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Inner and Outer Peace:
Creating our own Peace Culture

This talk was given by Chris Deefholts at "A Peaceful World for our Children" Conference held at Gaunts House in November 2000.

Peace begins at home. Everyone has experienced peace in their everyday lives, at least a few times (!) so everyone knows how profound peace can be and how easily it can seem to dissipate.

What is more elusive, is knowing how to hold onto it, knowing how to experience it as a constant companion as we go about our daily lives.

Well we were warned several thousand years ago, in times which would now seem like heaven on earth, when peace of mind was the norm, that the age would come when we would experience darker times. But I'm not about to be a doom-laden soothsayer and spout about forthcoming disasters - no, not like that. But the darker times are upon us, in the sense that we have lost touch with our natural peaceful state of mind. Let's pause for a moment and examine this.

In a typical family day, so many of us experience a nagging, underlying stress which begins when we open our eyes first thing in the morning. It spills out into the day around us as we go about our everyday activities, almost as if we are carrying around a subtle extra load, we have a common expression for this - carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.

It is echoed by our family members, our children, our work colleagues, the violence of programmes on the television screens, the stories of woe in the news papers. There's always some shock horror or latest scandal to worry about, personal irritation, inconsiderate neighbour, naughty child to occupy our minds 90% of the day. And if nothing happened today, why, I've got millions of stored memories to draw on to sustain my mood of dissatisfaction. So much upset, so much sadness and irritation!! It's not my fault, I've had an upset childhood (insert you own reason here!)

The most amazing thing of all in the 21st Century is that we put up with, we actually (mostly) get by with living in spite of such discomfort and restlessness. Honestly, why do we put up with it? Maybe its because we are so used to it we accept it as the norm. We don't notice it any more. A person is shot on our television news and we accept it. The full reality of a human being's death has been removed from us, and somehow we are anaesthetised. We see meat in a supermarket wrapped up in plastic, but we don't experience the animal's fear of death because it is not killed before us. Our days are filled with unnatural noise, pollution, artificial food and light and all sorts of activities we weren't really designed to tolerate (like sitting in front of a computer all day long.) All these stresses take their toll.

There's a sting in the tail. Take note!
Our outer and inner worlds are intimately connected. What is inside is reflected outside, and vice versa. Our so called peaceful world is very fragile, because we are often so very out of touch with our selves. Our formal western education disrupts the divine presence which the young child experiences quite naturally.

When I came to starting my own family, I fell into a big empty hole, because I had all these intellectual ideas about peace but no real experience of it. Consequently my children's early family life was a big experiment. One of the first things I noticed (from the moment my first child was born) and obvious really - was that I was my child's first teacher. So he copied me in every way. My movements, my sounds, words, and my moods. He was so in tune with me, that I began to realise that he was my mirror. If I was shut off from myself, so was he. My Joe was a natural mimic and took me and my husband, and everyone else, including all the adverts on the TV, off to a tee, right down to the intonation and underlying mood. It was a subtle hint to me. If I wanted a happy child, happy children, I had to dig inside myself, to my own natural happy state, and function from that point of reference. I had to be careful what I put out there, and what kind of environment I created around them - obviously, I wanted the best for my children - I wanted to create a nourishing, supportive environment for them.

Actually it was very hard going the first couple of years, because I was working in the dark. I knew that a more peaceful way was possible, but I really hadn't a clue how to begin. My eldest was hyperactive, very intelligent little boy, and I admit freely - I was often at the end of my tether! But you know, as Dame Edna Everedge, that well known Australian Super Housewife Star once said "O Lord, When I'm at the end of my tether, I hope you're on the other end!"

When there is a real longing, there is great focus, and the energy of that focus brings about change. I kept searching for answers. And they came in natural, simple ways. My second child was prone to febrile convulsions, and hearing loss, I felt sure that we should be looking at prevention rather than just dealing with the symptoms. One day I heard about a Doctor who also practised complementary medicine, muscle testing for allergies and food intolerance.

