How to wage peace

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, “It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”  Each time I pass this banner in front of the Quaker meeting house I’m reminded that our actions for peace have to start in our own homes and lives.image

What are the causes of war but the same things that lead to strife on the micro-level: wanting an advantage over someone else, refusing to forgive a past wrong, holding on to things long after their importance has waned?

A more peaceable life might be within reach if we turned more often to these intentions:

Compromise — The word comes from the Latin meaning a “mutual promise”. Too often we think of compromise as one-sided, only seeing how much we are giving up. But the promise in compromise is powerful, and it shows how much we are gaining from the other side.

Listen first — In the words of a U.N. peacekeeper, “You have to be willing to let each person express their point of view, even if it’s a criticism against you. You have to let them talk first, and then speak. If you don’t let them express themselves, you won’t get any results from the discussion.”

Forgiveness — When we forgive, we can begin to heal the hurt that we feel. Refusing to forgive just lets the hurt fester – and closes down our hearts a little. Gregory David Roberts writes that “every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive,” that love is dependent upon our ability to forgive.

Accept change — Nothing stays the same. And as Frank Jude Boccio writes, “The problem is not that things change, but that you try to live as if they don’t.” We let beliefs about how things should be keep us locked in a struggle with how things actually are. Shedding those habits of mind can drastically shift perspective.

Happiness is a universal goal — In an interview in The Atlantic, Daniel Gilbert talked about it this way:

I think the problem with the word “happiness” is that it sounds fluffy. It sounds like something trivial that we shouldn’t be concerned with. But just set aside the word and think about what the word signifies. You quickly realize that not only should we be concerned with the study of happiness, but that it’s impossible to be concerned with anything else. Pascal says: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception … This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

How could the goal of all human behavior be a trivial thing?

How does your life help to remove the causes of war? We may not be able to solve the problems in the Ukraine or Syria, but if we live our lives in a way that demonstrates the principles of peace — acceptance, forgiveness, compromise, humanity, understanding — maybe we can start a tiny ripple of peace in the world.




Daydream believing

My daydreams aren’t what they used to be. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing, though. It all depends on what we mean by daydream.

Type “daydream” into Google, and this pops up: “Pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.” That’s the way I mostly daydreamed for many years. I would use my daydreams as a tool for imagining some future event – usually something that was definitely going to happen, like a vacation. Fantasizing about the future event got me out of the mundane day-to-day life and into something happy and pleasant. After all, who doesn’t like to think about vacation?

But I realized recently that I don’t daydream like that much anymore. I think it’s because I discovered that life is better when I find something satisfying to experience each day that I awake, rather than off in the future. As Daniel Gilbert has written, “When we imagine the future, we often do so in the blind spot of our mind’s eye.” We don’t really know how the future will turn out, and over-fantasizing about it can make it disappointing when it finally arrives.

The definition of daydream is “a reverie indulged in while awake,” a reverie being a “state of dreamy meditation.” This seems like a better way to describe the kind of daydreaming that leads to creativity, problem-solving and fulfilling goals. There’s a saying that ‘where your thoughts go, your energy flows’. In that sense, daydreaming can be uniquely valuable as a way to come up with new ideas, figure out what to do with your life, create a piece of art or music, or imagine a different world.

Sitting in my backyard listening to the birds chirping, watching the butterflies flit around the flowers and losing myself in watching clouds, is the kind of daydreaming that occupies me more now. That “dreamy meditation” invites ideas and images into the conscious mind. It’s the daydreaming that leads to new blog posts, and poems, and learning about nature. It’s the daydreaming that allows me to act on what I imagine.Butterflies_03

On the Psychology Today website, there’s an article by Amy Fries called “The Power of Daydreaming.” It’s an extensive overview of all the ways in which daydreaming is good for us, as well as the ways that daydreaming can be negative, such as if it is too “worry-based”. While it’s helpful to use daydreaming as a way to role-play a situation ahead of time, or assess its risk, it becomes maladaptive if it causes anxiety or obsessive negative thinking.

Daydreaming is essentially what we are engaging in when we use positive visualization or guided imagery to relax. We take ourselves away from the present moment (which might be stressful) and into another place that is beautiful and calm, a place that has meaning for us. Daydreaming becomes a short-term tool for getting through a difficult moment.

Does it seem like there’s a disconnect between present moment awareness and daydreaming, which takes us out of the present moment? Fries doesn’t believe the two have to be in conflict, but thinks that we can find the balance that gives us the right amount of each. She says that we need to be able to imagine art, philosophy, spirituality and progress in order to bring them into existence for ourselves.

So I welcome my daydreams as a respite, and try to be present to the serendipitous ideas that come up in them. Who’s to say what the difference is between daydreaming and just thinking? Albert Einstein once said that, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Could he have been talking about daydreams?

Lessons from “30 Rock”

Toward the end of the “30 Rock” finale, Liz Lemon is explaining to Tracy Jordan how difficult he has been to work with, and how hard he made her job, but she says “because the human heart isn’t properly connected to the human brain,” she loves him anyway.

The “30 Rock” characters have change thrust upon them as the show ends; they experience love and loss, see dreams fulfilled and have wishes granted. Above all, the last episode is about how sometimes our hearts and our brains are at cross purposes. We think we want one thing, but when we get it, we find out it doesn’t make us happy. Or we discover that the thing that makes us happiest has been right in front of us all along.

Psychologist Daniel Gilbert has written, “We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present…We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we’ll feel when we get there, but in fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what’s happening in the present.”

The question is whether instead of always using the present to project a rosier future, can you stay focused on the here and now, the reality of what is?

In “30 Rock”, Liz gets the children she wanted and becomes a stay-at-home mom, only to realize that she misses work terribly. Her husband gets a new job, and is miserable because he desperately wants to be at home with the kids. Jack gets his dream job as head of G.E. and immediately starts questioning whether he is truly happy. Jenna and Tracy struggle to figure out their identities now that their show is over.

The only character who doesn’t seem to experience any angst in the face of change is Kenneth. As the intern who becomes the head of the network, he is the only person completely comfortable in his new role. Perhaps he was the only one who had stayed present-focused all along. With his sunny optimism and his homespun wisdom, he never lost touch with his inner compass.

In an article in Yoga Journal, Kate Holcombe wrote about the idea of getting to know your true self, and how we often mistake some external attribute for who we really are. The Sanskrit word “asmita” refers to this misidentification which “happens when you identify with the parts of yourself that change – everything from your mind to your body, appearance, or job title – instead of with the quiet place within you that does not change.”

It’s easier to accept change on the outside if we are more connected to our unchanging self, says Holcombe, and not identifying “too closely with the changeable aspects” of ourselves. That requires a great deal of self-acceptance because the answer to the question, “Who am I?” doesn’t change.IMG_0271

Accepting and connecting with the unchanging self makes it easier to see when you’ve gotten off course, easier to see what it is that serves your needs at any given moment. So, like Liz Lemon, you might realize that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t right for you; or like Jack Donaghy, you might see that it’s not getting the dream job that makes you happy, it’s what you can do in the job.

Sometimes you get your heart’s desire; sometimes you don’t. But “because the human heart isn’t properly connected to the human brain,” you might find that you’re very happy anyway, just because of who you are.