Our world seems to be filled with aggression, violence, and war. Especially now, during election time, we are bombarded with ads on TV, the radio, and the internet, that are scientifically designed to arouse fear and hatred in us. There is war all around the world, and the possibility of peace can seem very remote. Most of us long for peace but we don’t seem to know how to achieve it. Often we try to achieve peace with more aggression. We only need to study history to know that trying to achieve peace with violence does not work.
In the book Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun and teacher, offers a different approach. Peace can only start in our own hearts and minds. The origin of war is also in our hearts and minds. When we get triggered, harden our hearts, and fuel our anger and hatred with righteous indignation and thoughts of blame and revenge. The key to peace, according to Pema Chödrön, is being able to recognize the moment we get triggered and at that moment practice patience. Before we harden our hearts and become angry and aggressive, there is usually a more vulnerable feeling: it could be shock, surprise, sadness, or fear. Being able to stop and wait before becoming hooked into aggression, and being able to stay with that vulnerable feeling is the key to practicing peace.
Giving up our habit of “biting the hook”, and engaging in aggressive and violent thoughts, words, and actions is not easy and requires a lot of practice. Pema Chödrön stresses that it is very important for us to be patient with ourselves, especially when we begin to see ourselves biting that hook over and over again, and engaging in aggressive thoughts, words, and behavior. The point of practicing patience is not to suppress or fight against our anger, but simply to be present with it, and watch it rise and fall.
For me, this book has been very helpful in dealing with anger and frustration in my own life. I try to put Pema Chödrön’s instructions into practice when I am driving and someone cuts me off, or in the past few weeks when I watch mudslinging ads on TV. To me it is very interesting to explore what happens when I get triggered, and then to watch what happens when I “get hooked” and my angry thoughts start spinning off. Putting this into practice has taught me that it is possible to not become hooked, that we do have a choice, and that peace is possible. Experimenting with practicing patience when watching TV ads or while driving has helped me be more patient when it really matters; for example when my buttons get pushed when my toddler is having a tantrum, or when I become frustrated with my spouse. I hope this book will be just as helpful and inspirational to you as it has been to me, and I hope that it will help increase the level of peace in your world as well.
I would like to leave you with a video of the author, so you can get a flavor of her clear, honest, compassionate, and humorous teaching style.