peace within

Healing the Present, Healing the Past

By Azriel Cohen Shared at the Hiroshima Commemoration Ceremony in Plum Village, August 7, 2001 .

Last night, a young man from Germany at the Hiroshima Commemoration in the Upper Hamlet shared with the community how he observed anger arising within himself, when the Israeli-Palestinian group shared that the trauma of the Holocaust was still a source of deep suffering for the Jewish people, and that it affected the situation in the Middle East. He decided to look deeply into the anger that was within himself, and he discovered that though he was born a long time after World War II he himself was still not healed from the wounds of that war. He had ancestors who were actively involved in the Nazi regime. He turned to the community and declared that he personally wanted to do something that might be healing and to somehow find a way to apologize to all the Jews who had suffered. He asked the community to breathe mindfully and  support him while he bowed his head to the ground in silence.

mb31-Healing1

I was deeply moved by what he did. When my turn came up to share my reflections on the experiences of the Israeli-Palestinian group, I offered the following story to this young German man:

My only other time in Plum Village was five years ago. The most moving experience I had was on my last day. At our last Dharma discussion of the retreat, a young woman who I did not know shared with our group a very deep pain that she had in her heart and soul. She was German and was tormented by the possibility that her ancestors had somehow played a role in perpetrating the atrocities of the Holocaust. Though she was third generation after the war, and though she had no certain evidence that anyone in her family was involved, she was haunted by the deeds of her grandparents ' generation. She was obsessed with discovering the truth and finding a way to heal from it. She read every book she could find on the Holocaust, saw films and spent time in archives combing through information to see if any of her relatives were mentioned. Through her eyes she shared her pain and suffering echoed in her voice.

After the circle was finished, I went over to her. I said, "Amelie, I'm named after my grandfather's little brother, Azriel, who was killed in one of the concentration camps during World War II. The last time my grandfather saw his brother was when he was a little boy, so he was unable to ever tell me much about him." Both of us had tears in our eyes, realizing that here we were three generations later, the two sides facing each other. Both of us realized that if there was anything whatsoever that we could do to contribute to healing what had happened, it would be by getting to know each other as humans. I had no plans to go to Germany during my travels through Europe, but I decided to visit Amelie at her parents' home near Munich. We went together to Dachau, one of the more well-known concentration camps and we spent six hours in total silence, walking and just being. The next morning I departed, and though that was the last time we saw each other, the experience will forever be with me.

Last night, during the ceremony commemorating Hiroshima, the young man from Germany and I walked arm in arm carrying candles under the open starry sky. I realized how in the present we can impact on the healing of the past and what seems to be beyond us, and that each of us, in our own little way can contribute to peace if we find  peace within ourselves.

Azriel Cohen helped to organize the group of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who have come two times to practice in Plum Village together.

PDF of this article

Turning Towards the Light

Israeli and Palestinian Meetings in Plum VillageMembers of the Palestinian-Israeli Sangha

One soul has been changed

Dear Thay, I am a young Palestinian woman, who was part of the Palestinian-Israeli group in Plum Village last week. I lived in Paradise for a week. I felt that Plum Village is paradise for two reasons: the location and the atmosphere and the fact that our enemies were our friends. All the people around me were my family. I could sense the warmth of love radiating from every soul and penetrating my dark heart. The darkness has been living there since my childhood, the darkness that was caused by "our cousins," the cousins that took away my childhood, and are now aiming at my youth. In your Paradise, my voice was heard even during the noble silence. My heart was touched and the darkness was replaced by light.

I am back home now. I am ready to accept my enemies as family. I will try to synchronize my breath with their breath. I will let my voice free and I will listen twice before I talk.

Thank you for hosting us in your paradise, and exposing us to the Buddha's teachings.

One soul in Palestine has been changed. I am looking towards the light now.

Sincerely, a participant from Jerusalem, Palestine November 2001

mb31-Turning1

The Seeds of a Dream

Over the past few years, Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested more than once that Palestinians and Jews sit together in meditation to practice deep listening and to share each other's suffering. Thay's suggestion planted the seeds of a dream.

In the summer of 2001 a group of fifteen Palestinians and Israelis came together in Plum Village to practice being peace and to learn about the healing power of deep listening and loving speech. Out of their experience, emerged another group that went to Plum Village in November 2001. A third group is planning to come for two weeks during the Summer Retreat in 2002.

The first two groups participated in sitting, walking, and working meditation with the entire community, and separately as a group. In meetings with Brother Doji, Sister Jina and Sister Annabel we learned how to practice deep listening. We tried to listen with   compassion to our own suffering and to the suffering of others. We also practiced going back to our bodies through "deep relaxation," as well as stopping and breathing at the sound of the bell. We shared a session of "beginning anew" in which we had the chance to "water each other's flowers," sharing our appreciation for each other and to express our regrets and difficulties. Sister Chan Khong shared with us her experiences during the war in Vietnam. We also shared social activities; such as, singing Arabic and Hebrew songs, playing music and reciting poems. Before departing, we practiced hugging meditation.

