In a world filled with millions of reasons for dejection, anger, helplessness, loss, suffering and other such oddments the practice of peace cannot but be a mindful endeavour. We cannot just say ‘peace’ and not engage with it at a behavioural or action level. Only words are mere rhetoric- they mean nothing because they change as the day changes. But cultivating a practice is a difficult task, which requires us to watch each of our actions on a constant, non-judgemental, detached manner, and also change it whether it is out of sync with an inner compass of peace.
I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that today is the World Peace Day. And of course we all associate the dove with peace outwardly. But how to cultivate such kindness and non-violence is a challenge we have to constantly remind ourselves of. It was good that I learnt of the day early in the morning and I chose to remain aware of my actions for the whole day. This was a practice of wakefulness by itself.
I happened to have a mixed day- there was a new client for counseling and an old one that I wanted to review things with. There were students of music and there was the big water issue on the domestic front that I have been struggling with for a few days now- which necessitated me to buy water for the first time yesterday and keep calling plumbers every single day- paying money everytime not knowing whether the issue is resolved or not! It is a pain to deal with so much domestic stuff, especially when it jeopardizes the work one is engaged with at the moment. This is the last phase of my doctoral dissertation- yeah, this time also had to dawn finally. There is considerable work done and more planned ahead. I kept thinking of the idea of peace and whether everyone is really working towards that in their life, or whether it can be achieved in un-awareness.
And these are the thoughts I thought about my actions, of late. The academic work I do is towards searching for a solution in mental illness. In a world full of mental suffering perhaps the way ahead is to help people deal with their suffering and enable them to look at suffering in a different manner, or assist with changing the frame of perception. Well, that is what one can do in cousenling, but in the doctoral research my goals are somewhat different. And I think considering the violence I have faced from my university, the fact that I could still cultivate reasonably good habits, and not plunge into any depression was itself the outcome of a deep inner calmness that I have identified and learned to engage with or recede into frequently. And of course, also to recognize my triggers for anything- whether anger or hurt or pain or whatever else. I cannot say these emotions have not visited me in the three years and more I have been doing this work now. As a matter of fact, they have been frequent and regular companions…yet never could they overwhelm me or derail me to any significant measure.
Peace is not a thought for me any longer, or an aspiration– but a daily habit which needs to be practiced at every level. I cannot shove disturbance in a corner and think about attending to it when I have the time. This produces stress, and a majority of people do that- push the uncomfortable stuff out of sight so that it does not bother them for the moment. Actually it only recedes from sight, but not the mind- creating stress and pressures slowly on the mind and then body.
This is what leads to all health issues as we grow older- the violence we create for ourselves in our day-to-day life, the lies and the deceptions. And people do not even know they are deceiving themselves, at least not on the face of it. Deep down there may be an awareness- in the depth of their heart. But then, most do not listen to their heart at all! So naturally they are tuned out of themselves and their actions tuned out of any sense of propriety, peace, decency and morality.
How to cultivate peace
I cannot say that I have an answer to it already, but certainly it is a quest, how to deal with the daily violence of living in a world full of self-promoting, self-serving and self-loving individuals and not become one like them, at least all the time? Perhaps the only answer lies in awareness. The greater the awareness about every single action we perform, the greater is the likelihood that the action will be performed in awareness that it should not violate anything- neither in thought, speech or action. The greater then is the likelihood of being non-violent. But non-violence should not be confused with inaction- not performing any action, for that is sloth then!
Equally important is the way we spend our time. If we spend our time in killing time (watching TV for instance) and not producing something worthwhile for the world, which contributes in making the world more peaceful and beautiful we are shirking our responsibility. For instance as a researcher if I do not love what I do and I do it because it gives me a degree (which a majority of people in India do research for), and not the absolute love for knowledge, or making a worthwhile contribution to society- then the only love I have is for MYSELF- because I want to embellish myself with the most I can. And since my values are attached to a certain respectability that a degree gets … every act, even of research, is only self loving and not knowledge loving, not love for society or anyone else either. It is only to secure a job or get a promotion or ensure continuity in the job- and that makes the work laboured and insipid!
