To read or listen to the news is to be drawn into a battle. The challenge is how to live and love in such a polarized, emotional time.
How can we honor the perspectives of others, no matter how much we may disagree? How can we stand up for what we believe is right, while not dehumanizing, belittling, or shaming others? How can we maintain relationships in middle of forces that want to pull us apart?
I profoundly believe that it begins inside each of us. Peace originates from within. We need to find ways to tap into the deepest part of ourselves – that Source of peace and love (the God-part) – that exists within each of us, and then share it with others.
Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived and died in the horror of the Holocaust wrote:
“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”
While working in the hellish Westerbork transit camp, Etty’s spiritual awakening transformed herself and others. She was able, remarkably, to look at the pain and suffering around her, the injustice and horror, and also delight in the goodness of life. Wow.
So, how can we reclaim areas of peace, grow more and more peace, and reflect it outward towards others?
After many years of working in the spiritual wellness arena, here are some suggestions that I offer humbly:
- Choose to respond not to react. Learning ways to pause and reflect and get in touch with the Divine within can help you to respond thoughtfully and more peacefully. For me, a short centering time in the morning (even five minutes), can make all the difference in how I live my day. Even taking a few deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation can help to diffuse a stressful situation. (See mindfulness below).
- Turn off the constant news cycle. The media seduces us into believing that we need to know everything, in real time as it unfolds. Thanks to smart phones, social media, and the nonstop twenty-four hour news cycle, our culture is addicted to news. Checking in once or twice a day is enough.
- Try to know yourself. Become more aware of what makes you tick and what patterns of behavior and preconceived notions create blind spots that prevent you from truly seeing or hearing others.
- Try to know “the other.” Be curious rather than judgmental. Try to have conversations that go below the surface of opinion and rhetoric. Listen with the desire to understand, rather than to respond. Remember that the other person is often doing the best that he/she can.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is both a practice and a way to approach daily life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” A friend recently shared her simple definition: “paying kind attention.” Mindfulness becomes a way of life that keeps you in the present moment so that you don’t become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around you.
- Compassion. Last, but not least, compassion can transform our world. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about (Shout out to my niece, Meg).
We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world. Let’s reclaim areas of peace and help them grow, bit by bit. Small things ripple out. We can each play our small but significant part.
Note: Etty died in Auschwitz.
Etty Hillesum. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. New York: Holt, 1996.Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.