This week’s reflection is written by Michelle Morris:
“Peace on earth and goodwill to all” is the message that is proclaimed at Christmas time.
What do we mean by peace? We may think about a state in which there is no fighting, but only tranquility, calm, stillness and quiet.
During the festive season we can feel a spirit of joyfulness. We enjoy being with people. We can witness the excitement of young children leaving food for Santa. However, it is a sad irony that this time of the year can be anything but peaceful! Often people comment on the mad rush leading up to Christmas. We may be frantically trying to get presents, meet deadlines and attend Christmas functions. Our already busy lives become even faster paced. Holiday stress!
Although this time is when families traditionally come together, in heartfelt warmth, and we hear moving examples of kindness and generosity, Christmas day can also be a time when family tensions surface and arguments erupt. We may have either experienced this for ourselves, or heard stories of other people’s experience of family fights, hurt feelings or exclusion. A friend recently told me that her last family Christmas get-together was such a debacle that she has chosen to spend this year alone. It can also be a lonely time for people who do not have family, or have experienced a recent loss.
As well as interpersonal conflict we can become even more aware of the conflicts between nations, the world conflict which is nightly reported on, in what Shinzen Young refers to as “the litany of horrors that is the 6 o’clock news. Where are peace and goodwill in the “silly season”?
Jack Kornfield explains: “The inner stillness of the person who truly “is peace” brings peace to the whole interconnected web of life, both inner and outer. To stop the war, we need to begin with ourselves.” He quotes Mahatma Gandhi:
“I have only three enemies. My favourite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man called Mohandas K.Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”
As Gandhi humorously notes, it is not so easy to cease fighting with ourselves. We cannot stop the war by beating ourselves into submission, this only increases our struggle. Over time with mindfulness meditation practice we can cultivate equanimity; an internal balance, allowing sensory experience to be as it is, with an attitude of kindness and friendliness. This to me is freedom from disturbance: peace. Another wonderful benefit of mindfulness practice is that we find we are more able to respond rather than react, which leads to less interpersonal battles.
Many people coming to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course tell me what they would like and hope for is to find peace. Similarly, Jon Kabat–Zinn has found most people attending the Stress Reduction clinic have the goal of attaining peace of mind. Based on his years of experience he has learnt that although meditation practice is powerfully healing, some kind of personal vision is also needed for growth and change. He advises:
“To achieve peace of mind, people have to kindle a vision of what they really want for themselves and keep that vision alive in the face of inner and outer hardships, obstacles and setbacks.”
Perhaps the Christmas message and hope of peace and goodwill may rekindle your aspiration and vision for this.
Weekly practice idea:
Adapted from the book Peace is Every Breath: A Practice For Our Busy Lives by Thich Nhat Hanh
Settle into a comfortable position. Focus on your breath and allow it to be easy and natural. The following verse can be recited silently breathing in you say the first line; breathing out you say the second, and so on.
Breathing in, I feel my breath coming into my belly and chest.
Breathing out, I feel my breath flowing out of my belly and chest.
Breathing in, I’m aware of some pains or tensions in my body.
Breathing out, I release all the pains and tensions in my body.
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I feel ease and peace.