For others, as for myself, the yearning for just a drop of miraculous balm to quiet the troubled waters of daily life is universal. Loved ones hope to heal the bitter quarrels that sunder them from one another. Busy people maneuver to snatch a moment of calm. Those who are poor long for the peace of a full stomach and physical security. Individuals in war-torn countries pray they will live out their lives. Thus, we walk in the footsteps of the great mystics because, ultimately, we seek the peace their messages promise.
Torn apart from within by warring emotions, or traumatized by the violence that scars everyday life, practitioners seek to build an interior refuge wherein they can find a measure of tranquillity. God is love, beauty, and truth, say the great teachers, but beyond that, God is sublime peace, too. In this sense, peace is the ultimate quality, containing within it all other qualities as the color white contains within it the colors of the spectrum.
I have experienced sublime peaks of transcendent calm in meditations. Yet such experiences have not prevented me from the unease and uncertainty of life. As the Sufi teacher Pit Vilayat Inayat Khan has frequently said, it is relatively easy for a great master to maintain his high state of consciousness while on retreat or in a cave -- but far harder to do so juggling the everyday demands of family and work.
Learning The Art of Peacemaking
Humankind, it seems, has much to learn about the arts of peacemaking. Many longtime religious practitioners and meditators who have experienced the blissful depths of inner peace, for instance, have found it difficult if not impossible to translate that into their outer lives. Likewise, political activists have stumbled in their efforts to negotiate peaceful conditions, blocked by their inner psychological shadows of intolerance and hatred.
But these very inconsistencies reveal an important clue in the great work of peace: peace cannot only be found inwardly, or fought for outwardly -- it is a disciplined struggle that must continually be engaged on several fronts. Psychologically, we each must do battle with the inner "shadow" that would subvert our growth; while the spiritual path requires warriorlike discipline. Outwardly, we are called upon to fight the wrongs of injustice and oppression. Thus, like all the other qualities, peace includes within it its own opposite -- tension, change, and dissatisfaction. Acceptance of that fact of life is what begins the path of peacework.
To accept that conflict is a natural part of life -- and to find enlightened ways to deal with that -- is what some say prevents the outbreak of petty arguments, war, or violence. For while we may all be one in the spirit, we exist in a dimension of reality that teems with passionately fractious differences.
Peace is not something that is singular and static. Rather, it is a work in progress that takes place in the give-and-take dialogue between the different parts of oneself, between oneself and another, between rivals, and among nations, faiths, and ethnicities.
Peace In Action
Peace in action is exemplified in the lives of the legendary nonviolent peacemakers. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela all are extraordinary examples of men who put truth to work in the name of peace and justice -- not from the distance of a cave, but directly in the heart of everyday life. The impact of inner peace brought to bear on conditions in the outer world in a nonviolent but engaged fashion is what Gandhi called "satyagraha," or "soul force."
Although the bright stars of the peace movement have mostly been men, it is also largely men who have started and fought wars, while women have stood helplessly alongside history's bloody battlefields. Like Penelope spinning at her wheel patiently awaiting the return of her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War, women have been the ones to bear the brunt of emotional damage caused by the wounds of war.
"I do not see my life as separate from history," writes Susan Griffin in A Chorus of Stones. "In my mind my family secrets mingle with the secrets of statesmen and bombers. Nor is my life divided from the lives of others. I, who am a woman, have my father's face. And he, I suspect, had his mother's face."
Sustaining Peace and Teaching Peace
The feminine experience of enduring centuries of waiting, healing, nurturing, and sustaining family and community ties has resulted in what many thinkers have come to realize is a valuable contribution to the tasks of sustaining peace. Women's collective experience overseeing squabbling children, negotiating family differences, nursing physical and emotional wounds, and tending friendships has resulted in a stockpile of wisdom that can be applied on a large world scale.
"For generations," remarked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in October 2000 to the Security Council, "women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls."
The notion of women as peacemakers is not just political correctness run amok, write Swanee Hunt and Cristina Posa in their article "Women Waging Peace," in the May/June 2001 issue of Foreign Policy. Rather, they write, "Social science research supports the stereotype of women as generally more collaborative than men and thus more inclined toward consensus and compromise."
Pointing out that women are at the center of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and popular grassroots movements, Hunt and Posa argue that international peace negotiators should include more women in their ranks. "While most men come to the negotiating table directly from the war room and battlefield, women usually arrive straight out of civil activism and -- take a deep breath -- family care."
A popular E-mail sent to me by almost every woman I know circulating after the attacks humorously makes the same point: "Uniting all the warring tribes of Afghanistan in a new government? Oh, please ... we've planned the seating arrangements for in-laws and extended families at Thanksgiving dinners for years ... we understand tribal warfare."
A Circle of Peace
As friendship is a template of peace in action, women who are interested in finding ways to bring peace into the world can strengthen their cause by starting a women's circle of peace. They can practice meditations aimed at deepening peace within and visualizing peace in the world without. They can study the lives of women peacemakers.
A peace circle is a wonderful place for women to support one another in the time-honored tasks of everyday diplomacy: raising children, and mediating disputes and conflicts in the family and workplace. Women can join the personal with the political by choosing a social cause to support, whether working for the rights of women worldwide, drawing attention to the plight of refugees, or advocating for the homeless. Participants can balance spiritual work with political action by writing letters, circulating petitions, or making a formal group visit to local representatives.
The Intention of Peace
The work of attaining peace, it seems, is a constantly evolving mystery. Perhaps what matters most is intention -- that whatever action taken in the name of peace and justice be for those purposes and no other.
The insights of women who have worked for peace, both in the past and in the present, can be our guides. Their experiences both on the inner frontiers of consciousness and in the outer world of politics and community can inspire other women who wish to become courageous peacemakers in the world.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Putnam Publishing. ©2002. http://www.penguinputnam.com
Soul Sisters: The Five Sacred Qualities of a Woman's Soul
by Pythia Peay.
Filled with exercises, anecdotes, quotes, and inspiration, Pythia Peay's Soul Sisters is designed to help women foster the traits that can be found in the great spiritual traditions of the world, and that are most needed in contemporary life. Each chapter shows how to cultivate the five "divine qualities": Courage, Faith, Beauty, Love, and Magic. Both an immensely practical workbook and an education in spiritual ideas, Soul Sisters is a companion for a lifetime.
Info/Order this paperback book or purchase the Kindle edition.
About the Author
A noted journalist on spiritual topics, PYTHIA PEAY has written for Utne Reader, Washingtonian, Common Boundary, and other publications. As a contributor to Religion News Service, she has been published in newspapers around the country. She studied meditation with the Sufi teacher Pit Vilayat Inayat Khan, and collaborated with him on his book Awakening. Visit her website at http://pythiapeay.com/
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