July 27, 2008

Sometimes I look upon the world and sense an infinity of possibilities. In these moments, I feel capable, confident, hopeful, inspired, creative. I feel ready to take on the world. Alas, these moments, though recurring, are fleeting.

The most powerful moment of possibilities for me is mornings. Every morning, but particularly early, sunny, blue mornings, when I awaken, I know that there is an entire fresh day ahead of me and I feel that it is full of possibilities. There are so many things I can do, so many ways I can be, so many thoughts I can have in this day that I face. No matter whether I slept well or not, I wake up ready to act. I am my most productive in the mornings, at whatever I wish to be productive at – work, organizing, cleaning, making shopping lists, writing blog posts. As the day continues, though, I lose the sense of its fullness. I languish in the afternoons, feeling that the day is escaping me, that there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. At least I know that the morning will come again and I will once again face possibilities.

Another powerful trigger of possibilities for me is libraries. I love to wander through the stacks and bask in the knowledge that I am surrounded by a multitude of thoughts, ideas, facts and entire worlds. In a library, I feel that the possibilities of things I could learn about, of ideas in the world, are endless. A library has the power to feed my hunger for learning about new things, and thus it is full of possibilities.

The infinity of space is another source of possibilities for me. The moments when I am gazing up in to a wide open sky, standing on a mountaintop, or watching the ocean disappear over the horizon make me feel that everything is wide open and infinite. I sense my smallness against these great land-, sky-, or sea-scapes, but at the same time I feel inspired and hopeful. I feel empowered to set aside the every day trivialities and instead focus on the important possibilities of my life.

What about you? What makes you feel inspired or that the world is full of possibilities?


I’m baaaaaack

July 23, 2008

Ok, well I haven’t actually been gone this whole time (I was out of town for a week) but for some reason I haven’t felt inspiration for blogging in the past couple weeks. For one thing, I’m trying to cut down my procrastination while working and consequently I’m spending less time reading other blogs and browsing the internet, which translates to finding out about fewer things I would potentially blog about. However, I think I’m also feeling a bit discouraged – or perhaps distanced – from thinking about peace. The thing is, issues related to peace do not often play into my everyday life. I live a very peaceful life in general: I live in a small town, and my neighborhood has little violence or crime – in fact none that I have noticed or been aware of; I do not often have serious conflicts with other people; and I earn enough to easily purchase all that I need without worry. Granted, perhaps I do not have conflicts with others because I naturally communicate in a peaceful manner. But my point is that much of the violence and war that is currently going on in this world has little perceived direct impact on my everyday life.

Now, I know that it does actually affect my life. Things like the economy, the environment, and the well-being and happiness of the people in my environment are affected by violence and war in the world. And, for me, simply being aware that such violence is occurring is enough to affect my perspective and attitude towards things. Still, I can only read so many articles about violent events or look at so many non-profits trying to make a difference or read about so many approaches to conflict resolution before I start to feel distanced from it all. I feel discouraged reading about mediation and conflict resolution techniques because the impact they may have had (and I know there have been some successes, although I wonder how long-term those successes are) seems so small compared to all the wars, genocides, and other violence. Then there is the domestic violence, rape apology and general misogyny that I read about on feminist blogs, areas where it seems that so little progress has been made. I think, perhaps, like I discussed in an earlier post, I have reached a point of information overload. I have been paying attention to issues related to peace so much that I have started becoming desensitized to them.

I want very much to make peace relevant to my life; that is, to take actions that I feel are making progress towards creating peace. I would like to work with people, as I feel that would give me the most satisfaction in feeling that I am doing something meaningful. However, I have yet to figure out what this type of work (either volunteer or paid) would be. For the moment, I am volunteering at a food bank, but I’m not sure it is quite what I have in mind (however, I have only been there twice so far and I’m sure there is much I will gain from the experience). I also feel that in order to take this action, whatever it is, I want to study peace and conflict resolution more formally, or with at least more direction, than I have so far. I don’t want to continue just reading news articles and browsing the websites of non-profits aimlessly, but rather I want to read such things with a goal in mind of what I want to gain from reading it or how I want to approach the topic mentally and analytically.

Writing this blog is one way that I have been hoping to find more direction for my interest in peace, but I think so far I have been interested in and been inspired to write about such a diverse set of topics that it hasn’t yet helped with giving direction! Perhaps I am simply still at the exploratory phase, but now, in addition to continuing to explore, I also want to work on narrowing my interest to something more focused.

Update on Pangea Day

May 12, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted about Pangea Day, a four-hour worldwide event of original films, music, and presentations. It happened last Saturday, May 10. I did not watch anything during the event itself, but I just went to the website and found that many of the films and other parts of the event are available for viewing online. So far, I have watched the inspiring film “Moving Windmills” and I’m looking forward to watching more pieces of the event.

Will changing yourself change the world?

