Peace

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.

 

Michelle Morris

 

Peace and goodwill

The time of Christmas, regardless of whether we celebrate it as a religious festival or a cultural one, is meant to be the season of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind. Yet few of us are probably feeling particularly peaceful at this time of year, and the goodwill can also start to wear thin if you’ve been circling for forty minutes trying to find a car park at your local shopping centre, and someone cuts into a spot you had clearly indicated for yourself. Between end of year parties and Christmas shopping and getting organised for the big day, life tends to be more hectic than ever. Both our finances and our nerves may be wearing thin, and our tolerance for Christmas carols in the shops might be at an all-time low.

We can also feel we are being manipulated to buy more stuff than is needed, eat and drink more than is good for us, and generally add massive quantities of packaging, left-over food and unwanted presents to our landfills. Where then, in all of this, is the peace and goodwill?

The Christmas story is about the birth of new hope, of a new way of being in the world with kindness, love, and meaning. Regardless of whether we are practising Christians or not, most of us can appreciate the teachings of Jesus, his call on us to empty ourselves and live authentically, to follow the golden rule which runs through religions across the world – ‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.’ We may not like the commercialisation of Christmas, yet all cultures have festivals where normal life stops for a period of time, and people get together with their families and communities to celebrate a story which is evocative to them. We may already have rituals which make this time of year meaningful for us, but if we don’t, or if we would like to deepen our experience, we can create our own.

When do we feel most at peace, and what helps us to feel this way? What can we do, to intentionally cultivate a sense of peace? Some like to sit alone in a beautiful spot to watch the sun rise, while others feel most at peace in the midst of a large and noisy family gathering. It’s easy to get carried away with the busy demands of this season, but we have a choice to grow peace within ourselves, in whichever way is most meaningful for us. In this way, the festive season can indeed become the season of peace and goodwill for us.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, take ten minutes with a pen and notebook, and write down all different ways in which you can cultivate peace in your life. Place a tick next to one or two which you will practise over the next few days.

Anja Tanhane

Peace and quiet

Clearview sunrise

It was one of the noisiest wards in the hospital – TVs blaring from almost every room, alarms beeping urgently, nurses shouting to each other down the corridor, patients yelling out or screaming, sometimes for hours. From time to time, family members would become overwhelmed and start shouting at the staff or their loved ones. On my second day there, a mother was standing in the corridor, literally howling with despair. The patients all had severe acquired brain injuries, and some had only recently come out of a coma or post-traumatic amnesia. They drifted in and out, trying to orient themselves to their new surroundings. At the weekly multi-disciplinary meetings, the discussion was often about not over-stimulating these patients, giving them short therapy sessions and then allowing them to rest in peace and quiet, so their brains would be able to assimilate the new information. Everyone agreed this was the right treatment plan, but didn’t seem to notice that the environment offered very little in the way of peace and quiet. There were some sources of noise which little could be done about – the beeping alarms, patients yelling out. Yet did there really need to be a TV at full volume in every communal area, when patients had their own in their rooms? Did the staff really need to communicate by yelling down the corridors? Continue reading “Peace and quiet” »