The Gift of Peace
Published in Sufism Journal, Spring & Summer 2007
THE PEACE OF THE SOUL
Peace is a quality of the soul. And like all real spiritual qualities, peace is not achieved or earned by our efforts. It is given through grace, like the peace Christ promised his disciples:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you:
not as the world giveth give I unto you.
Because our culture has lost an understanding of the ways of grace, we tend to identify peace with effort. Most of us struggle for peace, thinking we can attain it through striving. Outwardly we seek peace through the resolution of conflict. Inwardly, too, we hope to resolve our conflicts, working to bring the warring factions of our psyche into balance. In meditation we strive to find peace beyond the activity of the mind.
We might achieve some sense of peace this way, through effort and struggle. But real peace is an aspect of the divine, and in the words of the Sufi master Bhai Sahib, “How can there be effort with divine things? They are given, infused.”
Peace that is given has a different quality precisely because it comes without effort or struggle. It is not a resolution of conflict, either inner or outer. It does not belong to the dimension of struggle, but to the dimension of the soul. It cannot be born from conflict because it is an aspect of the oneness of our true nature. In oneness, how can there be conflict? If there are not two, where is the need for resolution?
Real peace is a quality of pure being. The peace that Christ left with his disciples, the peace “not as the world giveth,” is in all of us. It is part of our essential nature. But like many qualities of the soul it remains hidden, overlooked by our perceptions and ways of relating that are so grounded in duality, conflict, and self-interest.
Traditionally peace has been transmitted on an individual level, from master to disciple, as Christ gave peace to his disciples. But at this critical time in our evolution, this is no longer enough. All of humanity needs to have access to the peace of the soul, for this peace belongs not just to each individual, but to the soul of the world. And if we look around us we see the world needs this peace; life itself needs to be nourished by its own higher nature in order to recover from past abuse, and to thrive. The spiritual work of the time is to help the soul of the world awaken, to help the qualities of life’s true nature nourish the whole.
PEACE AND THE ERA OF ONENESS
How can we help the heart of the world awaken? The first step is a step in consciousness. The coming era is an era of oneness, and a consciousness of oneness is emerging in our collective. We see this consciousness reflected in the development of global communication, the Internet, and in our recognition of ecological interconnectedness. But we don’t see the deeper dimensions of this consciousness, how it is part of life’s highest nature, how it contains the divine qualities of peace, love, and real power.
Only the divine can heal and transform the world—the forces of antagonism in the world are too powerfully constellated for us to resolve on our own. But the divine needs our participation: we are the guardians of the planet. And what is the nature of this work? In our masculine culture we identify work with “doing” and activity. But to hold a space for the divine requires the feminine quality of “being.” Through the simplicity of living our inner connection to the divine, living the awareness of the heart, we link the worlds together and allow the higher energies to flow into life.
The mystic recognizes the play of opposites within herself—the dark and light, masculine and feminine, spirit and matter—and knows that they are part of a greater oneness. No longer caught in the duality of opposites, the mystic lives with the reality of union. The opposites remain, but they no longer appear in conflict. The mystic can, as Judaism’s Midrash urges, “observe how all things borrow from each other”:
day borrows from night and night from day…the moon borrows from the stars and the stars borrow from the moon…the sky borrows from the earth and the earth from the sky…All God’s creatures borrow from the other, yet make peace with one another….(1)
And in this era of oneness the seeker needs to shift her focus from her own self-development to the development of the whole. This requires that we leave behind patterns of spiritual isolation. By leaving the cave and monasteries we can live the light of the heart in ordinary life, in the marketplace where the density and darkness of materialism needs to be dissipated.
It can be helpful to recognize that the divine within life has its own natural rhythm, its own in-breath and out-breath, which we can come to know and work with. The light and energy of the divine is currently following ancient patterns that flow through our collective psyche. We can help peace come into our world by trusting that peace itself has the patience to work around resistances, that its power is not scattered or wasted in conflict. The spiritual energy of peace is currently working with the energy of discord, undermining its arguments, changing the flow of energy from confrontation to understanding. If we allow ourselves to be open to what is already happening, we will begin to see and work with the consciousness of oneness that is emerging.
During times of transition it is important to return to what is basic, to what belongs to the core of life. If we look closely, we can see that life itself contains a harmony that is part of its deepest nature. One can see this in the petals of a flower, in the swirl of the water in a river, in a flock of geese flying south. We can allow life to teach us, to show us how to live in a way that does not continually constellate conflict. Life can reveal to us the flow in the opposites, the way night leads to day, winter to spring. Once we change our attitude to life, once we give up the need to be the conqueror or oppressor, then life can show us how to live in peace. Once we step outside of the paradigm of the warring opposites we will find that the sun is shining.
