Tag Archives: peace

Soothed by wild things

When things are difficult, getting outside can be soothing and healing. Trees are good for us. So are open skies, bodies of water, and the company of other mammals. However, those of us with smaller problems that are easily fixed are often keen to say ‘turn to nature’ without understanding the limits of that.

To get outside in a way that will help you, you need the time to do that. Not as a one-off, but regularly. If your mental health is falling apart, a single intervention isn’t going to save you. Can you get outside for as many hours as you need every day for the foreseeable future? Probably not, because the things that have ground you down will take up too much of your time.

If you don’t feel safe when you’re outside, then the help of wild things is limited.

If you are bodily limited and/or in pain, then it doesn’t matter where you go, that goes with you. Time with trees may lift your heart a bit, but it cannot cure a suffering body.

Part of what makes getting outside powerful is the increased peace it can bring. How much peace you need is also a factor. If you are living in a situation that is destroying you, half an hour outside may be respite, but it won’t fix things.

If you can change things so that you are able to have the time you need under the sky and amongst trees so that you can feel better, part of what heals you isn’t the space. Part of what heals you is having got away from the things that were causing the damage. If focusing on getting out to spend time with the wild things helps you with getting out, and with putting harmful experiences into perspective, that can help you make or maintain changes. Again, what does the key healing here is the stepping out of what is harmful. If you can do that, it really helps, and if you can’t, tree time alone is unlikely to save you.

When the damage is superficial and easily fixed, we can be persuaded that we are healing because we’ve made really good choices about how to heal. We may fail to recognise that the damage, stress or trauma someone else is dealing with is deeper and more complex. It’s a small step from there to attributing blame and deciding people aren’t healing because they didn’t try hard enough. For the person who has never been deeply wounded, it is hard, perhaps impossible to imagine what deep wounding feels like and what that does in the long term. It is better to assume, if you heal quickly and easily, it is not because your healing system is the best, but because you just weren’t that badly damaged to begin with. If ten minutes with a tree fixes everything, there just wasn’t that much to fix in the first place.

Advertisements

Champion Peace Making

This is another blog post in which I consider ideas raised by Molly Scott Cato about how we defend democracy and resist fascism.

Peace is essential for the good functioning of a community, and for the safety of all its members. This does not mean freedom from conflict, it means having the mechanisms to resolve conflict without violence.

Too often, what we mean by peace, is only superficial. Apparent peace can mean the silencing of dissent, the disempowering of minorities and a lack of space for difference – this is not real peace. Peace-making is not the process of normalising us all to fit in small boxes, it is the process of learning to live with our differences.

Peace is not the tolerance of intolerance, either. Those who are invested in hatred and violence will try to manipulate others by demanding that they too should be shown tolerance. This simply doesn’t work, it creates situations in which peace is bound to break down.

Real peace is achieved through dialogue, real listening, respect and open-mindedness. It means recognising that difference and threat are not the same things. But then it raises the questions of what we do with the haters, and the people who delight in violence.

Education is key. If what people mostly hear are the voices of other haters and violence-pedlars, some will be persuaded that violence makes sense and hate is justified. The media is also key here. It is difficult to build peace when sections of your media are running an agenda of hatred. It is difficult to build peace when real fears, and real feelings of scarcity are harnessed to power that agenda. However, the more we can do to tackle inequality, poverty of opportunity, lack of hope, and lack of education about difference, the fewer people will find hate persuasive. There are no quick fixes here.

We have to call out those whose behaviour is unpeaceful. It may seem at odds with the work of creating peace, but it isn’t. Ignoring abuse, bullying, harassment, prejudice, and violence towards others does not lead to peace, it leads to conflict. To call out behaviour without resorting to the same methods isn’t easy, but it is possible. We have to let go of ideas of revenge, and point scoring, and focus on moving people forward.

