While in attendance at the funeral of my last living uncle on my father’s side I gained an interesting perspective on the true meaning of peace. He was a good man who never attained fame or glory. He was my favorite uncle when I was young. As I reflect upon my memories of him, a common thread is visible. He was always happy and projected a cheerful spirit. When I visited last, he was worn down with the process of aging, but his contagious smile remained, always with a compliment to offer, always positive, always helping, and always cheerful.
As his funeral service was drawing to a close some final remarks were offered. While the speaker’s thoughts developed, he began to describe Uncle Sterling. His voice became clear, paced, and deliberate. “Sterling,” he said, “was a kind, gentle, peaceable man, and we are all going to deeply miss his soothing influence.” This comment permeated my soul and stayed with me the remainder of the day and well into the night. In fact, here I am months later putting these thoughts down on paper. What did the speaker mean by “a kind, gentle, peaceable man?” The words sounded so nice and enviable to me. What I would give if I were so fortunate to have someone utter these sentiments about me at the end of my days. As I reflected upon each word individually, and then compared them to the man in question, I had to concur fully. Of all the men I have had the fortune to be acquainted with Sterling was indeed the kindest, gentlest, and most peaceable man I have had the privilege of knowing.
So what constitutes a kind, gentle, peaceable man? Kind suggests someone who cares for others over self, someone who is slow to anger, and someone who has great patience. Kindness implies that feelings and relationships are handled with care. As I consider someone who is gentle, my mind thinks of softness in action and word. A gentle person is tender, amiable, and considerate. Religions worldwide affirm that true power comes through gentleness and meekness. Most of us are kind and many can be gentle at times, but peaceable? Now that is a serious attribute. Of all the greatest that have ever lived, including Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and Socrates to name a few, all advocate that peace as the goal to seek for. As an internal attainment, too often we apply great efforts striving for peace around us when in reality these labors are pointless in the attainment of true peace because it centers first from within. To be peaceable one ensures that even when encountered by strong emotions, hurt and anger are not introduced nor amplified.
What is peace? It’s a journey, it’s a right, it’s a gift, and it grows only when we share it. Peace is a state of tranquility and harmony free of oppression, unpleasant thoughts, and emotions. Peace is harmony in all relationships: physical, emotional, and metaphysical. Peace is an inner sense of calm. It comes from becoming still so that we can reflect and meditate upon our inner wisdom, and receive answers from the unseen. Peace is letting go of what we cannot control. In acceptance there is peace as frustration is released. A peaceful heart is one that is free from worry and fear. Peace is a conscience free of inconsistencies, hypocrisy, dishonesty, and deceit. When our soul is quiet we can more clearly understand issues, and are more open to creative solutions; this allows us to live in the present. Peace is not a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we can arrive at the goal.
The opposite of peace is fear. Feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, or suffering are all fear-based sensations that bring about a state of dissatisfaction. It is an uncomfortable place when falling short of desires, expectations, and plans. Like peace, dissatisfaction is of the mind. It results from misplaced wants that become an entangled web of unmet needs. To overcome feelings of dissatisfaction we must be smart about what we want and what we need. The only way to do this is by controlling our thoughts so that change can come from within. Just as suffering comes from suffering in the mind, and violence comes from violence in the mind, so peace comes from peace in the mind. Peace is a state of satisfaction as we learn to control our desires. We don’t arrive at a state of tranquility overnight. It is something that can take a lifetime. It is a slow, calculated change of nature.
Peace is a state of mind, a choice made consciously or not. As an intangible, it is a desired situation but one that is only validated through sensations. Personal inner peace is earned over time through discipline and self-control. It is perceived as a state of bliss, happiness, serenity and calmness. To be a peaceful person one ensures that even when encountering strong emotions, hurt or anger, these feelings are controlled and not amplified. Peace is calmness in any and all circumstances, settings, and situations. People can be at peace even in physical bondage and, conversely, being free does not ensure peace. All of us have felt the sensation of inner peace at one time or another. Illusive and transient, our fast-paced lives are in direct opposition to inner peace. All the wealth in the world cannot purchase true inner peace; it is achieved without money and often eluded because of money. Inner peace is prerequisite to global peace, and it begins with love.
As newborn babies we are all initially filled with love. Fear is what we learn while interacting with each other. It is a natural byproduct of insufficient knowledge. To love we must be lovable, and if we have felt the sting of rejection it will require a conscious, sustained effort to accept self and risk trusting again. Personal enlightenment is mere recognition of this perspective. Love is real. It is pure energy. As an eternal creation it cannot be destroyed but only buried. Nothing real can be threatened, and nothing unreal exists, so love poured out abundantly can squelch all fear. Given this reasoning I conclude that our journey through life is really quite simple: it is merely the acceptance of pure love back into our lives through the giving and receiving of reciprocal kindness. This is the ultimate peace.
