What is it and what is it not?
One thing it is not is the absence of conflict. Another thing it is not is a state in which some people are oppressed by others. For example, there is no peace in the United States now. White supremacy, heteropatriachy, ableism, imperialism and kyriarchy overall crush some people for the benefit of others.
That does not mean, however, that inner peace is not available to us. Nor that peace is not valuable.
As far as I can tell from my own necessarily limited experience, inner peace is a state of deliberateness. That is to say, it is a quality of not being reactive, inclined to get into pointless arguments or fights, or easily drawn into conflict.
Peace I Give You
Peace is often associated with contentment, but I don’t think contentment is required for a peaceful spirit. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you,” Jesus of Nazareth said, at a time when his people were under terrible imperial oppression. I do not think he meant, “Be contented with your lot. Don’t worry, be happy.”
I think what Jesus meant is to be clear of mind and calm of heart. Being at peace, one can still say “no.” One can also work to create something new, to say, “Yes” to the world one dreams about, the world Rev. Dr. King called “Beloved Community.” Being peaceful in one’s heart does not mean we don’t engage in the struggle. It means, rather, that we are not driven mad by the struggle.
A friend of mine—a person of color—told me that he thinks white people wishing people of color peace is a form of privilege. I have struggled with that admonition, as I am white and I have many friends of color and we are all engaged in the struggle against racism and for justice. I continue to struggle with it, and I will honor his position and his view of peace. I take what he has said to me into consideration.
Nonetheless, at this point, I think of people I admire: Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Rev. Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis, Sister Joan Chittister, Thich Nhat Hahn, and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. I think of the looks of their eyes, the cadences of their speech, and the commitments of their spiritual lives. And I see peace.
I aspire to that peace—peace that stays engaged in the struggle and peace that does not give over to reactive rage. Peace respects the rage of others, the expressions of hopelessness and oppression that are understandably everywhere around us, and nonetheless nurtures and inspires the spirit.
The Jewel in the Crown
I bring all this up as part of my blog series because I think peace may be the jewel in the crown of practice.
I have not been peaceful for much of my life. I have been reactive, anxious, fretful, defensive, and inclined to despair. Along with other psychological approaches, it is spiritual practice that heals those wounds in my life.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the way spiritual practice gentles my spirit and gives me the clear-sightedness that peace engenders. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I have been someone plagued by bleak depression for most of my life, spiritual practice has frankly helped to keep me alive and engaged with my life.
If you are someone who struggles with anger, depression, hopelessness, or despair, practice may help you. Whether it’s classic meditation or other forms—grappling on a jiu-jitsu mat, writing daily, singing, cycling through the city or the mountains, contemplative reading, centering prayer or any number of other ways of engaging your Deepest, Wisest Self—there is something you can do, some way you can be in the world that will help bring you peace.
I so strongly believe this. I believe that peace can be yours, whether you have a spiritual path or none. I believe that there are practices that will help you. They have helped me.
They have helped to save. My. Life. Hear me. Saved my life.
Do You Want Some?
And so I invite you to join me for the month of January. Let us swim slowly through the Great River of Spirit where it flows in its meandering way towards the Sea. I invite you into a time of practice, a time of gentle challenge and fierce support for you.
Do you want to feel peace in your heart? My heart says you do. Go here for all the information you need and to sign up for our meetings, beginning tomorrow. Each Tuesday in January, we will meet online to support one another. I will travel with you as both a guide and a fellow journeyer along the paths of Spirit. Let us join one another and come to a deeper understanding, a deeper delight, and a deeper peace.