So I decided months ago that in December I would write about peace.

And then the attacks in Paris occurred.

And then the attacks on social media and in the “news” occurred.

I started thinking about the ways violence creates more violence. And if violence creates more violence then surely peace creates more peace.

When I think of peace I often think of a still, quiet picture of the earth from outer space or of snow falling on a silent winter night. It seems I associate peace with quiet stillness and there is a reason for this. Peace has its roots, not in the lack of fighting, but in the presence of stillness, internal stillness.

Our behaviors are simply reflections of our internal states. If we want to bring about peace in any real, sustainable, external way, we must first create peace internally. So, in a very real sense, peace begins with mindful observation of violence, criticism and resistance.

Most of us live our lives vacillating between our two selves. The first self has an ego orientation. It is the understanding of ourselves we get when we look in the mirror. It is an isolated self. I came in alone and I’ll go out alone. I walk around living my own life in my own head, separated and disconnected from others.

The other self is a larger self. This self understands that on a very fundamental level it is connected to others and to something larger than the body.

The self of ego-orientation lives in fear of the connected self, assuming that connection with others means obliteration of the self and so it expends a great deal of energy making sure we feel disconnected from our larger self and from one another. This manifests in countless ways. Most basically, it exists as an internal battle between the two selves, often in the self talk that is critical or that moves us toward self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. It manifests as we resist our connection to others who are different from us. It manifests as we argue with members of our family. It manifests when we are fighting for social reform and forget that we are also connected to those whose policies and actions we see as harmful.

It is difficult for most of us to understand people who harm and manipulate others; so difficult, in fact, that many people would rather not understand them. They may frighten us and make us feel vulnerable. They may enrage us and make us feel strong to stand up for ourselves or others. But acts of violence and wrong doing are often the result of great suffering. It takes patience to understand suffering. It is not that we accept violence because someone is suffering, but if we are ever going to stop violence we must also be willing to hear about, to understand the suffering of others, even if that means we have to listen to and consider criticism of ourselves or of values that we may cherish.

Our knee-jerk reaction is often to defend or retaliate. But real, sustainable solutions rarely come from knee-jerk reactions.

I love the twelve-step adage, “Hurt people hurt people.” But we cannot see this while we are agitated and activated. It is only when we breathe and still the agitated mind that we can even begin to hear our own critical, negative self-talk. This is where we truly experience the roots of violence. It starts there. It is only when we can sit with our own agitation long enough to still it, to understand it, that we can see clearly. It is only when we stop criticizing others that we see our connection to them. It is only under these conditions that peace becomes an outward expression of an inner experience.

Only then will we live in peace.

Find time to sit quietly. Sit with yourself. Listen to yourself with curiosity and compassion. Find refuge in your own breath and in your sitting practice. Become aware of your internal chatter and when you find it is saying something negative; gently notice your own internal state. You may find critical or violent self-talk. Or you may find something more subtle, a physical shift that feels like shutting down or protecting yourself.

But let’s start there. We can make an intention to move our automated internal states in a more intentional, peaceful direction. May our peace be a real expression of our internal states.

May you be free of suffering.

May you be well and happy.

May you know peace.