Traveling the way of peace doesn’t mean withdrawing from the world and all of the situations that steal our peace. The deepest levels of peace are attained only by engaging the reality that life serves up and doing the best we can to find and keep it.
Too often, though, we don’t, instead content to “work on ourselves” and pretend the rest of the world has nothing to do with us, much less the peace we seek. Wrapped in a protective blanket of denial, isolation, and avoidance, we find an uneasy peace that is all-too-easily disturbed.
While such actions may allow us a relative calm amidst the outer storms, sooner or later the search for lasting peace will demand we deal with them.
For rarely do these things go away on their own. Instead, they keep growing in number and volume until they become like the squeaky wheel that will give us no peace until we fix it.
We all know what happens by then. The problems often escalate in scope and complexity, and demand much more of our time, effort and resources to deal with.
That’s where our world is today.
Situations that have been cooking for years are bubbling up all over, now getting to a point where we’re forced to do something about it. Their threats are so great that many of us are throwing open our windows and screaming, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
So how are we to find peace in times like these, when the world around us is falling apart and screaming for our attention to fix it before it’s too late?
The abuses we’ve heaped upon each other and our world have reached a tipping point. They’re impossible to ignore any longer, because if we do, we risk passing the point of no return.
Unfortunately, we have created so many challenges that we don’t know where to turn our efforts first. Maybe that’s a good thing, since our divisions are so great that even if we knew what to do, we probably couldn’t get enough people to agree to get it done.
Underlying these crises is a simple fact of human existence. This is a world of billions of individuals, each trying to build a life that works for them. Some are able to do that and make nary a ripple. Others struggle no matter what, unable or unwilling to do anything about it. But for most, that effort revolves around making money to create the lives they want and overcome the obstacles that get in their way.
The problem is, the intoxicating effect of money and power drive some to seek it for its own sake as much as for the lavish lifestyles and power it gives them to affect not only those affairs, but also the political and economic system that affects us all. And when they do so with little care or concern for its impact on others, the harm that results can be immense.
To each his own, I always say. At least so long as it doesn’t do harm to anyone else. But when it does, or impairs the ability of others to go their own way, that’s like drawing a line in the sand and daring us to cross it.
When we chase our desires or avoid our fears in a way that negatively affects or imposes our wills upon others, we throw down a gauntlet inviting them to fight back. And being the good soldiers that they are, they usually do.
That is, unless we’re so strong and powerful that they’ll get the crap kicked out of them. Then they’re more inclined go along with us and try to live with the consequences
This is how it’s been with the rich and powerful. They’ve found an ability to stack the rules in favor of getting more. Some simply like to do it for the sheer power of it. And some of them aren’t shy about flaunting it or rubbing our noses in the mess they leave behind.
Now, though, problems like war, environmental degradation, and financial bubbles are getting too big to ignore, and threaten to bring down the house upon us all.
As a result, now they’re being called out. The gauntlet has been picked up and the battle lines drawn.
The many are raising their voices in objection to the destructive actions of these few. Some want to do even more, to seize control of the affairs of state to take from them what they’ve got (at least, more than is being taken now) and force them to toe a more responsible line.
Dissent. Activism. Resistance. Fighting back. These are the weapons being turned on the power elite.
The warrior in me wants to jump for joy. They people are finally rousing and ready to fight. Yipee!
But then a voice goes off inside, whispering that may not be the best way, even when fighting against injustice and harm. These are not the tools of spirituality that my soul has tried to practice for so long. This is not the way of peace, love and light I long to travel.
Jesus said it well. “Turn the other cheek.”
Yet the troops are being mobilized for class warfare that social engineers like Karl Marx predicted over a century ago. All because we’re unable to turn the other cheek any longer and allow them to keep taking at such great expense.
Turning the other cheek means surrendering to the abuse and letting it run its course, no matter how often and harshly it harms us. Who wants to do that?
Surrender sure sounds nice. But we’re the ones who have to live with the abuse. Where do we draw the line?
If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? If others use whatever means are at their disposal without regard to how it may harm us or our world or put us at disadvantage, where does turning the other cheek end and making our stand begin?
What’s an enlightened being to do?
Is it to remain true to our spiritual ideals and surrender to it all, trusting that there’s a divine plan at work behind the scenes and that somehow it will work out as it needs to for our collective evolution?
Or is it to sell out our souls’ need to walk the talk and live the spiritual values we work so hard to show, and pick up the sword (or less destructive weapons, like our wallets and votes) to stop them?
I suggest these situations are calling us into action, not to pick up the sword, but to create a space in which peace can take hold and grow.
What do I mean by creating a space?
Think of everything as energy, all flowing into and interacting with you and you with all around you. Our thoughts. Our emotions. Our physical bodies. Our actions and responses. Let’s not forget other people or the events of the world, either. All of these energies are constantly bombarding us, often in intensities and frequencies that can disturb our inner state.
Creating a space doesn’t mean building a wall to keep them out. It means meeting and creating ways to filter and adjust them to our needs. Then once they find a place within our peace, sending back a wave of calming energies that the outer world can use to restore its own peace, rather than add to the turmoil.
The process is regulated by forming the intention to be at peace no matter what, so that even if we surrender to those who smite us, that peace cannot be disturbed. This is a hard place to get to, for as we learn to adjust to one set of energies, life serves up even stronger ones to meet.
If we sit back and wait for them to hit, it can feel like we’re leaves blown about in the wind, our peace buffeted and torn apart by the outer assault. This is why avoidance and isolation are such attractive methods.
But that does little to moderate the bombardment, much less increase our ability to proactively respond to those things that steal our peace. Whether they are the dripping faucets we try to ignore, the onerous tasks with potentially unpleasant outcomes we procrastinate to face, or the people who impose their wills upon us or goad us into fighting, we can’t ignore them much longer.
