It seems to me that there are two kinds of peace. There’s “peace of mind” and there’s “peace on earth.” While these are related, they are definitely two different types of peace. But the question is, do you first have to have peace on earth in order to have peace of mind? Or does peace on earth come from people who have peace of mind? I think it’s the latter. If we wait for peace on earth before we have peace of mind, we will never have either one. World peace comes from people who have inner peace. And by the same logic, violence comes from people who lack inner peace.
Jesus was always going around wishing people peace. But he wasn’t talking about “peace on earth” (though it appears the angels did sing about that when he was born). He was talking about peace of mind. Contrary to what a lot of people like to say, Jesus was not a revolutionary. He was not trying to change the world, he was only trying to change individuals, but by giving people peace of mind, he did change the world.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that peace on earth begins with peace of mind. The world is changed when individuals change. And what does it take to have peace of mind? First of all, I think the greatest barrier to peace of mind is a lack of forgiveness. The person with no peace of mind often either doesn’t feel forgiven and/or refuses to forgive others. Holding a grudge is like poison for the soul, and Jesus was pretty clear that the refusal to forgive is a sin in and of itself (Matthew 6:14). Beyond that, peace of mind requires a life of order, rather than chaos; a life of simplicity rather than complexity; and a life that is focused on relationships with people rather than acquiring things. I know it’s easy to say, and infinitely harder to change one’s life in the direction of peace, but that doesn’t make it any less true. By the way, I do get more into the advicey “how-to” stuff in my book, Spiritual Blueprint.
If I can be so bold as to paraphrase St. Augustine (and I hope he won’t be mad at me when I meet him, ‘cause I do a lot of this), Augustine said two things that are relevant here. First, we’ll never be happy as long as our love is oriented toward things – especially things that we might never acquire, or things we might lose once we have them. The only way to find true happiness (i.e., peace of mind) is to love people – God first, then neighbor. Second, Augustine said that all sin ultimately comes from fear. Often it’s the fear of losing what we love that pushes us to lash out at others whom we perceive are a threat to our beloved possessions. But of course if we give the priority of our love to God and neighbor, then there’s less of that fear. In fact, I think the opposite of peace of mind is fear – the fear that causes us to take a defensive position, and see other people as adversaries.
It’s a vicious cycle, really, because the fear causes us to love people less, which leads to more fear. But if we can cultivate peace of mind, then we can approach others without that defensiveness that perceives them as a threat. Then, we can treat other people in peaceful ways that will actually contribute to peace on earth. We say we want peace on earth, but we often act like we think it will just arrive one day. It’s like we’re saying to our neighbors, “Let’s have peace… you start.”
Don’t get me wrong – unfortunately there are people in this world who can’t be trusted, and so sometimes it’s appropriate to keep our guard up. Nevertheless, I think if we really want peace, we have to cultivate peace of mind as individuals. Then we have to deal with other people from that place of peacefulness. If we want peace, we especially have to learn to speak peacefully to each other, and value each other rather than oppose each other.
I put some of these thoughts in my latest Spiritual Blueprint video. I hope you like it. If you do, feel free to pass it around.