Practicing Peace

Based on my writings, you might think I am in a continuously peaceful outer state, untouched by life’s vacillations. Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Mostly, I find my way to it, again and again. Peace is a practice for me, a daily connection to my innermost being, which plays out as occasional reminders to myself when my mind or emotions wander into uncertain territory. It’s easy to get lost in worry with one anxious thought. For instance: “What if it is rainy and windy on the day I fly?” An entire chain reaction of worries can follow: turbulence, zero visibility, plane crash. In a split second, fear can vividly project an imagined end to my life. Unless I consciously intervene with a deep breath and a return to peace (an ever-present part of my soul), my thoughts/feelings can take me on a rocky ride with no return ticket. Best to nip it in the bud.

My life is the fulfillment of a soul plan, a divine design. I know that with everything in me. I am not the designated solo artist of the big picture. It actually reassures me to realize I can’t control every outcome, to trust that a greater Presence weaves the cosmic tapestry. Yet, human habits of fear arise. We inherit them, as a species and as a member of a particular human family. The only real solution is conscious awareness and acceptance. We came to this planet to experience all the emotions—and then to reach a point of realizing their lack of substance, their temporary status. If we don’t get stuck in them, emotions pass right on through. What remains is stillness, where peace itself resides. This is soul territory.

Each time I take a deep breath and receive that deep inner soul peace, my entire world is also peaceful. Inner = outer. That’s how it works. Breathe consciously. Be grateful. You then move through your day in a quieter, gentler state of mind. Your heart opens to everyone and everything. You radiate the peace that is an integral part of your being. If each one of us on the planet breathed peace into our lives, consciously connected to our heart and soul, a shift would occur at a global level.

Of course, it is an ongoing practice. And by practice, I don’t mean struggling, efforting. Rather, gentle reminders throughout the day; it’s as easy as breathing. Take a deep breath; let go; accept what is; live in gratitude. The world outside reflects your inner world. If you feel fear, that is what you will experience. If you see wonder and miracles, that is what you will experience. Sounds simple, and it is. Just remember the peace that dwells within you always. Life can be sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth as silk, but it’s all worth it. The exquisitely beautiful living mural that is our life on Earth can be clearly seen through the eyes of peace.
“There is no path to peace,
Peace is the way.”—A. J. Muste

New Year(s)

We think of each new year as a chance to start over, to begin again and get it right this time. A clean slate, a fresh calendar of days, a whole new, more perfect you. But what if everything is already “right,” and you are already “perfect”? What if the world and each of us is exactly the way we are meant to be for the universe and humanity to evolve and shift to a full conscious awareness of our own being, our own integral presence in the fabric of life?

Though we have created vast networks of knowledge and laws and religions, we actually know nothing. We are guessing at the reasons for our existence, who we are, and why we are on Earth. We construct elaborate stories to explain everything and then we blame ourselves and each other when we don’t live up to how we think things are supposed to be—our belief systems. We argue and fight wars over all the various interpretations of human life and human behavior. We think that will change things.

In truth, we are actually following a design set in motion before we were born. We are souls on a path of becoming. When we recognize that and see the softness of soul in each other, the world will become a softer place. That awareness is coming; it is in fact arising more and more every day. When you witness a random act of kindness in your day, there it is. When a stranger smiles at you, there it is. When a friend tells you they love you, there it is.

The other day I noticed our mail carrier giving treats to two dogs as they passed by with their human companions. She said she loves dogs and has 40 on her route that she brings treats for every day. There it is again. A friend with limited funds told about how the person ahead of her in the grocery line paid for her purchases when they saw her slowly and carefully counting her bills. And there it is yet again.

People are not as selfish and mean as we sometimes think they are. Perhaps they are just wounded and lost and need a kind word or generous act to help them feel hope again. We each have the opportunity to do that for someone else in our daily lives. And for ourselves as well. The saying goes that love is stronger than hate or fear, and I believe that is true. Despite what you may feel sometimes about the state of humanity, inside we are all vulnerable beings with tender hearts. Moment by moment, individual by individual, heart by heart, we are opening to that deeper truth, the soul design we came into this world with.

So don’t give up hope, don’t lose heart. Trust that you carry the “new year” with you in every precious second of your life. You and every other being on this unique blue and green globe circling through the heavens. We don’t know why we are here with our minds, but our hearts know it is for the love we share and then pass forward into the future. Happy New Years!