I feel grateful to my parents who inculcated in us a value for knowledge. At that time they did not know how deep the roots of that love were being sown. Today I feel a deep sense of inquiry and a wish to look at myriad problems with a view to finding ways out, also a great deal via research, or sharing my findings via research in the three areas I work in.
Gardening and peace
Gardening is the closest we can be in nature close to urban living, without considerable effort, and I think gardening is really an activity that connects us to ourselves, to mother earth and to life in its enormity. Seeing the birth of plants and the completion of their life cycles season after season also tends to impart a certain acceptance of the inevitability of life and death, which makes it appear like a continuum and an endless cycle of rejuvenation, which is not such a calamity after all. Of course, the role played by my little animals is completely without parallel in this domain.
Earlier today, while talking to the new client, he happened to share with me the death of a certain person in his younger years and how it affected him. I remembered how my aunt’s death affected me at 18, and how it slowly built into a huge depression and spiralled into becoming bipolar by the time I was 20. Today I am five months over 47, and there is so much water under the bridge- and such a change of perspective, vision and philosophy. Without philosophy we are doomed, that is clear to me now.
Gardening is definitely a philosophical practice, for in an ethical, sensitive and respectful engagement with plants and what all they attract- birds, squirrels, butterflies, bettles, insects and so forth, we increase our scope to observe and meditate on the motions of life, birth/death, childhood & ageing. I remember suddenly now, how I used to sit on my porch in the village home I lived in, in Goa, and be in reverie and the feeling I had was I was watching enternity .
And I would just listen to the sounds of the birds. It was serene, green and tranquil- a sudden chirp, twitter or crackle would disturb the silence and then go silent again. Sitting amid greenery and nature one sees the eternity of life, like a witness and then we realize that these things were always there- from primordial times, from the time the earth was born and life on it appeared. Only we came much later and our awareness of it came even more late. So now cultivating that awareness towards the eternal and the ephemeral makes us see how limited our time and therefore how gently, how peacefully, how carefully we ought to spend it.
It is Mother Nature which is eternal and the Earth, we are ephemeral and our time limited. So making the most of that time means bringing into awareness our actions, our efforts and our engagements with other people, and forms of life. Am I in any act of mine wounding another or showing my power over them- in speech thought or action? It could be someone who works around my home, a student I teach, a person I meet on the street, a client I engage with in counseling, a member of my family, and even the animals around my home. The choices to be violent and nasty are present at every juncture, hundred times a day. It is only by awareness of another’s humanity and our own, remaining humble not arrogant no matter what knowledge, what money or what power comes to us can we remain peaceful.
Without being at peace within we cannot spread peace around. In that case peace is only a rhetoric which is not followed by ethical practice, best epitomized by politicians (in India) whose every act is steeped in stupidity, rhetoric and self-love, so tuned out of themselves they cannot see how they violate life, civilization and the progress made by millions of humans until now.
Peace is not for those who are ignorant, because the ignorant cannot reflect on their own actions, filled as they are with deep narcissism. To reflect on ourselves we need to cultivate peace, an aware peace in which we dare to question all our actions, without needing the scrutiny of another. That is what makes an ethical individual, an ethical researcher, an ethical human and a just society. To create a just society is the effort every reasonable, conscientious person would venture into. The rest can go on in pursuits of their little appetites, creating their mental messes that all else have to deal with! Yet in spite of that we need to remember that even the ignorant seek peace, no matter how erroneous their ways, how short-sighted or self serving. To truly cultivate peace we have to embrace the entire world (vasudhaiva kutumbakam consciousness) and recognize each being’s quest for peace- and that is the quest that unites us with everything in the universe. As the Dalai Lama wisely says that each being wants to be free from suffering, and that is what unites us all. And that is another way to say the same thing. A beautiful reminder of our cosmic connectedness with everyone we choose to embrace in our quest for peace.
(Perharaceps had it not been for this topic I would not have been able to write a blog post at this juncture. So the next time I write another one, it would perhaps be after the completion of my dissertation- insha’allah)