On resilience and Peace


Funeral urn with turquoise filial

We become what we do.  This is one of the primary learnings of neuroplasticity – how we are able to develop a return to peace after adversity. But if religion tells us that what we do is evil and naughty then how shall we find peace? We keep going until we can’t. It’s that simple.

Unfortunately, this ability to rise from a fall determines everything from happiness to attention, physical health to end of life timing. This ability to bounce back from life’s offerings of terrible pain and betrayal, trauma and abuse – this ability to bounce back only develops with and as we experience these very traumas.  In other words, what we are learning from neuroscience and, neuroplasticity in particular, is that peace is achieved in life when we can drop the rope and do things which help us to heal.  A hot bath. Meditation. A walk in the woods. A hug.

Much has been made, and rightly so, about Jesus’ frequent references to His followers being “peaceful” or having “peace” in their lives.  Our liturgies reference the call to peace between nations, between people and within our own waring inner-ego-thoughts – what meditators call our natural “monkey mind.”

In my experience, however, very few of the 366 references to our having “peace” in Christian and Hebrew texts offer WAYS to be peaceful. Sure, “Peace” is the destination but what is, as the Christian and Zen traditions ask, is The Way?

My household is Christianity and when I am asked to “consider the lilies of the field” I am warmed.  For a few seconds. Like the effects of a Hallmark card or a FB kitten video. Then my over-caffeinated, over-scheduled, over-busy, overdrawn body gets angry.  “But HOW?” 

I know the answer to my own question but I am angry, in part, because I do not like the answer about which I and so many spiritual traditions are rather confident, and have been for 5,000 years.  And that inner tension between demanding an answer about how to achieve peace in life, and my awareness of “the way” causes even more repressed suffering in me than the lack of peace.  Ironic right!? Infuriating more like it! It feels like a dog looks like when it chases its own tail in frenzied circles…sad and a bit hilarious, but mostly sad. And a bit tiring.

The vessel above is one I made for my friend who needed one for her dead mother’s cremains. The iron glaze gathers blue when it settles thick in its rings. The turquoise sphere is a nod to New Mexico and the land from which the clay comes and into which the urn will be lowered for its final resting place.  It will be there, if undisturbed, for about 10,000 years.

I am a panentheistic, which helps.  Many are these days, but may not be aware of the term. Celtic spirituality makes it a central truth. God is in everything and everything is in God. This is why Celtic theologians and those aligned with them consider the Earth (intentionally capitalized) God’s Cathedral and churches simply side chapels.  The Earth – our source of life, our walls of beauty, our stained glass of sunsets, our worship of hikes and tree-house-solitude.

“Humility” comes from the word for earth, soil that is. It is the answer to my earlier question about finding and experiencing this elusive “peace.” ( Drum roll please….)

Religion has long equated peace with virtue.  You will have peace after a confession to a priest.  You will have peace if you go to church or synagogue on Sundays or Saturdays.  You will have peace if you pass it in a liturgy with hugs (or polite Anglican nods.)  You will NOT have peace if you “misbehave.”  Perhaps.  Sometimes. Religion however, in its attempts to inspire “peace through virtue” has only inspired more anxiety among messy humans.

I trust in the reality that fighting with what happens only adds to our suffering (dog chasing tail.) I trust in the God or Creative Entity which (or who) created this cosmos and this Earth-Cathedral. I trust that one day I too will be burned up, ground up and placed inside one of my vessels to be buried in the earth for the next 10,00 years. Or nine thousand.  Or eleven. And I trust that no matter what terrible things happen to me in life (and they do, as with you) the kindness I offer and receive is and will be my Eternity within God.

Humility, like resilience, is not something we can learn or be gifted.  They are only things we can become by doing our hells and moving past them – only through the School of Hard Knocks. And yet humility is earthy, loamy, peaty, deliciously dark while shot-through with ancient decay. Remembering we will all return to Earth is a valuable heart-icon.  I keep my own funeral urn where I can see it every day; a gentle reminder not only that I will die but that what fuels peace is humility AND that humility is borne of suffering and trust, not virtue.

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