Linda J. Wilk, MAPC
HOW TO LIVE PEACE?
Oddly, this isn't a question I get much. I think it's because most folks picture an image like this: an escape to peace. I'm guilty of this too. I want to remove myself from the problem, take the proverbial pause, but extend it until the problem goes away. I've grown to know this doesn't solve much.
Living peace has come to be my greatest desire. It has driven me for much of my life. This was framed by growing up in a life filled with violence and chaos. It was my observing and intuitive spirit. I saw what some others had, and I craved it. But I lacked the skills and wherewithal to do much about it in my young life. I didn't have many teachers then; despite being immersed in primitive Christianity. I had a lot of questions and not too many answers. A lot of paradoxes, which I came to know later were how one learns. Then, pre-teen, it was just more confusion.
Seeking when one is too young to receive can add to the chaos. From a peaceful, happy, Sunday-school attending youth, some inner disquiet began to blossom. No burgeoning youth likes to hear, "you wouldn't understand." How do you reconcile the violence of the home with sermons on Christ's love for all? How do you make sense of the lessons of Christ's new lesson of God's love with the punishing God taught to keep children in order. The answer: you don't. The message you hear most is the one that wins out. Then in adolescence, what happens is what we've all come to be familiar with; most children can't wait to get free of the church and its community. I could list the inconsistencies by chapter and verse in those days, for I was waging war against the church of my upbringing. I wasn't just waging it in my mind either. I was actively rebelling via dress, food, drugs, alcohol, actions, and manner. Lest you think I'm the lone keeper of this view, I must tell you that a whole generation of children in my youth became keepers of this vision. Some went to the extreme cults, still seeking to belong. Others, like me, went to the other extreme, eschewing all religion.
Rejecting religion does not kill the seeker within. Something about the peace and love that passes all understanding stuck. My mother's pastor described it to her worrying mind like this: "There are many panes in a window looking outward towards the mystery that is God, and your daughter is simply looking through different panes." I would find out many years later that this was true. I sought Christian mysticism, Zoroastrianism, psychedelics, Buddhism, mindfulness, ESP, and a host of other things. What rose above all the dust was the quest for peace. Nothing could settle though until I was sober. There was no peace in that haze, and it only made my inner demons angrier.
Changing lifestyle brought spiritual growth as a side benefit. I realized that I had been unable to progress because of my own problems, not anyone else's. I had to face those demons and learn how to live with them or expel them. I had to grow up and take responsibility for my actions. Still, I craved peace. One day as I was attending a recovery meeting at a small primitive building, I peeked into the other side and observed rows of empty benches. No crosses, no pictures, no altar. These were the Quakers, my friend said. I asked more about them. "Pretty much, they live what they believe. It's pretty wild. You should come; I think it would suit you." I went and sat for an hour in the quiet with these friends, most over 60 years old. There were a few children, and near the end of the hour one rose and said quietly, "I was at the pond the other day and I saw a goose with babies, and they all followed her in a row. She didn't have to say a thing and they followed her and it was amazing." And he sat down. That was the message for the day. Peace. Afterwards they shook hands, and chatted quietly and greeted us. I felt at home. So, I went back. And I have been going on and off for about 45 years.
But there is no magic wand for living peace. There is no magic for living life. You must live it. There's the rub. In this life of mine, I (and I'm coming to see many others with me) would rather avoid. We have made a great sport of blame, avoid, procrastinate, work, obsess, gossip, complain, victimize, be victim, be sick, be unhealthy -- anything to avoid living in the moment. If this makes you angry, I am sorry. It made me mad too. But eventually, I came to see that what one of my early teachers said, "BE HERE NOW" had to be the wisest teaching I had ever received. One year, a while back, after many years of lost resolutions, I made only one, whether you call it a prayer, or a mantra, or a resolution. As the New Year's Eve wore down, I sat in silent meditation and said to myself and whatever the mystery is that might be listening and said into that peace, "Let my insides match my outsides."
That has turned out to be one of the most difficult declarations I ever made. Many times, I have wished I could forget my words. At this later stage in my life, I have developed a conscience, a decent sense of integrity, some values, and yes, I believe in peace. I have observed enough in this world to know to my depths that we will not achieve peace through war. It's an oxymoron. Conversely, I know we won't achieve peace by talking. Like many other things, peace is achieved by acting, by living it in the whole of our lives. And in many ways, it is unachievable, because, as you are probably likely saying in your own head at this moment, conflict is unavoidable. This is where I have learned, from the Quakers, from Gandhi, and from Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is something to be said for intention.
Here's a few examples of how Friends (the real word for Quakers) look at living peace:
To the extent that the blessing of peace is achieved by humankind, it will not be achieved because people have outraced each other in the building of armaments, nor because we have outdebated each other with words, nor because we have outmaneuvered each other in political action, but because more and more people in a silent place in their hearts are turned to those eternal truths upon which all right living is based.
~ Dan Seeger, 1934-
To end war and violence means having a better world, but that is impossible unless the people in it grow better. No relationship is finer than the people who compose it. Those who are endeavoring to abolish war, therefore, must themselves strive hard to become better people by living better lives.
~ Richard Gregg, 1885-1974
The moral man is he who is opposed to injustice per se, opposed to injustice wherever he finds it; the moral man looks for injustice first of all in himself.
~ Bayard Rustin, 1912-1987
Some of the best teachings didn't come from words at all, but from quiet walks along the river, in the soft pine woods, or along the trails of the beautiful native flowers of spring. Each spoke a soft message, calling me back to my soul. I had some of my deepest spiritual experiences without another human around, feeling in deep communion with Creation.
Finding the philosophy of one's heart is no shortcut to living it! I found this out as I interfaced more with Friends of different persuasions. I experience my humanity first and loudly. I found myself discontented with the Quaker life. Pointing fingers, I found the three pointing back at myself. Searching for a way to examine my path, I found myself once again at the door of Buddhism. All is suffering, the Buddha says. What can I do to relieve suffering? I must accept what is and do what I can to relieve it each day. I must look at the things inside myself that cause suffering! Not the greatest harm, but even the littlest. It is all about the quiet, about seeking one's own heart. We ARE spiritual beings on a human journey. We must never forget that in this life, we are rooted in our human body. I must live fully in the body, in the moment. Stop, listen, be. In this moment is contained the wisdom that allows me to live in peace for the next.