The search for peace

I remember exactly what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I imagine that most people do. Some events are so impactful on a global scale that they are forever etched in our collective memories.

I was sitting at my desk in a common area at our local college, working away, when someone came out of an office and said, “There’s something going on in New York.”

The internet was still in its early days as a news source, but several of us crowded around our colleague’s live stream to watch, stunned, as events unfolded. I can recall watching the second plane fly into a tower; it was so surreal that it was hard to absorb.

Word spread quickly and I think most work ground to a halt as the Library set up a big TV screen in the lobby. No one knew what to do. This horrific event was unfolding before our very eyes, and all we could do was watch.

The 9/11 tragedy had ripples for a long time afterward.

The skies were eerily quiet for days while a no-fly rule was in effect. Friends with relatives in New York City were glued to their television sets. Everyone wondered how the aftermath would play out.

I live in a community close to the Canadian-US border, with hydroelectric plants and a number of big factories, so most people that I knew experienced some anxiety over the possibility of our own attack – although I suspect that scenario was on most people’s minds in North America.

In the height of irony, astronauts on the International Space Station, a cooperative venture bringing nations together far above us, could see the smoke plumes and struggled with their own sense of helplessness – you can read their poignant point of view in an article on Space.com.

Six years later, when my hubby and I went on our first African safari, airlines still had considerable restrictions on what travelers could bring on board, and we became very creative at packing economically.

9/11 changed our modern landscape, and there has been endless speculation about why it happened. Like most historical events, we may never know all of the truth, but I think we can agree that global peace continues to be a series of forward steps alternating with backward steps.

I believe that the root of conflict is a lack of respect for someone else’s right to hold a different point of view, and I believe that one of the ways we can work toward global peace is to travel.

It’s really difficult to hold another place or culture at arm’s length, to put a psychological wall up, when you’ve been there in person and met the ordinary people who live there, work there, try to provide for their families, laugh, feel pain, feel sorrow. It’s hard to turn away from animals and environments in need when you’ve walked among them.

We have met so many wonderful people on our travels. We have seen the magnificence of places like Africa and the Amazon Jungle, and know how critical they are to life as we know it.

Life thrives in the quiet places of our planet. Beauty and harmony are there. Find those places and their inhabitants, and understand why all the parts matter.

As a counterpoint to the sadness of 9/11, and the many ongoing conflicts in the world, one movement we can embrace is Forest Bathing. The name may sound silly, but bear with me on this.

Forest Bathing is a Japanese practice that promotes wellness by spending mindful time in a forested area. Nature is healing. Buildings, as beautiful as some of our constructions can be, are artificial environments, surrounded by cities that often don’t include much green space. Our increasing urbanization is separating us from the planet that has nurtured us for eons.

September 7th, this past weekend, was International Forest Bathing Day. The practice is really catching on world-wide, and there is likely at least one certified guide within fifty miles of you. Of course, anyone can do forest bathing for themselves, but you need to be able to do it slowly, taking the time to notice all the beauty and enjoy the serenity.

Find your centre, your inner core of peace and connectedness. I’d love to hear about it.

Bucket List – Forgiveness

Forgiveness can bring peace - photo by E. Jurus
Forgiveness can bring peace – photo by E. Jurus

What baggage do we carry around with us in our lives? Sometimes the emotional baggage, residue from episodes of anger, hurt, disappointment or betrayal, can weigh us down enormously. Forgiving someone, while sometimes a seemingly impossible task, can do us a world of good. Even if we only make it as far as letting go of the emotions, that’s a substantial step in the right direction.

When I was in my twenties, an arsonist set fire to my parents’ home. They were lucky to make it out alive. The insurance company rebuilt their house, but it couldn’t rebuild their lives.

The police never caught the perpetrator, although we had our suspicions about a miserable neighbor and some union involvement.

The ripples from that event lasted for the next decade and a half. My dad’s health went downhill, and my mom started drinking again. I cursed the arsonist for years for all the pain he/she caused to all of us.

It was only after my parents had both passed away and were free from the event’s clutches that I was able to let it go myself and move on. I haven’t forgiven the arsonist for what he/she did, but I don’t really think about it any longer, and there’s no longer bitterness associated with the memory. The Mayo Clinic website has the following thoughts on the process:

” Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”

So by that definition, I’ve found forgiveness.

It’s been far less easy to forgive myself for hurts I’ve caused others. There’s a subconscious sense I have, right or wrong, that I need to pay for those hurts by my continued pain at having inflicted them.

forgiveness-is-a-giftOn May 4th, the Global Forgiveness Challenge begins. It was created by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho, who live in a country where there are decades of grievous hurt and stored resentment. The goal of the challenge is to encourage you to let go of your emotional baggage and begin the healing process. Once you sign up for the challenge, you’ll receive a daily inspirational message by email from Tutu and his daughter, daily exercises to practice, articles to read and the support of an entire community of fellow sufferers.

I’ve signed up for the challenge. Perhaps with their help I might even be able to forgive myself.

You’ll find more information about the Forgiveness Challenge here.Let me know if you’ve joined the challenge, and perhaps we can all help each other.