Are you at peace?
It begins within, if we hope to achieve it on an international scale. Today marks the 36th annual International Day of Peace.
That ancient Sanskrit greeting has many translations, and is apropos of today’s theme. Put simply, namaste conveys, “I honor that place within you where the stillness resides.”
Think about what that presumes. There is stillness in each human being. We can find it, if we look. It is something to honor — in ourselves, in others.
This natural stillness is potentially shared by all of humanity, if we tap into it, and if we recognize it in others. Regardless of spiritual practice or philosophy, that stillness — and the compassion its pursuit naturally generates — is the essence of peace.
If that’s true, then the road to inner and outer peace, and their unavoidable happiness, is straightforward: practice compassion.
Simple as it sounds, it works.
Different than sympathy, compassion is putting yourself in someone’s shoes. That means refraining from judging them by what you would do or feel; trying instead to truly understand what it is they feel, from their perspective. Consider their life experiences, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Practicing compassion means, at least for a moment, actually feeling what it is to be that person — not substituting one’s own perspective.
To put compassion into practice is to emotionally achieve that level of understanding, combined with whatever can be done to help relieve suffering. Much like practicing peace, which begins at home.
Compassion must also be practiced on the self. There are those who seem to live for others — who do so much to meet others’ needs and wants, but neglect themselves, either practically or with self-degrading thoughts. That person can’t fully practice compassion; one can give only what one has. Thus patterns of self-sacrifice and self-denial result in having little to offer. Being kind to all living beings means also being kind to oneself.
Stillness requires balance.
Some argue that not being compassionate also has its justifications and pleasure (loving thine enemy is hardly pleasurable). It’s only human to feel good venting anger, getting revenge, or personally ensuring that what goes around comes around. However, while these may bring short-term satisfaction, deep down, they only serve to extend negative feelings longer, adding stress. Defeating peace.
Anger and stillness cannot coexist.
When such thoughts fade is when we truly let go, able to feel compassion without limit, whether or not we agree or approve. Compassion and peacefulness do not mean condoning, ignoring, or suborning what is wrong, but rather understanding it fully (it’s amazing how quickly anger in others subsides when they feel acknowledged).
This depth of understanding increases access to innate knowledge, which in turn reduces fear and anger, clearing the way for peace. The result is great emotional strength and better decision-making. Both connect us with that feeling of stillness — a knowledge that whatever comes next, we can rise above in serenity, and not feel twisted up inside.
This may seem too inwardly focused for International Peace Day, but I truly believe that, like charity, peace begins at home, individually. Peaceful people (given basics of survival) are happy. Peace and happiness are infectious, like raindrops on an ocean generating a tidal wave of security — without pain or bloodshed.
It is daunting to think of all the pain and conflict in the world — especially among groups competing for power and influence — and it’s natural to feel the task is too large. But if each individual and leader were to find inner peace and put it into practice, it’s not only our greatest hope for world peace — it’s the most easily achieved.
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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.