At this time of year we often see cards that say “Peace on Earth.” Gatherings of family and friends make us think of our bonds to other people and a wish for peace. But what does peace really look like in our lives?
Take a moment to think about how peace looks (or would look like) in your life. Then think about how it would manifest in the life of the world.
Is it calmness and tranquility? Complete lack of conflict? Is it about reconciliation of past differences? Is work involved? Is there any struggle or challenge? How is your vision of peace similar to or different from what you see and read about?
I try to practice active peacemaking. By that I mean working to create peace rather than sitting back and waiting for conflict to pass or for an ethereal mood to descend. For me this means building strong bonds of relationship between myself and family, friends and colleagues.
1. Inner Peace
The first and hardest step is fully knowing and accepting the storm of thoughts and emotions sweeping through me at any one moment. They’re triggered by my life experience and aspects of my personality. For example, when I feel it’s important to speak up for an unpopular idea, my Japanese American cultural training that “a nail that sticks up gets hammered down” kicks in and causes anxiety.
Inner work is required to understand and manage the different parts of my personality: the part that is outcomes-focused, the part that is lazy, the artistic part that is focused on aesthetics and not the deadline. These myriad parts interact in ways that can create fear, curiosity, shame, contentment and more. I need to know and manage my inner ecology so that 1) I’m not reacting to experiences in ways that magnify inner conflicts, thus creating unnecessary challenges for those around me and 2) purposely magnifying the aspects or emotions that strengthen relationships.
The second step is having a foundation or place to return to when our inner or outer life is tumultuous. This could be a practice or activity, a belief system, an inspirational quote that helps you feel grounded, a location that you visit regularly or a combination of several things. Mine includes walking the dog near San Francisco Bay, meditations from my spiritual martial arts practice and my religious practice.
Even though we may like to think that we have life under control, I can guarantee that life is not a controllable event and that we all need foundations to get us through the choppy waters of life.
The third step is bringing to bear the skills from managing our inner life to events and relationships around us. We need to have a clear understanding of what we’re experiencing in the world, informed by but unclouded by the storms of our inner life. How do we engage with others in a clear, compassionate and honest way?
One example is when a friend makes a comment that rubs me the wrong way. I stew about it, and then I have a choice. Do I ignore the comment and try to distance myself from him? Do I talk to him about how his comment made me feel? Or do I spend some time just being curious about my reaction? It’s easy to label my friend and write him off. And though it’s much harder, I need to slow down and be curious about his comment, explore my reactions, and let that inform my next steps.
When we see the news it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless to create peace. Yet we can have a big impact on those around us through our attitudes and behavior.
I try to catch myself casting people as the “other” – for example, someone who is hostile to people from outside the US. It may seem sufficient to feel I’m “right” or on the “right side,” but being right isn’t enough to solve problems nor does it create the connections that constitute peace. It’s much harder to wonder about how others came to their opinions and, if there’s an opportunity, to engage with them. I keep asking myself, “How can I be compassionate toward someone I distrust?”
This may seem like a small and invisible effort but, in fact, the fear and violence we see in the world begins in a similar way on a larger scale. To the extent we can model another way, we’re building peace practices.
Peace Requires Ongoing Work
Connecting people and creating peace is like weaving a rich, dynamic tapestry. Yet the connections between people are ever so fragile: the weaving can be torn or ripped in an instant by angry words or violence. It takes days, weeks or years to rebuild those connections.
My friend Kayla marvels at the fact that for little kids, “fall down get up” is one action. I love this image of rhythmic ups and downs for peacemaking. We would all do well to practice this kind of resilience when engaged in the real, hard and beautiful work of creating peace.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.