In writing this opening chapter and being mindful of the argument put forward in the Introduction, my proposition is this: peacefulness arises from within us as an expression of who we always have been and of whom we may become. It is rooted in love and compassion and is nurtured by stillness and silence.
We are so used to looking for answers in the external world of things and events, placing our enquiry ‘out there’ and making that enquiry by what is called objective observation, that the suggestion that this might be fruit- less – or even that it might not be entirely adequate – is likely to be received with derision. But suppose this derision is ill-founded. Suppose that when it comes to the quest for peacefulness, it is possible that our inner being is the best place to start – perhaps even the only place to start. For might it be possible that peacefulness is not really a thing or an event that can be found out there, but that it is a way of being that arises, can only arise, from within? Perhaps peacefulness can only be found by being peaceful.
My proposition is that this may be true, may always have been true; that peacefulness is and has always been, not only a possible, but a necessary way of inner being. Which is to say that we have never been, nor could we ever be, truly or most completely ourselves without inner peacefulness. We cannot be at one with ourselves and with others without being at peace.
As I write these words, I am aware that they will be thought to be hope- lessly pious and idealistic. Not part of the ‘real world’. But this may not be because the words themselves are false. Perhaps, arising in quietness, they simply won’t be heard above the incessant cacophony of a dominant ideology that drowns out all others. They will not be understood because we have come to accept and live by another set of words, loud words, an ideology of acute separation and selfishness – ‘more for me and me first’ – not murmured, but shouted. In this brash world, inner peacefulness is regarded as no more than a private
However, it is important to recognise that this notion of being separate and apart from the whole is particular, which is to say that it has been chosen. It is not absolute, and it is certainly not a rule of Nature. We have chosen it, even if we were unaware of doing so. Most likely, we did so because we were not aware of there being any other choice. Because we had been told that it was so, we thought there was only one ‘reality’ and this is it. But, of course, that is not true, there are others. In contrast to separation, there is wholeness, a wholeness moreover that accepts and includes differentiation. In contrast to selfishness, there is the notion of the common good, a common good moreover that accepts and includes the wellbeing of each one of us. And although such notions are today deeply counter-cultural, they are part of our most ancient history, our origins. Who we truly are is rooted in notions of belonging and community.
The point that I am trying to make, and I accept that it is no more than one point of view, is not that there was once a Golden Age, a time of undifferentiated wholeness or ‘being at one with’ – although many crea- tion myths are based upon such a possibility, a garden paradise from which we have been expelled, for instance – I am proposing something else: it seems to me that there has always been a tension in the human family between our separateness and our belonging. However, the point to note is that, until quite recently, the relationship between these two, between the separate and the whole, was balanced both by way of personal experi- ence and of social structure and order. It is perhaps over no more than 400 years or so and, most especially, during the last 50 years, that a damaging and disruptive imbalance has come about. And, of course, by encouraging separateness and by diminishing the place of relationship and community, the balance between the two has now been disturbed to such an extent that deep-rooted human qualities, such as love, compassion and peaceful- ness have come to be seen as being, at best, part of a private world, having nothing to do with the ‘real world’ realms of work and public governance.
If we are to challenge this, as I wish to do, if we are to discover ways of being that are loving, compassionate and peaceful, we need to understand how this imbalance has come about; discover and understand how it was that our ancestors who, at one time, regarded themselves as being part of the whole, began, instead, to see themselves as being separate and apart. For, albeit that its modern form is of a different kind, much more exag- gerated and disordered, it seems that the beginnings of this separation are, indeed, ancient too.