Don’t Lose Heart

Life on Earth is not easy. Sometimes it feels like we’re on an endless runaway roller coaster. The polarities of love and hate are constantly playing out: Woodstock and 9/11, rainbow lights on the White House and January 6. Celebration and crisis. Elections. War and peace. It can feel overwhelming. I wonder at times how we ended up on a planet with so much conflict and duality. Then, I remember why—to experience it all and be a bridge to our next evolutionary phase. The key is not to lose heart. Because our hearts are the entry point to everything.

A heart-centered life runs on the energy of love. It leads us to places and events we are destined to experience, people we are meant to meet.  If you are walking down the street, and a stranger smiles and speaks, your spirits lift. If you see beautiful flowers in a neighbor’s garden, you can’t help but smile. When a friend is in tears from a life event that causes them pain, a hug can help you both feel better. If you can reach the point of laughing together at some passing silliness, the world seems less sad and overwhelming. This is what it means to let your heart lead the way. 

What happens when you smile or laugh out loud? Your energy changes, your heart opens. Suddenly, your entire view of life shifts. That’s why it’s called a “hearty laugh”—it’s full-out engaged with life and freely expressed. These are the moments that crack the shell of negativity or mental downswing that we are often prone to these days as the world twists and turns with change. If you can smile, even in the face of fear, conflict, or crisis, then hope is not lost. The human spirit takes a deep breath and continues. From a soul view, everything is unfolding as it’s meant to. The soul is always smiling because it sees the big picture; it sees the evolution of humanity.

We humans often get stuck in the day-to-day dramas of life. We think that’s all that exists, and when we are feeling pain or sadness, we believe it will never go away. Yet emotions are always in motion; if we allow them to flow through us, they dissipate. If we are lucky enough to have a funny friend who makes us laugh in the midst of our upset, we see how everything can suddenly lighten up when humor is introduced. This is probably why comedians play such a key role on Earth–to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. In truth, life is a constantly shifting reflection of your inner state. What you are experiencing is very much tied to how you see the world.

That may sound simplistic, but it actually plays out in a very real way. If you consciously shift your viewpoint, your experience of events changes too. And smiling and laughing with each other can be catalysts for that shift. Countless popular songs are written about smiling, laughing, or “singing in the rain.” Poets and wise teachers remind us that facing life’s challenges together, hearts linked, keeps our perspective lighter and more positive. So, no matter what is happening in your life or in the world, remember that your gentle heart is the wisest guide you could possibly have; keep it wide open and you will not lose your way.

“Stay gentle, keep the eyes of a child
Don’t harden your heart or your hands
Know to find joy in the darkness is wise
Although they will think you don’t understand…
Stay gentle, stay gentle
The most powerful thing you can do
Oh, gentle, unbreakable you”
—Brandi Carlile

Without a Word

I usually arise around 4 or 5 in the morning when there is predominantly silence everywhere. I sit in the darkness and rest in the stillness, soothed by the absence of noise or traffic outside. Soon the birds begin to sing, and the light of the sun fills the world. There are no voices or conversations interrupting the peace I feel at this time. I am absorbing the experience of morning without a word. Through my ears and eyes; through my cells. Presence.

So much of our lives is based in language, spoken or heard, filling our brains with thoughts. What would it be like to experience the world without mentally describing it to ourselves? Can you see a tree or bird without naming it as such? A person without mentally categorizing gender, age, race? Even beyond that, can you see anything without language, just experiencing it without a word? We humans have learned to divide the world with the words we have created to describe it. Often we aren’t even seeing what we see; instead we perceive a mental image of a word designation we have come to associate with something. We all do this. What if we tried to shift our awareness into just experiencing with no perceptual parameters? Life arising and falling away with no attempts on our part to capture it in words. Like the silence at dawn.

I’m a writer so this can seem like quite a challenge to me at times. Yet when I am walking in Nature or sitting in the silence of sunrise, it frees my mind to just experience the world from my heart, wordlessly. I practice seeing without naming as I walk among the trees, bushes, and flowers of the natural world. I can always write about it later, but in the experience itself I prefer to be and receive the full wonder of what is before me. I grew up an only child on five acres in the Illinois countryside, so I spent a lot of time alone during those years.  I had friends at school, but at home I enjoyed the solitude and silence of Nature. Somehow this has carried over to my adult life. I feel most at home in wordless Presence.

