Peace without and peace within

It’s a conundrum every human being must confront: To what extent is the world outside us linked to the one within? Is there a common thread between peace in the world and peace in oneself?

Asheville residents Rusty Maynard and Clare Hanrahan are no strangers to such pressing questions. Both are pacifists: Maynard is a lifelong Quaker, and Hanrahan is an anti-war protester who recently spent time in federal prison for committing civil disobedience at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. And though they were willing to talk about their own adventures in the quest for peace, both were quick to stress that they’re not experts — and that they themselves fall far short of the ideals they describe. (Perhaps humility is as much the mark of a peacemaker as arrogance is the mark of a warmonger.)

Peace as practice, not just protest

Rusty Maynard is a member of the Asheville Friends Meeting. In the secular world, he’s a physician, woodworker and “aspiring computer geek”; he’s also known for the passive-solar heating system he built onto his house. It so happened that I called him just hours after he and a Quaker friend had concluded a soul-searching conversation about their own activism for peace, questioning whether they were truly practicing what they preached.

“We were concluding that many of our activities in the name of advocacy are not always driven by altruism — they’re driven very much by our own fears and our needs.”

To be an effective advocate for peace, says Maynard, requires more than simply complaining about the direction our leaders are taking the nation — it means having a coherent alternative vision and acting on it.

“If we are ordinary citizens of a prosperous country with resources, then … to have peace with ourselves, we have to show evidence in ourselves that we can share our own resources.”

As an example, he suggests, “Let’s just not deal with the issue of Iraq, but with right use of resources. … Having solar hot-water collectors on your hot-water heater has something directly to do with the amount of coal-fired electric generation, which has something to do with the air that we all breathe. … Whether you’re rich or you’re poor, you have no special power to avoid bad air. So that action is something that you can do as a gesture toward everyone.

“Sharing,” he maintains, “goes hand in hand with accepting limitations — trying to find some way of limiting one’s own power.”

Conscientious objection to war — pioneered, in part, by Quakers — is one way to limit one’s power to do harm. To Maynard, conscientious objection represents not merely a refusal to serve in the military, but a broader refusal to participate in “a premeditated commitment to carry out violence.

“That’s something that I think is not understood about C.O.s — that they have as much fear of their own capacity to do harm as they have fear and respect for the possibility of any other person to do harm.”

And even after making such a seemingly decisive choice, says Maynard, “A C.O. is not any more at peace having chosen something to avoid — he still carries the burden of what to do that is good, what to do that is advancing the common good, which includes a sense of higher being, an attention to a role for God. … I don’t want to get into theology, what is the nature of God — but I must assume that there is more to act upon than one’s own self-interest.”

Finding peace in the precious present

Clare Hanrahan is no stranger to making hard choices. To avoid paying for war through her taxes, she lives on a minimal income. And on Nov. 19, 2000, she was arrested in a peaceful protest against the U.S. military’s alleged training of South American death-squad participants at the School of the Americas (now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Convicted along with several other local activists on the charge of “illegal reentry onto a United States Military Reservation,” Hanrahan served what she calls her “tithe of six months” in the Federal Prison Camp at Alderson, W.Va., between July 2001 and January 2002. She wrote about her experiences in Jailed for Justice: A Woman’s Guide to Federal Prison Camp (Brave Ulysses Books/Celtic Wordcraft, Asheville, 2002).

But whether crossing the line at a military base, submitting to a degrading body search in prison, or enjoying the smiles and nods of passersby as she walks downtown, Hanrahan says she finds peace in the “sacrament of the present moment.”

“We can only do what’s in front of us, and we have to keep pulling back and not getting caught up in the despair for the world or feelings of powerlessness. Really, each of us can act in the moment we’re in and with the people we find ourselves next to.” In prison, says Hanrahan, “I learned a lot of how to do that [because] I was really not in control of circumstances surrounding me.” As a result, she says, “You had to go deeper within yourself just to find those places of peace and to look around you at the beauty that was there, through it all.

“I think the greatest threat to our personal peace is despair. And we cannot, cannot give in to it; I think we have a duty to hold on to hope.”

For Hanrahan, “taking a walk, sitting by a river … watching the flow there, and looking out at the mountain and seeing something more eternal there that has persisted throughout — that gives me hope, gives me a sense of peace. But it’s fleeting sometimes; you have to work at it.”

And finding peace in the world, she feels, requires building on that inner certitude by taking a stand. “We do have a duty to speak out. We have a duty to voice our concerns in the face of injustice, in the face of the militarism, the threat to the rest of the planet, the environmental degradation.

“But bottom line, I cannot control the actions of my government. All I can control is my own self and how I am in each moment.” Once again, she maintains, it’s a matter of choice: “how I choose to be with people — and how I own the violence within me and have the courage to face that and work to disarm my own self, which is a daily struggle.”

In the midst of that struggle, however, Hanrahan believes in reaching for what connects all of us.

“One can get discouraged, and fear can rise. There’s legitimate reason for caution in these times — we have in control of the government now people with ideas that are dangerous. And we have a growing number of people who have barely enough to get by on. We just have to recognize that there are allies high and low out there. There are people whose hearts are good — they may be cloaked in positions and situations that we don’t normally realize, but we have to try to look to that in everyone, and try to find where we have some common ground, and move from that.”

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