I’m not for peace. I’m not hoping to bring about peace, that’s not what I’m working for. I do not believe we will, on some glorious day, achieve world peace.
I don’t want you to try for peace either. Please don’t go looking for it in formulas or ideologies nor go to sleep tonight dreaming of a day when peace will come.
If I could bid you do anything it would be to stop, sit down and abide a while in silence.
From within that silence, see yourself. Where are you? In the busy life you’re living, all the places you’ve been and destinations you’re trying for, where are you situated amid the busyness? Meet yourself in that silence. Don’t be coy, bowing your head and staring at specks upon the floor. Look at you for all you are, as a loving other might see you. Be unafraid.
What do you see? Does it make you smile? Or are you a little awkward, not sure if you are liking all you see there? Are you what you’d imagined you’d be?
There are plenty of truths we all avoid facing and our ‘self truths’ are perhaps the ones we tend to bury deepest. They come to us in moments when we’re challenged, when our spirit is eroded by tiredness or criticism. After a time we find way to naturally excuse ourselves of our misgivings.
Even those of us who proudly claim vigilance, routinely sweeping clean under our metaphorical rugs, checking our closets carefully for skeletons, we too embolden ourselves with ‘little white lies’. Have you never told yourself ‘I am capable and I can do this’, choosing confidence, pushing out whispers of doubt, even though you know full well you’re flying blind with no prior experience? It is also human to occasionally cower from all we cannot face, saying those self-destructive words that devour our well being, ‘I’m terrible”, or confessing “I can’t cope’. What we really mean to convey is “I’m scared, help me”, a vulnerable truth we hide. We fear the burden of further hurt. [My next blogpost, already in the works, will be entitled ‘Peace, a process and Love, the harder path‘ about the benefits of unlocking our vulnerability, for positive outcomes and stronger bonds.]
We exist at surface layer where emotion and complexity runs riot, informing our day to day lives. We are sentient, we feel, therefore we are reactive. Defining ourselves through opinion an (re)action often feels right, we become accustomed to reactivity. Yet most of these traits we identify with are mutable and shift across our lifetimes. So is what we say who we really are?
Stay in the silence. Keep looking.
Have you found that you yet? I hope so. If you have you won’t be seeing gender, a hair colour, a style of clothing or hundreds of neatly curated identity labels stuck about your person. You may not see anything at all, and this may feel unsettling, perhaps alarming, Where did you go?
Deep down below the mundane murmurations of living is another us.Enduring quietly beneath it all is our true self, invariably at peace. It can take a while to accept this version of our selves for it is a presence, plain and still. This is your core self, you are a presence, awake in a stream of existence.
Your own personal beliefs colour what you belief this self to be; a soul, a manifestation of God, a burst of energy, a biological fact of life and nothing more, a mere current pulsing through animate beings… Whatever your convictions your naked self is free from the anxieties of this great big world. At this level of awareness you are safe, untouched by the falling debris and jagged projectiles of living. It’s calm deep down there, far beyond the storm.
Let’s take a step back, to where I described humans as reactive beings of sentience who strive to thrive, dodging as much damage as we can. I want to ask, how many of us withdraw affection when threatened? If our hearts are on the line, if we sense our love and goodwill is not welcome, do not most of us step back and hide our love for fear of being hurt? If our lives are on the line is it not safer to step up and defend everything we have with everything we have? Instead of communicating we leap to protect ourselves. We feel vulnerable but instead of showing our belly, we bare our teeth. Is this really the way to go?
Here’s a story about how well it can work the other way
The knifeman threatens the officer. The officer sits down, relaxed body language and engages with his attacker. Moments later the knife is voluntarily surrendered and the officer approaches his assailant with big arms open wide. Both men show each other vulnerability instead of violence. Read the story and you’ll learn it just keeps getting more lovely from that point onwards, its inspiring.
We feel good when our daily lives accord with that core self, our naked self. It’s a powerful feeling.
We feel lost and disconnected when we forget our naked self, cycling through ineffective strategies to make things right again. We act to defend, regret how we act, we blame and harm and yearn bitterly for better times.
There is a strong case for working in harmony with our Peace.
I have stood in riots and disarmed protesters and policemen of their anger. Its easy to blame the rioter for their violence or the policemen for undue force when retaliating. Blame does not bring resolve. If we analyse instead what they have in common we see just a lot of scared people, defending themselves, needing to feel safe. A friendly voice, unafraid and willing to cradle their anger and pain, can help reconnect them to that deeper, still person they fundamentally are. That is where its safe. This is our Peace and it’s where we want to be. Rage may envelop us, obfuscating that desire, but rage is nothing more than flailing, when we cannot see the way back to safety.
Its exhilarating to take a person’s hand and unburden them of the chaos that’s disturbing them, their hate, their fear, and guide them back to their rational place of peace.
