Let Peace Begin with Me

Last month I included this image that says "Let Peace Begin With Me." It got me to thinking more about peace. Peace sometimes seems elusive, especially world peace. How can one person really make a difference? The phrase "Let Peace Begin with Me" suggests we may contribute most to world peace by starting with ourselves and acting in more peaceful ways in our own lives. But what does that mean? Does peace mean everything is calm and happy? Is peace invoked through acts of kindness. Does it mean never getting mad or always avoiding conflict? Does it mean we will be sweet to everyone? Or does having peace mean everyone will love us? What is peace? How do you define peace? Is your definition realistic? What if creating more peace means being honest with someone about a difficult subject? What if it means we stop saying yes to every request asked of us? What if it means we will not judge ourselves when we are angry. What if it means changing a long held belief about ourselves? Can we be at peace even when faced with discomfort and discord? From what I understand, peace does not mean our lives suddenly are filled only with puppies, rainbows, and angels. Choosing peace does not mean we will not have any challenges, upset, or hard work to complete in our lives. I believe peace is more about an inner attitude even when our outer world is not as we would like it to be. No matter what we are facing we will choose to have control over our emotions and responses and act from a place of centeredness and honesty. We can strive to have a certain level of acceptance of self and others and a kindness and respect in our words and actions even if we are angry or anxious. We can think before we act. We can ask ourselves, "In this situation, how can I contribute to peace rather than exacerbating chaos, stress, and negativity?" OR, "How do I start to create peace in my own life simply by addressing my own inner chaos?" This got me to thinking about something else. What is the opposite of peace? Is it stress? Chaos? Fear? Worry? What would you say? Recently, I came across this quote by Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk, writer, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion, who was born in 1915. He said, "The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and fix everything is to succumb to violence toward your own body and spirit." Wow! When we talk about world peace we often mean the "absence of war" or the "absence of violence." It makes sense globally. I had not considered the idea that the opposite of peace personally also is violence. Violence is a strong word. It got my attention. Human beings certainly can beat ourselves up. We use negative self talk, perfectionism, self judgment, unrealistic expectations of ourselves, shame, hatred, self mutilation, and so on. Once we are soaking in this inner toxic environment we then can use all that inner violence to lash out at others, responding from that mindset, and perpetuating violence simply from our own woundedness. This is not about blaming ourselves either. It all has to start with self-awareness, self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and self-love and recognizing the harsh treatment we inflict upon ourselves for a great myriad of reasons. What if by our own willingness to stop beating ourselves up we contribute to greater peace in the world? Is it that simple? Okay, I admit it. It only sounds simple. Our cultural, familial, and social networks have conditioned us well. We will not make all the changes in a day nor is it something we can accomplish once and be done. No. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy. This is a lifelong process. We must commit to choosing peace over and over again in each moment. Choosing peace must become a meditation, a practice, a way of being. We may not do it perfectly all the time but we keep working at it. We have to put some trust in the goodness in the world. We may struggle every day but we keep returning to the idea. We may not feel peaceful but we practice peaceful behaviors anyway. We re-program our brains one day at a time. We might fall off the wagon but we get back on. Practice does not make perfect but it does make for progress. Here is a list of practical ways you might choose peace: 1. learn to say no (kindly) 2. learn to set realistic goals and trust yourself to achieve them (happily) 3. let go of self-deprecating beliefs (gratefully) 4. end toxic relationships (finally) 5. be kind to your body (every day) 6. discover and share gratitude (enthusiastically) 7. choose your causes/projects wisely. (note: refer back to #1) 8. go to bed when you are tired (as often as possible and take naps) 9. let other people fight their own battles when appropriate (but keep loving them) 10. be comfortable with silence (and just be) 11. let emotions rise up to be healed (willingly) 12. say kind things to yourself in the shower (and throughout your day) It really is okay to end the war with yourself. It is okay to give up the battle and the struggle. What would it feel like to stop going to war with yourself? Imagine letting go of the struggle. Take a minute and perhaps even touch your heart. Take a deep breath. Realize that you and everyone you ever have known are just human. Imagine what it would feel like just to forgive everyone. Imagine releasing everyone from your inner expectations. What if you acted as if no one ever was attacking you personally but rather was engaged in his/her own inner battle instead? How might life be different? Imagine what it would feel like to put down your weapons and trust in the power of love. What would it be like to be your wise self standing in front of your self-at-war? What would you say to yourself? What if your wise self said, "It's okay to stop the war. I love you. You are enough. You are forgiven. You are worthy. You can rest now. Your body is your sanctuary. All is well." What would it be like if you believed it? We all have the opportunity to practice peace over and over and over again. May such kindness start with you. ~ Lori Sweet

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