“If we are peaceful, if we are happy,
we can blossom like a flower,
and everyone in our family,
our entire society,
will benefit from our peace.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
As news of shootings and bombings become all too regular headlines it seems to me that what we really need to be talking about is peace. What is urgently needed it to devote time and energy to be at peace with ourselves, with each other and as a whole society. It is all too easy to let the pressures of daily life distract us from seeking this peace. Meditating, or any action that allows us to slow down and be present in the moment, becomes something to do tomorrow. I speak from experience. As I set out on my six months of travels it was my intent to meditate daily. As my trip draws to a close I am still mostly talking about the desire to meditate.
To be even fleetingly at peace and fully present in the moment is a joyous thing. So what is it that keeps us from reaching or even actively striving for this state? From talking to people who have meditated for a long time it seems that it requires great courage to deal with just being with oneself. To accept ourselves for all that we are – the flaws and the gifts- and deal with our traumas of our lives is not easy. No matter how fortunate we are in family, friends and situation in life we all carry emotional scars that need to be acknowledged and dealt with. This is not something to be achieved alone. As with anything in this life we need to have people we trust to take the journey with us.
It seems also that we burden ourselves with many artificial pressures that loudly clamour for our attention and fill up our days. One of the real gifts of this trip has been the times when I have felt free of the compulsion to do, or to be, anything particular. One day a few months ago stands out for me. I was in Freiburg staying with an exceptionally hospitable Airbnb host and I found myself with a day where I no goal to achieve, no deadlines to meet and no fixed routine to follow. The whole day lay before me. I was free to be enjoy it in anyway I wished, secure in the knowledge that I had ample food and a warm bed awaited me at days end. With my basic needs taken care of I was as free as one gets in modern society. As I was on holiday in a town that was new to me I set out to wander the streets and get a feel for the place.
With no preplanned route, I let my fancy guide me through the twisting streets of the old town. The previous day I had I climbed Mount Feldberg. The views were gloriously invigorating, but to reach the hiking trail I had to take a train and two buses and so there was a constant sense of needing to keep track of the time to ensure that I did not miss the last bus back home. On this day there were no such time constraints. When it began to rain I sought refuge in a cafe. When the sun re-emerged I left the busyness of the town behind following inviting woodland paths up into the hills, soaking up the sun and bird song, only returning when I grew tired.
Maybe you don’t need such experiences to find that inner peace that will sustain you through both the joys and the hardships of life. Or maybe you feel you can’t afford to devote time and energy to seeking peace. The world is full of problems that need urgent attention and action. How can you justify taking the time to just sit and breathe? It seems that what the world needs is for all of us to not only act or think differently, but to first change the way we are – our very state of being. We need first to cultivate the peace within, before we can spread peace in the world around us. Only if we are thinking and acting from a state of peace can we really begin to create a more compassionate, just and peaceful society. Perhaps you have had the privilege of meeting someone who is completely at peace with themselves and so has moved past egotistical pursuits. Rather their actions seem to come from a compassionate and loving place, and so they fill those around them with that same peace and love. If more of us lived from this space then the world would be radically better.