in a lot of spiritual writings to only accentuate the positive, which I do think is very valuable, but leaves open the question of how you realistically transform the world from the starting point we are at now, and for that matter, how we realistically transform our own awareness from the reality of our own mind. I think the ‘think positive’ approach can lead us astray at times, into repression, subconsciously. Or it can leave us unprepared for the reality of our world right now. So it’s true, I have been talking about this a lot, trying to represent the other side, I guess. I think a balance of both approaches is needed, both in personal practice, and in the world. Positivity AND honest recognition of shadows in an effort to transform them.

  13. September 20, 2009 6:01 am

    Hello Lisa,

    I agree with your comment to Brenda. In my own journey, I practiced meditation for a long time but it was only after working with the psychological aspect, that I began to notice a breakthrough in my spiritual practice. I am grateful for Chogyam Trungpa, Pema’s teacher for introducing that aspect of spirituality that enlivened Buddhism and made it pertinent for westeners.

  14. September 20, 2009 4:06 pm

    A terrific post!
    Thank you.

  15. September 21, 2009 7:35 am

    Hi Lisa – had to chuckle at the thought of peace even being disturbed in a cave – maybe by bats and spiders! I really like the way you point out the 1950s weren’t so great for lots of people – here in Australia there is the same misty-eyed view of that period, while there was actually terrible poverty, violence and abuse going on. I really like what you have written here – Pema Chodron’s words about peace and expansiveness are great!

  16. September 21, 2009 11:23 am

    Fabulous and I’m totally relating to this this past year as well.
    “an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened”
    I have found inner peace in crochet, that moment the girl-child falls asleep in my arms, reading together, deep breaths during tantrums…. If I waited for lengthy times of deep meditation, I would never find peace! lol A bit what my Thankful Anyways seek….
    But seriously, I have witnessed people meditate and then freak out at a later point when someone rattles their cage. Inner peace is NOT meditation, yoga, etc. They’re just tools.

    Wonderful words Lisa.

  17. September 21, 2009 1:43 pm

    Much of our inner peace is more conditional than we may suspect. But the more we don’t get what we want or have good and important things taken away, the more we begin to uncover inner peace that’s unequivocal, unconditional and unassailable.

    Or we become so frustrated as to get really obnoxious and/or depressed.

    Much as not getting what I want in major ways has put me in closer touch with unconditional personal peace, I’d gladly trade some of that to see humanity showing more signs of, for example, moving on global warming…

  18. mommymystic permalink*
    September 21, 2009 4:14 pm

    Miruh – thanks so much for sharing your experience, mine has been similar. In fact, I realized in retrospect at one point that my meditations had made me less open, more protective, in a way, and so I had hit a plateau. Moving through it required facing fears and other issues from a psychological perspective. And I too, am grateful to Chogyam Trungpa, he really evolved the practice of Buddhism in the West.

    BK – Glad you liked, and thanks for commenting!

    Robin – your thoughts of bats and spiders reminded me of another story I could have put in this post. A few years back I had been working really hard and planned a retreat by myself in New Mexico for a long weekend – rented a house in a favorite area etc. And then every time I sat down to meditate in this house, this fly would appear and torture me – buzzing around my face, landing on my nose, you name it. I could never find it any other time! In retrospect it was hilarious. At the time, I didn’t think so, and it definitely showed me the limits of my inner peace then:-)

    Mon – yes, that’s exactly why I like your Thankful Anyway Thursdays too, someday I hope to post more and be able to do one once in awhile. Your comment about people meditating and then not being able to handle actual life crises is something Pema talks a lot about in her book too – how this happened to her at one point, and how she has seen it so often in fellow practitioners and students. I think there is a way to practice meditation that makes you ‘grip’ and tighten, or there’s a way to practice it and let go…I think they both can have their place, but it’s interesting how it can become part of a control theme instead of loosening it…

