Peace in the world starts with peace in oneself… The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions. – Thich Nhat Hanh

When I came of age, it was the late-60s, right in the middle of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, in the middle of the counter-culture hippy rebellion against conventionality.  The Middle East was aflame.  The Cold War was at its peak.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  The Black Power and Weatherman movements were talking revolution. China was emerging as a threat.  The word “peace” had a very important place in the hippy vernacular of the time, for there was so little of it, but there was very real hope that peace would eventually carry the day.  There was even an iconic hand gesture to stand for it – the index and middle finger in a “V,” the other fingers folded over the palm – and there was, as well, the iconic circle with intersecting lines inside. 

Now, nearly sixty years later, the country and the world are possibly even more aflame, and I hardly ever hear of the aspiration for “peace” anymore, yet the stakes are even higher than they were in the 1960s.  In 1968 the country was in turmoil, but no one questioned whether democracy would survive.  Today, many historians express just this concern.  Fear and hate mongering, slander, lies, conspiracy theories, authoritarianism, even flirting with sedition and incitement to violence infest our political atmosphere.  The probable Republican presidential nominee has vowed, using the language of dictators, to “root out … the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.”  The country was politically and culturally very divided in the late-60s, yet the general populace was not so polarized as now, causing astute political analysts to warn of the very real possibility of widening political violence, perhaps even civil war. 

I do not say these things to provoke or for partisan purpose, but we cannot turn away from truth if we are to find our way to reconciliation and peace; there can be no peace and reconciliation without a full commitment to truth-telling. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say we are in a defining time when the future of this country and the world depends on our finding our way to peace, and only through unembellished truth-telling can we find the common ground necessary, for the ultimate unequivocal common ground must be truth.

In the 60s, the first warnings of the gravity of ecological degradation were being issued, but the consequences of severe climate change we are experiencing today were not yet felt.  Today, amid obviously worsening climate conditions, meaningfully addressing this growing threat is STILL being resisted by political conservatives. In a very real sense, we are fiddling with political and cultural differences, insignificant in the big picture, while the world is beginning to burn, the consequences of which will upend everyone’s life.  In promotion of their divisive fictions, wannabe authoritarians attack science, journalism, and academia, professions based in fact and verification, attempting to silence the truth, for truth is the enemy of these fictions and those who spread them.  Random mass shootings by deranged individuals with easy access to military style weaponry are now commonplace, but even the most basic regulation of guns is resisted based on a deliberate misreading of the intent of the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution.  Chinese and Russian expansionist ambitions threaten peace, authoritarianism seems to be on the rise, and war in Ukraine and the Middle East is exploding while America’s place in the world as a champion of democracy and peace is being undermined by our dysfunctional internal politics.  Today, peace appears to be a disheveled, disheartened orphan angel.

Thich Nhat Hanh joins together the concepts of peace and reconciliation, and it is true, to find our way to peace, real peace, we must begin with reconciliation.  And the question arises, do we really understand the depth of reconciliation that is needed if we are to find peace?  We must clearly find our way to reconciling the brittle political divide that is threatening our country, but there are many levels of divide we in this culture must resolve if we are to truly find peace.  We must STILL work to reconcile the racial divisions and inequity which the 60s addressed, while adding continued work in empowering women and the gender atypical.  We must reconcile the growing economic divide within our capitalist system which, when left to its own dynamics, always moves toward concentrating wealth with the already wealthy.  We must reconcile the divide between our industrial, materialist, technological society and the very land, the ecology that is our home.  We must reconcile the divisions within ourselves which lead us to be so anxious, fearful, aggressive, competitive, cynical, and blind to the wondrous nature of Life.  And we must reconcile the divide which keeps us from experiencing a true spiritual connection with the miracle that is Life.  All these divisions stand as obstacles to the peace that comes with living in connection at every level with who we truly are. We need a reconciliation of these divisions to realize we are all in this great undertaking that is Life together and only in transcending these false divisions will be able to find our way to real and lasting peace.

