Monday, September 24, 2012

Cultivating Inner Peace

We know that peace does not just spontaneously appear – it appears through us………..through each one of us. It is not independent of us – we are the ones who bring peace to any situation or circumstance. Do you remember last week I told the story of the king who was searching for a painting that represented peace? He didn’t choose the tranquil scene of a calm lake and blue sky? It was the one of harsh mountains, the lightening, powerful waterfall and ….right there on the edge of the cliff; a little bird had built her nest and was calmly sitting on her eggs. The truth is that living a life of peace does not mean there is no turmoil, problems, disappointments or pain. It does not mean that everything always goes our way, that everyone magically agrees with us or appreciates us or treats us the way we want to be treated. No, it means that in the midst of all the situations and people that life brings us………we remain calm – peaceful in our hearts. So how do we get this inner peace that sometimes may seem elusive and far away? We might be tempted to think – when we are not peaceful - that we just need to try harder. Can you see how – through our trying – we are creating an environment of “non-peace”? And this is true for anything. We may be trying to be more patient, more kind, more loving, more understanding – any of those things. Just drop the ‘trying’ – it always brings us further away from what we want to attain. Peace is not something we seek or look for or try to get. Peace is part of our spiritual blueprint. It is encoded within us. Our 2nd Unity principle says that as creations of One Source, we inherit all that God is – by whatever name you want to call it. Loving Presence, Spirit, Higher Power. All the attributes of God are within us – right now. We can’t get any more…………; we don’t need to go looking for them. So no need to look or seek. We don’t need to earn it or beg for it. I mean our human selves sometimes do that – O please, God, give me some peace. I have said this many times. And when I do – I don’t chastise myself – creating more ‘non-peace’. I just acknowledge that I have slipped into a fully human experience of wanting ‘somebody else’ to fix it. But this is the power of the Unity teachings – we don’t need anyone else to access this peace or any other of our divine qualities. It is already within us. One Presence, One Power, One activity in my life – God…as love…..as peace…..as strength………….as faith……….as me. So the question is: not how do we find inner peace…………..but what can I do to cultivate, to nurture, to activate the infinite well of peace that is already within me? I have 3 thoughts: The first is from a great teacher and example of peace – Jesus. He identified one the obstacles of inner peace that we humans sometimes engage in. And that is judgment. Criticism. How easy it is to see someone do something and criticize it. In Matthew 7:3 Jesus says: ‘why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye?’ A story from the Islamic tradition – a man had 2 sons. One was very pious, devoutly praying every morning, while his brother slept in. One day the pious son complained to his father that while he got up early every morning to fulfill his religious obligations his brother irreverently slept in and neglected his religious duties. His father replied, “better that you remain asleep, then awake to behold the faults of others. Judging others distracts us from looking – at ourselves – which is what I would like to explore now. Martha Creek – the workshop leader at the Canadian Unity conference – posed this question to us many times………… How often do we throw away our peace of mind? How many moments since you woke up this morning – were you not peaceful? Part of the workshop was identifying the situations where we lose our peace. One of Martha’s remarks really resonated with me – this question she asks herself: is this – what is happening right now – is this more important than my peace of mind? A small example – one of many I could offer: I went to a market a couple of days ago and as I was leaving a driver stopped in the parking lot – not sure why – perhaps to wait for someone. So the person in front of me stopped, and waited and waited…..and then when she saw the stopped driver was not going to move, she started to back up so that she could go around the stopped driver. So I honked – I don’t think she knew I was behind her. And so on until finally the stopped driver – still waiting for something or someone, reluctantly moved out of the way and into a parking spot. Well, I had a few opinions of the situation and as I drove away I was mulling them over and over. Why did they do that? Couldn’t they just park like everyone else? And fortunately – it only took me about a minute to ask myself: I am willing to give up my peace of mind for this situation? No, my peace of mind is more important than this parking lot incident. And I continued to enjoy my drive and the beautiful day; sunshine and the farms. I was able to restore my peace – in me. See how quickly and easily it can happen? It’s not only the big things that may throw us a curve ball – but little day to day happenings like this. Catching ourselves – gently – leaving our peace is really important. And when you catch it you could ask yourself this - is my peace of mind is more important than this? It’s the best gift we can give ourselves! And everyone around us! The third thought about maintaining a peaceful presence is to keep our prayer and meditation practice a regular part of our day – whether for a few minutes of quiet time in the morning or a reflective walk or a time for settling before you go to sleep. There are many techniques – find one that works for you. We are surrounded by a busy and loud…………….we hear, see and are exposed to all kinds of situations, words, activities……….every hour. When do we stop to reconnect with our divine nature? To rest in the infinite? To find our way home. I said I had a short story from a wise old bear…………..Winnie the Pooh, which demonstrates this perfectly. Rabbit, Pooh and Piglet have taken a walk in the forest and have become lost, wandering in circles for hours, discussing how to get home. Finally Rabbit leaves. Pooh and Piglet wait for a while and then Pooh says: “Now then Piglet, let’s go home.” “But Pooh,” cried Piglet, “do you know the way?” “No”, said Pooh. “But there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard and they’ve been calling to me for hours. I couldn’t hear them properly before, because Rabbit would talk, but if nobody says anything except those twelve pots, I think Piglet, I shall know where they are calling from. Come on, let’s go.” We spend quiet time in meditation for ourselves – to shift our awareness from the everyday buy-ness to the truth of our being – our spiritual nature. We spend time in the silence to align and harmonize our minds with God Mind. to access all the good that is already us. Its up to each one of us to practice peace – to be a presence of peace in all circumstances. Peace in our neighborhoods, our country and the world – really does begin with us – let’s do our part.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Peace in the Home

