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
If we went by the dictionary definition, peace may
not seem an attainable state during these troubled
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
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
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.
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,
Peace Is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in
Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh
Sabbath – Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest,
The Power of the Mind to Heal – Renewing Body,
Mind, and Spirit, Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. and Miroslav
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
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
© Copyright 2003
Rev. Sandra Lee Schubert. All Rights
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.wildwomanministries.org.
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