If we continue to approach the work of peace and peace education from a conflict resolution perspective, our strategies will not be sustainable. The reason for this is that the human mind is in constant flux. Accordingly, the “reasons” for peace and non-violence today, may no longer apply the moment someone changes their mind.
Minds change all the time. They are supposed to, actually. That is how they are operate.
Sustainable peace, then, is not something that should be approached from such a limited and temperamental perspective, but from the wisdom that is beyond reason; beyond the human mind.
When I was 8 years old, my grandmother took me to a vigil. To this day, this event remains one of the most powerful and sacred of my childhood.
The vigil I attended, a death vigil, took place at night– in someone’s home. The main living area, where the body lay rest, was illumined by simple candlelight.
Most of the women, dressed in gray and black, sat side by side; some praying as they held tightly to their rosaries, some simply wept, some were singing sweet, gentle songs. In their faces, I could see their stories; of sadness, of grief, of acceptance, of love.
This week, as several friends and I maintain vigil over a beloved friend, I realize the magnitude of love necessary for holding space like this. To keep a vigil requires that we remain awake, watchful, prayerful.
How many of us have the desire, mindset, discipline, humbleness to be as comfortable with death as we are with life?
Death is, in fact, the ultimate “shadow”; that part of our lives we dare not look at, speak of, nor accept. However, in the absence of its embrace, we cannot fully embody our own humanity.
For me, keeping a vigil for the dying, and keeping a vigil for the living, are one of the same. We need not wait to become “awake, watchful, and prayerful.” We need not wait to make sacred each dawn of our precious lives.
On this momentous day (solar eclipse 2017), as I join so many others around our country and the world doing the deeper work required for mutual understanding and personal peace, I wanted to tend to the obvious; the “isms”.
The isms are co-constructed ideas. These “beliefs”, which continue to plague us and cause such suffering have landed squarely on our collective laps.
Clearly, it is up to each of us to “re-construct” new ways of thinking and being. Our health and the health of our world is at stake. That is how important this is.
We cannot, nor will we ever achieve understanding and peace through the use of force or fear. Sadly, we have a long and painful history of doing just this. Are you going to do more of the same? Or, are you willing to try something new to help reduce your own suffering and aggression?
As with all beliefs, these “isms” can be abandoned or changed at any time. Which are you ready to re-think and re-construct?
Consumerism– belief that the purchase and/or consumption of a product can reduce your innate sense of inadequacy.
Patriotism/nationalism – belief that your country is the best in the world and/or the only one that matters.
Ageism– belief that people outside your age group are somehow incompetent and/or unproductive.
Sexism– belief that individuals, who don’t have the same gender as you, are not as competent, and those who have multiple genders, somehow flawed, pathological, or confused.
Racism– belief that individuals from a race different than yours, are less human than you.
Terrorism (interpersonal, domestic, national and global) – belief that the annihilation, control, or destruction of anyone/anything that espouses views different than yours, is the only way to ensure peace, progress, and the good of all.
Unmasking your own “isms”:
OBSERVE: Become aware of the ways you either contribute to or are triggered by the beliefs and behaviors of others;
SELF-CARE: If/when triggered, separate yourself (by yourself, for yourself) to explore your own beliefs and do not seize this exploration until you understand your “why”;
INTEGRATION: We do not help anyone or anything by “destroying” it/them, but by changing the dynamic, which requires a change in OUR beliefs and behaviors (not “theirs”).
PRACTICE: Allow all that you “resist” to teach you about the fullness of humanity in order to practice personal peace.
This is deep and ongoing work—all of this. It is soul-work, and it is everyone’s “work”.
Civility is a democratic and human value; one of basic respect for fellow human beings.
Violence is a symptom of a lack of civility; it is the visible evidence of a fearful and diminished mind; one that is incapable (or unaware) that to be human, requires co-existence. In other words, that one live and let live— without threat– without insult — without abuse.
“Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” – Parker J. Palmer
Sadly many, (too many) people in our communities live in violent conditions. Unless they/we know what to do with this suffering, it can lead to two common responses:
2. more violence
How do we respond to fear and anger, and towards those who shout insults, demean, abuse, marginalize, threaten, kill? Until someone comes up with a better plan, I’m going to defer to the truth which has been told to us by sages and spiritual leaders, as well as by our contemporary peacemakers.
“We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other. We urgently need to bring the neighbor back into our hoods, not only in our inner cities but also in our suburbs, our gated communities, on Main Street and Wall Street, and on Ivy League campuses.” – Grace Lee Boggs
For anyone who believes “love is weak” or that to love those who hate is an exercise in futility, I would like to offer that the “love” is for those who can accept and receive it– those who have already gone through several cycles of violence and paralysis, and who know, deeply and intimately, that the first person who needs this “love”, is actually themselves. That is the game changer– the thing that neutralizes fear and enables a sliver of imagination to spring forth.
Civility, as with all other health behaviors, begins with the self. It starts with you. Only then, is it freely and effortlessly expressed outwardly and infinitely.
Adaptability, then, is not necessarily something we do, but is more of an orientation, and openness, to whatever comes our way. If we desire happiness and personal peace, it is our task to adapt; constantly.
Control is the opposite, of course. However, control is something we all must do and try– until we learn, for ourselves, the futility of our effort.
Life is a constant flow of favorable and unfavorable events and circumstances. If we can be mindful (aware) of this, it becomes easier (slightly) to “go with the flow” and to adapt to what life is asking of us.
This is a real thing. Simply put, the negativity bias is a conditioned response from your brain.
