Rose presents His Holiness the Dalai Lama with her book Tibetan Tales for Little Buddhas,
in which he wrote the foreword; Miami, Florida, 2004.
Peace from the Inside Out
by Naomi C. Rose
What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I've been devoted to peace ever since I can remember. Perhaps this obsession began as I huddled under the school desk for another post –World War II bomb drill, hugging my scrawny legs. Or perhaps it began when the neighbors built a bomb shelter. The thought of crowding in a dank underground vessel while balls of fire plummeted from the sky terrified me. Fear of the enemy. Fear of violence. Fear of war. I wanted peace for the world, and I wanted to feel safe.
I set my ambitions on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. In my young heart and mind there was no greater accomplishment than contributing to peace. While I waited to win that prize, I invented the "peace gun." I nailed two small squares of wood together and glued a knob on top. I ran around "shooting" it at whomever I could, believing each time I pushed the knob that people would be kinder to one another. In Girl Scouts, my spirits soared whenever we sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth." My voice filled with emotion with the words "and let it begin with me." I would do what I could for peace.
In my teens, I handed out daisies at school and declared myself a flower child of peace. I doodled the peace symbol on homework and flashed the peace sign everywhere. Perhaps these gestures would succeed where my peace gun had failed. Donned in groovy scarves and tie-dyed dresses, I marched the streets in protest of the Vietnam War. Again my spirits soared as I sang with thousands of others "All we are saying is give peace a chance." In between songs, I pumped my fist in the air decrying the evil warmongers .
And then something happened. Turmoil from past and present traumas in my life caused me to turn my attention inward. And lo and behold, I discovered that the violence I had feared and protested outwardly was thriving inwardly. Combat and war, anger and hatred, enemies and evil were all playing out in the shadows of my soul. I went into therapy and opened the Pandora's box of my dark emotions. I punched pillows and screamed into the air, raging about those who had done me wrong.
In the midst of this "dark night of my soul," I had a spiritual awakening. My heart and mind expanded to new realities. I saw how the outer world was a reflection of my inner world. And I devoted myself to peace all over again, but this time from the inside out.
Over the next 20 years or so, I cultivated a spiritual practice and continued various forms of therapy. This work became less focused on what had happened to me and more on what was happening within me. I learned that my denied thoughts and feelings could wreak havoc. I learned that even seemingly dark aspects of myself could have valuable wisdom. I learned that embracing and honoring the unpleasant parts of myself could enhance inner peace. And I began to realize that those truths could be applied outside myself, too.
My ambition to create peace in the world surged in me again. I felt ready. But this time the ambition was rooted in love, not fear. No more hiding under desks in terror of malevolent forces or marching for peace with hatred for warmongers. No more believing in the polarities of good and evil. No more believing in enemies. It was time to shoot my peace gun at my own heart, to cultivate a compassion for all beings.
I came upon a Tibetan wisdom tale that gave me a new reference point for peace. It's a tale told in many cultures. The story is about a boy who loses his horse. Ah, bad news. The horse returns, accompanied by a new horse. Ah, good news. The new horse bucks the boy, and the boy hurts his leg. Ah, bad news. All the boys in the village are taken away to war except the boy with the hurt leg. Ah, good news for the boy.
In the Tibetan version, the boy's father remains calm through the events as he chants the Tibetan mantra of compassion: Om mani padme hum. Throughout the story, the boy has no real peace. His state of mind is tossed back and forth like the bucking horse. But the father's sense of peace is not at the whim of events. He doesn't place a value of good or bad onto occurrences. Yet he's fully engaged in life, tending to each incident with care. He helps search for the lost horse. He bandages the boy's hurt leg. All the while, he chants. His unshakable peace and compassion eventually inspire the boy and others in the story to find peace.
The father in this tale became my new model for equanimity and peace. In fact, I included the story in my first children's book, Tibetan Tales for Little Buddhas. Many adults and children have told me how this tale inspired a new way of experiencing life — a more peaceful way, a more compassionate way. Their transformations came from inner shifts, not from changes in their outer world. The wisdom from this tale continues to be my constant companion. It helped me climb out of terror after 9/11, and it guides me to respond with peace rather than fear to life's inner and outer events.
Now I write, paint and speak for peace — a global peace within each of us and in the world. My lifelong ambition to contribute to world peace is being realized little by little. All along the song I learned in Girl Scouts was true: peace begins with me. Now it's just from the inside out.