How to Reach for Peace in Troubled Times.

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The gap between wanting and having is often huge, and warrants examination, right? Where does the problem lie? What is the nature of what I want? What is preventing me from having it, and what is the lesson I can learn as I strive to bring more harmony to my relationship with the world?

One thing most of us can say with certainty is: I want peace.

World peace.

Peace within.

Peace among friends.

Peace among neighbours.

Peace among us all.

After a time, though, and especially in light of current world events, it becomes tiring living with two seemingly irreconcilable facts: 1) we want peace; and 2) we can’t seem to achieve it.

It’s time that we inquire: what’s going on here? Why can’t we make our way to peace?

First, we find that it’s too easy to blame society, or the government, or other forces “out there”. It’s too easy to say that we are advocates of peace, but that we are powerless in the face of what the powers that be choose to do in this world.

Why do we think we are separate from the world, and the other people in it? I think the answer to this question holds the key to the true and lasting peace we are always dreaming about.

The reason why peace eludes us is that we seem to have a mistaken conception of peace. First we need to notice that we think about peace most when we feel we are under threat, say, the threat of war. In this way, then, we are putting peace and war on the same playing field; they are dancing together in our field of consciousness, so that the specter of war is never far from apparently innocuous desires for peace.

So we say it: why can’t we just have peace? But what kind of peace are we imagining? Are we really projecting ourselves into a whole new world in which peace is the very foundation? Our first thoughts, if we are honest with ourselves, are not about some kind of Eden, a place characterized by genuine harmony, where we are unencumbered by every form of conflict large and small, where we have full freedom to be who we are and are simultaneously full acceptance of everyone else, where the very idea of “non-peace” does not even arise in consciousness. Rather, “peace” becomes more of a reactive concept: we long to go back to “better times”, to how things were before the threat of war appeared.

Hindsight tends to look more golden. Our youth, or even the preceding few years, become soft around the edges, a safe space we have distilled for their better moments. Scared of the present, we re-imagine the past as Eden, without really trying to go back there to remember the very same fears that now plague our minds.

The way things were: there, we might find comfort, stasis, perpetual fear of the status quo being upset, along with thwarted dreams, anxiety, dissatisfaction, a situation in which we were dwelling even further back in the past, or worrying about what was to come. In other words, the same things we find in the here and now, regardless of exterior circumstances.

We need to see the violence in this. Our minds can be very violent places, not at all at peace, but torn, divided, running amok, complacent, isolationist, subconsciously fearing and also wanting the upheaval that surrounds us, because we don’t truly believe it can be any other way. We may have grown up with it. We may have inherited it. We may have absorbed in from any of various environments and situations. We live it, because we are humans, and humans are replete with embattled interior worlds, until we find our way to a path toward peace.

So upheaval comes: we have war, devastation, harrowing events we fear but have long, maybe secretly, suspected were inevitable.

We seem not to be able to accept either what we have created, or what IS, right now, in this moment, in the world or in the deepest parts of ourselves. If we explore within, we will find fear-based reactions to world events; we feel, for example, that we don’t deserve the natural disasters that ravage the world and its inhabitants, but upon further inquiry we have to see that deserving has nothing to do with it. Natural disasters don’t happen to us. They simply happen. This is one of the laws of nature, and we somehow think we are removed from the laws of nature. Even above them.

Do you see how this amounts to a form of violence? To feel separation from what we are so intricately bound to, to see isolation, me versus you; how can this not be construed as violence? Am I not more likely to react in negative and harmful ways to things I feel are separate from me? Would I be as likely to hurt something that is essentially myself?

Yet this is what we are doing, because the war is within ourselves, and we don’t want to confront the more self-destructive aspects of our nature. Instead, we throw nature and people to the other side of a line or boundary, maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because we were taught about separation more than unity, about countries more than world; maybe because we have come to rely wholly on our senses and not our intuition, and our senses bring what is out there into our interior world. The reason doesn’t matter: here we are, wondering about everything in relation to our one self and how it benefits us, and unity is lost. There can be no peace when we can only conceive of our humanity in pieces. Pieces can also come apart just as easily as they can connect for short whiles. And this is how we are living: in constant fear of things coming apart.

