Reflection: Personal Peace
By Jane Lee Wolfe
As much as we talk about how peace is important to us, we know relatively little about peace. We know little about personal, internal peace and how to live it sustainably. We know little about communal peace and how to allow that to nurture us. We know little about world peace and how it contributes to our personal and communal peace, how we contribute to that peace.
It is not surprising that we know so little about our own peace and the peace of others. We are taught nothing about it either in school or in our religious institutions. Certainly there are exceptions, but no day care, elementary school, middle school or high school in my current experience teaches about peace or even uses the word. Also in my experience, religious institutions teach stories without interpreting them in terms of peace and how to live it.
The more innovative of these schools do some “stress management” teaching, using meditation, mindfulness and yoga. That is good, and that is peace in a few of its forms. But the language is not proactive or joyous. How to avoid or handle stress is not the same thing as how to live in peace sustainably. The same tools are used here and there, but it is not the same any more than how to avoid kitchen accidents and rescue casseroles gone wrong is the same as cooking healthy, safely and well.
Most of the peace we know about comes in two forms: passive peace and active peace. Passive peace is when most everything in our immediate world seems to be safe and pleasant. The experience of that peace is indeed real. Active peace is when we have some soul satisfaction while and after doing something that is helpful for others. That peace is very real too.
To be a peaceful, peace-filled person, however, we can’t rely exclusively on external experiences. We do not always find ourselves in safe and pleasant immediate situations. We cannot engage in enough good works to completely nourish us. Because we know no other understandings of peace, we work these two external opportunities very hard: we work to insulate ourselves in safe and pleasant worlds. We try to help others as much as we can manage while working hard to create that safe and pleasant world from which to operate.
Sustainable personal peace comes when we develop our internal peace capabilities and become intentional about their health and maintenance irrespective of what situations in which we find ourselves or what acts we are able to perform or not perform for others. The reality is, peace is always available to us, and always with us even when we fail to take care of it. With neglect, it stays inert within us but does not die.
The most available and ready thing we are able to do to nurture our internal peace is to breathe. Consider peace the same as the air around you. Many of us have learned that breathing calms us down, but few of us know that when we breathe our air we are breathing peace. Peace is part of your environment, your reality. Peace is always there. We breathe all the time, but we rarely identify peace as the reality we are breathing. Start with that. You breathe peace, your enemy breathes peace, your lover breathes peace, your family breathes peace. We live in a world where we have no option for life unless we breathe peace. We have no substitute for air. We have no substitute for peace. We should make the most of that.