Peace is personal

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This time of year many of us send greetings of happiness, comfort, joy, and peace. Peace. A white dove carrying a message of peace in the world. 

This is the first Christmas in two decades that the US has not been at war. We hoped for this day. So why aren’t we celebrating? Why are we not dancing in the streets and kissing sailors?

Well, maybe we could do a little more of that, especially the dancing. But it wouldn’t be a dance of triumph after the ragged, sad, and unsatisfying ending of the longest war in US history. Still, dancing is a celebration of life, no matter what the circumstances. Maybe it’s time for the healing of a tribal peace dance, the rhythmic chanting resonating in our soul and setting our feet in motion to the steady heartbeat of the drums.

We can dance peace even as we sense the unrest in the world and in ourselves. Peace is not an event to mark on the scrolling calendar of history or a finite goal to set, but a state of being that we cultivate within us. Peace is personal. We soften the tension in our body, release our fear-based perceptions of the world, and open ourselves up to the possibility of peace. The dove that is the symbol of peace carries an olive branch in its beak with the possibility of that branch taking root in fertile soil and growing into a peaceable world. Each of us has the capacity to root and grow peace within us.

My mother was a lifelong volunteer for peace. She worked so hard and rarely let others see her moments of despair. Were she living today, she would be thrilled at the ease of global interconnection with the internet and Zoom. How wisely she would have used that ability to connect (She might have trouble with the tech aspects, but I can’t imagine anyone ever needing to say ‘unmute yourself’ to my mother!)

I too am thrilled to be able to connect in international conversation with people who are peaceful in their hearts and feel a deep connection to the natural world and all life. This year I attended the international online Nature Summit, hosted by one of my teachers, Mark Coleman, with a diverse and inspiring group of interviews with leaders in ecology and spirituality. The event’s Facebook Group was an exciting meeting of the minds and a sweet sharing of the beauty of nature in each member’s area.

Then this fall I attended the International Dharma Teachers Gathering, where Buddhist teachers from all traditions had a week of Zoom meetings with each other around topics of interest to all. Some of us have since formed a small support group for dharma teachers. One joyous moment that came out of that Gathering was doing a meditative dance with a teacher in Germany, along with fellow students in Sweden, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand, and Hawaii. There is nothing like connecting on a personal level with people from around the world to make you recognize our commonality and shared intention to co-create peace and well-being in the world. And just this week I attended Christine Tippett’s On Being Winter Gathering on the Solstice, where over 7000 participants from around the world greeted each other in the chat feature and later were led in meditation by Dr. Christine Runyan and then shared the questions that came up for them to guide them this year. Powerful stuff!

While technology can be used skillfully or harmfully, those of us who are cultivating goodwill, compassion, and peace can take heart in the global power of peace and community!

But how do we cultivate inner peace when we feel there is so much conflict in the world, in our country, our community, and our families? In our class discussion, the challenge of keeping the peace in their own relationships was uppermost: how not to let disagreements around vaccinations, etc. ruin them.

One sangha sister talked about her relationship with a younger relative who she loves but with whom she has polar opposite opinions about many things, including whether to be vaccinated. They continue to talk by phone regularly, and she has found that letting go of the need to win him over to her way of thinking and simply using questions that allow him to explore in more depth his own thoughts, has made it possible for them to sustain and even deepen their relationship, even through these challenging times.

Another sangha sister felt overwhelmed by the advice of friends when her daughter tested positive for COVID. Staying quarantined herself until her own test results are confirmed negative, she finally sent out a group email to please not send any advice or medical questions as it is overwhelming. And then added, “Appreciative hugs for having you as my supportive friends.”

She then received lots of emojis of hugs, hearts, and kisses.

But most importantly she was able to name what she was feeling: overwhelmed. And then she was able to say what she needed from those who love her.

Both these women exhibited such skillfulness and wisdom. We can all be inspired.

But how do we cultivate inner peace so that we may be skillful in our relationships? When I lead a metta (lovingkindness) practice, one of the blessings is “May my mind be peaceful.” But it’s important to understand the nature of peace, how spacious it is, and how respectful it is, so that even the tightest knot of thoughts and emotions we experience feels seen, heard, and respected; and feels enough spaciousness so it doesn’t have to go into battle. Nothing to hide. Nothing to prove. Nothing to defend.

Inner peace is possible. Learning how to live in a world where so many in our species are at odds with each other is challenging. But if we have a regular practice of cultivating peace within ourselves, and radiating that sense of peace out into our own families and communities, and then extending that sense of community to include all beings, we become the peace we wish to see in the world. We have a resilience that enables us to weather whatever arises, not demanding peace as a finite outcome, but radiating peace as a way of being.

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