Pathways to Peace, by Jennifer Gates, M.A. Youth and Family Ministry Director, Unity of SA
You know how sometimes events come together at the exact same moment or in some uncanny sequence that captures your attention? Most recently when this situation appeared in my life, the magic word seemed to be “peace”. Here’s how it started – late this past spring, one of my co-workers, whom I’m blessed to also call my friend, mentioned a project she had worked on with the youth and congregants at Unity of San Angelo – Pinwheels for Peace. I did a quick Google search which lead me to www.pinwheelsforpeace.com where I learned about the history of this now-international project and saw that it is celebrated annually on September 21. This timing worked out perfectly with lesson plans we already had in place in our Youth Ministry department, so I added it to my upcoming lesson plans list and tucked away the specific details for a later date.
Over the summer, a number of national events captured our collective attention across the country, and the world – political and social issues threatened to strike fear in the hearts of so many. If ever there were a moment ripe for searching for the peace that sometimes seems elusive, this was it. As I glanced over our upcoming plans for fall study in our YM department, the Pinwheels for Peace project leapt out at me like a lighthouse beacon. Focusing on our centeredness in peace could hardly have surfaced at a more useful moment! And, as our prep work for this project began, more life lessons kept rolling in – now in the form of weather related events that pummeled our coastlines and smaller countries to our south. As if to reaffirm the value of our upcoming YM study, which we had entitled “Pathways to Peace”, the World Day of Prayer tagline for September 14, 2017, was announced, “Peace in the Midst…” Ah, sweet serendipity!
So, on the first Sunday of September, our study of pathways to peace and our crafting of pinwheels commenced. Seeing the transformation of blank white squares of paper into brilliantly colored whirling pinwheels on our UCSA campus was nothing short of awe-inspiring. If you visit our campus between September 21 -28, you will be treated to this collection of “whirled” peace. You can also see a glimpse of our display on our Facebook page or in the pages of our newsletter. While this display is eye-catching and mesmerizing to watch, it is only the icing on the cake. As our thoughtful, inspiring children, youth, and adult volunteers can attest, the discussions and study material that we have shared over the past month are the treasures we will carry in our hearts as we strive to live out this message of peace in our daily lives. And this is the true message I’d like to share with each of you.
As a group in YM, we have discovered that true peace, in the words of the great thinker, Albert Einstein, “cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” So this is what we have been striving for – uncovering ways by which we can understand others in relationship, in groups which may differ from those to which we belong, and even within the secret places of our own hearts. One of the corner stones of such understanding surfaced time and again, “empathy”, which helps us understand how others are feeling, allowing us to respond appropriately in a variety of situations. In fact, understanding is of such importance that it is one of the 12 Powers of Man, identified by Unity co-found Charles Fillmore. Fillmore tells us that through our power of understanding we are able to comprehend and relate all other powers to one another. In the simplest of terms, when we practice understanding, we realize not only what our values are and what is worthy in our lives, but we also then possess the ability to live into these principles and act accordingly. It is through empathy and understanding that we become the hearts and hands of God, of Spirit, on earth.
As we each contemplate the nuts and bolts of putting empathy and understanding into action, it is important to note that understanding does not always equal agreement. In fact, in those moments when we find ourselves at odds with another’s thinking, reasoning, or beliefs, it becomes more important to strive for understanding. When we are able to move beyond our own judgment, preconceived ideas, ingrained thoughts, and overused beliefs, we can move into a realm of truly seeing the “other” in front of us. In fact, if we believe the Unity Principle that “there is only one Power and one Presence active in the universe and in our lives,” then we must, in fact, strive to reach others through our use of empathy and understanding. It becomes evident that we are not seeking a path towards peace, we are the path. We are the peace.
One of the most effective ways I have found for working towards this sort of empathy and understanding in my day-to-day life may be of interest to each of you as well. The practice of mindfulness, of being fully present in each moment of life, of being open to and accepting of exactly what comes into view, is a powerful path towards peace within and without. In the words of one of the great masters of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, “The key to mindfulness is not so much what you choose to focus on but the quality of the awareness that you bring to each moment. It is very important that it be nonjudgmental–more of a silent witnessing, a dispassionate observing, than a running commentary on your inner experience. Observing without judging, moment by moment, helps you see what is on your mind without editing or censoring it, without intellectualizing it or getting lost in your own incessant thinking.” Kabat-Zinn goes on to characterize what this sort of awareness may look like in our daily lives with this description, “One way to envision how mindfulness works is to think of the mind as the surface of a lake or ocean. There are always waves, sometimes big, sometimes small. Many people think the goal of meditation is to stop the waves so that the water will be flat, peaceful, and tranquil–but that is not so. The true spirit of mindfulness practice is illustrated by a poster someone once described to me of a 70-ish yogi, Swami Satchidananda, in full white beard and flowing robes, atop a surfboard and riding the waves off a Hawaiian beach. The caption read: ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf’.”
So, as we all work on our surfing techniques on this giant life wave, take a moment of your time to check out the fanciful pinwheels on our campus and consider the story behind them. As they sit, still and silent, waiting for the gust of wind that will send them into whirling whimsy, recall how each of us can ride the waves, flow with the wind, reach out to others, and be kind to ourselves. Take a moment each day to practice empathy when and where the need arises. Be Understanding. Be Empathic. Be Peace. Be Happy. Just Be.
For further reading or thoughts on mindfulness, feel free to check out two of my favorite thinkers, both of whom also have published books if you prefer something concrete you can hold in your hands:
Jon Kabat-Zinn at https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/
And Byron Katie at http://thework.com/en