TO BE A DROP OF PEACE Around the time when the war in Iraq started I was invited to a birthday party for my friend Maria. A couple of dozen people stood around and chatted casually in small clusters when a cousin of Maria’s decided to hand out some posters about an upcoming peace march in Washington, DC. Several of us had already participated in a peace rally in our hometowns so we eagerly took the flyers and expressed how horrified we were about the development of this situation. Heads were nodding and shaking in dismay and some pretty strong opinions against the war were expressed. That is, until my friend Dan was handed the sheet of paper and in a loud, firm and calm voice said;"No thank you. I am actually for the war."
You could hear a pin drop. We were all frozen in animation. Finally the cousin withdrew his hand that was dangling mid-air with the peace march poster and mumbled, “Well. You are of course entitled to your opinion.” That was the end of it. Not one of us war protesters said anything. We were seemingly in shock. Oh my, we had a wolf among us in the sheep herd, a wolf whom did not care to be disguised in sheep's clothing!
On the way home my belly was a bag of mixed emotions. I could not help but admire Dan for having the guts to speak his truth, no matter how unpopular. In shame I realized that if I had been in a room full of people urging, "Yeah, let’s go over there and kick some butt and show them Muslims that they shouldn’t mess with America," I would most likely just have slunk out the backdoor without making a squeak. I would have told myself that it would have been a waste of breath trying to talk to "those people" anyhow. All my yoga talk about "being one" would have vanished like rain drops on a hot car roof. I would not even have tried to look for common ground or to share my beliefs. Upon hearing opposing opinions, my brain would simply have flashed, "Error, error. Wrong! Bad! Scary!" and I would have shut down and shut up.
As a peace lover, I have always wanted smiles and harmony, and for everyone to get along and agree with one another on everything, and for life to be nice all the time. While that may be a natural human wish, it is a delusional one since it is never going to happen. Conflicts are most likely here to stay.
Does that mean I have to give up on my wish for peace? No. What it means is that I have to get over my fear of conflict and tension in the air. To be a peace activist requires great courage. It asks that I cultivate an ability to stay calm and centered in the midst of a fiery discussion and learn to speak my truth calmly and compassionately. If I start spewing my comments in an angry, defensive or demeaning voice and twisting my face into a gargoyle, the chances that I will be heard are minute, since the brain of the person I’m talking to is likely to register danger and shut off or activate for fight. I need to learn to let go of my ego-centered hold on my opinions and go deeper where I can speak from my heart and from my essence if I have a desire to reach the heart and essence of the other.
Not only that but I need to learn to listen deeply to a person who holds a different opinion without shrinking back. Scientific studies show that when we listen attentively it calms the Amygdala of the other person’s brain. (The Amygdala is the part of the brain that scans the world looking for danger to protect against in ensuring our survival and safety.) Listening with presence and compassion creates a limbic resonance between us. That sets the stage for a safe space where the sharing of thoughts and feelings can take place.
If I listen and hear valid points, I can learn from that and perhaps even revise my own views on something. I can also hear what language this person uses and decide what choice of words for expressing my own truth might be the least threatening to him or her. If I can tie my point in to someone’s already existing world view there is a greater chance that the brain is not going to flash "error, error, reject, delete" before I have even finished my sentence. In the end, most people wish to be respected, understood and appreciated. I have to give what I wish to receive and keep my judgments in check.
One important part of being a peace activist is to learn to speak in non-polarizing ways. If I get smug and proud over getting in a punchy comment that renders the other person speechless and flailing, I am not a peacemaker. I need to stay grounded in the faith that at the very deepest layer of our being we all want the same things: safety for ourselves and future generations. It is just our opinions that differ about the road that takes us there. I want to be able to articulate good, sound alternatives to war. I want to be able to create solutions to conflicts where people walk away feeling enriched rather than diminished. But for now I will not worry too much about what others do. I first need to find compassion for my own shortcomings and inner troublemakers.
Scientific research shows that human beings affect each other in a myriad of ways without even speaking a word. The person with the greatest amount of coherence in his or her electromagnetic field vibrates the strongest and has the greatest influence over others in the vicinity to resonate at the same frequency. Cultivating emotions like peace, contentment, compassion and empathy creates that coherence.
We are all connected like water molecules in an ocean. Water is vital to life and persistent in finding new pathways even when obstacles block the course. So is peace. I dream of becoming a drop of peace spreading out into the world like ripples on the water.
Kerstin Zettmar, a Swedish/American citizen, lives and works as an artist, yoga teacher and holistic bodywork practitioner in Newport, RI. She can be contacted at Kerstin@Zettmar.com or 401-848-0288. Please visit www.zettmar.com.