April 27, 2008

As I discussed in my post on Deepak Chopra’s book, Peace Is the Way, his basic premise is that everything begins with you. That you need to transform yourself and if enough people transform themselves, we will have a global movement of change. I think this is true, in the sense that we will not have global change until enough individuals have changed. However, how many people are going to pick up Chopra’s book or some other book and go through a transformation because of it? Not enough. The problem is that the people who are the most ingrained in the ways of violence and war, and who are the most violent, are not very likely to even see that something is wrong with their outlook on life, let alone pick up a book such as Peace Is the Way and change their ways because of it. I am persuaded by Chopra’s words, but I was already a non-violent believer in peace before reading his book; it only served to reinforce what I already believed.

In a comment on my post on the Golden Rule, a.s. wrote that teaching the Golden Rule alone is not going to be enough, because the people who do harm to others have themselves been harmed (most likely as children) and thus are simply doing what was done to them. I agree entirely with this, but I will admit that reading this comment made my hope shaky for a while. The intent of that post, however, was not to say that all we need to do is teach everyone the Golden Rule and things will be fine. Rather, I was simply inspired by the fact that the Golden Rule is a globally and historically shared value, and thus there is hope that we can reach a point someday where everyone recognizes this as part of their shared humanity. I do realize that there is a lot of change that needs to occur before we get to that point, and I was able to bring my hope back by remembering that we can do things to help that change occur.

Although the two paragraphs above may seem somewhat unrelated, they are linked by thoughts that contributed to my understanding of the fact that for me, changing myself is not enough. I believe that in order for change and the way of peace to come about, those of us who already believe in and follow the way of peace need to take positive actions that help others reach that way as well. I am not content to sit alone in my room saying “I believe in peace”; I need to do something more, something that reaches out to people who have been hurt and cannot find the way of peace, or something that helps transform the parts of our society that detract from a way of peace. If I sound vague, it is because I have not yet figured out what this thing is that I need to do in my life, that will fulfill me and be contributing in this positive way.

However, I do have a good idea of the things that I think contribute to people being unable to embrace peace. These things include children who are hurt and not allowed to heal, children whose creativity and critical thinking are stifled, the treatment of criminals in our society, poverty, and racism and sexism. Relying on people who have been hurt in these ways to find the way of peace and go through transformations by themselves is not going to be enough; we need to put in place support systems to help these people (who are unfortunately the majority by far) and work on fixing things at the source. I hope to find meaningful work in my life that contributes in a positive way to one of these issues (or another that I may not have thought of right now).

The Golden Rule

April 20, 2008

I sing in a Unitarian Universalist church choir, and we recently starting learning the third movement of a piece titled Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata, which consists of one movement for each source of Unitarian Universalism. The movement we are singing is inspired by the third source, “Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life”, and the composer, Jason Shelton, chose the Golden Rule (do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you) as the centering theme of the piece. It is a simple yet beautiful and moving piece of music. He intersperses a repeated chorus with spoken words – quotes from many different religious all expressing a version of the Golden Rule, and concludes with a chant of the word “peace” in several different languages.

I was deeply moved to see together on one page the same moral belief expressed over and over by so many different religions. I found a website (one of many) that includes all the quotes in the music and more: Versions of the Golden Rule in 21 world religions. The words of the chorus touch on the shared humanity that I felt in reading these quotes: “Many windows, one light; Many waters, one sea; All lifted hearts are free”. To me, it is very powerful to think that across time and place, many different religions have espoused the same simple concept, and it makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad, because it seems that in daily practices and beliefs some groups within some religions have lost touch with the Golden Rule; groups that endorse violence and intolerance rather than acceptance and love. On the other hand, I am hopeful, because these quotes illustrate how very fundamental this rule is, and thus it must be possible for people to understand and rediscover meaning in it. I believe that if people take the time to sit down and read these quotes and think about what they mean to them, they will feel more compassion and understanding and start to question the incessant violence in the world.

What does the Golden Rule mean? Most fundamentally, simply to consider your actions; to put yourself in the place of others in order to understand whether you are doing something that may be hurtful to them. For me, this is particular crucial when your actions are violent, either physically or emotionally. Additionally, I think it is helpful to think of it in terms of general treatment of fellow humans rather than specific daily actions. If you would feel hurt to be treated with anything other than love, respect, and compassion, then you should make sure that you are always treating others with respect. This could in fact include doing a specific act for someone that you would *not* want done for you – because you listened to the person and did something that was truly important to them, rather than acting on your own beliefs or opinions about that person. For example, if you were grieving, you may wish to be left alone, while someone else who is grieving may wish for company. Just as you would hope that people would listen and respect your needs when you tell them to leave you alone, you should listen to the person who wants company and give them what they need. Thus, I interpret the “do” in the Golden Rule as meaning the fundamental way that you interact with others.

I am looking forward to sharing this piece of music with my congregation when we sing it in a service, and to read aloud one of the quotes during the piece. I hope that others will feel moved by it and that we can together remember and share the importance of the Golden Rule.

