On this International Day of Peace practitioners of many traditions and faiths, as well as many equally non-sectarian communities focus their attention on creating more peace in the world, even if just for a day.
The United Nations proclaimed the day in 1981 to encourage a global commitment towards building a culture of peace, each year since campaigning for a worldwide cease fire. September 21 invites people of every religion and culture to put aside their differences and turn their hearts towards peace.
But what is peace and where does it begin? How do we wage peace when we have spent centuries becoming experts at waging war?
As the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, a yoga and meditation teacher and therapist, and the founder of the fledgling Peace Whispering with the mission showing people why peace benefits society and how to practicalise peace in their own lives, you would think I know something about peace.
I have spent the last 11 years of my life focussed on learning how to live and teach peace but on the eve of World Peace Day, I still couldn’t articulate what ‘peace’ means. So, I set my intention to explore peace on this International Day of Peace.
My day began with a dawn peace meditation at the Australian home of my tradition, Dru Yoga, followed by breakfast and two yoga therapy sessions, all the time with this question and reflections on my own experiences of peace, in my consciousness.
The words that have kept arising through my day are “being with”, in increasingly large concentric circles until we can be the whole of life and beginning with our self. Being with our physical, emotional and mental self, our past and present, our neighbours, the people we work with, our job, our society, our economy, different cultures and faiths perhaps even suffering – our own and that of others, and ultimately all life.
You see, the first part of my journey towards peace was excruciating because I felt glimpses of peace which only seemed to highlight the war being waged in my head, the rest of the time. Half of me was in graceful acceptance and the other half was crucifying myself (and hence the rest of the world).
Yet my intention remained firm and the more time I spent being with myself and my life, the more peaceful I felt. And the more peaceful I felt, the more peaceful I was with the people in my life. The concentric circles began to expand, and I could hold my own and others’ suffering with more compassion, I felt less judgemental and more generous.
I saw less difference and more common ground. I became more peaceful.
The practices of yoga, Buddhism, tai chi, chi gong and many other traditions are not ends to themselves, they are practices to teach you how to be with yourself, to befriend yourself and your life, and potentially all life, with the hope of holding all life in a compassionate embrace. At the heart of both Christianity and Islam are prayers for peace, so that we can know each other not war with each other.
But here’s the kicker – being with is hard, sometimes really hard!
Being with is not weak or lacking in courage, it is in fact the opposite. It takes great courage to wake up every day with the intention of being with, when the world without and within is imploring you to be thinner, wealthier, whiter, browner, better, naughtier, smarter, cooler, more afraid, more anxious, more judgemental, more stressed, more of everything you are not, and worst of all, more frustrated, angry and violent.
Being with is teaching me that the conflict and suffering we see in the world is reflection of the war we are waging in ourselves. however, this is also good news because ‘ourselves’ is where we have the most power. We can choose to turn our attention toward peace and there are many, many places to start.
We can recite a prayer for loving kindness every day, we can look up and out when we feel depressed, we can spend five minutes in mindful breathing when the excrement is hitting the fan, we can practice gratitude, we can do random acts of kindness, give compliments whenever we can, we can watch the news less, look at social media as if we were watching fictional TV, be kind to ourselves at every opportunity, accept help, ask for help.
TBH (as my beautiful daughters would say), there are an infinite number of small practices, that even if you choose one and do it every day, will unite you with yourself and others, and perhaps even with life. Incrementally your life will become more peaceful.
My experience suggests that out of being with, flows forgiveness, acceptance, grace, joy and even love, and once you’ve tasted this you will forever be looking for ways to whisper peace out of the chaos of life, waging peace and not war.