We all have a negativity bias, by the way. It is our “shark music” (Kristie’sterm), and that part of us that exists to alert us of real, or perceived danger. It represents one input (just one) of many and often competing inputs and possible responses to our environment. When we operate from this space, it is common to distort a person or situation. It is the kind of primitive mentality that justifies hatred and prejudice. In its most benign forms, it is a form of fixed-mindedness that can imprison even the most rational among us. Carried to its extreme, only death of the “other” will suffice.
How do you know if you’re operating from this mentality? Fear and its usual companions, restlessness, anger, hate, or aggressiveness, are often the clue. Understanding what these emotions are telling us about ourselves, requires some intentional (and uncomfortable) tuning-in and listening to our own soundtrack.
Do you wish to master your mind, or do you wish to remain its servant? This is a choice only you can make. By becoming better aware of your own scary and negative soundtrack, you not only decrease the incidence of projection (assigning your fears and aggressions unto others), but you create space for a new choice and voice; one that will enable you to neutralize your negativity bias, and replace it with a conscious and thoughtful response instead.
Ever since childhood, I’ve wanted to understand why there is suffering in the world; specifically, why we create it. This curiosity has led me on numerous intellectual, spiritual, and practical explorations, which I am still uncovering.
As a young girl, I was fascinated by the stories of my aunts and uncles– the stories of their trials and triumphs…of death and life regained. One of my favorite aunts used to say, when asked how she was doing, “ahi, en la lucha”….literally, in a battle, and this always confounded me.
Was life really a battle? Or just her life? Did all the grown-ups around me feel this way, too? How can life be such a “battle”, when it is filled with such beauty and abundance?
Yes. Life can be a battle. Life can be brutal. It is brutal. The opposite is also true.
After 52 years of life on Earth, and struggling with PTSD for the better part of 30 of them, I understand the anatomy of suffering and why life can feel like a battle. I also understand that the great equalizer of suffering is consciousness; our ability to awaken the mind and see beyond our circumstances.
It seems to me my daughters came better prepared for life on Earth. Perhaps they’ve benefited from generations of brave men and women who forged their own paths in search of a “better life”. Perhaps their video games, filled with countless “realities”, have equipped them with an upgraded mind; one that is less hampered by the negativity bias, false ideas about the way life works or is, or the way things used to be.
Reality is truly in the eye of the beholder. If you believe life is a battle, a competition of sorts, this is your reality. However, if you believe that life is actually heaven on Earth, your choices and responses will be much different. Much like Viktor Frankl reminds us in Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Your attitude towards the inherent suffering of life can either enslave you, or liberate you. Everything in your life at this moment; your home, your partner, your friends, your work are ALL expressions of your attitude toward life. Are you free?
This is probably one of the most paradoxical and challenging aspects of being a human being; letting go.
How can one embrace life and also let it go? This question used to haunt me and grew painfully loud when I became a mother.
Life and death are a single point in our existence. For anything to be born, something else dies, which then makes the “thing that died”, part of the living thing.
It has taken me many years to fully understand that letting go is both a spiritual and practical practice; one that is critical to my overall health, productivity, and well-being. There are countless teachers and books to guide one through the process, but the best “teacher” is your own life.
Letting go is one of the biggest “advancers” of consciousness– it can literally transform your human experience from one of chronic suffering (mental, emotional, and physical), to one of personal freedom and peace.
Father Richard Rohr has a passage in one of his books about “the colonized, the marginalized, the recovered, etc.” as a sub-set of our human family who are intimately aware of the necessity of forgiveness and the letting go of the distortions that block personal reconciliation and healing.
How do you reconcile (literally) the injustices, crimes, and ongoing abuses of fellow human beings? For anyone who has ever “done me wrong” (harassed, abused, threatened me), I see that I have two options:
Option A (my ego): engage with “my attacker” and fight back
Option B (my soul): understand their pain and suffering (their distortion) and let go
From the words of Jesus, near the moments of his own death, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24), there are few more poignant reminders of the power of understanding and forgiveness.
Letting go is not a sign of weakness. To yield and release has been one of the most profound practices of my life. This is true in everyone’s life. Yes, your ego (Option A) will always tell you otherwise. Fact is, however, that letting go is a conscious and awakened choice and the quickest route to the birth of something new.
What conditions, if any, do you wish you could transcend?
There are countless methods, tools, and practices for moving beyond our current conditions, whether physical, psychological, or emotional in nature. But perhaps the most powerful practice is gratitude. Gratitude is a practice of personal peace.
In the midst of chronic illness and suffering, it is not uncommon to experience severe negative emotions and thoughts. Unattended suffering leads to personal and inter-personal aggression and violence. We know this. We can’t just ignore our suffering. I’ve learned time and time again that gratitude neutralizes my suffering in such a way that it simply and effortlessly transmutes it, and therefore my understanding of whatever “condition” is elevated.
In my years of practicing gratitude, I’ve noticed the humbling effect it has had on me and those around me. I call this humbling effect grace, or the aha moment. Inevitably, grace enables transcendence and therefore our desire to yield, not because we have given up, but because we can see from a higher ground. We actually become defenseless because we fully understand that there is nothing to defend or fight. If you are fighting something or someone, it is because you do not understand it, or yourself; it is because you are suffering.
To move beyond painful conditions is a challenge faced by each of us. While it’s common to seek solutions “out there”, the solutions are actually “in here”; they are solely with you. What’s always out there, is the support, compassion, and love from fellow humans who have connected these dots.