But what if we are the ones keeping them apart? Our belief in apartness allows for all kinds of horrible things to find their way into the cracks. And we cannot fortify ourselves from the calamities that occur as long as our hearts are wired to expect calamities, and as long as we continue to forge separate pathways for the people of the world. We cannot stop violence until we understand that we are perpetuating the violence, we are housing the violence, we are feeling the violence with our deep-seated fears but also beliefs in it, until we come to see that we are the violence.

Look at all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Look at how we are self-deprecating; how we hate looking in the mirror; how we doubt our abilities to achieve success; how we hold ourselves back; how we don’t believe in ourselves enough to invest the time and energy into our wellness. Look at how quick we are to believe other people’s beliefs in the very worst of us, at the expense of our own belief in ourselves – a belief that should be the most natural thing in the world? It goes on and on like this. There is so much negativity living in the circuitry of our bodies and psyches. Where is the place for peace in this?

Yet, there is a place for peace, a huge, golden space inside of us, that coexists with all this violence. We are full of love, hope and good intentions, and we know this, and we have felt this many times. This is a brilliant truth. We just need to believe in this part of ourselves, and work to cultivate it that much more.

So how we begin to turn things around?

First, we must realize that peace starts at home. We must become aware of our hidden, limiting and destructive beliefs that serve nothing but the powers of violence. We must stop right here, where we are and accept the mess that we have inherited and that we continue to make by doing nothing to stop it. We must feel the effects of this violence on the core of our beings right now, in this very moment.

We must ask: do we really want peace, or do we want the luxury of returning to our comfort zones, where we keep the world at bay and hope that all the terrible things we are scared of don’t make their way to us, though they are already right here with us, in the deep crevices of our minds? We must ask: are we ready to do the hard work of finding the peace in us that is also the real, true, lasting peace of the world?

We can only do this in stillness. We must rest in stillness and use the landscape of our bodies to feel what fear looks like, and to arrive at a place of a true, real desire to end the violence within. We must look so deep within that the borders between us and the world fade and we start to realize how destructive the lens of separation is on all our relationships, with people and the world.

We must commit to the responsibility of looking deep within and removing the obstacles to peace, removing the violence we find inside, for peace is the absence of violence, and will naturally arise when we actively want and seek our own salvation.

Peace isn’t something you wish for while going about life and not doing much to effect real change in your relationship with it. Rather, peace is something you uncover, and discover in yourself. You figure out that it has been there all along, and once exposed, it will grow and expand and guide you. And this is the building block to a peaceful world.

Why Don’t We Have Peace? Here’s Why.

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The gap between wanting and having is often huge, and warrants examination, right? Where does the problem lie? What is the nature of what I want? What is preventing me from having it, and what is the lesson I can learn as I strive to bring more harmony to my relationship with the world?

One thing most of us can say with certainty is: I want peace.

World peace.

Peace within.

Peace among friends.

Peace among neighbours.

Peace among us all.

After a time, though, and especially in light of current world events, it becomes tiring living with two seemingly irreconcilable facts: 1) we want peace; and 2) we can’t seem to achieve it.

It’s time that we inquire: what’s going on here? Why can’t we make our way to peace?

First, we find that it’s too easy to blame society, or the government, or other forces “out there”. It’s too easy to say that we are advocates of peace, but that we are powerless in the face of what the powers that be choose to do in this world.

Why do we think we are separate from the world, and the other people in it? I think the answer to this question holds the key to the true and lasting peace we are always dreaming about.

