The ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu is credited with saying “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings”. Although we do not consciously seek pain, it nonetheless finds its way to us. As bad as it may seem, it is useful to acknowledge that we have created it and it is more than likely that we have the tools around us to help us cope. Fortunately, life left to itself has a propensity towards balance.
There is the question of attention and judgement. We give power to those matters we pay attention to, for better or for worse. It is inevitable for us to have opinions about most of the people and situations in and around our life. We should, however, be careful as opinions may lead us to be judgemental.
Six months before his assassination, in June 1963, pro-peace President John F. Kennedy delivered what became known as his ‘Peace Speech’ at the American University, in Washington DC.
He quotes John Masefield’s tribute to English universities, wherein Masefield describes universities as “a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see”.
The world would be a better place if this was also true today.
Kennedy continues by saying that “I have chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived – and that is the most important topic on earth: Peace”.
“What kind of a peace do I mean? What kind of a peace do we seek? I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children – peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”
He also points out that, “in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal”.
Peace has a spiritual dimension and Kennedy says, quoting Scriptures: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Peace between nations, peace between people and peace of mind are one
He concludes, saying: “Confident and unafraid, we labour on, not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.”
Kennedy speaks here of peace between nations. He, however, also points out that such peace is unlikely to be achieved if we do not individually internalise the attitude of peace: “First, examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade. Therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable and we believe they can do it again.”
The pain and suffering of nations is the collective pain and suffering of the communities, families and the men, women and children of those nations. Arguably, therefore, when it comes to new beginnings and painful change, the destinies of peoples and nations are intrinsically and inextricably bound together. Peace between nations, peace between people and peace of mind are one.
Cultivating peace of mind by being mindful will inevitably lead to peace between peoples and, eventually, to peace between nations. Being mindful means paying attention to one’s thoughts, emotions, intentions, interactions and surroundings without judgement. This is a process, not an outcome. The outcome would differ from one person to another. What this process does is to allow one to see situations and people clearly, thereby maximising useful and positive outcomes.
JFK speaks of peace as a strategy for personal and national well-being that gives meaning, worth and purpose to life. It also lays the foundation for the best possible future for our children. He emphasises that which we have in common, such as the earth, the air we breathe, children and our mortality, rather than that which divides us. He places all this within a spiritual context. Morality is real and not an arbitrary ideal. Certain attitudes incline towards good outcomes and others do not.
Suffering and pain exist. Evil is the absence of good. In my opinion, evil does not have inherent existence. As we are divine in origin, we are, of course, born with a moral compass. Morality needs to be practised in order to be sustained.
In spite of our divine heritage, we are still work in progress and we bring incessant misfortune upon ourselves, causing intended and unintended consequences. As we are not mindful enough of the proximate and distant consequences of our actions, we spread and multiply suffering, pain and death across all life on earth.
We can atone for our transgressions. This, though, will not be pain-free as, first, we must purge ourselves of our personal and collective wrongdoings.
This reckoning is already upon us. We should ready ourselves and future generations, without delay, to survive the dawning of this new beginning.