In mid October, after Congress voted the unelected American President extensive war powers to inflict the nightmare of modern technology on Iraq, a dream taught me that spirits are real. A woman’s face appeared above me, her features perfect, her polished skin the color of olive wood, her face serene. You are a “peacemaker,” she said. “Yes.” I answered, “but I don’t know how to do it. Will you guide me?” I needed more than the theory and techniques of peacemaking; I needed hands-on direction.
This month, I have been grieved by the amount of mail that I have received that has chronicled arguments between people and organizations who have fallen into bitter disagreement about one issue or another though sharing at least one passionate point of affiliation on behalf of peacemaking and/or the environment. Reading these letters, I thought back to the dream and wondered how a peacemaker might respond?
If we are going to save anything, we must give up our insistence that we are the righteous and good ones, must relinquish our reflexive intention to gain, win, protect or impose our own position and truth. We must give up our reflexive defensiveness and its inevitable hostilities. We cannot continue to favor our own survival, safety and self-preservation over the survival of all. We cannot. We must not. This is the time for constant and repeated self-scrutiny in order to see where we are inadvertently contributing to the hostilities, and so losing sight of the essential places where we are in agreement and are inter-dependent. I am speaking now about our behavior as individuals as well as our behavior as a nation. Not, “I want” or “I believe,” but “How do we work this out?” We will be more successful when we begin to think consistently and reflexively in terms of mutuality, alliance and cooperation.
A respected friend said, “The bottom line is the earth, the preservation of the natural world.” She could have easily said, “The bottom line is peace for everyone and all beings and what contributes to it.” The power of alliance will come to us when we can agree on these bottom lines while very honestly recognizing that each of us has been given a different but effective vision of how to accomplish them. This is not the chaos described by the legend of the tower of Babel. This is the visionary wisdom of ecological models. In order for an ecosystem [and a human system] to survive and function extraordinary diversity is required. Vitality depends on each diverse eco-niche combining with all other diverse eco-niches to form the single piece of music we might call the natural world.
My colleague, Valerie Wolf, a dreamer in the Nez Perce tradition has also dreamed the advent of peacemaking spirits, as have others we know. What distinguishes these dreams is that they do not announce the appearance of a messiah, but offer individuals the role and responsibility of peacemaking.
Her dreams have led us to study the tradition of White Buffalo Woman, who brought the Sacred (Peace) Pipe and its practices to the Sioux. The Pipe ceremony enjoins us to pray for others, to be at peace with all things and within ourselves. The ceremony of the Pipe initiates one into peaceableness.
The question behind peacemaking is: How be consistently peaceable within oneself and with others? As a nation, we have a mistaken idea that peace can be achieved through the diplomatic efforts of intrinsically argumentative, belligerent people. We strategize peace without living it. We thrive on debate and conflict. We honor competition and winners. We define others as losers. Some of these ways are seemingly innocent but their far-reaching consequences are grave.
The cliche regarding American’s fascination with violence obscures its horrific reality. Violence is imprinted on each of our interactions. The media is saturated with it. Our economic, political and military policies systematically undermine all indigenous and wisdom traditions devastating peacemaking traditions everywhere. Despite our spurious rationales, we have made our lives, and lives all over the world, grotesqueries. We are responsible. That a nation, even the United States, ‘legally’ declares war or insists on the righteousness of extreme ‘defense’ policies does not justify anyone’s participation in such hostilities. International law, as established in the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, asserted the primacy of individual responsibility.
As a child, I was taught that the Messiah would come when everyone was ready, that is at peace and living an ethical life. Being peaceable, a most difficult spiritual practice and way of life, is more difficult and demanding than warfare. Among other qualities, peaceableness accepts diversity. We need to awaken our hearts to other ways of seeing and being.
There is still time to change the trajectory, but no Messiah will save us though peacemaking spirits or peacemaking intelligence will probably appear to guide whomever volunteers his or her life. To have peace, we must have peaceable cultures and hearts first; to achieve these is a challenging inner adventure.
Cultures develop from the integrity of the innumerable lived details that underlie what is believed, taught, enacted, from the art created and the ways all beings are treated. At this time in human history, each individual’s original, daily, on-going contributions and commitment are critical.
As I was about to post this, I focused again on the heartbreaking divisiveness in our communities and realized that such behaviors occur when people are terrified, exhausted and hopeless or when they are traumatized. We are all being driven mad by the tension of the war mongering, the incitement and exaggeration of terrorism, the valorization of torture and destruction, the horrific possibility that the US might make pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, the horror of the erosion and destruction of our democracy, and what all of this might mean for each of us, our families and the people and beings in the rest of the world. So, in addition to everything we must do, let us be very kind to each other and forgiving and understanding of each other’s fears. Let us awaken our hearts to other ways of seeing and being.
If we ground ourselves in the future, rather than in history, decidedly imagining a vital future that includes the natural world and all of us, the task becomes easier. We see the future in our mind’s heart and we take the small next step that will enable us to get there together. This is the activity of radical hope.