In "Circle of Iron," one of my most favoritest (and oh-so campy) martial arts movies, Cord the Seeker wanders into the tent of Chang-Sha, Master of the Caravanserai (played by David Carradine in one of several roles in the film). Cord greets the strange lord with a single word:
Chang-Sha laughs, and replies: "Don't wish it on me. The whole world is in commotion and you wish me peace! I don't know what peace is, I don't want it. Don't you listen to the desert? Even when there's no wind the sand sings."
There are those, I among them, who believe that aikido is a particular form of personal combat whose primary aim is not to destroy or defeat an enemy, but rather to restore balance and promote general welfare. I'm inclined to image a world where humans are at peace with one another, with their environment, and with themselves, and I look for opportunities to bring this vision closer to reality. I not only wish, but work for peace.
And yet, like Chang-Sha, I find the whole notion suspect. When I re-watch the movie, I often think I would have happily abandoned my quest and fallen in with lusty Chang-Sha. (And yeah, ok, Tara really, if you've seen the movie.) I am a hedonist. I am a sensualist.I like pulsing rhythms, I like fireworks, I like a tapestry of color. I like food and drink, and I like wonder and intoxication. Give me a Carnival of the Senses, and give me life that is stimulating.
At least some of the time… The truth is, I also like idleness and pastoral scenes. And despite my well-earned reputation as an international action-man of mystery and intrigue, I have a laconic bent. I like beauty. I like calm. I like warm sunshine and a cool breeze. I like starlight and the unfettered mind. Give me a hammock and a book, and freedom to daydream.
But see, I vacillate yet again. I've watched enough David Attenborough to realize that under any idyllic veneer, the soil is writhing with warfare. Insects are living out their horrific lives. Predators prevail and prey dies a pain-filled and fearful death. When predators fail, they die of protracted starvation. The world is dirty and parasitic. Such is the way of nature, and all that cheery birdsong is a feeble incantation against a very bleak truth. Life is not peaceful, and neither is death.
(All life is food, so you'd better decide what you eat, and what you feed.)
So I sometimes find it funny when we loftily refer to aikido as "The Way of Nature." Nature personified is a nasty bitch, and I wouldn't court her for love nor money.
Yet yet yet again, Life! Heartbeat and breath and the warm commingling of an inquisitive mind inside a glad body! So far, life endures. And in my own enduring life, I've known moments of transcendent peace. I bet you have too.
Peace then, could be a feeling. Transitory and possibly even illusory, but nonetheless worthy if we are not overly lulled and dulled by it. Peace could be simply a cessation of noise, a rest or even a fermata in the eternal symphony.
It's unseemly for me to seem confused about the issue. I am, after all, on the steering committee of Peace Dojos International
. I ought to be an authority of at least minor stature.
Yet I question our efforts at peace-building or peace-making. Sometimes I think it's something unattainable, or maybe not even all that desirable. Other times I think that peace isn't a thing that can be achieved or created, but in fact something that's always there once the dust settles. Then I think the campaign is less about making peace and more about running interference on the forces that harmfully and perpetually perturb.
I sometimes think this, and sometimes think that. So now having guided you here, roundabout, let me tell you what peace really is, and what it isn't.
Most will agree that peace is not Nature in its red aspect of tooth and claw. I will assert that neither is it sunshine and daises. Nor is peace that intense feeling of well-being and calm, though this may indeed be a desirable ingredient.
Peace is a living system in a period of vibrant health, where resources are abundant and readily available; when the constant warfare of immunology is automatic and background. It is relative security and safety. (Relative but never absolute, as such would strain the qualification unto breaking.)
For me, peace is the freedom to choose the orgiastic frenzy of Chang-Sha or the meditative perusal of the Book of All Knowledge, without having to choose between the two. It's being welcome in good company, intimate in communion while being left alone. Peace is the syncopated rhythm between these things, and the still point where they turn and equilibrate.
Probably peace cannot be built or created, any more than love can actually be made. But there are structures material and psychic which promote stillness and laminar flow; spaces spacious enough to allow freedom but contained in protective membranes that shield against unwholesome perturbations.
Peace cannot meaningfully be said to be the absence of violence, for violence is ubiquitous. Peace cannot be the absence of destruction, for much creativity is destructive.
Rather, peace is a condition where the forces of dissolution and undoing are in right proportion to the forces of vital creation.
I think we can manage that, or at least construct a better life in the effort to make progress.
In the mean time,
Peace be With You. (Excitement too.)
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA