Why the only way to peace is peaceful

In Insight and Experience by Steve RayLeave a Comment

The peace process – what we have seen, heard and witnessed for so long – is not working. The best intentions go off the rails almost every time… eventually. The peace process ‘breaks down’… cease-fires end, more death ensues until the emergence of another shaky truce. And on it goes.

A few LivingNow editions ago Elizabeth Jewell spoke about her own dilemma of whether or not activism should be a part of the magazine, and it struck a very deep chord within me. As an activist for most of my life, I have rallied against the wrongdoers of this world, the Monsantos, the Harris Diashowas, the Union Carbides, all of whom are undermining this beautiful planet we are sharing with millions of other species.

The activist clarion called me to say NO to these injustices and blatant assaults on the lives of all living things. As an activist I carried a weaponry that included outrage, anger, distrust and scheming. I was prepared to do whatever it took to stop them within what as I saw as the fluid boundaries of ‘the law’.

For 30 odd years that worked for me. To this day it remains an absolutely valid and powerful path of change. The activist role provides a wake-up call to us when we are caught napping, lost in our own worries or distractions. The activist is the antidote to that part of us that would allow evil to happen simply because we failed to do anything to stop it.

However, eventually being the activist stopped working – for me. I became disillusioned when I saw that the many battles I fought for simply re-formed elsewhere. I suddenly realised that it was the very form of engagement that was the problem for me. If you are an activist, you need to STOP something, you need to rally AGAINST something. I realised my very identity was tied up not only in being FOR something (a sustainable world), but also being AGAINST something.

What that meant was that in everything I did, I carried that identity with me. It meant that in all my interactions I carried strategies with me that were looking out for the enemy. I was never able to deeply believe that a sustainable world was possible unless there was a fight, and so I sowed the very seeds of destruction into my path towards a just and sustainable world.

The problem was in me.

The peace process – what we have seen, heard and witnessed for so long – is not working. The best intentions go off the rails almost every time… eventually. The peace process ‘breaks down’… cease-fires end, more death ensues until the emergence of another shaky truce. And on it goes.

What we see on the world scale happens at the very local level too and it’s here where the foundations of global unrest are to be found. Gandhi knew this when he said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” As difficult as it may be for us to admit, we need to become aware of – and own up to – the unrest within us that creates the disharmony we see in the world.

Now maybe you’re not too sure about this. After all, its not YOU firing the gun or throwing the Molotov cocktails … You’re in your lounge room watching the TV … and you’re really unhappy at the unrest and war you see, right? Well, yes… and no. The real story is that part of what we believe is hidden from us – we don’t WANT to see it – and that’s why we are stuck in a loop.

To get out of that loop, we need to be aware of how we ALL operate at the level of the unconscious; our motives, our agendas and our hidden need for conflict that exists at the very level of our DNA.

Why we are drawn to conflict

Part of us is programmed to fight – it needs and expects, the drama. When we experience an intense emotion, such as outrage, that emotion is actually attached to a part of us. Consciously, most of us would agree that conflict and aggression are not something we should either create or follow. Unconsciously another part of us has a very different view and may well become enraged (or alternatively terrified) when we experience conflict. In those moments we will justify our emotional response by saying the fault lies in the person or situation which triggered us. Yes, we might be triggered, but that anger or terror is ours and ours alone. We have to own it if we are to let go of it.

Now, clearly we are not literally unconscious when we become highly emotional, but when we react in that moment, it’s like our conscious has taken a back seat and another part of us has the wheel. These ‘other parts’ have their genesis in the past when fight/flight was our very survival strategy.

Our brain is a living museum. We still possess our historical past, and it is all still active within us. The ‘triune brain’ consists of the mammalian neocortex (analysis, planning, linguistic, the understanding of time… conscious thinking), the Limbic brain (emotions) and the reptilian or primitive brain stem. The primitive ‘reptilian’ part is responsible for the basic but fundamental activities of breathing, reproduction and the fight or flight response. In evolutionary terms, the more civilised aspects of ourselves have only been around for a very short time.

There are no more sabre-tooth tigers to run from and yet when our buttons are pushed – a car pulls out in front of us, a person yells at us, we see an injustice – our unconscious reacts and pumps adrenalin into our system and we literally stop thinking.

Under stress we get less blood supply to the front of our brain and more to the back of our brain… we become ‘less intelligent’ and more emotional and more reactive. It’s how we are designed. It got us here in evolutionary terms. If we had given a moment’s thought to that sabre tooth tiger, we would have been dead… we needed to react and fast. The trouble is, that reactive part now risks holding us in the past.

