This week, I’m lighting the final outside candle of my Advent wreath and spending this week embracing peace. In the United States, we’re reeling right now from a horrific act of violence committed against children. We want to talk about controlling gun ownership and doing all we can to prevent something like this from happening again. We, as individual citizens, might be feeling powerless and overwhelmed while trying to address the issue of violence in our society. I certainly do. I don’t have any idea how to address this in our culture, but I do believe the concept “the personal is political.” With that, there is one thing that I know I can do this week – and always – is to commit to creating peace within myself. I’m inviting you to join me this week in taking the same pledge.
When I think about the value of peace, there are two voices in my head. The first is that of my former hypnotherapist saying, “it is the peace that changes.” I believe this to be true. When I think of my own internal battles – against the weight of my body, and the parts of myself that I wish were different – it has only ever been peace that has allowed me to create any change. For years I hated having an eating disorder, and believed “it” was destroying my life. I fought against it, I resented it, I wanted to just be done with it already. Nothing changed. The minute I felt any emotion, I would turn to food so that I didn’t have to feel it.
Making peace with my eating disorder is a long term, ongoing process. It began when I was willing to look objectively at what was driving my behavior and study it from the point of an outside observer. Mystics and meditators call this taking the role of “the watcher.” From this perspective, I was able to see that binging in order to not feel anything was an excellent strategy at the time I developed it. I was a child in a traumatic situation, and numbing my pain with food was probably the best decision I could have made at six years old.
This allowed me to have compassion for the part of me that had been trying to avoid feeling anything for years. This, for me, was the beginning of creating peace in this area of my life. It’s not perfect – I’m not yet svelte and eating only nutritious food when I’m hungry. I do see change though, and the change is gradual, natural and gentle. I know I am walking towards a peaceful relationship with food and my body, and I’m able to make even the journey towards that filled with peace and acceptance.
The second voice in my head on this topic is that of author and life coach Martha Beck. She says in her book Steering By Starlight, “when we’re scared we’re scary…and when we’re calm we’re calming.” (Paraphrased! I’m travelling and don’t have the book with me.) It’s incredibly easy to see this in other people, of course. I know I have had the experience of feeling sick to my stomach the minute a loved one nervously says, “we need to talk.” I’ve also had the experience of being out of sorts and calling certain people purely so I could hear their calm, grounded voice.
All of this is to say – internal peace is powerful. Internal peace allows you to be the best, bravest, calmest version of yourself. That version of yourself frees others to find the peace within them. It’s my assumption and hope that anyone reading this is not facing life-shattering tragedy like the families in Connecticut. In comparison, our daily lives of little internal acts of violence seem silly and almost selfish to consider. I’d like to offer the idea that creating peace within ourselves is the first step to creating peace within our society. In that light, it’s important to find and identify the voices within us that create internal violence and find a way to love them into a place of peace.
As this is our final preparation week to receive Spirit, I’d like to invite you to take a week off from all forms of violence to yourself. When you’re late for work, when you eat the entire plate of Christmas cookies in the office kitchen, when you rage and seethe at drivers in mall parking lots…let it act as an opportunity to choose peace. Yes, you could berate yourself for any of these things. But does it help? Does it help you or anyone else for you to tell yourself you’re a slacker and a fool and are going to be fired when you’re twenty minutes late? No. You’re still late. Now you’re just late and feeling terrible, and probably acting edgy and weird with your coworkers.
I’m closing with this poem by Hafiz. I’ve heard the first line quoted and loved it, but never realized the beauty of the entire poem. As part of the commitment to choosing peace this week, I’d like to invite you to join me in following Spirit’s instructions via Hafiz in this poem. Write down a list of all your fears, insecurities, angers – anything that blocks you from feeling peaceful. Then (using excellent fire safety practices, people!), light the list on fire with your fourth candle of your Advent wreath, and let it burn. (I like to burn lists in a crystal dish with sage.) Consider this a trial run of receiving Spirit – when any of these issues come up during the week (and they will), remember that they have already been turned into “holy ash” and let them go.
Then stay with me, for I am not.
A thousand naked amorous ones dwell in
beneath my Eye.
Here’s the pick:
My whole body is an
Emerald that begs:
Write all that bothers you
On a parchment.
Offer it to God.
Even from this distance of a
Millennium, I can reach out the
Flame from my heart
into your life
all that frightens
Rendered by Daniel Ladinsky