Our thirst for peace
If we want to know more peace in our lives, if we want to bring more peace to the world, the work begins within ourselves, right here, right where we are.
Mahatma Gandhi recognised this when he said, “I have only three enemies. My favourite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man called Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”
When our most formidable opponent is ourself, what might we do about this?
As this charming saying of the Desert Fathers tells, peace isn’t to be found by running off to somewhere quiet, away from everything and everyone we might find annoying:
A brother was restless in his community and he was often irritated. So, he said, “I will go and live somewhere by myself. I will not be able to talk or listen to anyone and so I shall be at peace, and my passionate anger will cease. He went out and lived alone in a cave. But one day he filled his jug with water and put it on the ground. Suddenly it happened to fall over. He filled it again, and again it fell. This happened a third time. In a rage he snatched up the jug and smashed it.
Coming to his senses he knew that his anger had mocked him. And he said, “Here I am by myself, and it has beaten me. I will return to the community. Where you live you need effort and patience and above all God’s help.
So, he got up and went back.
The Christian contemplative tradition (alongside all the great contemplative traditions of the world) teaches that the source of peace is always present, that all we need is close at hand. Despite all appearances to the contrary, despite all we may have been told about ourselves and about each other, the source of the peace we seek, which the world so badly needs, cannot not be here. It is always present, because it is the very ground and essence of who we are. As such, it can never be anywhere else. It can only be hidden from our view.
In the early seasons of meditation practice, we may be rather surprised by what we discover. Most often, the beginning of our journey involves encountering our internal mental noise. Perhaps for the first time, we see the deep patterns of reactivity and habit that direct and constrain our lives. We discover our tendency to tell ourselves stories (often negative) about ourselves and life, and how quickly we become embroiled in them. We meet our restlessness and distractedness (so often symptoms of unacknowledged fear and anxiety).
But there is no need to be overly concerned. Even if we have spent many years building and defending partitions within ourselves, the gentle wisdom and healing processes of meditation help loosen and dissolve our internal knots and obstructions and bring us to greater harmony.
As we learn to meet our thoughts and our feelings with stillness and compassion, we are brought into an entirely new relationship with life. We find we are able to look out and meet the world from a more solid, peaceful foothold. The peace that is always present within us is unveiled.
In a striking passage in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well that everyone who drinks this water will thirst again, but that those who drink the water he gives will never thirst again — and that this water will become a spring, welling up to eternal life. A little later, Jesus describes this spiritual water — the Spirit of God — flowing from our inmost depths.
Despite all appearances to the contrary, despite all we may have been told about ourselves and about each other, the source of the peace we seek, which the world so badly needs, is always here, flowing within us.
It cannot not be here. It is who we are.
The teaching, the invitation, is to drink from the stream of living water flowing within our heart.
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 John 4: 13–14.
 John 7: 37–38.