Recording your attempts at "Being Peace"
Earlier this afternoon, I was standing inside the South Dining Hall with a friend of mine, waiting for another friend to arrive. I was getting a little anxious and impatient because I was hungry and I had another class after lunch. While we were waiting, I noticed a girl walk into the building. I had never met her or seen her before in my life, but I noticed almost immediately that she was either partially or completely blind, and she had a walking stick to aid her. She came up to me, most likely unknowingly, and her walking stick bumped against my shoe. I asked her if she was looking for something. She said she was looking for grab-and-go, and I told her it was down the stairs to her right. She thanked me, but a troubled look passed across her face, and I knew that finding the right room on directions alone would be difficult for her. She then asked me if I would be willing to lead her to the right place, but only if I had the time. At that moment, all my impatience and my inner tension melted away, and I said to her, “It’s no problem. I’m waiting for someone anyway.” So she grabbed my arm, and I led her down the stairs to the grab-and-go room. I asked her if she needed any more help because I didn’t see how she would be able to figure out where anything was on her own. She nodded and thanked me again. So I led her through the room, reading out to her the labels on every food item they had, and once she had made her decisions, I picked up the items and placed them in the bag, making sure she had every sauce and spread to go along with them. After she had swiped her card, I led her back up the stairs, introducing myself to her on the way up. I walked her all the way to the entrance and out the door. She said she could take it from there, so we said goodbye and she thanked me again, and I returned to my friends with a smile on my face, having completely forgotten the impatience that had disquieted me only moments before. Those fifteen minutes or so were some of the most gratifying minutes of my life because not only had I found peace for myself, but I had been given the opportunity to spread that same peace into someone else’s life. I don’t know how much that girl has suffered or how much, if any, discrimination she has faced because of her disability, but I felt good knowing that I had assured her that there were indeed kind and compassionate people in the world, no matter what her personal experience had led her to believe. We can do many great things to promote peace in the world, but in order for there to be any lasting kind of peace, a peace worth fighting for, there must be compassion and understanding at its heart, and so sometimes it’s the little things that truly succeed in bringing peace to everyday life. I may have had to eat rather quickly and I may have almost been late to class, but the short meal and the rush to my next period seemed immediately inconsequential to me because nothing could replace the feeling of having found peace and spread peace in the same act. I may have been the one to lend assistance, but she gave me something in return: Through her gratitude, I found peace.
Moving in can be an extremely stressful time, as I'm sure everyone can tell. In my case, last weekend my sister and I were both moving into our college abodes, at Penn State and ND, respectively; it had never really been a problem before because fall semester at Penn State used to start after Labor Day. But the dates changed this year. And the only catch proved to be that my mom and dad decided to help me cart my life out to South Bend (which involved a 10-hour trip from Pennsylvania) while my sister was to make the hour-long drive to Penn State without parental assistance. This arrangement did not really sit well with her; she felt slighted, that I was taking all the help and leaving her to fend for herself. The truth of the matter was that my parents thought she could handle things by herself, and my brothers were even home to help her. But she just seemed to be dwelling on my fortunate situation and her own imminent hardships.After leaving for South Bend on Saturday, my sister called me several times, bemoaning the fact that my move-in was going to be so easy and she was going to have to do everything on her own. In hindsight, she was being pretty childish about it. But she was taking her frustration out on me and my parents, which didn't seem to be helping matters as I moved in on Sunday. My parents planned to stay until Monday afternoon to help me get everything that I needed (which always involves numerous trips to Walmart and what-not). Instead, I asked them to go home early so that they could help my sister move in. With a little coaxing, they agreed to head back home and leave me to finish things on my own.In the end, I was trying to keep the peace within my family. Admittedly, those were pretty trivial circumstances, but the truth of the matter is that I didn't want my sister to be upset with me or with my parents. I wanted to help her, and that meant sacrificing the help being offered to me. Peace, in that instance, meant concession on my part. My parents made it home on Monday morning, with enough time to help my sister set up her apartment. She was really thankful, and I was thankful, too...thankful for the peace.
