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Sandra Schubert

Creating Peace in the Midst of Chaos
by Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert


I do not know anyone who feels especially peaceful at this moment. War rhetoric shouts at us from the TV. The media bombards us with violent images. We run into people in the street who only want to talk about THE WAR. Jobs are being lost. Our health insurance system does not take care of those who need care most. People are dying, the earth is dying and some of us feel we are losing our souls. I am writing about peace in the midst of chaos, war, mayhem and the potential for grand scale disaster.

If we went by the dictionary definition, peace may not seem an attainable state during these troubled times:

Peace: A state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance or agitation; calm; repose.

When I read this definition, I envision a tie-dyed longhaired daisy-wearing hippie, sitting lotus style, fingers in the OM position -- smiling contentedly. I see the image of a Buddhist monk with saffron robes, a baby sleeping in her soft warm crib. I hear birds singing and the sound of chanting in the rafters. Yet these are just (the) images of peace.

Peace is a thing we want to achieve. It is one of the last great American dreams. If we insist that peace means a world without problems, pain or imbalance, it is an illusion, a fleeting ideal. We chant and declare "we want Peace and we want it now." We stamp our feet, take Prozac, sip some scotch and say, "give me Peace now." We demand it on the streets and fight for it on foreign soil. We have police to enforce it. Diplomats encourage it. Besides the dictionary definition, do we have any idea of what Peace really is? Perhaps in this brave new world, it is time to redefine peace and clarify what it is to each of us personally.

Peace as a state of mind: Peace is a state of mind we can acquire when we come to know that life may not always be rosy. As humans, we are subject to the whims of our emotions and the fragile state of our lives. In her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L’Engle says, "Being a Christian, being saved, does not mean nothing bad is ever going to happen. Terrible things happen to Christians as well as Hindus and Buddhists and hedonists and atheists. To human beings. When the phone rings at an unexpected hour my heart lurches. I love, therefore I am vulnerable." This vulnerability engages us in the possibility of pain. Pain is part of the joy of living, taking the bitter with the sweet. Standing in the midst of personal and global chaos it is easy to make snap judgments based on many outside influences. When we encounter a stranger the first reaction may be fear. Who is our enemy now? How do we handle these fears and judgments? What is the right choice about whom to trust and love? L’Engle continues, "We try to make the loving, the creative decision, but we cannot know whether or not we are right. Alleluia! We don’t have to be right! We do have to love, to be vulnerable, to accept joy and pain, and to grow through them."

Peace as a state of being: Is inner peace possible given that we are subject to our emotional influences from world events, media and our own judgments? I think it is possible when you cultivate peace from the core and not look for it externally. I recently read about a Tibetan monk held in captivity for 20 or so years. He was beaten, starved and forced into slave labor. Upon his release, his body was broken and frail yet his spirit was alive and vital. When asked how he could be so peaceful, he spoke gratefully of his captors. His captivity was a gift, he said. Before his spiritual practice had been mere dogma. In captivity, his practice became rooted in a hard and harsh reality. He had to embody what he believed in. Thankfully, most of us are not forced into exile to find inner peace. What can we do right now?

Self Care: Taking care of ourselves goes a long way to maintaining a calm state of mind. There are enough studies to prove that stress has a negative effect. A healthy body does translate into a happier state of mind. When one feels stressed, taking care of the body gets lost. Remember to maintain a healthful diet. Relax with family and friends over a communal meal. If the talk turns to current events ask that during the meal refrain anything that might upset the stomach or the heart. Regular exercise is also important. Take a walk outside. Most big cities have park areas. Take advantage of them. Listening to birds singing or watching children play can go a long way to remind us that we are part of the world and not alone. Reach out to people in your community if you are feeling alone or afraid. Create support groups, establish a phone or email network to keep in contact with other people who may be feeling vulnerable during a stressful time.

Develop a spiritual or meditation practice: During a time of crisis, our very existence comes into question and our lives may seem threatened. Strong emotions can overtake us. We become more reflective and quiet. Taking time to be alone with our thoughts and feelings is a valuable tool to developing a strong foundation. Drawn to the urgent news of the day, we may forget how important it is to have some quiet time. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen master, poet and peace advocate suggests beginning with conscious breathing as a way of developing inner peace. "As you breathe in, you say to yourself, breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out." Conscious breathing can be done anywhere and anytime. Long time practitioners of meditation still find this a useful tool. First, it settles your mind and when you pay attention to your breath you will find that your body begins to relax. Soon you can just say the words "in" and "out" and tension will dissipate. Along with this is the idea of honoring the Sabbath. "On the seventh day he rested." Even God took a day off. We need rest. Our minds, bodies and spirits need some time off. In a fast paced life turning off the outside world is a frightening idea. Do the laundry tomorrow. In-laws can visit another day. Things can wait. The Sabbath can be valued part of a spiritual practice, or, it can be the best excuse to turn off the TV. If you can slow the pace down you will find a sense of peace naturally emerges. You begin to discover the rhythm of your body, discovering what you really need. You will eat when hungry, drink when thirsty and wake when rested. If a whole day off causes to much stress begin with a couple of hours. Take the phone off the hook, kick back and relax.