So I took my little boys along and discovered they were sensitive to refined sugar. To cut a long story short, that single discovery was a huge practical step towards self discovery. We learnt to eat a natural, unpolluted diet that calmed the hyperactivity, stopped the ill health in my second child, and brought an evenness of mind and peaceful temperament to the whole family.

In time a whole spiritual path based on inner peace emerged, and in time I trained as a Yoga teacher, teaching part time, running the family business, and bringing up my three children. I was always very busy, but also happy - and our home eventually provided a peaceful resource for the neighbourhood as well, where people could come and learn to meditate. None of this happened overnight, it took time and happened in small, cumulative ways. Our family life has not been without its ups and downs (who can avoid that in life) but each child has had the opportunity to be taught how to face and handle life's stresses.

How can we create a peaceful environment that will nurture, support and involve our children? How can we touch peace on a regular basis and how can we communicate it and share it with our children?

Creating Peace is possible and it is not difficult. It is a skill like any other and can begin in the simplest of ways. Lama Gangchen, a Tibetan Teacher who has worked tirelessly for peace says in his book, Peace Culture:

"Peace is not just an absence of war; it has many qualities. It is precious, beautiful and it is our natural essence."

There is a big clue here on how to begin. We begin with ourselves. With our own hearts. We can work for change in our own inner environment, by healing our mental and emotional states. We can create a peace culture in our outer environment through loving, peaceful actions such as nurturing our physical bodies with nourishing food and through our own peaceful thoughts and actions, and our children too will absorb peace.

Here are seven key things that worked for me in creating a peace culture in my family life.

1) Reflection.

Our thoughts are formed from old traces of experiences, old memories, actions and thoughts. All these eventually repeat and accumulate to create habitual reactions, tendencies and patterns of behaviour. Just a fleeting trace of a word in our mind can call up vast realms of thought, speech and action, because energy follows thought. So much thought kicks in via the back door, unchecked and all those tendencies kick in unconsciously and repeatedly. Thoughts cluttered by unchecked baggage are not n accurate barometer for seeing things as they really are. We get a very personalised view of the world, coloured by our own biases, for good or bad.

So. We can create a lot of peace simply by becoming more conscious of our thoughts - we do have a choice. We can allow our minds to drift on unchecked, or we can harness that energy and stop it frittering away in negative emotion, for example. We can change our negative thoughts to good ones. Eg when I first get up in the morning, I can notice my mood. If I wake up grumpy, who is responsible? Am I going to let it ruin the whole day?

We create a powerful reality with our thoughts because energy follows thought. Lets create a happy world.

Keep a journal. It doesn't have to be every day - that can be a chore, but fairly regular. It helps to plot your patterns and issues. Insights bring changes - you begin to see how your attitudes have been shaped, and how they shape your regular thoughts. Shows your triggers - and gives you a forum to explore and off load feelings. Can also stimulate great creativity.

A friend told me that in the school she works, each primary school child does a weekly mind map to explore their week - what worked, what didn't and so on. This is teaching children a life long tool which will help in all sorts of situations in the future, and has the added benefit of alerting teachers to any difficulty a child may need help with resolving.

2) Relationships

Peaceful family and neighbourly relationships, not family arguments. Peace really does begin at home, in your own heart. Children are so attuned to us, to our states, they pick up on all our subtle messages.

The bottom line is this. You just cannot rely on someone else to make the first move. It really is down to us to take responsibility, and the rewards are greater than you could ever imagine.