Thanks for getting the ball rolling Gandhi and Bridgette. Great stories, both of you! I don't think there is anything trivial about any of this and I hope fear of things being trivial doesn't stop anyone from choosing to do something or reporting it as your peace blog entry. Sometime these small things end up meaning more than the things we somehow think are "bigger" or "more important."I'll give you one you might consider smallish for my own entry this time to illustrate. By the time this class is over, you all will be intimately aware that I have two kids, age 10 and 11. They have always gotten along extremely well and really are best friends. The last couple of weeks though, they have started engaging in nonsensical bickering: "Dad, Micah's putting his hand on my side of the car just to irritate me." "Am not, I'm just stretching." etc. --you can imagine the rest.A parent's temptation, and it is a temptation I have given into many times in the past couple of weeks, it to just tell them to "stop bickering--you're driving me crazy!" But because of this class and our peace blogging, yesterday I saw it instead as an opportunity to do a bit more than that. I pointed out the bickering pattern that had emerged lately, I tried to get them to recognize that what they were doing was making both of them feel like crap (angry, resentful) and that trying to avoid the behaviors and reactions that produced that argument would make everyone a lot happier. After we talked about it for a few minutes, they agreed. And even though we were all on top of each other in my office for the rest of the day (and they were sharing a computer--always a tough negotiation task), it was an extremely placid and pleasant afternoon. When we were waiting in line for lunch, they spontaneously hugged each other and then drew me into a group hug! The whole bickering intervention took maybe 5 minutes, but it not only made our day more peaceful, but it reinforced an important orientation they have toward each other and interacting with other people. They'll probably never remember that specific incident, so in that sense it's trivial, but consistently giving them this message and taking a few moments here and there to reinforce will ultimately change their lives and the lives of people they encounter.Even these small incidents can be challenging. I remember as I started in on this wondering if they were going to pay any attention to me and engage, or if they were going to blow it off as just another lecture from a parent. I also thought they might blow it off as some kind of lame "touchy-feely" intervention that they didn't want to have anything to do with (this is a consistent worry I have about all kind of peace interventions). But later in the day, I was convinced that it had actually worked and had meant something to them. I'm glad the peace blog made me do it!
This year, I decided to move-in with one of my very best friends, a situation we envisioned would go smoothly because we usually get along so well. We did not have the foresight during room picks last year, however, to see that living together would involve so much more contact with each other than our relationship was otherwise used to. For the past week, we’ve been having boundary/space issues, and have been constantly bickering upon our realization that we have drastically different studying habits (I need complete silence, whereas she can’t function in a room she thinks is too still).After finishing the readings, in particular “Being Peace,” I was struck by the idea of putting myself in the other person’s, or in my case, my roommate’s shoes. Our classes overlap so that I have the room all to myself for a couple of hours in the morning between classes, and she has the room all to herself during my afternoon classes. When I got back to the dorm this morning, and opened the door to our room, I was struck by the pictures of her family she’s taped up over her desk, which got me thinking about the differences and similarities in the way we each were raised. She’s used to noise because she comes from a large family, whereas I’m an only child, and so I’m used to a certain amount of quiet each day, especially when I’m studying. She’s the youngest child in her family, a personality similar to that of the ‘only child,’ so in that respect, we’re both used to getting our way, and we both can become very bossy and/or overbearing.I meditated on this for awhile, and have resolved to talk to her later on today and negotiate a set of ground rules, so that we both can be productive in the room – even if that means I have to leave the room sometimes to go to the library to study in exchange for a couple of television-free hours during the night. This morning I got the chance to think about our friendship and the reasons we wanted to move-in together in the first place – besides, I could stand to loose the few pounds on the trek across campus to the library every once in awhile anyways.
I receive updates, as I'm sure many others do, almost daily from various humanitarian organizations. Yesterday I received an e-mail from the "Save Darfur" organization asking me to send an e-mail to President Bush, "urging [him] to uphold his commitment to the peacekeeping mission." Their goal is to flood the White House inbox with 100,000 messages by September 18. The Security Council has approved a peacekeeping force to be deployed to Sudan, but no such international peacekeeping force has been able to enter Darfur. These messages draw attention to the much needed financial, cooperative, and diplomatic support of the US. So I decided to send a message to President Bush. The e-mail provided me with a link to a form, with a standardized message giving the situation at hand and the reasons why the US needs to step up and attempt to take effective action. I quickly deleted this message. I am sure the White House has already recieved thousands. In fact, I am almost positive that this e-mail I send will never actually be read. And if it is read, certainly not by President Bush. Instead, I sat down on my futon and begin to construct a letter to President Bush about my feelings on what should be done in Darfur.I wrote about my past experiences with the Save Darfur movement, my frustration with the ineffectiveness of nearly all diplomatic attempts to intervene, and the true horror of the genocide occuring daily. By the end of this message, I had rambled for nearly an entire page on my perspective and feelings on Darfur.Although I severely doubt the probability of this, perhaps someone will take the time to at least skim my message. But even if no one does, I spoke my mind. I turned my jumbled thoughts and strong opinions on this matter into some sort of coherent letter. It made me feel content, as though this message, which I poured so much of my own heart into, will truly make a difference. Though writing this message made me feel slightly more at ease with my impact on the world, it also renewed my frustrations at my inability to fly to Darfur myself, sit down with all parties, and immediately solve all their conflicts and aggression. Unfortunately, the world does not work that way.But hey, maybe my message will be the breaking point where the White House will start to seriously consider and take time to evaluate what needs to be done. Every message counts, right? That's why I forwarded the request for letters to the class. Hopefully you will all send a message as well. It's a small gesture, that barely takes up any time from your day, but I found that it did bring a bit of peace to my day.
Trying to be to be totally peaceful for a whole day may sound easy, but it is certainly easier said than done, (especially when everyday includes boxes of things to move in, classes to attend, and seemingly endless trips to a storage space miles away from campus). Nevertheless, I decided to make an attempt at my “day of peace today.” Unfortunately, I failed miserably at approximately 9:15 AM. It all started with my trip to the dining hall and its inability to have regular coffee ready before class. I found myself cursing their inefficiency and their flippancy at my need for caffeine in the morning. Following a few hours of cool off time, I once again found myself enraged at what I perceived to be a slight made by my sister via an E-mail and telephone call. Even though it was a minor issue, I still found myself bubbling over with rage. Why is it that everyone around me is so unbelievably incompetent I pondered? And then, all of a sudden, it came to me. Why am I so angry over such inconsequential events? Maybe, just maybe, it’s not everyone else that has the problem, but instead the problem is mine. Getting upset over matters of importance is normal, however, to have the same amount of emotion over a lack of coffee in the dining hall is ludicrous! Tomorrow I’ll try to keep this in mind and see just how much happier and peaceful I can become.
In class on Thursday when we were listing types of violence and conflict, someone said "intrapersonal, internal conflict." This intrigued me because I had never thought of this as an "actual" conflict before. In our everyday lives, we are faced with so many choices. Some of these decisions are very crucial, while others are more miniscule. In the end, all of them are important in their own way, but sometimes we don't take the time to realize how or why.Going back to school every fall has always been a very exciting time but also a very stressful one for me. The anticipation of packing and leaving my friends and family and then moving in always leaves me feeling overwhelmed. This year, I decided to have a positive attitude toward the whole move, and it made a world of difference. I tried to turn the negative aspects around in order to make getting to school less stressful and more enjoyable.In the "Being Peace" article, Hanh writes, "Meditation is not to get out of society, to escape from society, but to prepare for a reentry into society." Coming to college is not about leaving all the people and things we love behind. This year I tried to realize all of the other, new positive things that come from the change. When I was more at peace in my mind about the move, the experience was totally different. This past week has been fun, and this article really helped me to understand how internal conflict affects others around us.Hanh's point that in Buddhism, there is no such thing as an individual is very important to consider with intrapersonal peace. I think that if we can be free of distress in our own minds, we are more able to encourage compassion and promote peace in our community and our world. This past week, I know I was more pleasant to be around, and my friends and family have noticed (and liked) the change in my attitude at the beginning of the school year. I believe that starting to do small things can really start to make a difference on a larger scale.
I have always been the type of person who likes to keep things inside; I’m just not very emotional. I don’t cry during movies or when I get a bad grade on a test. I haven’t cried in years. But my best friend and I are like polar opposites. She is VERY emotional and I’m just not good with dealing with it. It seems like she’s crying about something different everyday and I just really don’t know what to do. I’m just not a particularly comforting person. But a few days ago I really had to be there for her because she wasn’t just having another silly problem. This was very serious; her parents were considering divorce. She was a wreck; I had never seen her cry so much. I really didn’t want to deal with it, so I asked one of my other friends to go talk with her and see if she could work things out. But that didn’t seem to work; she just wanted to talk with me. All I could think was, Great, I never know what to do in these situations! But I knew that this wasn’t about me; my friend needed to be comforted. So I went in the bathroom and hugged her and talked her through her problems. I tried my best to help her reach peace with herself and the situation with her family. I tried to make her realize that this was something between her mom and dad and that she shouldn’t get involved in there problems. She said that our talk really helped her out and it meant a lot to her that I talked her through it.
So this is the saga of my best friend, KB, who didn’t come back to Notre Dame this year. I blame Catholicism at its worst, but that is counterproductive to this class. Things always become less irrational if you write about them. So here it is:KB and I had some monumental times together. Be it staying up late partying together or staying up late philosophizing about our future lives, we indubitably connected. We shared a room with a third roommate, who was not fond of us at all. This girl actually went to our RA a lot to vent about our demeanor. This soon escalated to Mrs. Rectress getting involved. Then, it was the security guard. KB was not an expert drinker, so a couple nights in a bathroom was reason enough for Mrs. PoPo to start watch out for her at night. I thought this was college? Where’s the freedom? Apparently private Catholic schools have none.Anyways, KB had a good friend off campus and Mrs. PoPo soon discovered that she would often spend the night over there. After Mrs. Rectress talked to KB about this relationship, it seemed as if everything was settled. Granted, KB kissed ass and said this was just a friend she stayed with, but it wasn’t Notre Dame’s business anyways. And then we left for summer. . . sad to leave each other, but with the plans for rooming together this year.Well, this summer her parents and Mrs. Rectress met. Everything that Mrs. Rectress encountered about KB was put forth: the talks with the antagonist roommate, the drunken football game weekends, and the relationship off campus. KB was the valedictorian of her high school class, had a 3.8 GPA at Notre Dame, Dean’s list, and had ambitions of majoring in Political Science and Russian. This girl was driven. She was going to go operate for the CIA in Russia – she had such a future. Now where is she? Sitting at home because her parents didn’t let her come back after what Mrs. Rectress told them. We go to a school so proud of their reputation that an amazingly eccentric and scholarly student is ousted. So why am I writing this today? Because KB should be sitting here on this futon with me right now. Instead, I am asked to make a new best friend. Oh, Notre Dame, it is going to take some time for me to get over this. I know, I should end with a sweet punch line like how I am going to forgive and forget, and hug the hell out of that roommate, Mrs. Rectress, and Mrs. PoPo. Unfortunately, this is not true. I still have not spoken to them. And I had every interest to go abroad next year, but without Mrs. Rectress’ approval, Kampala can kiss me goodbye. After reading Gandhi and Tolstoy’s essays on nonviolence, however, it struck me. I totally resisted striking back. All my friends and I had every intention of getting these people back, in contempt of course. But instead, I inadvertently chose Sharp’s method of nonviolence noncooperation. Hopefully a good old silent treatment will give me time to cool down, because at this point in time, I blame the University.
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