Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park in Sedona, Arizona
I’ve had a sign hanging in my home for years. It reads, “Peace begins with me.”
It’s a lovely idea but means nothing just hanging there on my wall. Peace must be embodied to be experienced. Peace is defined as a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, a state of tranquility or serenity. For some, peace may mean love, joy, or acceptance.
Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds–our own prejudices, fears, and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women." We are all capable of violent thoughts just as we are all capable of peaceful thoughts. They are both within each of us, but which one grows? The one that grows stronger is the one we feed and water, of course.
I heard a story about a man who spent nine years in a monastery and most of those nine years were in silence, doing incredible spiritual work. As the story goes, the day he left the monastery with all of this peace and enlightenment, the first person he encountered was his mother. She said one thing, and he completely lost his temper. It’s an incredible piece of evidence that we can be as peaceful as can be, alone in a cave or on a mountain, but the best demonstration of our peace is who we are when we become activated.
Most people I have ever spoken with desire peace, peace for themselves and the world. Like the man who spent nine years in the monastery, only to walk out and lash out at his mom, we can pay lip service to that lovely peace sign on the wall or we can actually cultivate peace in our hearts and ultimately create peace in the world.
I had never experienced a death threat, someone spitting at me, or fear in another person so deep that it reached out and struck me. This actually happened to me several years ago. Someone was in such vehement opposition of something that I said that they felt it necessary to pull out their arsenal of hate toward me. Knowing that hurt people, in turn, hurt people, I didn’t strike back. I simply said, “I hear you.” In my mind, I could have retaliated with a violent thought but instead I chose to thank him for showing up as my teacher, allowing me the opportunity to embody that sign on my wall.
It’s easy to remain peaceful with those who love us, agree with us, and care for us. It is a practice to hold peaceful space when we feel defensive, upset, or faced with people who are spitting rage toward us. Our knee-jerk reaction is to retaliate in defense, but I like to remember what Jesus taught, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This does not mean that we must endure abuse or accept violence; it does mean that we can choose to move our minds and hearts into a space of healing, connection, and peace.
I like to remember what Martin Luther King Jr said in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace...If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Human beings, in our true essence, are capable of the most glorious and uplifting actions. We’ve seen it countless times, friends, neighbors, and strangers, gathering to encourage, support, and love one another. We truly have the potential to create a world of peace.
I like to look at it this way. Electricity has always existed, was it anyone's fault that people went so long in the dark? No. Humanity had to evolve to discover electricity; it took progress to end up with the lightbulb. Electricity has always been here, just as peace is here and has always been. Peace only needs an instrument; without an instrument, it stays invisible.
We are the instrument.
I will leave you with the peace prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Namaste xo -a