Peace Starts Within

Peace starts within us. We cannot bring to the world what we do not have to offer.


I remember the first time I saw Chance: mangy and broken, she lay trapped within her own inflamed skin, a crumpled heap upon a cold cement floor. The isolation unit of the SPCA. And I remember Sasha and how after I brought her home she still wore the mark of being chained outdoors. Deeper still for her were the emotional scars of abuse. And Olive, my most recent adoptee three years ago, whose person, in not giving her the needed digestive enzymes had essentially left her to slowly starve.

And yet not one of these dogs held a grudge against humanity, at least that I could see.

“Peace starts within us. We cannot bring to the world what we do not have to offer.” I don’t know who wrote the words above, but I’d read them before and I read them again on a perfect day in September when the breeze lifted the leaves and the clarity of light made me pause. The dogs sniffed and dug in the yard as the sunlight touched their backs, and I vowed to remember the day’s warmth and peace no matter what long winter nights lay ahead, physically or metaphorically. On this pure day, the words rang especially true, for as hatred and killing seem to blanket the world right now, the necessity of finding peace within ourselves becomes greater. And yet with the volume of violence, many of us ask what can any one person do to help?

We can become the peace we seek. Peace starts in our own hearts and minds, not outside ourselves. We can’t control what others do, but we can set an example. Look at Gandhi. We can’t tell armies or entire groups of people how to “be” but we can react with heart. Look at Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King. We can’t win against corporations like Monsanto on our own, but we can stand up for what we know is right and make conscious food choices. Look at Jane Goodhall and countless others. And in the face of horrific savagery and destruction to other humans, we may find it hard to get others to care about animals—be it factory farming, laboratory testing or simply abandonment and abuse—but we can rescue and adopt, volunteer and offer love and compassion. Look at Albert Schweitzer and the many unsung heroes who devote their lives to helping animals daily.

The French have a wonderful word, “nombrilisme”, coined in the farcical and absurd Jarry novel Ubu Roi, which refers to too much gazing into one’s own navel. In the U.S. we simply say “navel-gazing” and everyone knows we’re referring to someone excessively self- involved, often solipsistic or egoistic and uncaring about the greater community. I love the French term, but far from advocating self-centeredness, I’m suggesting we cultivate this love within ourselves and extend it outward to help. Until peace is fully entrenched in our own selves, we cannot manifest it outwardly. It’s not a cop-out to inwardly manifest peace and love, but really quite powerful. How then? As always I turn to my wise companions for guidance.

My dogs help me “be” peace by being the best possible role models. Humans tend to identify with the tragedies unfolding in the world or in their own lives, small personal grievances. Yet rarely do animals do this, getting on with life in the present and putting difficult pasts behind them. Animals from situations of horrific abuse may show fear their whole lives in some sort of remembrance (my Sasha is like this) but they hold no grudges; they trust and love again, putting faith in the very species that harmed. They let their past misfortunes go, without weaving them into “stories”, and they get on with the good parts of living.

Sasha had no reason to trust me after what humans had done to her, but she did. Neither did Olive have a reason to trust, but she too put some sort of blind dog faith in the fact that I’d see to her well being. But of course, she’s H.R.H. Olive, the princess. And Chance…I have no idea how she ended up quite so ragged and dejected out on the streets, but she offered no protest when I brought her home to live in this strange new world. And their reward for trusting again is a happy home filled with gentle peace and love.

It’s a mutual give and take. My dogs help me jump-start the process of peace within myself. They bring me back to what’s essential. They force me into a routine that’s grounding: daily feeding, walking, general care. When I look over and see them sleeping peacefully, I feel my heart expand with love and know there is some goodness in this crazy world. When they leap and jump with joy at feeding, something inside of me also leaps and jumps. From this place it’s hard to hate anything. When we learn to find peace in the midst of violence and chaos, we discover a lasting relationship with peace that allows us to inspire peace beyond ourselves. Until enough people do this and shift the balance, we can help by choosing peace within, by being the peace we seek, by setting an example for all—an example set perhaps already by our animals.