The reason why peace eludes us is that we seem to have a mistaken conception of peace. First we need to notice that we think about peace most when we feel we are under threat, say, the threat of war. In this way, then, we are putting peace and war on the same playing field; they are dancing together in our field of consciousness, so that the specter of war is never far from apparently innocuous desires for peace.

So we say it: why can’t we just have peace? But what kind of peace are we imagining? Are we really projecting ourselves into a whole new world in which peace is the very foundation? Our first thoughts, if we are honest with ourselves, are not about some kind of Eden, a place characterized by genuine harmony, where we are unencumbered by every form of conflict large and small, where we have full freedom to be who we are and are simultaneously full acceptance of everyone else, where the very idea of “non-peace” does not even arise in consciousness. Rather, “peace” becomes more of a reactive concept: we long to go back to “better times”, to how things were before the threat of war appeared.

Hindsight tends to look more golden. Our youth, or even the preceding few years, become soft around the edges, a safe space we have distilled for their better moments. Scared of the present, we re-imagine the past as Eden, without really trying to go back there to remember the very same fears that now plague our minds.

The way things were: there, we might find comfort, stasis, perpetual fear of the status quo being upset, along with thwarted dreams, anxiety, dissatisfaction, a situation in which we were dwelling even further back in the past, or worrying about what was to come. In other words, the same things we find in the here and now, regardless of exterior circumstances.

We need to see the violence in this. Our minds can be very violent places, not at all at peace, but torn, divided, running amok, complacent, isolationist, subconsciously fearing and also wanting the upheaval that surrounds us, because we don’t truly believe it can be any other way. We may have grown up with it. We may have inherited it. We may have absorbed in from any of various environments and situations. We live it, because we are humans, and humans are replete with embattled interior worlds, until we find our way to a path toward peace.

So upheaval comes: we have war, devastation, harrowing events we fear but have long, maybe secretly, suspected were inevitable.

We seem not to be able to accept either what we have created, or what IS, right now, in this moment, in the world or in the deepest parts of ourselves. If we explore within, we will find fear-based reactions to world events; we feel, for example, that we don’t deserve the natural disasters that ravage the world and its inhabitants, but upon further inquiry we have to see that deserving has nothing to do with it. Natural disasters don’t happen to us. They simply happen. This is one of the laws of nature, and we somehow think we are removed from the laws of nature. Even above them.

Do you see how this amounts to a form of violence? To feel separation from what we are so intricately bound to, to see isolation, me versus you; how can this not be construed as violence? Am I not more likely to react in negative and harmful ways to things I feel are separate from me? Would I be as likely to hurt something that is essentially myself?

Yet this is what we are doing, because the war is within ourselves, and we don’t want to confront the more self-destructive aspects of our nature. Instead, we throw nature and people to the other side of a line or boundary, maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because we were taught about separation more than unity, about countries more than world; maybe because we have come to rely wholly on our senses and not our intuition, and our senses bring what is out there into our interior world. The reason doesn’t matter: here we are, wondering about everything in relation to our one self and how it benefits us, and unity is lost. There can be no peace when we can only conceive of our humanity in pieces. Pieces can also come apart just as easily as they can connect for short whiles. And this is how we are living: in constant fear of things coming apart.

But what if we are the ones keeping them apart? Our belief in apartness allows for all kinds of horrible things to find their way into the cracks. And we cannot fortify ourselves from the calamities that occur as long as our hearts are wired to expect calamities, and as long as we continue to forge separate pathways for the people of the world. We cannot stop violence until we understand that we are perpetuating the violence, we are housing the violence, we are feeling the violence with our deep-seated fears but also beliefs in it, until we come to see that we are the violence.

Look at all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Look at how we are self-deprecating; how we hate looking in the mirror; how we doubt our abilities to achieve success; how we hold ourselves back; how we don’t believe in ourselves enough to invest the time and energy into our wellness. Look at how quick we are to believe other people’s beliefs in the very worst of us, at the expense of our own belief in ourselves – a belief that should be the most natural thing in the world? It goes on and on like this. There is so much negativity living in the circuitry of our bodies and psyches. Where is the place for peace in this?

