“If we are to embrace our differences, our spiritual journey needs to show us how to hold them in a way that unifies, rather than separates; a way that free us from judgment, fear and prejudice.” Anne Hillman
“Don’t be nice, be kind.” (Piero Ferrucci)
“Seek peace. When you have peace within, real peace with others will be possible.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
“The historical mission of our time is to reinvent the human at the species level with critical reflection, within the community of life systems, in a time-development context, by means of story and shared dream experience.” (Thomas Berry)
“In the end three things remain, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 Christian sacred text)
To reinvent the human at the species level?? What a task Thomas Berry calls us to! Is it even possible? Perhaps if we bear in mind the quote above from the Christian sacred text we will not become overwhelmed by the enormity of the mission. The quote was recorded around 2,000 years ago in a letter written to a specific group of people in response to a specific situation. That letter was later chosen to become part of the Christian Sacred Text. Within such a context the quote took on a certain meaning. However within a new Story, what may be an understanding of the words faith, hope and love?
faith A way of seeing depth and meaning in the ordinary. Lawrence Freeman
hope The possibility of transformation ~ grounded in reality. Which means that we humans possess the capacity to transcend the limitations of a particular Story.
love Experienced as an energy inviting us into genuine relationship/communion with Self; with others; with Life Itself
If we can allow the human qualities of faith, hope and love to be our orientating reference point, perhaps then we may be able to participate in the reinvention of the human at the level of species. One way of participating in the reinvention of the human species is that of cultivating peaceful relationships.
Peace: what does the term mean?
The meaning of the term peace differs in response to the situation in which it is being applied. For example:
If we live in a war-torn area, peace would probably mean freedom from war.
If we live within a fast-paced city context, peace may mean a place of tranquility like a park or lake.
If we live with an anxiety disorder, peace may well mean the experience of mental calm.
If we live with domestic violence, peace may well mean freedom from personal conflict.
If we live in an area where there is racial tension, peace may well mean harmony between peoples.
The above examples relate to peace as an end goal, as something to achieve. However, there is another context for understanding the term peace. Such a context is peace as an inner way of being. Within such a context peace is experienced as the inner freedom to live and act in our world in accord with the value of nonviolence. Such an understanding does not focus on peace as an end goal. Rather the focus is on peace as an inner way of being from which all relationships and actions flow.
What is meant by the term value? The following understanding is drawn from Wigglesworth in SQ21:
A value is not simply a belief. A value is something so important to us that it orientates our thoughts and actions. A value is something that we live by . . . and will perhaps even die for.
With regard to the value of nonviolence Hanna Arendt wrote:
“Nonviolence is a whole-being experience, which has much more long-lasting effects than those obtained – or sometimes obtained by threat power. The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world. Real nonviolence, by contrast, rarely has a backlash, because if it’s real nonviolence it does not operate by coercion. It operates by persuasion, often a kind of deep persuasion that moves people below the conscious level . . . nonviolence doesn’t change one party’s position, it changes the relationship between parties.” (Quoted in The Search for a Nonviolent Future)
So peace may be understood as an end goal experienced as freedom from war; tranquility; mental calm; freedom from personal conflict; harmony between peoples. Peace may also be understood in terms of our inner Self. The inner freedom to live and act from the value of nonviolence.
Does living from a value of nonviolence mean that we become passive and inactive in the face of injustice? Well according to Jack Kornfield,
“We may need to respond, strongly at times. From a peaceful center we can respond instead of react. Unconscious reactions create problems. Considered responses bring peace. With a peaceful heart whatever happens can be met with wisdom. Peace is not weak; it is unshakeable.”
And so peace experienced as the inner freedom to live and act in our world from the value of nonviolence gives rise to an unshakeable conviction to a course of nonviolent action.
The people listed below are some of the more well known, who have chosen nonviolent action in the face of injustice. They are/were ordinary people who have had an extra-ordinary impact on the injustice of others, by choosing to live by the value of nonviolence. And of course two of these people died for their choice.
- Mahatma Ghandi – the leader of the Indian Independence movement in British-ruled India. Known for his practice of nonviolent activism. Finally assassinated after five previous attempts.
- Aung San Suu Kyi – spoke out against the brutal Burmese rule and initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights. In 1989 the government placed Suu Kyi under house arrest and she spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody.
- Malala Yousafzai – from Pakistan, born in 1997. She was shot in the head by the Taliban because she advocated for the right for girls to receive an education. She survived and has continued to speak out on the importance of education. In 2014 she was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Nelson Mandela – was a south African who was imprisoned for 27 years and then became South Africa’s first black president. He instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Martin Luther King Jn – an American Baptist minister and leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement employing civil disobedience to achieve civil rights.
The five people listed above are ordinary people who have responded to unjust circumstances from the value of nonviolence. And while we may never be called upon to take such a stand, perhaps we may be inspired by them to choose to live from and into the value of nonviolence within our daily living.
One major hindrance to cultivating peaceful relationships?
What is a major hindrance to cultivating peace? Is it hatred, or jealousy, or bitterness, or the desire for revenge. No, it would seem that one of the greatest hindrances to cultivating peaceful relationships is fear. Now fear is simply an emotion. An emotion that can be healthy, for the emotion of fear can alert us to danger. Even so, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated, “the only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” And in The Search for a NonViolent Future it states, “tyrants rule by fear much more than by the actual power they have to inflict harm. If we have no fear we cannot be deterred. Punishment only works on those who emotionally cooperate by fearing it.”
So what do we do with our fear?
What do we do with our fear? Thich Nhat Hanh has a word of encouragement for us in this regard. He writes, “instead of trying to escape from our fear, we can invite it up to our awareness and look at it clearly and deeply.” And so instead of trying to repress our fears and/or act out of them, we can invite them into our awareness. In so doing, our fears become entry points for listening for inner wisdom’s invitation toward inner freedom and cultivating peaceful relationships.
Another hindrance to cultivating peaceful relationships
One other hindrance to cultivating peaceful relationships is disenchantment with life and loss of hope for a future worth living. For when we look around the global village and see what Thomas Berry has described as “the almost suicidal path of humans in their destruction of Earth and in their violence and indifference to one another” we may become so disheartened and wearied that we simply give up. At such times, there is one practice which may be extremely helpful in turning disenchantment with our human species to re-engagement. The practice is that of conscious grieving. Allowing ourselves to grieve the mess we humans are making; including our own part within that. Conscious grieving paves the way to acceptance. And acceptance opens the way for what is truly possible. From acceptance we may see with new eyes what Joanna Macy names as the “Great Turning.” We may see and participate in the next shift of the unfolding nature of Life Itself.
Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace
Sameet M. Kumar, PH,D., Grieving mindfully: A compassionate and spiritual guide to coping with loss
Michael N. Nagler, The Search for A Non-violent Future
Pema Chordon, Practicing Peace In times of War
Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
Thich Nhat Hanh, For a Future to be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life
Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Piero Ferrucci, The Power of Kindness / Beauty and the Soul
David Richo, How to be an Adult in Relationships
The Arbinger Institute, The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the heart of conflict
Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life
Ken Wilber et al, Integral Life Practice
Osho, Intimacy: Trusting Oneself and the Other, Insights for a New Way of Living
Andrew Harvey, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Cindy Wigglesworth, SQ21: The Twenty-one Skills of Spiritual Intelligence
Jenny Brown MSW, Growing Yourself Up: How to Bring your Best to all of Life’s relationships
Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics worthy of the Human Spirit