From Conflict to Peace:
Creating A New Paradigm of Change
By Megan Don
“It is in your power to live and to die with this peace.”
— Teresa of Avila
Historically, our world has effected change through violent means. Political leaders have been aggressively removed; religious freedom has been bloodily fought for; and our personal relationships have fallen into physical and emotional battles, not only with others, but also within our selves. Unfortunately, this is not past history; this is still very much what we are living now.
If we are to alter this course of human destructive behavior, we need to look deeply into the nature of our being and seek the very origin of this behavior. We need to understand how inner violence arises and why it occurs. And we have to ask, “How am I contributing to our violent world?”
Conflict has been defined as (1) a fight or war; (2) a sharp disagreement, as of interests or ideas; (3) emotional disturbance (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Conflict is by its very nature pervading our society at all levels: politically, religiously, and personally; it is the very paradigm by which our world is absorbed, and it is the very cause of violence. Conflict resolution has been an admirable attempt to address this problem; however it is a curative rather than a preventative measure. What is needed is to reach into the very core of our original conflict.
Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, was deep-ly aware of her own inner conflict. From a young age she developed a dichotomous relationship within herself. She experienced a deep respect for the spiritual life through her father’s influence, but she also cultivated a taste for the materialistic life through the nobility of her mother.
She was split into two different modes of being and was unable to reconcile these influences until late in her life, even while living in the monastery. She wrote, “All divine things gave me great pleasure; yet those of the world held me prisoner. I seem to have wanted to reconcile two opposites.” Conflict became a personal paradigm for Teresa and dominated the better part of her life.
The inner turmoil she experienced through the conflicting nature of her being became intensified as she began battling with God. Teresa was exceptionally strong-willed and for many years sought her own way in the orchestration of her life. The division between her ego-self and her inner God-self was well established, and she described this as causing her much internal strife as she was unable to surrender her own thoughts and will. Her ego struggled to remain in control, and yet, she distinctly felt and experienced the freedom and peace of her inner spirit. Still, she resisted.
Any change in Teresa’s being was effected through the paradigm of conflict. The inner tension would mount to a “bursting point” where something inside her would finally give way. It was not an easy path she was walking. After twenty years of living in this way there came a moment of epiphany for Teresa; she came upon a statue of the wounded Christ, and even though she had seen this statue every day for the past twenty years, in this moment it profoundly touched her own internal pain.
She fell to her knees and surrendered to the divine spirit. From this moment, the conflicting nature of her being slowly released and she came to experience the ease and grace of living in, with, and through the spirit, being guided at every moment.
Separation from God was the cause of Teresa’s conflict. It is this same separation that causes our contemporary conflict, both in a personal and societal context. Like Teresa, many experience an inner tension and turmoil as the ego battles with God. An inner violence occurs as we wrestle with our own will, trying to affect its wishes in our life. This inner violence then becomes manifest in our external world as we judgmentally think that others should also be acting according to our will or beliefs.
These thoughts can then escalate to become strong verbal words, which can then erupt into a physical violence, finally evolving into a warring nation. We are all participating in some way in these violent paradigms, and we are all responsible.
The word mystic derives from the Latin mysterium, which means “to be altered.” The true nature of the mystic is to realize a unity of being through a spiritual “altering” or transformation. This process of altering, or change, need not be one of a violent nature. In surrendering ourselves to the divine spirit anything that needs to change can be affected lovingly and gently, if only we will allow it.
There is no need for the continuation of inner tension and distress, or for the external violent manifestation. Teresa discovered this as she walked on the pathway of inner truth, and on her journey she often turned to the life of Jesus. The great beauty about Jesus was that he brought the message of truth and love.
Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth can become sentimental. The two together can bring about long-lasting and effective change. We must remember that the truth can revolutionize the way we love and the way we love can revolutionize the way we live.
It is a time of truthfulness in our world; corporations and politicians are being exposed for their true intent, and we too must be held accountable for the desires and thoughts that rise internally, but in a gentle and loving way.
In creating a new internal paradigm of change (that is, through the grace of the spirit and not through our own efforts), we will also be affecting a new external paradigm. It can be done, if we are individually committed to a way of peace; not just out there, but in here, where it all begins.
May we return to our original being of union, with ourselves and with others — not merely coexisting, but thriving and growing into a unity, and community, of “altered” beings of diversity.
Megan Don, from New Zealand, is the author of “Falling Into The Arms of God: Meditations with Teresa of Avila.” She is a spiritual counselor and has
presented workshops at Esalen Institute and Unity and Episcopal Churches. Megan
will be in California and Hawaii in September and October offering workshops and
lectures. Please see
www.mysticpeace.com for details.
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