    Paul – your last phrase gets to the conundrum of it, which I know has come up on your own blog too. How to stay connected to this inner peace on a personal level, once it’s discovered, and yet still act in the world in an engaged way? Action, not withdrawal, but without anger or ego…

  19. September 21, 2009 5:00 pm

    Lisa, wonderful thoughts. Your post is the reason why I love the word “equanimity.” It purports and promotes inner peace, with plenty of room for gentle tipping. Allowing ourselves to flow with challenges, yet not lose our way. It invites the challenges in, in fact, to be embraced by understanding. We do not have to stage-set our peace or fiercely protect it if we are truly embracing equanimity. Everything belongs…

    This is my “newest” understanding of peace this year and it IS Pema Chodron and now Chogyam Trungpa (love his writing!) who helps me be in this place more and more each day… Love to you.

  20. September 21, 2009 8:56 pm

    Wonderful post, Lisa. Totally full of meaning and wisdom. It is hard to maintain inner peace in the middle of chaos, bickering etc. but life is a good teacher for that. It is where I hone my own skills at maintaining inner peace, centeredness, and compassion/understanding for those who do not hold my same values. I have learned how to listen to “the other side” because no side is 100% right. The only way to do that is to come from that center of peace and wellbeing, and find the wisdom and truth in what the “other side” says. Thank you for writing about it so brilliantly.

  21. mommymystic permalink*
    September 22, 2009 3:44 am

    Jan, I always forget about this word ‘equanimity’, it is so much better than ‘detachment’, which I tend to fall back on out of habit, and has a lot of problems with it, as I think you and I have both explored in posts, and in comments on Paul’s blog. I like the word ‘flow’ too, which you used – how to flow with challenges.

    Diantha – thanks for bringing up listening to ‘the other side’ – that always gets lost doesn’t it! We tend to think in terms of ‘putting up’ with the other side, as opposed to truly listening. But you are so right, this quote really speaks to true listening too, as a form of opening.

  22. September 23, 2009 10:55 pm

    Hi Lisa,

    One of my favorite quotations is Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world.” And so you are very right, peace in the world starts with inner peace. Peace is each person finding inner peace.

    Pema Chodron’s wisdom is wonderfully resonant, and immensely practical.

    As you say, perhaps our experience with personal relationships can help the world with peace. As you point out, it is challenging, and the trick is perhaps to create enough inner space, to allow all challenges.

    Thanks for the insight.


  23. September 24, 2009 1:24 am

    Hello Lisa,

    Wonderful thoughts here and deeply meaningful. As you so aptly put it, to night fight what comes at you in life is such a necessity to achieve inner peace. This, of course, is seldom easy but it gets easier with practice. It’s cool that you mention this because it’s an area of my life that I’m really working on.

    Thanks and keep up the great writing. I really like your blog!

  24. September 25, 2009 5:26 am

    What a great post, Lisa.

    This whole week, I have been angry about not having enough time with patients, not having enough time for myself on days off, and many unmet expectations of others.

    Pema’s quote is right on target. If we hang around long enough to find the center of the storm, maybe we can let it tear our hearts open to hold all it has to give.

  25. mommymystic permalink*
    September 25, 2009 4:23 pm

    Kaushik, I love that quote of Gandhi’s too – in fact, it was my pick to write about last year for Peace Day! ‘Creating inner space’ is a good way of putting it, instead of constricting and tightening.

  26. mommymystic permalink*
    September 25, 2009 4:25 pm

    Keith, thanks for visiting. Yes, not fighting doesn’t come naturally to many of us, especially me. So learning to open instead of fight has been a big part of my path too.

    Mermaid – I love your phrase ‘maybe we can let it tear our hearts open to hold all it has to give.’

  27. September 27, 2009 5:52 am

    Lisa, Thank you for this peaceful reminder. I was just hanging out with my family tonight at the local bookstore (a fine Saturday night activity) and bought my first book by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s title is “Touching Peace”. I think the universe is telling me something.

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