I am no longer surprised to see stories about the protests in Madison, WI on the front page of the New York Times or to hear reports about the day's activities here in Madison as the lead story on national broadcast news. After all, marches and demonstrations are not that unusual here in Madison since both the the state capitol and University of Wisconsin's main site are located here. I am not surprised that feelings are high on both sides and that emotions are sometimes disguised as facts. The issues are complicated and the stakes are high, and I have no idea what the solution should be, but I know that even in this time of attacks and counterattacks there is room for peace and compassion.
Saturday my women's spirituality group met, and the topic planned long before the protests started was "Maintain Peace of Mind," based on a chapter from Christina Baldwin's The Seven Whispers, Listening to the Voice of Spirit, a book I reread frequently for its deep levels of wisdom. Our group was eloquent in sharing distress and concerns about the current situation, and I was grateful to have a safe place for reflection and exploration. To open our discussion we used a breathing exercise. One breath to let go. One breath to be here. One breath to ask now what? For some the exercise was difficult--hard to let go of the turmoil and the sadness. For others it confirmed the need for commitment and action. For others it raised questions of how to respond. I had been immersed in writing most of the previous week, working on an essay about the spiritual invitations of illness, and barely lifted my head away from the computer screen to think about my own response. However, I knew I supported the teachers and other public workers, and that I believe in the ongoing need for collective bargaining. My morning prayer time included petitions for both sides to dialogue with each other and heartfelt gratitude for the lack of violence, especially as the number of protesters and the days of no school increased.
Almost as if I were on retreat, I had kept silence most of the week, staying at my desk for hours on end. At the end of the day when it was time to emerge, I unconsciously felt I might lose the words and the thoughts waiting to appear in my essay if I interacted, if I broke silence. I was listening for the right words, even as I chopped and stirred ingredients for dinner and even as I turned on the news, I found it difficult to turn my attention away from my writing. During the breathing exercise in our group, however, the word that came to me was "enough," as in "You are enough." "You have enough." "There is enough to go around." I have never been a good multi-tasker, and I prefer to finish one thing before starting another--not very realistic, I know. What the breathing exercise helped me unpack was how often I operate from a place of lack, of shortage, of not enough to go around. Instead I was reminded of the abundance of peace even in the midst of uncertainty.
Baldwin says, "Peace is all around me; my job is to bring my mind to peace." I tend to think that peace is an inner quality only, and I fear losing the ability to stay peaceful and focused and to do what I have chosen to do and yes, what I feel is a call. Baldwin reminds me that peace is also external and urges us each to define a practice of inviting peace of mind into our lives, our world. "That's the thing --to extend the invitation for divine sensation to present itself; to remember to prepare ourselves to walk the day in a spiritual manner, and then to listen, and to the best of our abilities to do as we are told. "
Even as conflict seems to predominate, peace is present in some form. It is our task to recognize it, invite it, integrate it, and magnify it. And then there will be enough.