Peace is the Way

April 15, 2008

Note: I am cross-posting this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

I just finished Peace is the Way: Bringing war and Violence to an End, by Deepak Chopra, and wow, what a book. One of my first thoughts was, I wish I owned this book. I feel as if I may have read it too fast, and that it would be well worth re-reading parts of it. It is an incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking book. Chopra’s basic premise is that peace begins with individuals going through personal transformation to become peacemakers. As he says, “the prevailing idea is that war begins in each human heart and can only end there.” He believes that if enough individuals become peacemakers, then war can and will end:

The approach of personal transformation is the idea of the future for ending war. It depends on the only advantage that people of peace have over warmakers: sheer numbers. If enough people in the world transformed themselves into peacemakers, war could end. The leading idea here is critical mass. It took a critical mass of human beings to embrace electricity and adopt every major religion. When the time is right and enough people participate, critical mass can change the world.

Much of the book is therefore about how this personal transformation to being a peacemaker can come about. He probes deep into the many sides of war and violence. He addresses, among other things, the us versus them mentality, the myth of security, the belief that God is on our side, and the problem of toxic nationalism. Much of what he says I felt I already agreed with or had thought about, but he phrases things well and explores concepts as far as you can go with them. I saw many things in new ways or made new connections between concepts. One point that particularly sticks with me is, I think, at the heart of things: that violence grows out fear. This point came up in several different places and I think is absolutely crucial to understanding peace and violence and how to become a peacemaker. One aspect of the personal transformation necessary is therefore to confront and accept one’s own fear, rather than allowing it to remain buried, in the hopes that it will go away by itself. This concept does not apply only to individuals; countries at war also are fearful, but not willing to accept and admit to that fear, or to recognize that their “enemy” is also fearful.

Chopra talks quite a bit about spirituality, and in fact says (not quite in these words) that the way of peace is a spiritual way at its heart. This was a bit challenging to my scientific, analytical mind, but I was able to feel comfortable with his mentions of spirituality because he does not dictate what this spirituality looks like. I felt free to interpret the meaning of the word “spiritual” in a way that is consistent with the way I understand the world around me. I wanted to mention this because if you decide to read Peace is the Way but do not think of yourself as a “spiritual” person, I do not want you to be turned off by his discussions that touch on spirituality. There is a lot to get out of this book no matter whether you are religious or not.

One of the best things about this book is that it is a unique and refreshing perspective, and one that you can act upon immediately, by yourself, as an individual human being. I am starting now on being a peacemaker, and as part of that I started this blog. As Chopra says, “the single best reason to become a peacemaker is that every other approach has failed.”

Chopra’s optimism and hope is persuasive and contagious, and I cannot more highly recommend that you read Peace is the Way for yourself, as I have only touched on his many important points in this post.

Maintaining hope

April 12, 2008

Deepak Chopra, in Peace Is the Way, is incredibly optimistic. He believes that, first and foremost, the way of peace begins with each individual becoming a peacemaker:

All you are asked to do is to go within and dedicate yourself to peace… The single best reason to become a peacemaker is that every other approach has failed. No one knows what the critical mass must be before peace becomes the foundation of a new order; your duty and mine is to bring about change by personal transformation.

His words carry the conviction that a worldwide transformation to peace will come about (and can only come about) through a critical mass of people who each individually decide to follow the way of peace. This attitude is very convincing and very hopeful, and I believe in it. Most of the time. Sometimes, however, it is so hard to remain hopeful in the face of all the negative, violent things that you read about every day. For example, in the January issue of Ms. Magazine, there was an excerpt from the book My Life as a Traitor, by Zarah Ghahramani. The excerpt was about her experience being tortured, and it was awful to read. She describes ultimately giving the torturer what he wants and how she feels that she is betraying herself:

These are the tears you weep when you discover that your fear of peace is stronger than your convictions. These are the tears you cry when you hate yourself. Dear God, I’d always believed that I’d be so much stronger, that I’d resist and resist until death if need be. But it’s not true. It’s not true. I am not the person I hoped I would be.

Reading things like this dearly tests my hope. How can I maintain belief that peace is possible when there are people in the world who can treat other human beings with such cruelty? And when that cruelty breaks the one being tortured? I do not have a answer to this question. In this case, I think reading the entire book may be more hopeful than reading just this one excerpt. Zarah did eventually escape, after all. Regardless of whether this book is hopeful or not, though, I think it is important that these sorts of exposures exist. One way to maintain hope in the face of reading such awful things is to believe that other people who read it will experience sympathy and compassion for Zarah, understanding in a deep emotional level how terrible her treatment was. If people can have such feelings and allow themselves to be aware of them and listen to them, then there is hope. Ultimately, this does come back to Chopra’s words, and to the need for each person to choose the way of peace. I can hope that reading about the experiences of a young woman who was tortured may be the trigger that motivates some people to become peacemakers.