We can support work of this nature by sharing stories of peace making, inclusion, and co-operation. We can call out hate where we see it, and gently disagree. (That may sound like a weak response, but trust me, if you want to impact on haters this is more effective than playing them at their own game). We can refuse to get into arguments with people who feed on arguing. We can avoid the behaviours that leave some people saying that all sides of the ‘debate’ are equally horrible and aggressive. We can resist violent solutions wherever they come up – both the real ones, and the ones we put in our fictions.

I think we also need to treat hate-driven behaviour as shameful. Perhaps the best way of tackling this, is with humour. Aggression simply fuels more aggression, but if your hate makes you the butt of jokes, responding with more of the same just proves the point. Laughter can be a powerful tool for deflating aggression and undermining feelings of entitlement. It does disempower people, and if the hate is coming from feelings of lack of power, that won’t help. But often it isn’t. The architects of hate in our society are people with plenty of power. By laughing at them, we can undermine that and make them less attractive. Satire, used well, can be a very effective tool for peace.

More about Molly Scott Cato’s work here – http://mollymep.org.uk/molly-at-work/campaigns/fight-fascism/


Peace, love, light and backstabbing

Let me start by being clear that I take no issue with anyone who is drawn towards peace, love or light. These are all good things. Looking back, I see that many of the people I’ve really struggled with have been all about presenting with peace, love and light. The trouble with this approach is that it doesn’t give you any space to deal with difficult feelings or conflicts. What happens then seems to come out sidewise.

If you can be honestly cross, upset, frustrated, envious or anything else that isn’t lovely, then you can deal with life. It may be tempting to want to be some kind of higher, enlightened being that feels none of those ‘negative’ emotions, but that’s not realistic. Also, those emotions are there for a reason. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them. They are there to protect us and help us learn. Try and suppress those feelings, and you won’t be a better person, you’ll be a person with a problem shadow side whose repressed aspects keep trying to pop out.

It is, without a doubt, better to acknowledge what you’re feeling, however awkward it is, and then deal with it from there. Ignoring the difficult stuff just builds you a bigger problem.

If you buy into the idea that you are, and have to be, an utterly lovely person, you put enormous pressure on yourself. If that slips for even a moment, you have to justify the slip. You may be tempted to figure out how it’s all someone else’s fault – so that you don’t have to own it or feel responsible. This is how we get from peace, love and light, to backstabbing.

If you can’t own your own feelings and have to make someone else responsible for them, of course you give away power. You make it harder to change. You distort your own reality so that your anger is their anger, your resentment is their unfairness. Your jealousy is their manipulative and power hungry behaviour. If you’ve done a good job of your peace-love-light image, the people around you may support you in this rather than help you recognise what’s going on, and for the longer term, that just helps you dig yourself into a deeper hole.

With the benefit of distance, it’s a pretty horrible thing to have seen a person do to themselves.

Looking back, I’ve taken some emotional bruises from people who’ve acted this way. But, I learned and adapted and moved away from those interactions. I was able to acknowledge and deal with my own feelings about those situations. I can feel sad, or cross, or angry, or bitter or resentful without compromising my sense of self, and that’s a great help to me. I can recognise when I’ve been crap, inadequate, or just plain wrong. I’m able to have a realistic relationship with my own experiences. All of the good relationships I have allow me this.

I don’t know what happened to the people who got angry with me but couldn’t own what was going on for them. It’s been easy to let them go and step away. I know from periods in my life where I’ve not been free to express and deal with my own feelings (pain, fear, grief, shock) that it is really expensive. If you can’t live your truth, everything is distorted around that and it becomes exhausting. If they’re lucky, my absence freed them from that, at least with regards to me.

The thing about peace, love and light is that you can only really make them work if you’re also prepared to deal with conflict, loathing and darkness, because nothing exists in perfect isolation from everything else and everything casts a shadow sooner or later.