They’re part of our reality. And so long as they’re there, they’re going to keep coming back until we do.
I admit I haven’t been very good at this myself in some areas. Not only did I have the dreaded habit of confrontation. I was steeped in the ways of war, having trained myself to respond to perceived assault with vigorous defense and intense counter-attack sufficient to not only ward of the aggressor, but insure they wouldn’t persist.
As a lawyer, it served me well. But as a peacemaker, it didn’t make it easy to harmonize with the outer world without first escalating the conflict.
Nevertheless, while it didn’t actually create peace itself, it created a space in which peace could later prevail when the aggressor realized there was little benefit to continuing. Meeting force with force was like pursuing a course of mutually assured destruction. Thankfully, I became skilled at being able to use the space to broker a more lasting peace before we pushed each other over the edge.
I hope you will learn from my mistakes. Because while it was effective in an outer sense, it wasn’t from an inner one. The conflict syndrome upset my inner state as fight or flight hormones flooded my body and called it to action. And while my ability to restore my inner calm improved, being yanked from my peace was gut-wrenching, to say the least.
So try it at your own peril. For though meeting the confrontations in such manner may have resulted — eventually — in an outer peace, the cost was high as it destroyed my inner peace.
But like the squeaking wheel, it needed the grease of my attention. Or more precisely, my intention.
Finally I got to the point I didn’t want to take it any longer. I could. I just wanted something else. I wanted a deeper peace, and to have it I couldn’t participate in stealing my own peace, much less making it harder for others to have theirs.
I had to change.
That simple intention triggered a chain of events that forced me to look at myself and how I responded (or didn’t) to the stimuli in my life. That introspection in turn set off an effort to deal with everything — even the procrastinations — in another way.
It called me not to turn away, but to face the unpleasantness and to accept that it was there to serve me, to offer me an opportunity to see the things in me that caused the old response patterns.
As I looked, I realized I wasn’t making things better, and in fact often was doing just the opposite.
My intention to harmonize those energies both within and without led me to face each situation as it was brought into my field of attention. At first the old habits came out, but now I was addressing those inner conditions that held in place the response mechanisms that weren’t serving me.
Little by little I did what I could, learning to accept that there were these “flaws” within me. But I couldn’t rip them out. They were too deeply ingrained. So I resolved myself to find a way to make peace with my own imperfections, to allow them to be part of me without allowing them to control how I dealt with the outer world.
I guess some might call it an effort to love myself a little more. I call it simply striking a balance within me that allowed me to function better.
As I did, a funny thing happened. Those outer situations that I had either turned away from or engaged in conflict began to dissolve. My intention to create peace rippled outward, and environments began to form where peace could prevail.
These conditions were not always ideal; they didn’t necessarily resolve things “in my favor.” But neither did they beat me over the head and make me feel that my “surrender” was giving in, but rather was simply a method to achieving an harmonic balance that could serve all sides. My intention for peace created a space where there was give and take between me and the outer world that previously stole it, in which I worked until I create a peace that served all.
This was a big step for me, realizing that I could “win” without going to war. For in restoring and preserving my peace, I was indeed the winner. Not only in peace, but in other and better things that came my way to replace what I thought I was giving up.
So, what’s this got to do with fighting greed or corruption, or stopping the harm their pursuit creates?
I had to meet my assailants as they came, be they my health, procrastinations, or outer affairs, not on the field of battle but first by dealing with me.
Similarly, we must find ways to deal with these problematic situations that steal our peace and turn our world upside down. These are challenges we’ve known existed for a long time, and for whatever reason we didn’t.
Now reality has hit us squarely between the eyes. It won’t let us ignore them any longer.
The question is how?
I maintain that we cannot do it by meeting force with force and perpetuating an atmosphere of conflict. Such an approach didn’t serve me, even when I “won.” I don’t see how it can serve us.
We want a world of peace because we want to be at peace, not only with that outer world, but with ourselves and these lives we live. We’ve tried the old way, fighting back when we couldn’t take it any more.
Isn’t it time we tried something different?
That doesn’t mean rolling over an playing dead. It means meeting them where they are, in the arena of our common affairs. But instead of drawing swords, to choose methods better suited for creating peace.
But as we do, let’s clear a space for peace by addressing the things in us that cause us to respond in the old ways — facing our fears, moderating our desires, and getting rid of all the distorting conditions we carry inside that make it hard to get along with each other.
Most of all, let’s bring as much love and light into these situations as we can. Not just for the abusers and controllers, but for us. For only when they fill us to overflowing can we remain at peace no matter what’s going on around us.
From there, rather than simply fighting the offending action, we can effectively engage the things that are causing them to be that way, and in us that enable it. Lovingly. Peacefully. With an eye ever-turned toward the peace we want for all.
We can do it. It won’t be easy, but then, it hasn’t been easy going on the way we’ve been going.
There is a better way. Together we can make it happen.
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John Dennison is a lawyer and peacemaker who offers guidance to meet the challenges of a troubled world with more peace, ease and direction.
His services include availability as a keynote speaker, panelist, moderator and master of ceremonies for conferences and community events, as well as media guest expert to provide commentary and analysis on political, economic and other current events.
He also spearheads several projects of his own, including PeaceOptions.com to challenge the beliefs and practices that keep us locked in struggle and conflict, and MissionLaunch.com to enhance the efforts of those working to build a new world.
A spiritual teacher by avocation, John also authored Whispers in the Silence — Living by the Light of Your Soul, a guide to self-knowing and the process of personal development behind most spiritual traditions.