A number of years ago, when I was taking part in traditional fire ceremonies with Maya elders in Guatemala, I experienced this same kind of deep Presence. Even though words in the Maya language were spoken within the ceremony, somehow there was a profound silence that pervaded everything. No conversation, just inner quiet and receptivity. The stillness of Spirit linked our hearts and souls and also brought Nature’s magic beyond human language close to us. Bees circled in the air above the fire before the ceremony at Tikal, and birds swooped through the lingering smoke afterward. It was as if they were weaving the energy of the ceremony into the greater world. And none of us spoke at these times; to be wordlessly present was enough.

Of course, it’s not necessary or realistic to live like this all the time. Our friendships, family, and community arise out of communicating verbally and sharing life experiences, thoughts, and feelings with words. Yet, to step back at times and just be silent is deeply soothing. Your breathing slows, and your whole body relaxes. Space opens up within you for the soul to expand into present-moment awareness. Those who meditate or take long quiet walks experience this. I feel it in the stillness before the day begins. If we each found our way to including such experiences in our daily lives, perhaps we would be less busy and stressed. Sometimes the most profound moments of life occur without a word.

Do No Harm

The phrase “first do no harm” has been associated with the Hippocratic Oath, principles that physicians and the medical profession in general have been called to adhere to. The exact wording varies, depending on sources, but it probably first appeared in the 1700s. Over the centuries, it has remained part of the collective memory bank. Yet is this powerful moral directive lived out fully and consciously, not only in medicine but in everyday life? Immediately I think of the countless TV ads for drugs to treat various physical conditions, all of which include a long list of dangerous possible side effects. Doctors believe the benefits outweigh potential risks, but do the drug companies prioritize possible harm over their profit margin? I have had allergic reactions and side effects from drugs ever since childhood. There has to be a better approach, one that is harm-less. Homeopathy, herbal remedies, or acupuncture, for example. More conscious guidelines for drug manufacture. Or better yet, stopping much illness and disease at the source: environmental pollutants that compromise our health.

There are many ways to apply that simple phrase: First do no harm. Today, our physical health and well-being are of growing concern on this planet as pesticide use and industrial waste poison our land, water, and food sources. The numbers of songbirds, bees, and butterflies are declining. Toxic chemicals are creeping into clothing, cleaning products, and toys our children play with. Cancer cases continue to rise. Organic and regenerative farming address some of these issues, as do activists who call out those who sell products dangerous to health or who allow the water supply to be polluted through intentional neglect. Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, are currently working together to find ways to provide people with clean water because the state and city infrastructure has failed to do so. Same occurred in Flint, Michigan. Communities of color are at particularly high risk for the poisoning of their water, air, and soil.

What about air quality and climate change? So many industries (including coal, oil, and gas production) habitually pollute the air we breathe and cause possibly irreversible damage to the global environment. Individuals often feel helpless to stop the extent of this harm. Yet each step counts: clean affordable energy sources like solar and wind power, stopping use of equipment like leaf and snow blowers which fill the air with fumes and make the air unbreathable. Not to mention noise pollution. Convenience comes at a cost (health and habitat destruction), one that people are learning they may not be willing to pay. Corporations and governments have monetary and political clout, but people together have collective power for change once they realize what’s at stake and that there is no “other,” only “we.”

Many groups and individuals are working on so many levels to create a harm-free planet. The difficulties can seem insurmountable at times, especially when addressing things like gun violence or war. Where to begin? Perhaps it’s about compassion and interpersonal peace in our lives as much as laws and treaties. When human hearts open, everything will change. If each person, organization, and country lives with the code “first do no harm” in every area (thought, word, and deed), the world will shift to a more peaceful livability. There is a better way, and we know it in our hearts. One without ill health, environmental destruction, violence, hatred, or self-serving monetary goals. One in which loving-kindness is our first impulse. It begins with you and me. Kind actions, kind words, kind thoughts. Within kindness and heart-centered awareness, harm falls to the wayside, obsolete. This is a future we can live in if we so choose. First do no harm.