At Christmas and New Year we send cards and messages wishing each other happiness, merriment, prosperity, contentment, joy, fulfilment. Probably one of the most common wishes we bestow upon each other is that of peacefulness – peace for Christmas and for the year to come. So common is it to write blessings of peace in the cards we send that it can appear, through over-use, to be a meaningless platitude. Considered from the point of view of achieving peace on earth – solving the problems of global flash points like Jerusalem, Aleppo, and Pyongyang – then maybe it is understandable to see it as beyond our reach. You could argue it has become as empty as the vain wish of Miss World in her crowning speech. However, if each of us tries to carve out a simple peace for ourselves in 2018, wouldn’t that go a long way to fostering greater peace within a family, a tenement block, a street, a neighbourhood, a town, a city? And so it might ripple out like the proverbial pebble thrown into the water, a Mexican wave of peacefulness. Or am I beginning to sound like the vacuous Miss World I earlier described?
I do believe, though, that we cannot project ourselves into a peaceful future by living in our own agitated present. We can aspire to worldwide harmony, but we cannot get there by neglecting our personal peacefulness in this moment. The Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, provides a simple, distilled treatise on individual peace, which begins with the self, and is achieved in the now.
‘Peace’ by Patrick Kavanagh
“Upon a headland by a whinny hedge
A hare sits looking down a leaf-lapped furrow
There’s an old plough upside-down on a weedy ridge
And someone is shouldering home a saddle-harrow.
Out of that childhood country what fools climb
To fight with tyrants Love and Life and Time?”
To me, Kavanagh is saying that peace is right here, all around us in the simple beauty of the countryside or, paradoxically, in the mêlée of the city street, if we opt to recognise and appreciate it. But Kavanagh calls out the three things that ultimately disrupt our personal peace and wellbeing: love and life and time. They are tyrants only insofar as we (and surely this is part of the human condition) rail against accepting the inevitability of all three. Love: that we will find it and lose it. Life: that it will be given to us and taken from us. Time: that we cannot control it and that it seems to speed inexorably to one point. Underneath these three fundamental truths, over which we have no authority, there is always peace to be had in the moment.
Over sixty years ago Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a book called ‘Gift from the Sea’, which I think it is a relevant as ever. She writes of the need for stillness, which, if it is true stillness, is synonymous with peacefulness. When you ask a child to sit peacefully, you mean for them to be quiet and still. So must we carve out some stillness for ourselves in the rush and festivities of the days to come. Lindbergh says: “We must be as still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of our activities; we must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for our own salvation, but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of civilization.”
I’m signing off for a few days. In the meantime, I sincerely wish you all a peaceful Christmas and New Year.