Inner Disarmament: Stepping Stones to Peace

In these tumultuous times filled with such vitriol, I find myself feeling absolutely powerless. The unending waves of hatred, armed conflict, violence and xenophobia wash over me. What is within my power? The grand scale of the challenges seems to make any action I take seem inconsequential.

By nature I am an irrepressible optimist, and I find some comfort in something the Dalai Lama said: If you desire world peace, practice inner disarmament. Inner disarmament is not a part of our language or culture. Over the years I have struggled with what it means and how to cultivate it. I have been contemplating and really noticing my own anger and narrow-mindedness when it shows up.

At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, I realized there was something afoot in my interior life when I dreamed I was having a friendly discussion with George W. Bush over dinner. A wild idea no doubt for me as a confirmed progressive who was dead set against the invasion. The dream stunned and surprised me and opened for me some new way of seeing. At the dinner table this man ("W"), whom I had categorized and put in a box walled off by my own judgment and criticism was, after all, just a human being, doing what he thought best. The mere fact of our differences of opinion did not change our shared humanity. I listened. He listened. I was shocked that he actually was re-thinking his policy. (Oh, if only I were this powerful!) There was a startling take-away for me.

I realize that when certain feelings arise in me (hate, anger, and -- what is all too easy -- turning people into "others" for any reason), I lose my ability to hear what is being said, to understand the emotions present in the discussion, and to even imagine common ground. So real change starts with me and with each of us.

The first step for me is to notice the feelings and identify them. If I am really paying attention, I can catch myself before the feelings are in control of my mind, my mouth, and my actions. If I find myself wrapped up in a self-righteous story or justification for why someone else is wrong, I know I have to stop. If and when I truly listen, I am often surprised and moved by what I hear.

Does inner disarmament interest you? Consider this first step: Pause when you move towards or are already in a state of anger or agitation towards another person. In this moment of pausing, notice what you are feeling. You do not need to change anything but as you listen, recognize that your thoughts are colored by this emotion and just see what happens.

You may be tempted to dismiss this idea as naive. I am not saying there are not hateful words and behavior. But that is not all that is there. And if act from our own anger or hatred, there is no chance we can change anything.