It wasn’t always apparent to me I had this peace within me. If someone had suggested it to my teenage self, my ego would no doubt have raised two fingers up at they very idea. Was I not a bruised and battered being, cracked at the very core? It felt that way at the time but it was a tempest, striking my surface, nothing more.
In my formative years I stood between two poles, a bewildering torrent of anger and violence on one side, a steady flow of compassion on the other. I was lucky. The bizarre dichotomy of my domestic situation showed me just how illogical it is to reach out with fists and screams and how very rational it is to reach out with arms wide open.
The furious party was entrenched in misery of their own creation. They desired love above all else but the brutality of their actions marred any hope of experiencing the happiness of it. Their daily battle tore at the fabric of all they’d worked for, they became feared and despised.
The compassionate side knew only how to love. They did no harm, they did only what they could to engage and support the casualties of this turmoil. They empathised with the pain but remained pleasant and peaceable, they knew no other way to be. Their world did not fall down, their love increased.
For me, scraping away the damage took years. Little by little I began to catch fleeting glimpses of my naked self until there I stood, on the plateaux of my being, staring squarely at it, no will to argue or defend. I found my peace.
So here it is, my suggestion that Peace is not the small acts of kindness, not the forgiving nor the refusing to be touched by the flames of fury. All this happens when we live realising we already have Peace, when we recognise and uphold that same Peace in another. Peace is our fundamental state, its where we thrive and survive.
The error we make is chasing after Peace as if it were an unknown beast we’d like to catch and examine, to know it better. We fight for it, campaign for it, work for it, rarely stopping to ask, well what is this Peace thing all about anyway?
Most of the time we’re already living it. In Better Angels of Our Nature author Steven Pinker makes a clear case, we have existed consistently in a state of peace across our evolutionary time scale. Co-operation has been our advantage more often than conflict, which tends to deplete our resources and halt our development. We incline towards peace as a desirable state, peace being a scenario where our outer world is congruent with our core state of inner Peace. All evidence suggests we are not inherently vicious nor violent, these are just stories we tell ourselves, a mask to wear when we fear. In the process of protecting ourselves we become awestruck by the horrors of war and we keep wearing the mask, hiding our true selves , we live restricted. Little white lies we tell ourselves, defence mechanisms which isolate us when we push others away, our mishandling of vulnerability.
My hope is this species, the human race, can realise Peace. I hope we can see how we hold one another at arm’s length for fear of being hurt, all the while hurting because we dearly wish we didn’t ‘have’ to. We hold up Peace as an ideal, it isn’t. We are projecting our free selves as an ideal, because it feels good because it’s what we want.Most of the time its ourselves and our ingrained fears we are fighting, preventing us from making that connection to what we already own. We already possess Peace.
Peace is us.
The question is, do we choose to be Peace?
It is a choice. If we prefer we can keep telling stories, react with fist thumping and justifying our regrettable ‘protective attacks’, justifying it with claims of ‘security’. Many societies learn to live this way, whole industries have developed, profiting from our fears, working for our security. What of the accompanying fear? The anxiety? When we believe we are being attacked we are not free, we are not living with an awareness of our innate Peace.
Life can be more wonderful.
We exist constantly in conflict, like a swimmer in a tidal pool of jellyfish, our surroundings are loaded with potential to disrupt our sense of well being. It’s how we handle these conflicts that makes all the difference.
One strategy is to charge straight through the centre, bludgeoning the jellies with our fists as we, frantic and fearful, front-crawl our way to shore. In this instance we experience a sense of survival, going all out to save ourselves from harm. Yet our impulse to act comes with the accompanying risk of being repeatedly stung, damaged so badly we may not make it. The jellyfish are likely to suffer casualties too.
Another strategy is to calmly glide through the spaces in-between, proceeding with care. We risk a light brush, a sting here and there, but in taking the time and operating from our place of Peace we stand more chance of making it out unharmed. In the process we expose ourselves to the beauty and shape of these ocean drifters, we can appreciate their presence, experience the thrill of coexisting in that same body of water.
A deadly encounter can also be a life affirming adventure, if we choose it.
As terrifying as it may sometimes be, opting for vulnerability makes us stronger and more effective as people. Our capacity for Peace is great and is constant within us, we can unlock it and operate from that place any time we choose.
The world will always crowd in, with its stories of danger and the urgency of acting now. It is not easy to connect to our Peace in all places, in all situations, it take practice. In this we can support one another, we’re social beings (most of us, even only a little bit.)
Committing to Peace is a way, we must stay steady on our course, knowing we are not working for an abstract goal. We are Peace, right here, right now, in every step and with every heartbeat. We must live it and be it.
“deeds not creeds; not a form of words but a way of living” – QF&P, 24.1, London Yearly Meeting, 1993