Yet, there is a place for peace, a huge, golden space inside of us, that coexists with all this violence. We are full of love, hope and good intentions, and we know this, and we have felt this many times. This is a brilliant truth. We just need to believe in this part of ourselves, and work to cultivate it that much more.

So how we begin to turn things around?

First, we must realize that peace starts at home. We must become aware of our hidden, limiting and destructive beliefs that serve nothing but the powers of violence. We must stop right here, where we are and accept the mess that we have inherited and that we continue to make by doing nothing to stop it. We must feel the effects of this violence on the core of our beings right now, in this very moment.

We must ask: do we really want peace, or do we want the luxury of returning to our comfort zones, where we keep the world at bay and hope that all the terrible things we are scared of don’t make their way to us, though they are already right here with us, in the deep crevices of our minds? We must ask: are we ready to do the hard work of finding the peace in us that is also the real, true, lasting peace of the world?

We can only do this in stillness. We must rest in stillness and use the landscape of our bodies to feel what fear looks like, and to arrive at a place of a true, real desire to end the violence within. We must look so deep within that the borders between us and the world fade and we start to realize how destructive the lens of separation is on all our relationships, with people and the world.

We must commit to the responsibility of looking deep within and removing the obstacles to peace, removing the violence we find inside, for peace is the absence of violence, and will naturally arise when we actively want and seek our own salvation.

Peace isn’t something you wish for while going about life and not doing much to effect real change in your relationship with it. Rather, peace is something you uncover, and discover in yourself. You figure out that it has been there all along, and once exposed, it will grow and expand and guide you. And this is the building block to a peaceful world.

Our Feelings, Our Earth

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the feelings crowd in,
let them be strong,
 
watch them with love,
knowing they are not you,
 
but a beautiful, integral part.
an outpouring of history,
 
a tulip budding from soil
fermenting thousands of years.
 
watch the feelings dance,
scream, wail their lifespan,
 
learn from their stories,
absorb the discoveries made
 
in their fleeing wanderings
over this bright, our earth,
 
sit with them, hold their hands,
then breathe, and watch them go. – TS

The Path to Spring

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These are restless, porous days,
when what has been dried out
and hollowed in the living of
our darkened, wintry existence
 
Gives way, as moon to sun, to
the watering of spring, the juicy
filling out of aching joints, the
shadows of heart awaiting light
 
The long ache of cracking through
of stepping out, of tentative steps
to sun-drenched emergence, finding
the will to enter our rightful place
 
Come to the tree, then; she has been
through this hundreds, thousands
of times, has seen cold, barren land
quiver, and then zealously come to life
 
Feel her wholeness, her towering
solidity, and feel also the light, the
upward trajectory, ground to sky
the roots of her ever generating.
 
Wrap your arms around her and
remember, because you always
knew, that when mind surrenders
to heart, the movement is true. – TS

Where You Are

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I will meet you where
water turns to air
where body meets shadow

I will meet you where
dawn’s grey brightens
and flatness finds contour

I will come meet you
where our worldly view
bleeds into the horizon

And even sooner,
where it’s all coming
into sweet soft being

I will honour the way
you have found to grow
from bud to blossom

And make yourself known
and seen, and I’ll try to always
meet you where you are.  – TS

 

Two Maps – A Short Story

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I’m so happy to have my new short story, Two Maps, published with The Trump Antidote. I suggest reading the story on the website, but I’ve included it below as well! Two Maps is about a brave little girl describing the world she sees around her, and offers her unique perspective on life. I hope you read, share, enjoy! And please take a look at the other great stuff on this new site!

