I was born in the thick of war and was one of the lucky few to escape the demented genocide of the Nazis. In my early school years in New York City, I was taught how to dive under my desk and fold my arms over my head whenever the sirens of another nuclear attack drill wailed. I remember puzzling over how my family could construct our own bomb shelter since we lived on the eighth floor of a sixteen-story apartment building.
A few years later, headlines were devoted to the 38th parallel, a latitudinal line on the world map pinned up next to the classroom blackboard. I was told that it divided the good guys from the bad in some little-known Asian peninsula where our boys were getting killed defending democracy against the scourges of communism. It was also my introduction to the concept that lines on a map define human identity.
I was too young to fight for our side during the Korean conflict, but came of age for Vietnam. Again, I managed to be one of the lucky ones, serving as a medic in the reserves and never experiencing a shot fired in anger. I finished my stint of active duty in San Antonio, Texas, and can still recall getting on the airport bus to the music of Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The war in Vietnam was in full swing then, and, for the first instance in my lifetime, the country became divided. Chants of “Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?” reverberated through the minds of our politicians and became the mantra of the flower children. It wasn’t long before President Johnson, saddened by the mess he had helped perpetrate, brought the kids home, not as heroes but as damaged young men still shell-shocked by the purposelessness of it all.
Timothy Leary was a cult hero as he popularized the use of psychedelics for spiritual purposes. Volkswagen bugs were festooned with daisy decals. Girls wore flowers in their hair, and the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, for a brief moment, was the love center of the world. It was a great time to be alive. We were filled with hope then and knew that if we just danced, sang, and hugged long enough, peace would prevail on Earth.
That was some forty years ago, and our legs and voices have become weary. The flowers are long gone, yet wars continue to scar the human landscape like uncontrollable leper spots. Over the years we have spawned countless bureaucracies and organizations devoted to bringing peace to a beleaguered world. None of them have had much effect, and I am now convinced that we will never see peace in our time. Something about our concept of peace is fatally flawed, and until we get that right, we’re just another dog chasing its own tail.
I suspect our definition of peace is too broad to be useful. The spiritual connotation of peace – the calmness of mind and heart that leads to serenity of spirit – is diametrically opposed to the word’s more common temporal meaning: a state of freedom from conflict between two adversarial factions. The first embraces unity, the second underscores separation. Our language is full of oxymora that pay homage to the dark side of peace: police described as peace officers, UN soldiers called peace keepers, magistrates known as justices of the peace.
Judging by the global escalation in hostilities, it appears that marching, praying, and working for peace haven’t accomplished much. As long as people cling to national, religious, or ethnic identities, peace in the deeper meaning of the word is impossible. True peace – not the detente between opposing factions that passes for peace in the minds of those unwilling or unable to look beyond the geopolitical arena – is only available as the by-product of love. When two warring factions compromise in the interests of peace, there may be a temporary cessation of overt hostilities, but little else is accomplished.
When true peace does come, it arrives unbidden as the natural consequence of finding internal serenity. And that serenity is the result of letting go of all the outward trappings we use to navigate the illusion of life. We have to lose our need to judge – both ourselves and others – and reclaim our ability to think with our heart rather than our mind. This is the key to the non-violent state of being called ahimsa in Sanskrit. When ahimsa settles so deeply into one’s very matrix, it renders redundant all the “thou shalt not’s” of religion and society. Grounded in ahimsa, an individual is incapable of forming an unkind thought or making an impatient gesture, much less actually harming another sentient being. Love is so complete and unconditional that fear has nowhere to find purchase.
This state as the ground of all human interaction is what awaits us in the next paradigm, when we finally realize we are all one, when we have transcended this illusion and the sense of separation it fosters. It is not possible in this time, because the true meaning of peace remains elusive for most of us. When finally, love opens my heart sufficiently to allow me to see that you and I are reflections of each other, peace ceases to be a question. When humankind as a whole reaches that state of love, we will all be in another time, and the trials and tribulations of our current existence will be but a distant memory. Then, there will be peace on Earth.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.