Peace on earth is sung and spoken and seen so often this time of year, which makes it a good time to reflect on this human ideal that always seems out of reach. Watch any random episode of Law & Order - a drama which pulls stories directly from the headlines - and it is clear that conflict remains a deadly issue in our personal lives as much as the lives of nations. The stresses of modern life, which include an ongoing blitz of media reminding us of Terrible Things We Must Forever Fear and All Our Inadequacies can wear us down and burn us out.
My favorite definition of peace came to me through Al-Anon - which means the unknown author donated a simple, powerful roadmap to personal power: "Peace is not needing to know what will happen next."It is, however, uniquely difficult to put into practice: Here are some ideas for daily injections of peace-promoting thought and action.
Fresh thinking: Creativity is inherent to all of us but like any other potential - e.g. intellectual, physical, social - it must be developed over time to be truly helpful when we are under stress. We can practice for the tough times by reframing small pressures every day. Feeling unappreciated for the endless chauffeuring and shepherding of children? Write It’s A Wonderful Life about yourself. Imagine who you would be if you never had these kids. You might find gratitude for what you have and value who you are. You might find regret for roads not taken that drives resentment, reconnect with abandoned parts of self, and figure out how to revive lost dreams. Whatever shakes out, finding fresh approaches to the repeating, vexing patterns of our lives put creativity into action.
Focused attention: Meditation, music, conscious movement such as yoga, pilates and other body/mind disciplines and all forms of art engage the creative, intellectual, and physical “selves” in a unified activity that is an immediate and direct experience of inner peace. When all levels of attention are integrated in this way we cannot be divided against ourselves, and refusing to be a divided person strengthens us internally. A regular routine of mindful activity strengthens mental and physical health and yields more energy for coping with an increasingly divided world.
Fun: "If it’s a question of whether to do what’s fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt by whichever you do, always do what’s fun,” wrote Harpo Marks in Harpo Speaks. Fun isn't something you have. Its something you do. So do it.
Freedom to fail, flail, flounder, and flop: A firm principle of successful improvisation is going with the flow of events in a game or a scene, which sounds great but in practice can trigger a flood of fears rooted in the mental structures we internalized from a lifetime of people-pleasing and perfectionism. Improv – in theater and in life – occurs through players’ adherence to the agreed-upon rules and boundaries, but the only yardstick for judging its success is the degree of flexibility we achieved by trying things and taking emotional risks. Improv practices peace through acceptance of and creative response to what we cannot control.
Forgiveness: “When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive” wrote Alan Paton, author of Cry! The Beloved Country among other novels, and activist for humanitarian causes all of his life, particularly against apartheid in his home country of South Africa. Forgiveness does not imply giving a pass to those who injured us, and it is only possible when we have found some healing and perhaps recovered some measure of what was lost. It comes most easily when we become exactly who we choose to be. Even thinking about who and what we choose to create in our lives moves us steadily away from any power the injuring person still has over our quality of life. I chose to learn about forgiveness for a very selfish reason: I have and will make mistakes in my relationships, and I hope to be forgiven.
Merry Christmas! Happy Winter Solstice! Happy Hannukah! Happy Holidays to all of you whatever you choose to celebrate!
|Jude Treder-Wolff is the author of Possible Futures: Creative Thinking for the Speed of Life, a professional writer, trainer and speaker.|
|You can buy this book online at http://www.thespeedoflife.org/|