Illustration by Anis Wani for The Kashmir Walla
Peace. A phenomenon, an aspiration, and often the ultimate goal desired by so many.
Most of the messages that I receive on my social media accounts are from young people asking me for ways to find peace in their lives; as if my life is perpetually peaceful. And assuming that I do find my peaceful place deep within, how is it possible for there to be no conflict or chaos in my life? Because I am a peace-psychologist?
A few years back, I was talking to a young Kashmiri boy, a student in his early twenties from downtown Srinagar, who was suffering from mild depression. He asked me, “Is there a pill for peace that I can take, that can end my suffering—my internal and external conflicts in and around me? I can’t deal with them anymore; I can’t deal with myself anymore.”
Heartbroken, I looked at him; a cold chill ran down my spine. I wondered about the situation of ‘peace’ (and mental health) in this part of the multiverse. The sleepless nights which followed kept me thinking about how broken this generation—my generation—feels here, and globally. Every broken tarnished piece craving peace!
In our struggle to find peace, we humans, indulge in different activities. We try and lose ourselves to gain peace; we try escaping the reality to imagine peace; we disengage with the present to strive for peace. I often see people living in their bodies but with zero communication with their own selves—running away anxiously from their core—to capture peace. I see people silently screaming out loud on social media platforms, hoping someone will understand their pain and get them peace. I see all around me, faces within the crowds—disappointed yet hopeful—wanderers, in the quest for peace. People trying out everything in the outer world, to find something that they crave to experience in their inner world. Ironic!
Is peace really in the pills, in the beautiful quiet hills, in the branded shopping centers, in the secluded shrines and temples, in the often loud deafening music, in the distracting weekend shenanigans, in the consumption of popular drugs? Can we actually find peace in a world full of chaos and conflicts?
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I can share with you what I have learned, unlearnt and realized for myself over the years, through my journey of peace-psychology. (Peace and conflicts exist at different levels—from intra to inter to political and global levels. For the purpose of this narrative, my focus is on internal peace which I believe is the foundation of any kind of peace). Let’s break down peace into pieces:
Peace is created, not found. Sorry to burst some bubbles but there is nothing like ‘finding peace’. It can only be created by us—with ourselves first. And that is only possible when we ourselves understand and accept our own broken pieces, by first accepting the reality as it is; and then making a conscious decision and choice to act, to heal accordingly—when we choose to respond—and not react.
Peace is a process, not a product. Peace is not an outcome of an action. It is the continuous action which has to be inculcated in every behavior and thought process. It’s a way of life.
Peace is engaging with the chaos in and around us; it’s not the absence of it. To create peace, one requires observing the conflict as it is, and then looking it in the eye, having a conversation—a dialogue—with it. When we engage with the conflict, we become fearless about fear. That is peace.
Peace is about the present. Peace is the present. Futuristic ideas of peace are impractical. This moment is the past of tomorrow, and the future does not yet exist. What we do today—at this moment—is creating our future because the future is not static; it’s ever-changing. We shape our environment with our thoughts, ideas, and action, every moment. If we don’t understand how to construct our own pieces of peace today and every day; what is there left to be constructed tomorrow? Because, tomorrow, we will once again long for another future!
Peace is courage and vulnerability. Many a time, I have come across people who think peace means being weak. If anything, peace is just the exact opposite of weakness; it requires strength, courage, kindness, vulnerability and leadership skills.
Peace is grey. Just like everything else around us—just like us. You cannot hold the space for peace without having the space and possibility for chaos and conflict. Peace doesn’t mean to have rainbows everywhere, all the time; it means to interact with chaos in such a way, that it possibly creates a more constructive, beautiful path for peace, regularly.
As a change-maker in the peace-building field, I have learned that transformation is not easy, and can sometimes take generations. But yes, when we, as catalysts of change, choose to walk on the journey of self-transformation—the way we respond to events, conflicts and people’s behavior, changes. As they say, when we change the way we look at things, things change. The slow and small meaningful shifts add up to positive change which creates ripples of transformation in the broader picture; impacting everything we come into contact with because we live in an extremely interconnected space. And that is how the world really changes. We can truly only transform ourselves and support others in their transformative journeys. When we can help transform our and others’ thinking to being self-aware; that is when we empower people sustainably.
And how do we do that? By equipping ourselves with crucial skills, that can help us deal with the ramifications of living in a conflict society or environment; by pausing and asking ourselves: “Is this normal?”, when the abnormal start feeling very normal; by creating small but important spaces for peace and healing continuously, converting pain into creative expressions; by dealing with stress and conflicts of different levels in a more constructive, healthy manner. Because conflicts, stress, and issues may change form—they may be internal or external; but just like energy, they are a part of our existence and are here to stay. We could go to the moon but we will still have conflicts and issues there. Of course, different kinds of conflicts need different solutions but the deep understanding of it comes from our understanding, acceptance, and ability to create peace at an intra-level, which then opens up space to understand better even the scope for political/social levels of peace, in a more sustainable manner.
Hence, we create peace by creating our inner pillar of equanimity and strength amidst the chaos, empowering us to understand and express our own narratives better. It all boils down to us—being aware and accepting of who we are—our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that’s possible when we learn to be more reflective, mindful, empathetic and patient with ourselves and everyone – everything around us; when we create space for ourselves and others to simply be, accepting the present reality. No quick-fixes can help us; issues need philosophical, multidimensional and critical understanding for any solutions to be sustainable. We need to teach ourselves and our young (children) the importance of being kind, of being good listeners, of good communication, of understanding peace at the intra level; before we go on and debate about it at inter, external and global levels.
Close your eyes, notice the breath that goes in and that comes out from your nostrils, for a few minutes—that’s the ultimate reality.
Breathe in peace. Breathe out peace. Be peace.
Question, if I may: How do you create pieces of peace in your daily life? What is your pill for peace?
Ufra Mir is the first and only peace-psychologist from Kashmir. She is the co-director of The Kashmir Institute, a non-partisan think-tank focused on research and dialogue to impact public policy; along with being the founding executive director of her own NGO, Paigaam: A Message for Peace.