*

I ran home from school and it was still the same. The creaky fence was half open. White paint chips sat in piles at my feet like weird summer snow. The lawn was still brown like an ancient threadbare rug hanging outside to dry. Or an ancient dog lying outside to die.
When I went inside I said to my jidu, “It’s still the same.”
“And why should it be different,” he asked, stooped over a cup of tea at the table. I told him that I overheard the grownups whispering at school. Little blasts of sound, like gunshots. A new era. A wall. Forced expulsion, denial of entry. I didn’t understand and had to write it down so I’d remember to ask. I also heard the world turning upside down.
This I got. Immediately I saw in my mind’s eye clouds rolling on the ground and grass floating above, and people walking on their heads and houses lying on their roofs.  But when I left school everything looked like it did before. The sun was still baking everything in a right-side-up world.
“Rima habibti,” my jidu said, “sometimes things look one way on the outside and another way on the inside. This is something you feel, not see.” His eyes darkened and I saw a story buried in them I couldn’t make out, that circled back deep into time.
At school, there was a map of the world. It was open and pretty like a puzzle. It had sort-of-real blue water and very fake-looking land in all sorts of pastel colors, like pieces of candy that look equally delicious so you can’t choose. Sometimes I’d forget I was in class as I jumped right into it, hopping over rivers and leaping through deserts and summiting the highest mountains with the ease of a cougar. Every country on this map felt like home.
The last time they told me and my friend to go back to where you come from lousy dirty brown breads it felt like I fell right off the map and slam dunked to the bottom of the Arabian Sea. When I got home crying, my jidu asked what was wrong. I asked him where is home, really, because maybe it wasn’t where I thought it was, and that’s when he spoke for the first time about the homeland with a sad look in his blurry eyes. But he also said never forget that home is where the heart is. He stuck his bony finger in my chest. Here.
In the science room at school, there was a picture of the human heart. Its shape was similar to Africa but, other than that, it looked nothing like the map of the world. It was a dark bloody red mess full of sickly blue and purple lines running through it like a traffic jam of claustrophobic tunnels about to explode. When I saw the map of the world I felt like a feather or a gazelle or a lion that could conquer anything. When I saw the map of the heart I became seized with terror that this oozy alien is why we’re alive.
Around the land masses on the map of the world there is water. Heavenly light water that can carry you away to anywhere. Around the pulpy heart there is a cage made of solid bone.
It’s hard to feel it, but we’re made mostly of water, and the heart sitting in its cage is the true map of our world. It is the central station of our tears, laughter, pain, fear and anger, and it is much harder to read than the map of countries. When things are fine we don’t notice the heart. Then it beats a mile a minute before you even know why, and then you are running and running until you are stopped because the world did turn upside down and you are forced to go to strange places you’ve never seen on any map.
That central station explodes with fear and almost collapses with confusion.
The heart can be a scary place to visit, habibti, my jidu told me that hot afternoon I came home from school crying. But it is your treasure chest. There are many jewels inside and they belong to no one but you. That is why it sits in a cage, so the treasures can be protected. And here is the beauty: you are the treasure and you are also the guard. The cage cannot tell the difference between enemies and friends. Only you can. You need to take this job very seriously, as you are the one who decides what gets inside.
No matter how hard it gets, Rima, do not let the wall around your heart get too thick or too high. Outside in the world, you will find terrible things. Walls will be built, places closed off, there will be injustices you cannot even imagine. But all those things, they are made by human hands and they can be destroyed just as easily as they were made. What is inside  your heart is forever, and no one can change its borders and no one can take its treasures away from you.
Just as I was wondering about that, he said, “Do you know what your greatest treasure is, habibti? It is your power to love. Guard it with everything you have.”
The map of the world is changing now. But I stand guard in front of the one territory that belongs to me. I am a warrior goddess who does not forget what I’ve been taught: that to protect the treasures of our messy hearts is to change the map of the world. It might take a long time, but this is our legacy.
I will not let the wall get any higher. I will not forget that the blood running through my veins and the oceans on the map of the world are one. I will work, no… fight… for love every day until the walls are torn down.