The distorting power of drama

Drama is, by its very nature, self announcing. It can skew your sense of what’s really going on in life, and it skews other people’s perceptions of you as well. A week or so ago someone commented to me (and not for the first time) how often I fall out with people. I find that a curious perception. I deal with a great many people with my various hats on – easily more than a hundred people in any given week. I deal with bloggers and book reviewers and authors and publishers and people running events and at events, and people who follow me on social media, and through the social media platforms I work on. Many of my online people I consider friends. On top of that I have a lively local scene and a great many people I regularly see in person.

The percentage of people in my life I’ve fallen out with is pretty small. A handful of real drama episodes (two involving the police) and, I confess, rather a lot of my just not bothering. I can’t be everything to everyone and I don’t always stay around when I’m not enjoying things. I’ll do what I can, and what I want to do, and increasingly I make no apology for it. Sometimes, this annoys people.

Drama always takes centre stage. It’s what stands out, what we see and notice if we aren’t careful. Drama itself is inevitable to some degree, but how much it gets to hog the limelight is a real consideration. It is easy to let the big things, and especially the big and difficult things, become the story of who we are. My real life, my normal, everyday life is quiet and there isn’t much drama in it.

In any given week I will have exchanges with a lot of people, in person and online. Most weeks, all of those exchanges are peaceful and productive. Some are exciting or challenging and that’s fine too, but most are not especially dramatic. I spend my days with my husband, and a lot of time with my son and we are a peaceful and functional household. My interactions with friends are – most of the time – warm, quiet, mutually supportive experiences. My real life has very little drama in it, and I like it that way. I find drama exhausting.

But, if the drama is big – which it usually is – and disorientating or destabilising in some way, it becomes the dominating story of what’s going on right now. If I’m not careful, it can become the big story of who I am and how I interact with people. It becomes the story other people tell me about myself and each other – and that bothers me. It’s what’s easiest to see from the outside sometimes. But also, stories are about drama by their nature. We don’t make stories about the thousand gentle, productive conversations that happened in the week. We don’t write songs about the sensible decision we came to in the pub – although perhaps we should. Humans tell stories about drama, and so we foreground our own drama and lose sight of the bigger story. The big story is often full of small things.

My life is mostly about the small things. The gentle details. The smooth, easy exchanges that make perfect sense and get stuff done. I realise that I am a part of a culture that foregrounds drama. I am influenced by it, and I contribute to it. I need to keep doing that – around environmental issues and speaking up against abuse, but I want to develop a better stream alongside it that is all about the small, everyday things, the good things, and the things my life is mostly made of. I don’t think it will change the perceptions of people who want to see me as a difficult, temperamental drama queen, but I don’t have to take up the roles I am cast in. I do not have to let the inevitable bouts of drama define me to myself.


Celebrating the Equinox

I’ve always found equinoxes tricky, not least because I’ve never found much in the way of folk tradition to draw on. There is a lovely modern tradition that makes the 21st of September International Peace Day, and that’s something worth tapping into, certainly.

This equinox might, therefore be a good time to think about who we include in our ritual circles, and who we don’t. Superficial peace is easily achieved – distance, absence, ignoring, denying, silencing, disappearing, disempowering – all of this can make for a peaceful scenario for those who come out on top. However, for those who are silenced and vanished, the problems and the effect of being denied is the exact opposite of peace.

In the long term, the superficial peace that silences the unpeaceful will beget future conflicts. Real peace means dealing with the problems. It means looking at our conflicts and trying to work out what to do with them. It means asking what we do about people who mistreat others within our communities, and it means recognising that to do nothing is always to support the aggressor and to deny the victim.

It is ok for people to fall out, disagree, find they can’t work together and move on. Great things can come from people realising they don’t like a thing and striking out to make the thing they want on their own terms. This kind of division does not have to be ultimately unpeaceful. The separation may be messy, but if we can respect our differences, we can all move on in good ways.

Sometimes the actions, words or behaviour of one person will put another person in a situation they can’t deal with. We tend to treat this as an individual problem rather than a community one. We let the person go who feels least able to stay. Power and popularity may prove more important than justice and fairness. If there’s nothing more to it than a personality clash, then perhaps the only thing to do is weather the short term grief and start over. Some things cannot easily be fixed.

