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Building Peace on Blue Mountain

I’ve just spent a week in Paradise. Okay, technically is was Costa Rica and my paradise was created by a genuinely loving but also savvy retreat center. I was fed fresh picked fruit, gently steered away from news and conventional entertainment, and encouraged to walk through lovely gardens and reflect. It worked and I did.

I also knew I was in a paradise created for those with the cash and support system to allow them to go on this sort of retreat. The idea of having people less fortunate than I conspire to create an idyllic week for me would normally give me at least some first world heartburn, but it didn’t. Here’s why.

I’m lucky enough to know more about this place and the people who run it. Human beings simply don’t come more compassionate. Employees are rewarded and respected and most have become family even if they didn’t start out that way. The degree of affection they have for each other is well beyond what any staff could be coached to fake.

The center, known as La Montaña Azul, is dedicated to sustaining the local environment. Located along the Talari River southeast of San Jose, the retreat has allocated 95% of its land (116 acres) as a natural sanctuary to protect the river and its flora and fauna. In addition, its proceeds support the local schools, help maintain the roads, and allow the center to provide free classes for the community. It’s hard to argue that you are doing harm by forking over your hard earned vacation dollars to this oasis of love.

IMG_5816This visit was my fourth one. I come here to study qigong, an ancient Chinese form of moving meditation that emphasizes energy flow and has helped both my writing and my wholeness as a human being over the last five years. I’m a different person without qigong, and not nearly as pleasant a one.

At this particular visit, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the center has taken on a new cause. They wish to bring about world peace. One might argue they’ve been slowly working at that all along, but this new approach is rather specific.

They have joined forces with an international group known as Peacebuilders. This amazing organization is striving to use restorative practices like meditation to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, to assist those of all ages in prisons and to further social justice. Though it has a presence in many countries, Peacebuilders is based out of Toronto and most active in Canada, where the organization began.

In Costa Rica, efforts are concentrated on the prison system. Inmates with sentences of forty or more years are trained in meditation, voluntarily spending hours a day in the program. The results are amazing. Recently, several such prisoners were certified to instruct others, as the program grows.

La Montaña Azul’s involvement began when the diminutive older woman who is manager and part owner of the retreat center walked, without guards, into a locked room filled with some of Costa Rica’s most hardened criminals. She laughs as she confesses she thought the guards were coming in behind her. The prisoners listened to her offer of an alternative, and today the retreat center provides instructors, resources and funds for the program. Guests at the retreat are asked to provide funds also.

You know we all did. After a week in Paradise, world peace seems like a totally reasonable goal. I hope the feeling will last.

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2018 in peace, travel

 

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Peace in your heart, peace in your world

PeaceI wish you peace. Do I mean peace of mind? Or do I mean freedom from coercion and violence? I mean both, and I’m not sure which is the more difficult to attain. I am sure, however, that you can’t have much of the one without also having a lot of the other.

Your own peace of mind is largely in your own control. But let’s be honest here. It is hard to find that inner calm while dodging bullets, figuratively or, worse yet, for real. On the other hand, world peace is something we all have to work for, one might even say fight for, even if fighting for peace sounds like the ultimate oxymoron. When we end up fighting each other instead, while thinking it is for the cause of peace, we have truly failed.

But no matter how many times we hear that peace must begin in our own hearts, those of us who have a certain level of impatience find that this process of trying to live a peaceful life does not seem like it is bringing peace into the world at nearly a fast enough pace. I’m part of this group, and I’ve had to accept that no amount meditation and deep breathing is going to make me feel otherwise.

taboojive1It is true that my own inner peace would be easier to hold on to if I stopped following the news. But I think that changing the world is a two pronged process. Yes, I need to be the change I want to see, just as Gandhi said. But I also need to know what is going on, even if some days what I see looks like one giant food fight in the cafeteria. I can refuse to join in. On some occasions, I can even laugh at the people throwing peas and carrots instead of crying about the food being wasted and god-awful mess they are making. Then other days the fight turns deadly, and I understand better the gravity of the issues with which we all must deal. That is the point at which is becomes real easy to get cynical and give up.

So it is always encouraging to stumble across others who are singing their own song of peace, if you will, in their own way.

This morning a friend sent a link to an article on politics in the New York Times called Beware Exploding Politics. It is written by Thomas Friedman, a man who doesn’t particularly share my views, but what caught my attention was his reasonable plea for us to all stop throwing rocks at each other and to work together to find solutions to the world’s problems. It is short, funny, and worth the read.

hippiepeace5Then I stumbled on an old blog post from Cindy Knoke, a photographer I admire. I had saved the link months ago to re-post on this blog. She does beautiful work, but this particular one was her way of wishing the world peace. It is called Peace and is well worth the look.

Stumbling on two other kindred spirits was just the emotional boost that I needed. Yes, I will keep working on peace in my own heart. I want to sing that song as best I can so that others might hear me, too, and find encouragement to sing their song as they work harder to find their own peace within. It’s far too slow a process for my tastes. But I understand that it is and always will be the only one that will ever provide permanent peace.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2016 in art for peace, peace

 

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