Practicing Peace

Practical peace is a way of understanding the world, along with some habits and practices that I have found to be helpful in acting out that understanding.

For me, peace is not an ideal, nor is it about a future perfection. I don’t think of it as an abstract, as abstracts so easily turn into absolutes and become dogmatic hammers. Peace is about here and now, this moment in this messy world. Most simply, peace is turning toward the open-hearted and open-minded possibility in every moment and situation of our lives.

I arrived at my practices of peace out of a longing to be at peace within myself in the midst of turbulence—peace in the moment. At the same time I see the suffering wrought by dominance, globalization, environmental danger. I want to take part in the great changes our world is undergoing without repeating the patterns of my pas—peace in the world.

If peace is to be useful at all, it cannot be wimpy. What good is a peace deserts me when somebody cuts me off in line somewhere, or when somebody steals my car, or even when somebody flies a plane into the tallest building in our land? So peace cannot be a thing to use only when it is convenient, or until it doesn’t seem possible any more.

Practicing peace requires intentionally training the mind and the body so that the open hearted and creative response is available when I need it most. I say “the mind and the body”, but in fact there is no separation between training the body and training the mind. Our minds emerge from our bodies—our evolved, surviving, thriving, living on this earth bodies. The body and the mind have been engaged in a continual conversation throughout our evolution from the tiniest organisms that adapted their actions to incoming sensory data, all the way up to our astonishing capacity for abstract thought. Everything we think, plan, and do comes first through the body.

The mind takes incoming data from our senses and from the body’s internal communications systems. It adds the mental models we have been taught as well as all the ones we have constructed, most of which we may not even be aware of. It delivers the thought, “I want that,” or “I want to get away from that,” or “There is not enough, and I will have to fight to get enough to stay alive.”
These rapid approximations of the current situation’s opportunities, dangers, pleasures, discomfort, and urges are sometimes quite useful. The hazard arises when we act as if these thoughts are the truth.

Practicing peace takes training, intention, teachers, traditions, creativity, and continuous practice—the same as what a baseball pitcher or a concert pianist needs in order to perform at their best capacity.

Although some of theses practices are taught as parts of various systems, they did not come to me that way. Instead, for each practice, I had a need, an opening. I stumbled across a teacher or a text, or saw someone exhibiting the quality I yearned for. I leaped across a chasm of unknowing to try it out for myself. I acted “as if” and then noted what happened next for me and for others I saw practicing it. If it worked, I adopted it and found ways to make it part of my everyday life.

I matched the logic of the teachings I encountered to my understanding of how the world works. Not that it had to match my scientific, nature-mystic world view literally. Rather, I had to be able to understand it as another metaphorical expression of my understanding of the natural forces that we are embedded in. Many times, the story behind a practice didn’t seem to fit what I thought I knew, yet I saw it and experienced its power. I found that I had to trust my own lived experience and expand my previous model of the world to take it in.

I learned from Buddhist texts and Christian hymns, from a Muslim preacher and Jewish ritual traditions, from the indigenous and the postmodern, from rhododendron flowers that spoke and from ancient tales. My teachers were monks, nuns, science texts, therapists, strangers, old friends, old enemies, the flow of water over rock. I came to respect the many rivers of teaching that lead to the flexible, creative outcome that Karen Armstrong has called practical compassion.

The practices I use are mindfulness and compassion as the foundation training of the mind-body; surrender and non-judgment as a way to use that training to achieve equanimity; and engage and nonenmity to take these skills out into the world

I have learned that, to the extent that I integrate these practices into my actions, I suffer less, my actions cause less suffering, and I can see more clearly how to address systems that cause suffering in the world.

The Practices
I. Foundations
Mindfulness slows down the mental models process and allows us to make a space between sensations, emotions, and thoughts that arise and the stories we make out of them.
Compassion trains the body for easy access to the hormone oxytocin, under whose influence we experience a sense of abundance, the safety of trusting, and the benefit of sharing.

II. Peace in the Moment
Surrender is the acceptance of human finitude—we cannot keep ourselves and the ones we love perfectly comfortable or permanently safe from harm. We cannot make things be as we wish they were, but we must instead engage with the world as it is and as it is becoming. Here I find the immense hopefulness of surrender—that when we stop grasping and pushing away, we can see more clearly what is possible
Non-judgment means recognizing that everything we think we know about others is a projection from our own cultural situatedness and our own disowned darkness.

III. Peace in the World
Non-enmity refuses the idea that perpetual competition for dominance is the only way to secure our life in the world; it denies the permanence of conflict and estrangement.
Engage means to wake up to all that we are part of, to see that this moment is the initial condition for the rest of time and that, while we have no control over outcomes, we have immense power to make the future.

About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances & Publications
3/12/19 Peace, Justice and Transformation, Parallel Conference to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, 777 United Nations Plaza, NYC
11/13/18 A Journey from Guerrilla to Grandmother, Lifelong Learners: An Independent Collaborative, Temple Shir Tikva, 141 Boston Post Road, Wayland, MA 01778
10/10/18 Provincetown Women’s Week Reading from Doing Time:Papers from Framingham Prison, AMP, 432 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
4/6-9/2018 The Nature of Change, Radical Imagination Conference, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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