Groups in the habit of pushing people out are not good groups to be in. Groups that tacitly support bullying, because there’s someone powerful in the centre of the group, are not good spaces. So much of this echoes the playground, where there are always kids who will gravitate towards the deliberately nasty one in the hopes that by supporting them, they will never be the victim themselves.

So at this time of balance, I invite you to think about how we hold our edges. How we let people go when they need to, and how we work together when there’s conflict that needs collective solutions. What we do with people when they are out of order, what we do with people when they are hurt? If you are standing in circle today, or at the weekend, think about the peace of your circle and what maintains it, think about your community as a whole. Ask whether you have true peace, or the calm that comes from ignoring the issues, or making the problems go away.


Book review: Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker

Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker is published by Hawthorn Press. It’s an overview of the life and work of Quaker academic, and peace maker Adam Curle, and includes some of his most important and influential writing.

Adam Curle’s first contact with peace issues came through working with returning prisoners of war after WW2, but has taken him, over the following decades into many of the world’s most troubled zones. His writing comes therefore from a rare mix of firsthand experience, spiritual belief, and considered academic thinking. What he has to say about peace, is fascinating.

Too often, we allow peace to simply mean an absence of obvious conflict. Adam uses the term ‘unpeacefulness’ to talk about situations where there may be no overt violence, but nonetheless what’s happening is likely to lead to violence and is causing harm. Oppression, prejudice, injustice, any kind of cruel or degrading system creates a breeding ground for violent resentment. Anyone interested in genuine peace has to be willing to tackle unpeacefulness wherever it manifests.

I found it very powerful that this book recognises that sometimes it’s very hard, or impossible, for a group of people to go from unpeaceful relations to properly peaceful and constructive relations, without first having some kind of dramatic upheaval. You can’t negotiate for peace if you have no power. At the same time, the more violence there is in the transition, the harder it is to build genuine peace in the aftermath. Adam Curle is a great advocate of Ghandi’s methods – non-violent disruption, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience can be tools for radical change.

This is a book with a message that can be applied at all levels. From issues of international politics down to how we operate our individual households, peace is not the absence of violence, but a deliberate project. It’s something we can do. It’s something we can all do. As a peacemaker, the author has a lot to say about bridge building (conciliation) and mediation work to help opposing sides rethink their relationships and renegotiate for something more beneficial. He illustrates how angry narratives can become self perpetuating, but if both sides are saying ‘we want peace, but the other lot will never give up’ then there’s room for a third party to do some real good.

Some of the writing in this book dates back to the 1970s, and uses male pronouns to describe people who are doing things. There’s a certain irony here, talking about oppression and alienation and so forth in a language that explicitly excludes half the population. However, if you can grit your teeth for that bit, and chalk it up to the shortcomings of the period, what the author has to say is well worth hearing, and as we go along, the language evolves into something much more inclusive.

This book is many things. It’s a history lesson, a biography, a philosophical piece, and almost a ‘how-to’ manual for becoming an active peace practitioner. It’s not always an easy read, some of the ideas are challenging and the language is quite dense in places, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. Highly recommended.

More about the book here – https://www.hawthornpress.com/books/social-ecology-and-management/adam-curle/


Paths of peace and conflict

It’s human to disagree, and inevitable some of those disagreements will become serious. On the other side, peace, and conflict resolution are generally offered as part of a spiritual path. We are to practice love, compassion, and reconciliation. One of the things I have learned over the years is this only works if both parties want to resolve and reconcile. If you’re dealing with a user, a power seeker, an abuser or someone else of unpleasant inclinations, reconciliation just opens the door to more hurt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to decide if reconciliation will bring peace, or further wounding, is to examine the price tag. There is always a cost to making peace with someone else. Some costs are perfectly acceptable – admitting any way in which you were genuinely in the wrong, for example. Sometimes we have to recognise that other people mess up for reasons, and they aren’t awful people even if they did something hurtful. We’re all learning, we’re all finite, we all make bad calls, or don’t know enough and so forth. If the price tag is that you just let go of this and give the person a second chance, because they’re sorry and it seems genuine, it’s a fair price to pay.