Honor your feelings: I am a great judge, not of character but of my emotions. I see something and begin to cry and will say, "Why are you crying?" That’s stupid. On and on it goes until the end of the day and I don’t know what I am feeling, thinking or what to do about anything. Emotions are emotions they come and they go. Nonetheless, they are yours and the moment they show up on your doorstep you have something to say about them. In the middle of worldwide crisis, it is OK to feel upset. The idea is not to let the feelings rule you, but to learn from what they reveal about you. We can see clearly how anger and hatred can turn people against each other in vicious ways. Right after 9/11 there was an incredible amount of openness and love. People turned to each other. Strangers helped strangers. There was a glimmer of hope we could turn a disastrous event into something really grand and glorious. What happened? Anger and hatred became the feeding ground for revenge rather then the source of growth for our souls. The Dalai Lama says: "We cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by suppressing them. We need to actively cultivate the antidote to hatred: patience and tolerance."

Cultivate Loving Kindness: We come to one of the most difficult parts of creating peace. When we meet the stranger, we have a few choices. We can run fight or, we can love. Love does not mean the acceptance of an evil action but learning to love the person behind that act. That is not an easy task to do. Jesus taught forgiveness when he said, "Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and love thy neighbor as thyself." This is the practice of loving kindness. If you cannot treat yourself with forgiveness and compassion then it is difficult to extend it to others. Through the act of loving-kindness, we can practice creating peace. There is a Buddhist practice called Tonglen, a meditation of giving and receiving. We do it first for ourselves, then our loved ones, next our enemies and finally for all beings. Here is a simple form of the meditation to start.

Begin with conscious breathing, relaxing your body and mind. Breathe into your heart, feel it soften, opening up. Imagine a loving person or kind moment. Breathe those feelings into your heart. If you feel anger or grief breathe into that feeling, letting it swirl around, breathe out care and kindness. The idea here is to transform the feeling sending it out to the world in a healing light. When beginning this practice, don’t struggle with it just breathe in the negative emotion and breathe out love. Imagine a white light streaming out of your heart into the world. When you feel comfortable with this initial step, you can include others into the meditation. Imagine breathing in another’s hurt and breathing out kindness to that person. You can use this meditation for a situation that upsets you moving on to world events. If new to meditation, begin by working with your own feelings, discovering in time emotions that were once overwhelming transformed with this practice. We have the choice to live in fear or love. We see the results of living in fear.

Universal responsibility: In Ethics for the New Millennium, The Dalai Lama tells us, "I believe that our every act has a universal dimension. Because of this, ethical discipline, wholesome conduct, and careful discernment are crucial ingredients for a meaningful happy life." He asserts that creating contentment is critical for the welfare of the universal community. When you are content, you cannot sow the seeds of envy, greed or resentment. In essence, we are part of the global family. What occurs in Iraqi is happening in our living rooms at the same time. We can no longer ignore the world because it is now knocking loudly on our door. As part of the universal community it is our responsibility to first take care of ourselves, practice and embody peace offering it to the world. The steps can be simple: treat our neighbors and ourselves with loving-kindness. Each small act of love has broad implications. There are organizations that support the needs of the global community. Investigate them. Before you begin the day, be thankful for what you have, even if it is just a bed to sleep in and water running from a faucet. Practice peace and peace will come to you.

I bow to the light in you. Namaste.

Resources for Peace

Some of the insights for "Creating Peace In The Midst of Chaos" were culled from the following resources. For more information, and inspiration, check out these books and websites.

Books:

  • Peace: A state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance or agitation; calm; repose. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc. Excerpted from: www.dictionary.com.
  • Walking on Water - Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L’Engle
  • Peace Is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Sabbath – Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, Wayne Muller
  • The Power of the Mind to Heal – Renewing Body, Mind, and Spirit, Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. and Miroslav Borysenko, Ph.D.
  • If the Buddha dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path, Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D. *Tonglen Meditation adapted from this inspiring book.
  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche – in depth Tonglen meditation information
  • Ethics For The New Millennium, His Holiness The Dalai Lama
  • The Art of Happiness – A Handbook for Living, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
  • Tonglen meditation online: www.khandro.net/practice_send_receive.htm.

Popular Websites for "peace" from Dictionary.com:

© Copyright 2003 Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert.  All Rights Reserved. 


Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert
Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert is an interfaith minister, poet and founder of Wild Woman Ministries, a forum to explore and express creativity and spirituality. As a minister and coach, Rev. Schubert helps people discover and unlock their creative potential -- through creating art, producing classes and workshops or just pursuing a life long goal -- and is committed to assisting people in fulfilling their dreams. She also leads workshops on meditation, creative writing and how to develop a positive spirituality and facilitates a popular writing program called the Wild Angels at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  The Wild Angels produce an anthology of their work as well as host an annual reading. Email: earthandskynews@wildwomanministries.org  or visit www.wildwomanministries.org. 212-642-5042

 

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