One of my in-laws seemed to dislike me from the moment she saw me. I found it very hard to deal with this unsought animosity. I felt like a victim, and had no idea how to handle it. In some families, rowing seems to be a way of life; other families learn to shove everything under the carpet. Both behaviours are disfunctional, and not very helpful for genuine family peace. So for ten years I got upset and got my buttons pushed; and then I got fed up. The penny suddenly dropped. I couldn't wait for someone else to make the first move to repair the situation - I had to do it myself. She did not have the skills to do it. I had to summon up some courage and deal with my own attitude. So one Christmas I decided to act as if. To act as if she was my most rare and precious friend and put my whole heart into it. I cleaned the house for a week beforehand - because she was very tidy and I was not!! I really wanted to welcome her. I spent all Christmas working really hard and did all the cooking and the washing up without grumbling, just watching my mind and withdrawing from the criticism as it started to kick in.

On the last day, about half an hour before she was due to leave, she came into the kitchen just as I was putting the last dishes away. "O Chris" she said, "You've done the washing up again and I never even came in and helped!"

As my mind started to kick in with it's usual reaction, I stopped myself and thought 'no, hear her out, give her some space. You've come so far - stay with it.'

"I just want to thank you for the most wonderful Christmas" she said. I looked into her eyes. Her words were meant, there were tears in her eyes. Her whole being moved me. It was a very poignant moment for us both. The tears rose in my eyes too as we silently and genuinely hugged each other for the first time. Since that day, we have had the odd disagreement, the odd feather ruffled (we are after all, human beings!) but there has never been any serious animosity between us since then.

It really is down to us to take responsibility, and the rewards are far, far greater than you could ever imagine…

3) Meditation // Chanting // Sacred Space

MEDITATION AND CHANTING. A natural progression from reflection is meditation. It is helpful to practice formally in the beginning - 10-20 mins to begin with, sit or lie with your back comfortably straight, and well supported if necessary. And then we watch the thoughts but don't let them grab us. We just watch them. We keep the focus on the present, on the rise and fall of the breath. As the breath becomes steady and even, the mind calms down, the thoughts slowly trickle by, the peace envelops you, Consciousness comes singing in your soul. It’s a most amazing discovery. Doing this when my kids were small was key. 5-10 mins a day in the beginning, when the kids catnapped. It was when I didn't do it, that I noticed the effect on me. Keeping the attention in the present, we experience the presence of our own consciousness. We experience peace. This peace habit then filters into the rest of the day - when we're changing a dirty nappy, or the children are crying over something, we have learnt the knack of keeping our balance - or at least, of regaining it quickly!!

I sat with my children too and led them through simple meditation. I taught them how to relax their muscles - handy later on when they were tense and sitting an exam. And sat with them chanting simple mantras. Chanting really does open the heart - it expands the thymus gland on a physical level, and helps to open the spiritual heart. Of course, theirs were already open, but it helped me to open mine, and to share their experience. Sometimes we sang the Sanskrit mantras I had learnt, and sometimes we sang simple English ones. This was my particular way, I encourage you to develop what feels right for you.

SACRED SPACE/ It helps to create a little sacred spot in the house where you can spend some regular quiet time. It creates a good habit in you, and also the peaceful vibrations start to accumulate there after a while, making it easier to go back into your peaceful state. Put a candle and a flower there, maybe a crystal; it can be ornate or simple, whatever calms your senses. It is somewhere your child may choose to sit too, from time to time - if they are upset, for example. When my children were little, our sacred space was simply a corner in my living room. Later on, when it was more appropriate, I was the original closet yogi, with a little converted cupboard at the top of the stairs. As they got older, I would sit in there in an odd, snatched moment during the day. It was a little haven of peace, a five minute time-out. Once or twice I was caught out when one of them answered the door to a neighbour - they all chorused - "oh yes, Mummy's upstairs, sitting in the cupboard!"

4) Subtle energy work

To clear the clutter, we can do energy work. Together with meditation these are powerful tools. Healing and energy work act like a scouring pad, clearing out the old stored up traumas and psychic debris and re-tuning us to the divine within. Energy work is, a modern set of practices which support our meditation, using the vibrational base of the practices of a spiritual tradition; there are many such systems, from Huna in Hawaii, to the empowerments and healing practices of Tibetan Buddhism.

