Giving the Gift of Peace

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Dear Still Water Friends,

During the Still Water Day of Practice this past Saturday, the discussion turned to some of the ways we lose composure during the holidays.

It is hard to avoid the holiday hype: the canned music playing in every store, the decorations that go up before Thanksgiving, the clever enticements to holiday sales. It can make us feel like a 5-year-old at a birthday party who has overindulged on chocolate cake.

The weight of the expectations that we believe other people have of us also unsettles many of us. We believe that they expect that our gifts should make them happy, that our family celebrations should make them happy. The story we tell ourselves is that if they are not happy, it is our fault. Some of us, after years of unsuccessfully trying to create this happiness for others, are primed for failure. Just thinking about the holidays opens us to a river of past suffering.

During our Day of Practice we also talked about how we could counter the agitation of the holidays by cultivating peace in ourselves and offering it as a gift to others. In an English dictionary, the primary definitions of peace have to do with conditions outside of us, such as a cessation of a war, or having a physical environment that is quiet and tranquil. In the tradition of mindfulness, the emphasis is on inner peace. The ancient Buddhist words for peace – shanti in Sanskrit, santi in Pali – refer to an inner tranquility, the capacity to remain calm and mindful whatever the circumstances around us.

We can cultivate peace in ourselves through calming practices such as mindful breathing, meditation, and mindful walking, which relax our bodies and bring spaciousness to our hearts and minds. Through insight practices, such as embracing and looking deeply into our own desires, passions, hopes, and failings, we can reduce our reactivity. Our patience, empathy, and understanding increase.

It is a gift to be around a peaceful person. There is a solidity, a freshness, that is enjoyable and comforting. If there are conflicts and tensions, the peaceful person is better able to resolve them. Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart, some stability in our heart, some peace in our heart. (From an Inquiring Mind interview, Spring 1996.)

After our meditation period this Thursday, our program will explore gifts of peace: the ones we have been given, the ones we have given, and the ones we would like to give to ourselves and others this holiday season.

You are invited to join us.

Warm holiday wishes and many blessings for the new year,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

The Three Gifts
by Thich Nhat Hanh from For a Future to Be Possible

In Buddhism, we say there are three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the technology and knowhow to stand on their own feet. Helping people with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift of nonfear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift giving.