Domestic Peace by Suzanne Sterling
Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu - May all beings be happy
One of the most profound meditations I have ever learned is the application of this prayer, first to one's beloveds, then to the world at large, and finally to one's enemies - an alchemical act of transformation with far-reaching consequences – most profoundly for myself.
I am back in Cambodia... a country which experienced a devastating genocide of over 2 million people in 4 years... the effects of which are still lingering in a culture where, for the poorest at least, domestic violence is still rampant, until recently still legal and currently goes unprosecuted.
I came here last August as an advance trip to prepare myself to co-facilitate this journey for the 20 trip participants. We will be taking them to S21 - the school that was turned into a torture chamber and is now a museum filled with pictures of the victims (taken by the Khmer Rouge) in a gruesome array of suffering. We will be visiting the killing fields where the victims were taken and beaten to death (bullets were too scarce) before being thrown into a pit, and where, as the rains erode the layers of dirt you are literally walking upon the bones, teeth and clothing of the dead. We will be visiting the Steung Meanchey Dump where many families live in squalor and children work entire days retrieving items for recycling and are subject to sinkholes, toxic fumes and predators of all kinds.
It is in this place of destitution and poverty that domestic violence is highest. There has long been a history of the oppressed becoming the oppressors yet it is still so difficult to make sense of the situation.
Part of our goal in creating the OTM programs was to offer a template for taking full responsibility for the state of the world; recognizing that the most important activism we can take on is the awareness of our own internal warfare and that we must begin to take responsibility for the change we are looking for by changing ourselves first. And as a child of domestic violence myself, I have to ask myself where that violence lives inside of me. Where am I still attacking myself or others (in thought or deed)? Where am I still living in such deep fear for my survival that I am willing to perpetuate violence?
Yoga and specifically sacred activism, asks us to take a good hard look at the world inside us and to begin to create a program for domestic peace by making those choices ourselves...in every moment of our lives. Just as the ancient prayer extends out to not only our loved ones, but also to our enemies, we begin to find ways to accept and integrate the enemy within so that we become more well rounded, more integrated and more aware - perhaps the ultimate goal of the yoga practice.
How can we wrap our minds and hearts around such things as genocide, torture and warfare? By seeing them for what they are - deep seated fear and greed, and just like Ghandi who faced the beating stick over and over again with a profound understanding of the power of non-violent action, we face our own inner oppressor over and over again with understanding, courage, and the passion of compassion. Only then will we begin to see subtle shifts in perception, thought and ultimately in deed, which, according to the ancient Indian Upanishads (sacred texts) is the seed of our destiny.
My hope for this Seva Challenge is that we make that sacred connection between our inner and outer worlds and begin to realize the power of our compassionate hearts and minds to discern ultimate truths from the illusions that keep us trapped in fear and cycles of violence. This act of discernment can create great change and perhaps even bring us to a state of domestic peace in a world beyond war. - Suzanne Sterling