Blue Flowers of Peace

During the first walking meditation session in Upper Hamlet after the arrival of the Israeli-Palestinian group I found myself walking a few meters behind two Palestinian women. I had not previously met them, and had not had the chance to talk to them before the walk. I was very curious to know them, to find out I how they came to join the group and what brought them to Plum Village. I wanted to know what they had experienced during the EI-Aktza Intifada and during previous years, how much they and their relatives had  suffered. I thought, how will it be possible to contact them, to create communication with them? Will it be possible to do anything together, and how?

When the line of walkers passed the Meditation Hall we made a left turn into an open area, where many blue flowers were blooming. In Hebrew the name of these flowers is "olesh. " What was the Arabic name? Suddenly, I saw that the elder Palestinian woman had also discovered the blue flowers and was communicating silently with the young Palestinian woman about them. They both smiled happily. This was a big discovery for me, and I thought, ahh! The olesh flowers also bloom in Palestinian fields, and the Palestinian people like them too. They enjoy the same things as we do and have love in their hearts.

Then I smiled to myself knowing that there is a way to create communication between the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

- Jonathan Arazy, True Path of Peace, July 2001

Expressing Pain and Fear

A lot of pain was expressed in our meetings. Palestinians spoke about their difficulties as Israeli-Arabs, the discrimination in Israel, and their inferior status in relation to Jews, the Israeli government, and the police. They spoke about not being able to develop their land and the land that had been expropriated and given to Jews. Palestinians talked about time spent in Israeli prisons, about being beaten up, about humiliation and confusion, being jailed in their own towns, the difficulties of educating children for peace in times of war, and about learning to see that the one you think is your enemy is a human being.

mb31-Turning2

Jewish members shared about the holocaust and genocide of their people in Europe by the Nazis, a trauma that is imprinted on every Jewish soul and affects their behavior. They shared their difficulties in struggling to protect a state surrounded by enemies, about difficulties in differentiating between the Palestinian citizens in Israel and the neighboring Arabs who are considered to be enemies, and about life in the shadow of constant fear; fear of terrorist attacks in the streets or on the buses, and the fear of further wars. As a result of this fear, there is a lot of violence and aggressive communication. Jewish members shared that Israeli society is suffering from disconnection from itself and from apathy and a lack of understanding for the other side. They shared that many Israelis want peace, not war, but distrust the intentions of the Palestinians.

Humility

It often seemed during the course of our meetings that the Plum Village community felt we were doing something huge, and people would come to offer us encouragement, at times with a sense of euphoria. Some of us in the group felt overwhelmed by this attention. We were not capable of shifting the whole Middle East, we were very simple people having an encounter. So there was a sense of humility with regards to the impact of our small efforts in the face of a giant problem.

The pace was also humbling. When we first arrived, we wanted to plunge right into the intense issues and get right to the core of the conflict. But we were told to focus on the practice, to walk mindfully, to eat mindfully. People in the group were frustrated. "Do they understand? " someone asked. "There is all emergency situation in the Middle East and we only have two weeks here. I know the practice is important but we don't have much time. "

When we asked Sister Chan Khong and others how to mobilize ourselves, we were told to practice, to deepen our relationship as a Sangha. We wanted to be guided in terms of strategies or social action and all we were told was to walk mindfully and practice. Over and over we were told to slow down. I began to sense that they were giving us a very important key, born out of tremendous depth of wisdom. We were being told that if we were not centered ourselves, if we did not have peace in ourselves, then there was no way we could bring stability and peace to the world around us.

- Azriel Cohen, July 2001

The Olive Tree

The olive tree symbolizes peace. Planting the olive tree together is an expression of our confidence that Peace Begins in oneself, and that through the path of understanding and love a future is possible for the Israelis and the Palestinian people. Indeed, the olive tree that we planted died. We took from this a good lesson, that is relevant to our activities with the Palestinians - a baby tree needs extra protection. - Jonathan Arazy, Jerusalem Israel

Brother Pbap Minh, True Light of the Dharma, kept another baby olive tree, also brought from Israel, in the Upper Hamlet. It was kept in a pot indoors by a window with warm sunshine during the cold and wet winter months. This baby tree is now sending out many fresh new leaves.