Regular practice helps us to heal our bodies, emotions, minds and spiritual levels of ourselves. Then we don't dump our reactions and emotions on those around us. We take responsibility for our mental states. Our children don’t get dumped on either, and are shown how to handle those raw emotions when they come up, because they see us responding, instead of reacting.

5) Spending conscious time with our children

·                            As well as involving them in our personal practices, we can teach our children to take responsibility for their issues by involving them in such activities as family council and so on.

·                            EAT TOGETHER. Sit down WITH our children at least one meal a day together - without the television on! Community activity develops connection, continuity, social skills like listening and tolerance, sharing time. Have time for their stories and issues.

·                            FAMILY WALKS / ACTIVITIES. We can go out with them for walks - spend time in natural surroundings- so that they connect with and develop respect for Nature, trees, can feel the grass under their feet, and appreciate the sun etc. Get them involved in growing plants, give them a little responsibility! Do fun things and take up personal challenges with them - I learnt to Roller-skate at the grand old age of thirty six!

6) Support practical initiatives

·                            ETHICAL SHOPPING. Practice ethical consumerism - use recycled paper, recycle bottles, choose to walk instead of always taking the bus and so on! It's healthier for the body, and actually moderate exercise is important for a peaceful body and mind.

·                            CHARITY. Finally, give a little in charity. This does not necessarily mean money. Time is also precious, and again children learn through our example to have consideration for others in our community - like doing the shopping for someone who is house ridden, or even simply going in to listen for an hour. Even a smile can give so much to uplift another's day. It develops gratitude and appreciation for what we have, and also brings a peaceful attitude. In fact, we can bring loving attention to everything we do.

·                            SUPPORT PRACTICAL INITATIVES to protect and nurture our environment, and peace initiatives. For example, supporting the proposal for a permanent Spiritual Forum at the United Nations.

7) Developing our own personal Code of Ethics

These points helped to develop my own personal code of ethics, and they worked for our family, and my children now carry them as their own quite naturally as emerging young adults.

·                            Unconditional love. Teaching through your own personal actions that even if you don't always like what they do, they are always loved.

·                            Consistency. Children feel secure about the adult world and they can trust you.

·                            Kindness. Not the sugar sweet kind, but the kind that will teach sensible boundaries of behaviour, and help develop an internal sense of discipline and regularity in their lives, together with loving appraisal.

·                            Fairness. No bias towards adults or favouritism of children.

·                            Respect. To receive respect, we have to give it to our children. How can they learn to show something they have had no experience of? Children need respect from parents and of course, they also need it from their teachers - something often forgotten. This also includes patience for their point of view and level of understanding!

·                            Honesty. Give truthful answers.

·                            Trustworthiness. Don't make promises you can't keep - those made should be honoured.

·                            Listening to our children, being fully present with them. When they are little it isn't always easy, of course, they want you NOW. They want a story NOW, while you are getting their lunch!! So I would always pick them up and give them a hug, and say something like "I can't read to you right now, because I'm cooking for you, but here's a hug and shall we read together afterwards? Nearly every time they were quite satisfied, because they felt they had been heard.

As we learn to stay in touch with our inner peace, our outer world begins to reflect it back to us. This cultivation of peace then spreads out in a cumulative, ripple effect in our relationships, with our children's friends and in the environment around us. This is the sort of non-formal education we just don't get in school, but it should be on every curriculum. If we took care to make this happen, we would have a highly empowered, highly creative and fulfilled, peaceful society…

Let's take responsibility for creating a peaceful world for our children. Now, more than ever before, we NEED to hold that peace inside for ourselves and our world. The great and gentle St Francis prayed "Make me a channel of your peace." This is for all of us, not just for saints! We can ALL do this. What a difference it would make!

As Lama Gangchen declares:

"Peace with everything and everything with peace. Please."

© Chris Deefholts 2000


                                                                                                                                              Last Updated Jan 2005          1994, 1997, 2000 © Chris Deefholts; Peace Transmissions © C Deefholts 2000