Despite our extraordinary thinking mind, we can literally become ambushed by the unthinking parts of our mind because they operate faster than the thinking parts. No matter how much logic or intelligence we may possess … no matter how many books we have read, no matter how much self-control we think we may have, we cannot override our unconscious in the moment.

All the most amazing peace strategies devised by our conscious mind will be overridden by the unconscious when it chooses to react… and it WILL react because it is sitting there, waiting … it has a job description, and all it needs is the smallest of excuses to exercise its role.

So what we must do before we can really engage in any sustainable peaceful or non-violent communication is first create new habits within our unconscious.

Rewiring our unconscious

As part of her work with young people, Glen Ochre, the Director of the Groupwork Institute of Australia, has developed an approach that can help us to rewire our unconscious so that the millennium-old habits of fight/flight can be changed forever. What emerges in its place is compassion and understanding. Instead of reacting, we begin to automatically respond to situations from our heart, or our ‘wise’ centre.

Most of us want to be loving and compassionate and forgiving – most of the time. But the rest of the time we come up with ‘good reasons’ why we shouldn’t! These various reasons can be traced back to our ‘community of selves’ as Glen calls them. In her work with groups, Glen describes it like this: We are like a collection of beings on a bus being driven by our ‘wise one’ … the conscious and compassionate part. This is like a combination of our conscious mind and something that is way too mysterious to label as some part of our physical anatomy. She simply refers to this as our ‘heart’.

When our buttons are pushed and we become reactive, one or more of our selves jumps to the controls of the bus. An angry part, a justice warrior, a fearful self, a controller, an inner critic … the list goes on! Our wisdom falls away and in its place we have our unconscious running the show. The hijacking of our compassionate, thinking self, has happened and the bus is quickly driven over a proverbial cliff! Our only response is ‘how did THAT happen?’.. or ‘WHY did I do that?’

Glen has made a remarkable discovery. The only way to change this ancient habit is to realise that each of these internal terrorists has a gift, and it’s up to us to find, acknowledge and accept that gift. When we do, the transition within us begins. The community of selves begin to feel validated, and they no longer feel the need to take over. They have been heard and they allow the Wise One to be the Director of Operations!

How do we do this validation? Reflecting on our reactions to various situations, understanding what pushes our buttons, and identifying the different ‘selves’ within us, is the key says Glen. We need to make the time to truly get to know our selves. In the process of finding the gift of each one, we are making friends with parts of us that we may well have banished for so-called bad behaviour, without realising it. Afraid of our emotional response in certain situations, we are in effect punishing our selves, rejecting our selves and creating internal division. It is this division that causes us to behave badly with others, since the behaviour of others simply becomes a mirror – a reminder – about the selves in us we have chosen not to love.

Compassion is natural

It is said that compassion is the ability to see ourselves in another. We become compassionate, not through a force of will, but through a change within us at this deep level. When we validate our own selves, we are forgiving our own bad behaviour. By accepting the gift that’s offered by each of our selves, a remarkable inner transformation – an inner reconciliation – occurs that has its effects felt in our relationships with others. We become automatically more able to see another’s point of view, less quick to judge, less annoyed by people talking over the top, more willing to listen to someone who is angry and so on.

Because this automatic shift comes about as the inner reconciliation takes place, perhaps it’s a sign that in fact compassion is really our natural state. All our grudges, sadness, disappointment, hurt feelings, envy, anger, distrust, cynicism, etc., seems to be connected with stories from the long ago past, when things happened that we chose to believe (unconsciously) as the ONLY truth. This created a splitting of our being into parts that were either part of the ‘wiser’ us, or parts associated with just one extreme story.

So the only question we really need to ask if we are to live with compassion is: Am I prepared to taking responsibility for my part in the conflict I see in the world? If each of us can do that and make peace with our very own selves, then we will get the foundations right. Instead of putting the agenda first, we must put our relationships with each other first.

When our priority turns to HOW we do things – not WHAT we do… then what we do will grow out of a truly just and sustainable place.

About the author
Steve Ray

Steve Ray

Steve Ray is one of the co-ordinators of Padmacahaya's Open Heart activities in Victoria. He is a Reiki tummo and open heart instructor with more than 8 years of direct experience. He has a strong belief and commitment to practices that actively improve and grow our connection to the Source of Love and Light - the Source of our True Selves - Our Creator. For information about Padmacahaya, go to www.padmacahaya.org.au

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