On Peace and Action

It is the late 1990s. I am sitting on my scrubby bedroom floor in London, listening to a CD with a guided meditation.  Sitting quite peacefully on my cushion I listen to the voice of the meditation teacher who says calmly: “there is only this present moment… There is nothing you have to do, nowhere to be apart from right here, right now”. And my mind goes: “What?! Nothing to do, are you mad?! Don’t you know that people are starving, children being abused every day, there is War in the Middle East, the rainforest is dying and my Finance & Accounting exam is next week? How can you say “there is nothing to do”? How can you sit here silently, passively while all that is happening… surely, we have to DO something!

For a long time, I felt as if I had two opposing sides in me: one that longed for harmony, safety, and joy and the other one that saw the suffering in this world, that longed to take action, to be courageous, to be “out there” and fight for a better world (or simply study for my accounting exam, as a start).  Finding peace in the present moment and my desire for change, for influencing the future, seemed unreconcilable. 

It was only much later that I understood that it is not about stillness “OR” action, about pleasure or pain– it is both, it is “AND”. It is about seeing Nature’s beauty and its destruction. About seeing human’s capacity for compassion and its violence.  It is about cultivating a heart that is open to holding both, the beauty and the pain of this precious life on earth.


During meditation, we train our minds to stay present, noticing the thoughts and emotions that are present, allowing them to be without resisting or clinging on to them and letting them pass. We start seeing that, like everything in life, these sensations are temporary. Instead of identifying with them (“I am angry, sad or happy”) we become the observer (“I am experiencing anger, sadness or joy”). Over time, becoming the observer gives us new freedom, which is critical for creating positive impact – it enables us to move from automatic reaction to conscious response.

As changemakers and leaders witnessing the current state of the world, many of us are longing for both inner peace and outer action. Through the practice of becoming still, becoming aware of the present moment, and allowing our thoughts and emotions to “just be”, we can process them and not get caught up in a self-reinforcing “flight- or flight”-modus. The simple practice of taking three deep long breaths already activates our parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest-and-digest”-modus, signaling to our body (and consequently mind) that we are safe. 

It is from this space of safety and connection that new perspectives and different actions can emerge. Suddenly, we find solutions that were previously thought were impossible, for ourselves and the planet. 





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