I’ve never accomplished in my career what I set out to. I’ve wanted to make a positive impact in the world. But instead of making that indescribable “difference,” I felt stifled. While I’ve always appreciated my jobs and have enjoyed what I do (for the most part), what I’ve really wanted to do is advocate for peace. So, I’m writing this blog, Shanti Pax, to provide an online forum for telling stories of peace and what we can learn from these stories to deepen our feelings of inner peace and connect like-minded people from around the world.
Humans have always connected to stories. Stories are how we relate to other people and understand our place in the world. And this is the story of my inner struggle to find peace.
For the past 15 years, I’ve worked in the field of international development. In May 2011, I moved to Europe to advise militaries on how to better work with civilians during times of crisis. I have served in three active war zones working on post conflict humanitarian assistance and stabilization. But in every job and every country I served in, I did a lot of paper pushing and was left frustrated because I was not doing enough: wanting to do more to make a difference and wondering how.
In early 2003 when the U.S. was on the brink of war with Iraq, I was in my mid-20s and, like most people I knew, was deeply opposed to a war with Iraq. I wanted to do something, anything, to advocate for peace. I wanted to join the peace protests, start a letter writing campaign, and pound on the front door of the White House.
But I did not join one protest. I did not write one letter. I did not bang on the White House door. Instead, I signed up to go to Iraq, where I served from 2003-2004. And while I was there, I saw a lot of well-intentioned people doing the best they could under difficult circumstances, but I never once felt like I was bringing peace to the people of Iraq. In fact, most days I felt the exact opposite. And to make matters worse, I started to view my time abroad as a way to obtain adventure, earn more money, enhance my career, and escape.
This has been my life: wanting to bring change to the world, but not knowing how and often feeling like more part of the problem than the solution. But I am changing that and I invite you to be part of that change.
Saying “yes” to peace today.
The time to think about peace is NOW and there is an urgency to this. The world’s governments are in the process of redefining how they will engage with the world and their military roles post Iraq and Afghanistan. And we need to ensure these discussions are focused on peace.
U.S. military spending now comprises 41% of all military spending in the world. In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent $849 billion on defense.[i] That makes the U.S. military the 16th largest economy in the world. This has created a war economy in the U.S. where economically challenged communities rely on defense contracts for jobs and livelihoods. This war economy has a created a dependency on defense spending and led to collective thinking around the question: How can we perpetuate war?
I want to point out that I am not anti-military. I’ve served with my brothers and sisters in uniform all over the world where they have kept me safe. I know how talented these people are. But there is a life for them after the military. Beyond being soldiers, they are doctors, actors, writers, engineers, singers, artists, builders, storytellers, comedians, and designers. There are other ways to generate income. There are other things we can build.
We can start reversing this “perpetuate war” mindset and trend starting now.
Be the peace you want to see in the world.
I’m referencing the famous quote by Gandhi above, but I want to talk about a different peace activist who made a huge impact on how I want to engage with the world, a Vietnamese Zen Monk, named Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick Naht Hahn). Thich Nhat Hanh, or TNH, spent the first years of his life surrounded by war in Vietnam. It was there that he grew the strength and skill to find inner peace in the midst of war. He learned at a young age to forgive the French soldier who stole the last bag of rice from his monastery, by seeing the French soldier as a young boy, hungry, forced into a violent situation by his government, thousands of miles from his home.
TNH survived three wars, persecution, and assassination attempts. From this and wanting to make a difference in his community and the world, TNH coined the term “Engaged Buddhism” which is the practice of applying the insights from mediation and inner being to social suffering and injustice. This promotes the individual active role in creating change. It means that we can spread this peace we feel inside to our family, community, country, and world.
TNH quotes Buddha and says, “Be a lamp unto yourself” and urges us to light the way of peace for our beloved ones, for our society, and for future generations. Peace is a process that takes place one person at a time. The world cannot be a peaceful place unless each and every one of us finds peace from within. This is what we all want. This is what we can have.
Exercise: Meditation for Embracing and Nourishing Positive Emotions
This is an exercise from THN’s book, “Creating True Peace.” Do this right now to shift your mind towards inner peace. It will only take a minute:
1. Take three long deep breaths
2. Say the following lines aloud or to yourself as you inhale and exhale deeply:
- Breathing in, I experience calm in me. Breathing out, I smile to the calm in me.
- Breathing in, I experience joy in me. Breathing out, I smile to the joy in me.
- Breathing in, I experience serenity [ii] in me. Breath out, I smile to the serenity in me.
- Breathing in, I experience happiness in me. Breathing out, I smile to the happiness in me.
3. Take a minute to feel grateful and send a blessing of peace to a loved one, a community, a nation, or the world.
This exercise is what I mean by find inner peace and bring peace to the world. It is as simple – and profound – as this short exercise. Of course, Shanti Pax will eventually go deeper and expand farther — but this is a start!
Become a Shanti Pax Activist
If you would like to become a Shanti Pax peacemaker, subscribe to this blog to receive inspirational stories of peace that we can learn from with lessons we can apply to our own lives. And if you liked this blog post, please like it, and share it with your friends.
Shanti Pax be with you,