Musings on PEACE, in Honor of International Peace Day
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?