A thread is being woven in the inner worlds but we do not know how to look. Harmony is being created, but we remain focused on discord. The energy patterns of life are subtly shifting, the currents that come from the deep are changing. Life is trying to redeem itself, trying to shake off the debris of our power struggles.
Because we live at the end of an era life has apparently become more complex. This is one of the signs of things falling apart. With our computer generated models we look for complex answers to our problems. But peace is simple, and is part of the simplicity of life.
We always seem to overlook the simple wonder of being human, which means to be divine. We are the meeting of the two worlds, the place where miracles can happen and the divine come alive in a new way. We are the light at the end of the tunnel. We are the warmth and the care and the compassion, as much as we carry the scars of our cruelty and anger.
The changes in life are so fundamental and simple, and yet they are not easy to live. There are forces at work that push us outwards towards complexity. These are the forces that take away our joy and demand that we work harder and harder. They drive us into conflicts we do not need, and always try to obscure the simple joy of life, of being together and valuing our companionship. Fast food and mega movies may glitter and catch our collective attention, but we know in our hearts that something fundamental is being overlooked. We do not need to drown in prosperity or impose our beliefs on others. We have simply to recognize what is real and live this in our own way.
In the simplicity of our human values—love, and joy, and hope—we are connected in oneness. But we can only discover this connection when we return to this simple core of being. When we return to the heart we will see what is being born, how a linking together of individuals, groups and communities is taking place, how patterns of relationships are growing—and how life energy is moving along these patterns. By acknowledging these changes, we can help peace flow where it is needed.
THE LIGHT OF PEACE
Many people are frightened of real peace. It cannot be manipulated; it has no role in power dynamics. In the clash of opposites we fight to win, to impose ourself. Even our image of world peace is a balance of power. What would happen if these power dynamics were removed? How would we know who is in control? The drama of power needs adversaries. A life of peace functions in a different way. It does not belong to patterns of control. Peace and freedom belong together.
To be open to peace is to leave behind so many of the ways that we define our life. To work with peace would mean that we work with an energy that is free from the constellation of opposites. This energy is a part of our divine nature. In the Qur’an such an energy is described in the “verse of Light” from sura 24:
Allah is the Light
Of the heavens and the earth,
The parable of His Light
Is as if there were a Niche
And within it a Lamp:
The lamp enclosed in Glass:
The glass as it were
A brilliant star:
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East
Nor of the West,
Whose Oil is well-nigh
Though fire scarce touched it:
Light upon Light!
Allah doth guide
Whom He will
To His Light:
The golden light of the oil of the “olive, neither of the East nor of the West” is within us. It is the light of our divine nature, which is also a part of life. How can our divine nature be other than the air we breathe? Our breath is His breath. Through the breath the soul and the body, heaven and earth are brought together. His light is “the Light of the heavens and the earth.” Behind the appearance of duality is the light of oneness, and real peace. We can live this oneness, this primal union, or we can remain with an attitude that sees only the continual conflict of opposites. The oil from the “olive, neither of the East nor of the West” is burning and shows us a different way to live.
The light sura continues:
(Lit is such a Light)
In houses, which Allah
Hath permitted to be raised
To honour; for the celebration,
In them, of His name:
In them is He glorified
In the mornings and
In the evenings, (again and again),
By men whom neither
Trade nor sale
Can divert from the Remembrance
Of Allah, nor from regular Prayer,
The light that is given belongs to the remembrance of God, the simple awareness of divine presence. In this light the divine is remembered and celebrated, even in the midst of life’s activities. We need this light to guide us, and in this light we find our remembrance of what is real. This light is always available, only hidden by our forgetfulness. The light that is beyond the opposites is not gained through conflict, but comes through prayer and remembrance.
Those who love Him and remember Him have access to the light that the world needs—the light of peace, the light of oneness. Our world can never be saved by politicians or mediators, but by those whose hearts are turned to the Real. This awareness belongs to the core life, to a creation which celebrates its Creator. It is present all around us, within us, part of the simple truth that we are here in service to the divine. If we can see with the heart, not our conditioning, we can awaken within the peace that is revealing itself at this time. And through the simple combination of our spiritual practice, our prayers, and remembrance, and our everyday life, we can help to bring His light and His peace into His world.
(1) Midrash, Exodus Rabbah (31:15), trans. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon.