page twenty-six: Keeping the Peace
I am an avid peace lover. When I was just a little girl, I was making peace between members of the household. As a young adult, while at work I liked to play mediator and negotiate peace between colleagues. And it continued into various roles in life. I was a peace fanatic. Peace at any cost, which meant avoiding conflicts and pleasing people.
It seemed to work for a long time. But in my forties, I began to sense that the calm I was maintaining was not true peace. The bump on the ground where the unresolved conflicts lay buried, grew into a molehill and then a mountain. Fortunately, around that time I made a deep connection with the Bhagavad Gita, the spiritual teachings from the Hindu tradition, and for the first time I saw the possibilities inherent in conflict. Discord offers us opportunities for growth and our growth in turn fosters true peace.
Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychoanalyst puts it beautifully in the words, “Conflict exists strictly as an opportunity to raise our consciousness.”
Raising consciousness leads to finding a place of deep serenity within oneself. A serenity so steady and abiding that it remains undisturbed even in the midst of a conflict. In fact, resolutions that bring about lasting peace can only be born out of a mindset that is comfortable with conflict. That is the paradox.
I revisited this idea recently in a study group based on Pema Chodron’s simple yet profound book, Taking the Leap, where she says:
“Peace isn't an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth. It’s an experience that's expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”
It was the fourth or fifth time that I was reading the book. Over the years I have come to accept that my way of learning is not through reading many books once but through reading the same 50 or so books that I love, many times over! Each time the teachings sink in a little deeper firming their roots in my mind.
Shortly after completing that book group, I took time off to go on a vacation to Estes Park, Colorado, with Krish, my husband. The weeklong break from teaching gave me time to reflect on the wisdom from the book. The words about peace being an unconditional backdrop for the ups and downs of life had left an impression and continued to echo in my mind.
It is said that holding two opposing ideas at once is one of the most challenging exercises for the human brain and that is what I was attempting to do. As I grappled with integrating peace and conflict in the same frame, one evening at Estes Park, Mother Nature gave me a hand.
We were out, Krish and I, walking around Lily Lake. This lake is an unmissable place of beauty and serenity. Its still waters mirror perfectly the tall snow-clad mountains in the distance, the surrounding green trees, and the beautiful vast skies above.
We had visited the lake on Day 1 and fallen in love with it instantly. Today, on Day 5, we were on our fourth visit. Each time I reveled in the peace and tranquility of the place, wanting to bottle it up within me to take home.
We walked quietly around the lake, not wanting to disturb the stillness. There was hardly anyone around at the time. The air was cool and still. The walk around the lake was a short one, less than a mile. Krish was walking faster and was well ahead of me, while I walked slowly behind, mindful of every step.
At one point, I paused to admire the beauty and breathe it in. Two ducks were swimming in my direction, one following the other. I smiled at the harmony between them. The duck that was ahead arrived at the bank and made a beeline towards a mallard hen (the female) that was about four feet from where I stood. Female ducks do not have the colorful plumes that make the males so pleasing to the eye. She had almost blended with the ground and I had not noticed her until then.
The second duck quickly followed its leader, also making its way to the mallard. I watched intently now realizing they had not simply drifted toward me as I had imagined. Then, right in front of my disbelieving eyes, the two ducks were attacking one another, embroiled in a vicious battle over the female. I had never witnessed such a violent fight between ducks ever before!
The mallard deftly slipped out from under the dueling ducks and entered the lake. Now the two ducks followed her into the waters even as they continued their bitter fight. And just when I was sure one was going to kill the other, the fight ended. As suddenly as it had begun. The duck who had established himself as the winner, joined the female smugly while the other swam away, in a different direction. Their problem resolved, they all moved on!
“Welcome to Lily Lake!!” declared someone behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin. My heart was still thudding from the aggression that had just taken place. It was a backpacker whom I had not noticed earlier. I turned around and smiled.
“Yes!” I said, “Who would have expected such action here, of all places?”
We laughed and continued on our ways. I completed the circle and joined Krish who had missed the action.
As we settled into the car and headed back, I looked out the window. The lake looked just as quiet and innocent as when we had first arrived. A few ducks and mallards were swimming peacefully upon the waters.
I reflected deeply on what I had experienced. It was a gift, all of it, including the backpacker’s words. Lily Lake was indeed so much more than peace and quiet. It was also conflict and drama and violence. Reality is complex and nuanced. Mother Nature had revealed to me how gracefully she had held within Her, both the stillness and the aggression.
It is not about making peace. It is about keeping the peace that is already and always here. Before, during, and after the conflict.