Today is International Day of Peace. Established by the UN in 1981, Peace Day is celebrated every year on September 21st and provides a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace“. Each year focuses on a theme: anything from issues of social justice to this year’s climate action. This is a good thing. It’s a great thing! What a wonderful idea to have a whole day committed to world peace! Except…world peace? Most days I can’t even make peace with myself. How am I supposed to even begin to address world peace?
What I’m saying is, although I love the sentiment and I 100% believe world peace is something we should be fighting for and I genuinely think we as individuals have a role to play in it, sometimes all that Big Peace is too much for me to think about. And that’s okay.
There is SO. MUCH. SHIT. going on in the world right now that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all these huge problems. Brexit. Trump. The climate crisis. Hunger, poverty, pervasive inequality…the list goes on and on. All things that need public outrage and action and ongoing collective energy to rectify. But when you barely have the energy to brush your teeth and are scraping the bottom of the brain power barrel just in order to get out of bed or drag yourself through a work day, facing and trying to deal with all those bigger, external problems is just too big and ask.
Having gone through that thought process, guilt often follows.
But it shouldn’t.
Wanting to help the world is is a good thing. But we can’t do it at the expense of our own well-being. In fact, looking after our own well-being – our peace with ourselves – is surely central to any hope for wider peace. How can the world be peaceful if the people in it are not at peace?
Living with a mental illness often takes us far, far away from being at peace with ourselves. I have sometimes found that one of the hardest things about living with a mental illness is the guilt that comes from feeling that you should be better or do different, along with the exhaustion that comes with trying to fight the reality of that mental illness. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in wanting to not be ill that we make ourselves more ill – and less at peace. Sometimes we have to start with acceptance. We have to accept our current reality before we can work towards the future we hope for. This applies to both ourselves and those big world issues too – how can we learn the best ways to manage with or recover from mental illness if we don’t accept that it is part of our lives? In the world, how can we rectify any inequality if we don’t acknowledge it exists?
So here’s my proposal: this International Peace Day, let’s start small before we think big. Take a bit of time to check in with yourself. What does your body need? What does your mind need? If you need a nap, go take a nap. If you need to do something active, get those trainers on and head out and get active! If you need to dig into a tub of ice cream, have at it and if you need a salad then grab a bowl of greens. Take a bath, read a book, meditate, write a list of what’s on your mind and the things you can do to deal with them. When you reach those inevitable items on the list that are out of your control, breathe deep – things may look different tomorrow.
There is a meditation I came across on Calm some time ago which encapsulates both personal and wider peace beautifully. The Karuna meditation draws on serenity at three levels. If you’re looking for something to help you focus your mind on peace, try reciting this – either in your head or out loud – to the rhythm of your breath:
May I find relief
May I find peace
May I feel at ease
May you find relief
May you find peace
May you feel at ease
May all beings find relief
May all beings find peace
May all beings feel at ease
Go gently, friends.