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How to Become a Peacemaker

Meditation and heart practices help us to be resilient and engaged.

Key points

  • To become a peacemaker, it is necessary to be connected to one's own heart.
  • This connection to our own heart is created through compassion meditation.
  • Tonglen meditation, a Tibetan form of compassion meditation, builds on the awareness of all our interconnectedness.
  • There are five easy practices to follow that help us become peacemakers.
Kits Pix/Shutterstock
Source: Kits Pix/Shutterstock

Since returning home from four weeks of a silent mindfulness retreat without access to WiFi or news sources and taking a break from a busy practice as a clinical psychologist, I have been feeling raw and overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in this world. The invasion of Ukraine started just before I began my retreat on Feb. 27. During the retreat, the locus of my awareness sank from my thinking mind, my pre-frontal cortex, to my heart. It seems to me that wisdom and compassion arise from the heart, allowing a person to engage as a peacemaker with this wounded world.

To become a peacemaker, a person first needs to build peace within their hearts—that mysterious organ of physiological, psychological, and spiritual perception and connection. A year after the start of World War II, author Henry Miller wrote in a quiet moment while visiting Epidaurus, “What rules the world is the heart, not the brain.” He continued, “In Epidaurus, in the stillness, in the great peace that came over me, I heard the heart of the world beat. I know what the cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.”

From my experience in this exquisitely silent retreat month, I can deeply relate to these sentiments. I took time to explore what it means to be aware and to be human. Modern culture often divides awareness from feeling, with awareness regarded as something that has only to do with attention and thinking. However, awareness has a profoundly feeling, relational quality. We might call this the heart’s intelligence. Rumi talks about the heart’s intelligence when he says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” The heart feels the whole, while the conceptual mind usually analyzes and takes it apart. Love or compassion arises when awareness and its feeling quality are fused.

There are five steps that help prepare a person to become a peacemaker capable of healing personal and societal wounds:

  1. Recognize that peace, deep peace, is possible.
  2. Listen deeply to the other side, especially when others’ opinions differ from your own.
  3. Set an intention for practice, which means setting aside time to stay connected to our hearts and the great heart of the world.
  4. Recognize interdependence and our part in the order of things; then we know that we all are kin, we are all family.
  5. Engage from a place of compassion and wisdom.

While on retreat, I found it was important to practice Tonglen, one of the forms of meditation I describe in my book, Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom—at Last. Tonglen, or “giving and receiving,” opens the heart and allows mental and emotional barriers to soften and eventually dissolve. In Tonglen meditation, one takes in the sorrows of others and gives blessings back to them in return. This practice may seem counterintuitive. One may wonder whether it is harmful to receive the darkness of others and risk depleting one’s own stores of goodness. The most important aspect of Tonglen meditation is the understanding that everyone is joining in the interdependent web of life. When a person accepts that every aspect is interconnected, not isolated or separate, then the personal heart, which is interconnected with the great heart of the world, can fearlessly take in that suffering, and surrender it to the great heart of loving awareness. From that wide and inclusive space, it is possible to share care and compassion in a loving way.

Usually, one leaps into action, usually with good intentions, before settling into the heart. But when one takes the time to practice heartfulness, or heart awareness, then every contribution will come from a qualitatively much higher place. The place of engagement can be abstract or practical, in fact, it can have innumerable forms. The Dalai Lama said, “I can trust my heart’s intentions.” When intentions and engagements come from the place where “our little hearts beat in unison with the big heart of the world,” then a person can trust themselves. With faith in one’s heart’s intentions, it is possible to become a peacemaker.

References

Heart Medicine: How to Stop Painful Patterns and Find Peace and Freedom-At Last, Radhule Weininger, 2021, Shambala Publications

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