We must realize that if we do not practice peace, the world cannot come to peace.  We must realize that world peace begins with our ability to find peace within ourselves, for it all begins with individuals who have committed themselves to, what in Buddhist language is called, “awakening” into truth.  We must look very hard at the belief systems we carry and ask when we begin to dissect them, do they hold up?  What are the real obstacles between people?  It is only ideas of difference reinforced through social and cultural conditioning.  When we peel away these external influences, what remains?  What remains are human beings who want to live free of suffering and torment. Who can legitimately be excluded?  No one.  This is truth.

When we peel away the superficial differences between people and all life-forms, we are left with Life manifesting in its great diversity, all deserving to live in dignity and within natural balance – humans, animals, plants, even the mineral foundation of our Earth.  We live on a planet that is essentially every bit as much a life-form as a human being or a deer or a tree, yet we treat this rare life-giving gem in the Universe as nothing but a resource, depleting it and disrupting its natural cycles and balance, and because of this, climate chaos is ensuing, threatening to upend our societies.  This is all what Buddhists call karmic action which will have real consequences. We carry thousands of years of karma, meaning actions that have been based in false belief systems about the basic differences among people, between humans and other life forms, and about the very nature of the planet that is our home.  We must change our direction away from the abusive relationships which have become ingrained in our way of living.  We must bring consciousness to who we are and what is needed for harmonious human civilization and enlightened relationship with other life-forms, nature, and the planet.

In Buddhism, there is a formula for resolving destructive karma, to bring our karmic path into harmony and peace.  It tells us to practice forgiveness, gratitude and contrition while taking personal responsibility for moving forward, dedicated to the path of truth, compassion, and peace.  We must be scrupulously truthful about the harm our habits of thinking and action have wrought, not the least of which is to ourselves in creating levels of unhappiness and mental/emotional dysfunction that do not have to be.  We must forgive, as the Lord’s Prayer says, those who have transgressed against us as we seek forgiveness for our own transgressions.  This forgiveness lifts the weight of resentment and grievance that leads to endless cycles of harm. 

We must focus our attention into feeling deep gratitude for the gift of being human and for the remnants of Eden that are the natural world all around us as we accept the divine assignment of applying our inventiveness into its restoration and preservation, rather than continuing the exploitation and spoilage of which we are guilty.  And we must feel contrition as our motivation to turn our personal and collective lives away from aggression and deliberate self-serving fictions toward wisdom, truth, virtue and kindness as the guides for human conduct.  We must take complete individual responsibility to become agents of this turning of the collective human mind to the most glorious task of creating human and planetary peace.  This is truth, for there is no other viable, acceptable path forward in the long future.

What are we if we do not have the greatest ideals as our motivation?  We are failing at the art of being human.  We CAN find common ground in the greatest of purposes: the manifesting of peace – within ourselves, with each other and with the natural world. “Peace” is not to be left as a clichéd throwaway at the holiday season or as a naïve hope.  We must embrace it as our greatest human challenge, completely within our capacity.  Buddhism teaches “ahimsa,” meaning non-violence, compassion, open-heartedness, and peace.  What better vision to build a new society around?  And we absolutely need a new society, for the old one is just too false and violent, careening toward disaster.  The old hippy dream must become humanity’s most sincere purpose.  This is not naïve.  It is necessary.  Peace be to you, to yours, and to all that lives. It’s everyone’s responsibility.  Breathe slowly and settle into peace.  As the song says, “And let it begin with me.”

Bill Walz has taught meditation and mindfulness in university and public forums, and is a private-practice meditation teacher and guide for individuals in mindfulness, personal growth and consciousness. He holds a weekly meditation class, Mondays, 7pm, at the Friends Meeting House, 227 Edgewood. By donation. Information on classes, talks, personal growth and healing instruction, or phone consultations at (828) 258-3241, e-mail at

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