I have been thinking about “peace” lately. I looked up the word in an on-line dictionary this morning and what I found was not really surprising. Basically, it was defined as the absence or cessation of strife, war and tensions. So it follows logically that minus these things, there exists a state or environment of peace. I think most of us are drawn to such an enticing concept and I suppose this definition makes sense on an interpersonal, communal or global level – when we get along, when we choose cooperation or in the least, the abstention from conflict, we the people experience a calm that can be quite attractive. But I am left troubled nonetheless.
First, humanity has seemed to display resistance to extended seasons of peace. Due to a myriad of factors, we just can’t seem to set aside our guns, our egos and our own selfish agendas. Consequently, as of this writing, we have continued unrest in the holy lands, partisan fighting in Congress, frightening deaths tolls in American cities like Chicago, devastated New Yorkers increasingly frustrated in the wake of a disastrous storm and average folks trampling and fighting each other every year on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
Secondly, and I think more importantly, the dictionary definition of peace doesn’t seem to fit our lives individually. My personal experiences and my professional insights from a 15 year clinical career seem to indicate that for us as individuals, the absence of tension and conflict does not necessarily result in a condition of intrapersonal peace. Just the opposite, I think such moments often leave us anxious and anticipating some impending disaster or turn of events and therefore we are loathe to even trust or live in that precious peaceful moment.
My conclusion: while the dictionary is technically correct that peace occurs in the absence of war, I believe for the individual human being, peace is a choice. At first glance, this may not seem as attractive or quaint but may I suggest it is far more hopeful. If peace for each of us is not determined by humanity all choosing to get along simultaneously (highly unlikely), then this must mean that a state of peace can be a decision each of us makes, multiple times throughout every day.
- > Work is a mess and deadlines are coming, but I CHOOSE to walk away from my office to go laugh with a co-worker down the hall or step outside for 10 minutes to listen to the birds and feel the breeze and when I return to my desk, I have a bit more sanity.
- > Family life is fragmented and distant with everyone running in different directions and we’re all feeling it, so we DECIDE that this Saturday, everyone will set aside two hours for a family dinner and conversation (we all turn off our cell phones) and instead, the house is filled with harmony and a sense of connection…if only for a short time.
- > I’m eating on the run, shortcutting sleep and pushing too hard, so I MAKE TIME for a few minutes of exercise each day and preparation of at least one healthy meal and it turns out the day still came and went, but I actually felt a little healthier.
- > I am out of touch with my spirit or my god or my spiritual community, so I STOP and PURPOSEFULLY pray or meditate or re-connect at a worship service or get back to my yoga class and not unpredictably, I feel a bit more centered and focused.
As Christmas approaches this year, I am trying to remember that for me, peace will not simply occur because at this moment nothing bad is happening. Rather if I am to experience balance in my life it is because I act intentionally to care for my body and soul rather than allow the swift currents of today to wash me downstream and then claim I am a victim to circumstances. Peace is a choice.
So with Christmas and the new year in sight, I am going to finish this letter, go into my day and try to make the best decisions I can to care for myself, which will then free me up to be kind and considerate to others. And who knows what might happen.