Sometimes the price tag is a painful working through of what went wrong and why. When mistakes or issues on both sides collide to create a problem, unpicking can hurt, but is possible, and is often worth going through because so much can be learned from it.

Other price tags are available. When you’re going to have to be really sorry, and really repentant, and have that wrong thing you did brought up over and over, reconciliation is expensive. When you think there’s shared blame, and other person will only accept making you responsible, reconciliation is hard, and perhaps futile. When you feel deeply hurt, or wronged, and your pain is treated like an attack on the other person, reconciliation can be dangerous. Being pressured to accept the damaging behaviour of someone who has more power than you, is dangerous.

If you’re in the wrong, there should be space to explain how you see things – many of us make innocent mistakes for honest and human reasons. Room to explain is important, especially if you’re going to accept responsibility, not deny it. If the mistake is honest, then the price tag of acceptance should lead to a much more comfortable situation and viable ways forward. If it doesn’t, ask questions.

Real reconciliation not only deals with the immediate conflict, but reduces the scope for conflict ahead. This is to be welcomed. Peace for the sake of peace can be really short term, sowing the seeds for the next round of conflict. Peace can allow perpetrators of unpleasantness to carry on unchallenged. It can increase the vulnerability and suffering of victims. When we can make peace with each other’s foibles and short comings, the world is a better place. When making peace allows the bad stuff to continue, the desire for peace becomes part of the problem.


Not always seeking inner peace

There are times for inner peace – we all need safe spaces,calm and time off. I use meditation and walking to find calm, but I do not seek calm as my default state, and I am increasingly clear about this as a choice that relates to my Druidry.

I am not seeking to escape from this world, to transcend it, or to be anything other than my animal self, living as honourably as I can. I honour nature. Death, loss, grief, pain and frustration are all part of the natural experience of being alive. I try to approach them with equanimity, but I do not avoid feeling them, because they are part of being here. I grieve the losses, I feel the wounds, I allow the things that are wrong and unjust to impact on me.

Of all the emotions, fear and anger do the most to disrupt our inner peace. A life free from fear and anger would be one of great joy and ease, certainly, but at what cost? Injustice, cruelty and eco-cide make me angry. The extinction of species, the starvation of children, the destruction of habitats, makes me angry. I am afraid of what we are doing to our precious home. I am afraid of what rabid capitalism will do to us all. I try and bring some measure of calm to how I manifest my rage and my fear, but I do manifest them. I hold some calmness because I need to cope and stay viable, but I do not ignore these darker, more destructive emotions. They have important lessons for me.

I do not want to insulate myself from the horrors of the world so that I can feel smug and safe in a little cocoon of privilege.

Death and decay are part of the dying time of the year. Winter has always been a killing time. The longer we live, the more loss we are bound to experience. The more I experience, the clearer I become that to live a present and feeling life is to be open to all of it. I’m only interested in cultivating peace to the degree that it enables me to function more effectively. Rage expressed calmly, pain expressed calmly, these can be more useful than the flailing of emotions keenly felt but unmanageable. I want just enough inner peace and self control not to be ruled by my emotional responses, but I am not interested in a life free from suffering. I am interested in a real life, and I’ll take the consequences, all of them.


The tyranny of harmony

I’m currently reading Martin Shaw’s Snowy Tower (and very much enjoying it) in which he talks about the tyranny of harmony. It’s an idea that stands serious consideration. Achieving inner peace is a goal in many religions – all well and good. I imagine inner peace is an excellent thing to possess that probably makes you a much easier sort of human to be around. I’m a long, long way from achieving it. I pray and meditate and try to cultivate the right kind of thinking, and try to avoid psychological violence as well as being physically non-aggressive. Inner peace? Miles away.

