I was recently asked to do a Sunday morning talk for the local Friends Church (more commonly known as the Quakers). The instructions were, “We want you to tell us everything you would have us know. You’ll have 45 minutes, and we would like for you to leave 15 of those minutes for questions and comments.”
How in the world was I going to give them everything I thought was important for them to know in 30 minutes? Probably less than that, because seldom does a presentation start exactly on time. I wrestled with that challenge for weeks before the event. On the day of the talk I arrived early so I could participate in the morning activities and get a feel for the environment. I had some notes written down, but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do or say.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a sign near the church building that read “War is Not the Answer”. I thought, “That’s what I most want them to hear”.
See, my experience is that to a significant degree we are at war with ourselves. There are huge pieces of our psyche’s landscape that we are at war with.
You might ask, “At war with ourselves, what on earth are you talking about”? Let’s look, for a moment, at the terms that are commonly used to tell us what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to behave.
In our culture, we are encouraged to: battle our depression; fight our fear; ignore our pain; not be so sensitive; medicate our anxiety; control our anger; banish dark thoughts; deny our selfishness; be nice even if we are feeling revengeful; smile when we want to scream out loud; get over our grief; hide our shame; malice is a dark stain; overcome difficulty; minimize our sorrow; buck up under adversity; subdue our mean streak; quash our judgmental self; make peace with our jealousy; attack our ambivalence; not surrender to our loneliness; escape our boredom; overcome self-doubt; go to war against our biases and prejudices; control our restlessness; hide our mistakes; to mention but a few of a multitude of such “enemy combatants”.
Add in height, weight, age related and other body image components that we (sometimes secretly, sometimes openly) harshly judge ourselves about, and the effect is pretty much total war on ourselves and others. Psychological, emotional and physical warfare.
Wars are terribly expensive. Resources and time spent at war are not able to be used for peaceful purposes. Time and energy expended fighting is not available to do good. In addition, there is always extensive collateral damage. In this internal warring process, some of the innocent and once beautiful parts of our inner landscape (the artist, the dancer, the musician, joy, love, awe, grace towards our self and others, contentment, self-acceptance, etc.) are victims of this war. Fighting this war is a losing cause. We will never win this war, it is eternal. And the damage mounts over time, and is easily passed down to succeeding generations as well as contaminating loved ones around us.
Perhaps even more sad, adding to the world’s suffering unnecessarily, is the effect that this war we wage on ourselves has on those around us. If they would happen to display one or more of these human traits, (listed above) that we do battle with, we go to war with them too. Criticizing, judging, gossiping about, lecturing, having contempt for them and their behaviors. What we most detest in others is commonly but a projection of those parts of ourselves that we are most at war with. If we have made peace with those parts, they automatically get that gift of grace also.
So, if war is not the answer, what is? Peace. Love. Understanding. Acceptance. How do we forge a peace agreement? Easily said, not quite so easily done.
One of my favorite poets suggests what’s required:
This being human is a guest-house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Welcome Difficulty. Learn the alchemy true Human
Beings know: the moment you accept what troubles
you’ve been given, the door opens. Welcome difficulty as a familiar
comrade. Joke with torment brought by a friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off. That undressing,
and the beautiful naked body underneath,
is the sweetness that comes
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
(From “Say I Am You? Poems of Rumi,”
translation by John Moyne and Coleman Barks)
This message infers a turning towards that part of ourselves that “shows” up, rather than ignore, deny, try to control, explain them away. When people ask me what I do, I send them this poem, and say “my goal is to help you make peace with yourself. To the degree that we are successful with that, will be the degree to which all your other issues will diminish.”. I love the quote, “Get the inside right, and the outside will take care of itself”.
Anyone interested in attending a peace conference?