As evidenced through the media, our culture doesn’t really promote healthy feelings about ourselves. I’ve determined that this world is a rough, demanding, and unsafe place, and consequently it is easy to feel insecure, discontent, and dissatisfied. Sadly, it’s all about the vanity of deficiencies: what I don’t have, what I lack, what I’m missing, who’s winning, and why I am not. All of this competition leads to feeling anything but kind, gentle or peaceable, let alone loving. The reality is that all humanity possesses inherent merit regardless of performance. Our very existence validates our worth.
It’s been said that we become like those things we admire. By placing our values on the wrong things we become disillusioned. For as long as I can remember, owning things has been promoted as the goal for feeling successful and fulfilled. Having access to lots of money is sold as the ultimate objective of life. The problem with this type of reasoning is that we never own enough of anything. This attitude of deficiency keeps us struggling. The marketing society wants us all envious and greedy. I believe that we have all been manipulated. The average person has lost perspective of what is truly important. Money is not a substitute for security, control is not a substitute for safety, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. Personal peace cannot be purchased.
True stability rests on issues more enduring than current matters. Peace can be found in the storm, calmness can be felt during the fight, and security can be achieved in the heat of battle. Fear, however, defeats peace because it rises out of feelings of isolation and scarcity; it destroys our perspective of security. Anger also opposes peace as it manifests itself in a series of non-communicated fears generated internally. Hostility, wrath, and revenge are responses to this perceived fear. When adrenaline does the thinking, our emotions will flow with the chemical tide. Frenzied feelings of paranoia, anxiety, and trauma are easily imagined during such times. These agitated feelings seem to be more the norm in society today rather than the exception. Sometimes we become so extreme and fearful that we are offended or threatened over everything. We lash out in defense before even attempting to understand a situation. All of this opposes personal peace.
To offend is human, but to take offense when none is intended is foolish. Understanding leads to peace. Misunderstanding is based in miscommunication and it leads to fear. Often threats to personal peace and tranquility are perceptions in the mind rather than realities. Forgiveness is essential to the elimination of a troubled mind. Forgiveness is emancipating and liberating. Forgiveness opens the door to Peace and is the core of Humility.
A Japanese proverb states, “Fear is only as deep as the mind will allow.” We communicate by word, text, and behavior. Meanings to these communications are in the people, their circumstance, and their history. Meanings are not in words alone. The wise Native American challenges us to “walk a mile in my moccasins.” Anxiety, fear, and intimidation all have at their core misunderstanding rising from miscommunication. There are few demons out there who justify the fear we attribute to them. Our challenge lies in communicating compassion and harmony continually.
Why is peace so rare, so fragile, so tenuous, and so easily disrupted? How can we become more like the yogi who lie on beds of nails or walk on white-hot coals and receive no bodily harm, but are able to remain peaceful and tranquil throughout? Peace is more than the opposite of war. Gandhi’s admonition, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way,” aligns to that of Buddha: “Do not seek the peace without, peace comes from within.” What is this inner peace Gandhi and Buddha advocate? How do we achieve it and sustain it? What challenges calmness, serenity and tranquility? What annoying, distressing, irritating, antagonizing, or disruptive events spoil our peace? Irritants are everywhere and they beg us to react to them, to focus upon them, and to concentrate on their urgent cry. Instead we must eliminate these distractions from our consciousness. Peace isn’t the absence of conflict but rather the reordering of priorities. It’s not that the nature of the conflict diminishes but that the desire for personal tranquility is perceived as greater.
Peace should be the crowning achievement of our existence, the final stroke or the culmination of our work. We seek for peace with self, peace with the earth and environment, and peace with everyone and everything in the world. All of us are heirs to a global inheritance regardless of age, position, or nationality. It includes the natural resources from which we are sustained and prospered, the environment of air and water on which we depend for life and health, and our relationships that are built upon commonality and connectivity as a global family. As peace becomes our purpose it is easier to stand as a witness to children within our influence by being a positive example of the standards that lead directly to a peaceful life.
Often peace begins with nothing more than a desire for quietude. Something must cause us to wake up and arouse our consciousness. Something must instill inside us the yearning to experiment with it. Look upon it as a seed planted within the heart. Once planted, the seed will grow. If it is a good seed it will produce positive effects. These positive effects will in turn lead to the development of greater inner peace. After time, random occasional episodes of peaceful tranquility will give way to deliberate and conscious efforts, and subsequent periods including scheduled prayer and meditation. The craving for this serenity will begin to swell within as understanding expands and reason flourishes. These enlightened periods will become more frequent and longer in duration as personal awareness expands and the mind awakens. Like the young plant, nutrients and care are required as it takes root. With time it matures and begins to bear fruit. If neglected under the heat of the sun it will wither and die. On the other hand, diligence, patience, and care results in fruit for all to share. As with the seed, a profound change of nature toward peace will be a blessing to all who are near and dear.