However, being a publicly spiritual person, I do feel a degree of pressure to come across as being really spiritual, especially when some of my peers seem to be so much more together and enlightened than I am. So, fake it until you make it, right? Do everything a person who has achieved inner peace would do, and you’ll look the part and get closer to your goal as well. Win. Right?

Except…

The surface appearance of peace is not the same as holding it within you, and there are some shortcuts to creating that impression. Cultivate apathy or run with your innate laziness and the ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ outlook and you can be very peaceful about every challenge and problem you encounter. Be nice, fit in, go along with what everyone else is saying, avoid conflict, suppress any problematic emotions, smile beatifically and pretend that it’s all groovy.

What you get to be at this point is not spiritually enlightened, but complicit in every wrong thing that, in your silence and conflict-avoidance, you let continue unchallenged. I have at times dabbled in this kind of peacemaking, and I’ve seen plenty of it. This kind of ‘nice’ very precisely lets bigots into power, turns a blind eye to abuse and smiles serenely in the face of injustice. This, I think, is part of what ‘the tyranny of harmony’ means.

We are full of conflicts. Our biology and life cycles pretty much make that inevitable, and there is more thinking I want to do around how we relate to this conflictedness, but that’s for another day.

I am seriously wondering whether inner harmony is all it’s cracked up to be, whether it is the right thing to strive for (for me) and what the implications of striving are. I know, that I have deliberately sought to suppress emotions that do not fit this intent. I have put more work into seeming calm than into being calm, and as I continue to struggle with anxiety issues, I’m clearly not winning this one.

Perhaps I just don’t have what it takes to be filled with light and inner peace. If that is so, I need a different way of working that allows me to function a bit better and that gives me a way forward rather than a nagging sense of inadequacy. I know that I am no longer interested in cultivating a surface appearance at the expense of what lies beneath. What does that give me? It gives me back my conflicts, my fears, passions, desires and obsessions as something I might be able to work with as part of my path, rather than things to try and get rid of.

Time to take a deep breath, and start dismantling everything I have experimented with thinking, and trying something different.


Peace love and joy, or else!

I know plenty of people who are all about the peace, love and joy, and express that by doing it, by keeping away from drama, accepting what they get, being nice to people, being tolerant, not picking fights and so forth. That’s all lovely, and consistent and there’s nothing much to argue with.

Then there’s this whole other thing I run into now and then, where people get angry if you aren’t lovely enough. They don’t want negativity and darkness, they want light and positivity, dammit! How dare you come along and suggest that the world isn’t perfectly lovely? How dare you not be exuding joy? Everything is perfect and lovely and good and how dare you piss on my bonfire by inviting me to consider that it might be different. I hate you. Leave me alone. You’re ruining my day.

I can’t help but feel if other people’s shortage of peace, love, light and joy makes you angry, then something is awry. Spirituality is not a magic bubble to escape from all the woes of the world. It’s not a special blanket to insulate us from all wrongs. If you’ve got the inner poise and compassion to be full of light in face of life experience, all power to you. If the pain and injustice of the world makes you sad and angry – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, there’s a world of difference between getting angry over the sources of cruelty and injustice and getting angry about having your nice bubble burst.

There will always be death and suffering. While we are mortal, there will be loss, grief and pain. While we are struggling to be better humans, there will be cruelty and injustice. Having a sense of light and love being present in the world is not about getting to pretend that the bad stuff doesn’t happen. The light and love in your world is the light you carry inside you and the love you bring with you. If it all starts to feel a bit dark and grim, the most likely reason is that you’ve gone beyond your own capacity, somehow.

While we can turn to each other for love and support – and should – it is down to each of us to carry what love and light we can. We all have low ebbs when we need someone else to inspire us, but that’s different from requiring everyone to be full of love and light. If there is only darkness outside your bubble, if you are furious that other people aren’t helping you feel good about the world, and sick of them bringing you down with their negativity… look in a mirror. If you can’t find a spark of warmth, a flicker of compassion, a whisper of hope… for yourself, for them… where on earth is it going to come from?