When I graduated from high school I moved to New York City and got a job and an apartment. I wanted to find somewhere to volunteer so I called the crisis centre and after talking to them for awhile, offered to take some shifts on the phone lines. This was 1970 and what I didn’t know then was that this was only one of two crisis lines in the US. There was no training – or it was on the job training, common sense and compassion. I stayed there for 2 years until one of my co-workers came to me and showed me some information about a college, run by the Quakers that sent its students to different cultures around the world to study. Now that has always been a passion of mine. I wanted to study and learn but I didn’t want to sit in a classroom and write papers and read textbooks. I had wanted to go to India since I was about 13 years old. It wanted to meet people from other cultures, religions and backgrounds and learn from them. And live with them. I was accepted into the college and that is what eventually brought me to Canada four years later. I learned a lot about myself and about people in those years. I learned that what is acceptable and part of everyday life in one culture can be taken as an insult or threat in another culture. When I went to Kenya to study I was placed in a small village where no one spoke English. And so I learned to speak Swahili from several of the villagers who took it upon themselves to be my tutors. One of the first things I learned was how to greet someone. Jambo – habari yako? Mzuri sana. Habari watoto? So I asked how are you? How are your children? How are your cows? Habari wangombe? Have the rains been good? And so on – for perhaps 5 minutes or more. And with each question the person being greeted is happier and happier to know me. After a few months, as my Swahili improved, a villager very respectfully asked me – why are white people so rude? What do you mean? They just walk up to you and say “how do you get here?” or “What time is it?”. so rude. They don’t care about you or your family or your animals. I had many experiences like this in Africa and in India and even in my four months in a little isolated valley in West Virginia – where I visited people in their homes…had electricity and all the modern conveniences but still used outhouses. And when I expressed some surprise at that, their response was: Why on earth would I want to do that in my home? How can people live like that? So learning about other cultures and how people lived and how they viewed each other and how they viewed me - made a big impact on me. And I could see the misunderstandings and the prejudice and the fear that takes root when people aren’t willing to or unable to see others as equally valued as what is familiar to them. And why? Because other people, other ways of life, or activities are unfamiliar to them. They are unknown and there is no point of connection or common ground – no relationship. It is easy to fear the unknown. We all do. To hold it away from us. To judge and criticize it. One of the things I love about spending time in India is that people love to talk and share ideas and learn from each other. Our western way of being - not taking time to talk and learn from each other is a great mystery to them. When they see how isolated we live – and how even in restaurants when people are sitting close to each other they do not speak to each other. Every encounter is an opportunity to learn something. Any topic is fair game: life, death, birth, religion, old age, war, disease, marriage…… Even standing by the side of the road, waiting to cross usually leads to a short conversation or maybe a longer one or an invitation to chai in their home or shop. These are the small things that build understanding – that create connection – that sustain community and in the long run – peace. When we feel safe and understood it is easier to be a presence of peace. When we get to know our neighbours – we don’t even have to like them! But when we know something about them, we find it easier to stay out of judgment, criticism and condemnation. Lao-tzu – 2500 years ago said: If there is to be peace in the world, There must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, There must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, There must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, There must be peace in the home. So how is your ‘peace in the home’? within you right now, right here? How can we create peace around us? We can’t………this story illustrates what our job really is. There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them. One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace. The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest - in perfect peace. The king chose the second picture and this is what he said: “Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”