PDF of this article

Wishing You a Peaceful Heart

An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan By Beth Howard

mb46-Wishing1

Yesterday [May 29, 2007], I read in your online diary that you are leaving Crawford, Texas and going home to California. You wrote, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement.” There is so much energy in politics and government that is not peaceful. Much of our democratic process seems to be fueled by the energy of war, but we do not call it that. We call it the “two-party system” and sometimes, “competition.”

Later in your diary, you wrote, “I am going home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.” Maybe now, you will have time to focus on cultivating the seeds of peace planted so firmly in your own tender heart. I hope that you will grow an oasis of peace within your family and community.

I am deeply sorry for the death of your son, Casey, in Iraq. I cannot imagine your pain and deep sadness. Please, accept my condolences and also my deep sadness that insults were added to injury in your effort to honor your son’s life by working for peace. One day, I am terrified that I may follow in your footsteps, with the loss of one of my own sons in this war. It is the subject of all my worst daydreams and nightmares.

My 21-year-old son, Peter, is a soldier in Iraq. Three weeks ago, the truck he was riding in was blown-up by a roadside bomb.

Peter, the gunner, was thrown off the vehicle when the five-ton truck was flipped on its side. He has a piece of shrapnel in his thigh, some bruises and abrasions, but otherwise, is okay. He was awarded a Purple Heart and after two weeks off, to recover from his injuries, he returned to his regular duty. Last week, he completed another mission, taking turns serving as the gunner and driver in the 113 degree heat. Peter’s tour of duty in Iraq was extended three months with the rest of the Army. I can hardly bear it, but how can I possibly complain, when so many sons, like yours, have died? As the mother of a living soldier, I am one of the “lucky” ones.

This was a difficult Memorial Day, with the possibility of violent death before my eyes and too close for any comfort. I wore a small pin with two blue stars, signifying that I have two sons in military service. Peter’s twin brother, Andrew, is a Marine Security Guard, serving in Saudi Arabia.

When my sons joined the military, I honored their choice to stand for the courage of their convictions. Their father and I had taught them for years to do just that. Their strength was an inspiration to me and I seized the opportunity of their enlistment to act and work for peace. I started with myself, my family, and my community. In spite of the daily horrors of war, I can still find peace in those places and I continue to grow it from that fertile soil. I prefer to think of peace as one of those tenacious perennial

plants, growing in the garden of my life. Year to year, it gradually spreads to take over everything. I have a very good, real-life example of this plant in the garden of my yard, which serves as a valuable reminder to me that peace, too, is hardy and persistent.

Peace persists, even in Iraq. When my son, Peter, was home on leave in April, he showed us a slide show of pictures from Iraq on his laptop. He had many pictures of children, running beside their convoy. He said they ask for food and water. Sometimes, he tosses them his sandwich.

Last week, during an Instant Message conversation with Peter, I asked if I could send some granola bars for him to toss to the children. He replied, “If I remember, I grab muffins before the mission, because I can chuck a muffin pretty far.” I asked if I could send some muffins and he replied, “Mom, there is no short supply of muffins in Iraq.”

We will seldom, if ever, read such stories in the press, so I hang on to this one, to remind myself that small acts of kindness are happening every day in Iraq. These acts are tiny seeds of peace being sown and I hope that they will grow, even in the intense heat of summer and of war.

So now, at home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I think of ways that I might “chuck a muffin” for peace. On Sunday night, I slept at my Unitarian Universalist Church with a homeless mother and daughter. The mother was exhausted after working two part-time jobs as a motel maid. I played basketball with the energetic eightyear-old girl and shared a few simple yoga stretches with them before bed. In this small way, I shared peace with one family in my town. Now that you are home, I hope that there will be many opportunities for you to cultivate peace in your own backyard.

Years ago, unknowingly, you and I collaborated in the Mindfulness Bell (Winter 2005-2006.) I wrote an article titled “Peace is Every Step” on the L.A. Peace Walk and the International Day of Mindfulness and Peace. Your article was “I Have Arrived, I am Home” on walking with Thay in MacArthur Park on that day. Our articles appeared side-by-side.

In that issue, Thay said, “There is much in the peace movement that is not peaceful.” You have learned this first-hand. Someone once asked Thay what could be done to bring peace to the situation in Iraq. He responded by saying that there are many wrong perceptions on both sides. We must begin, he said, by looking deeply at our own practice. To have peace in the world, we must first have peace within ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh will be teaching across the U.S. again this year. There will be another Peace Walk in MacArthur Park on September 29th. His tour schedule is at: www.greenmountaincenter.org. If you see him, I know that Thay will chuck you a muffin. He bakes them daily in his peaceful heart and gives them all away.

Beth Howard, Peaceful Source of the Heart, practices with the Bird & Bell Meditation Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne and with the Peaceful Heart Sangha in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is a writer, yoga teacher, weaver and singer, living with her husband of thirty years, Paul, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

PDF of this article