Deep within the still centre of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the Grove
May I share peace.
Gently (or powerfully) within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.
In recent months, the centre of my being has been anything but still. In fact, since taking on the Peace Pages for The Druid Network, every single one of my carefully-thought-through beliefs about peace and pacifism have been shattered by experience. I still hold the same beliefs, but the journey through despair and disillusionment to re-enchantment has been unutterably hard. After searching for ways to write about it all with some kind of credible intellectual detachment, today overwhelmed me with the imperative to simply write – from the shattered soul; from the place of re-enchantment. Be gentle with me, dear readers…
When armed men broke into the UN base in Bor where my partner had been staying, and massacred refugees who were sheltering in the last place they could find any kind of safety, what shocked me most was my reaction. Anger seems too tame a word. It took several days and over 70 miles of continuous walking (thanks to a well-timed solitary hike) before I could safely acknowledge the feelings it invoked – because I wanted those men dead. Not killed, but disappeared, vanished from existence: a blot on the face of the universe, removed. And I knew in my bones that it was wrong, that violence begets violence; the cycle has to stop somewhere and, as a druid, that somewhere should be within me. Yet the centre of my being was a maelstrom of conflict. What a failure I felt, faltering at the first test, completely unable to “radiate peace” when conflict came.
So I found myself standing in the middle of experience, looking out at my impossible ideals, wondering: how do I get from here to there?
Searching for answers has taken me deep into the darkness – which is also the cauldron of potential, though it is not always easy to see that at the time (it is dark in there). Six weeks of walking, thinking, reading, railing at the universe, listening, opening my heart and screaming out my rage all led to a remarkable experience last weekend. Journeying on a guided meditation, I finally found peace – paradoxical as it may seem – in the knowledge that all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. I cannot make sense of all the violence that has touched the lives of those I love, however indirectly; nor can I turn away from the knowledge of atrocities inflicted on my fellow humans even now, thanks to my partner’s humanitarian career (he hasn’t made it any easier by taking a new job on the edge of an ISIS-controlled area…). But I can find peace in understanding that these experiences are part of the ongoing story of humanity, and in the acceptance that I am the author of my own part in this story. Blessed with a privileged, peaceful existence, I had been spared the challenge of exploring what it truly means to choose peace: its power, and its demands.
Peace – to borrow a working definition – is the space we give ourselves between provocation and reaction, where we find the freedom to choose. Understanding peace as a choice allows us to acknowledge the rage, pain, fear, frustration and the desire to lash out or fight back that is provoked in us when something happens to break our world apart, because what ultimately matters is not what we feel but how we choose to act upon those feelings.
Until last week, I had been avoiding druid ritual, convinced that my inability to find peace “within the [non-existent] still centre of my being” signalled utter failure to walk this path with any integrity. But, in embracing the raging torrent of emotions that burst forth in the wake of all these experiences, I have finally faced the darkness, and I have chosen peace, with eyes wide open to the world.