Staying Centered in Peace


Lisa Hepner

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As a chaplain at a local church I am trained to see the “highest good” even when things on the outside seem contrary.  I am trained to see the perfect expression of God in all situations.  So for example, I have been taught to see beyond outer manifestations such as disease, and see the inherent wholeness and perfection in all people.

Yet when the events of September 11, 2001 happened, it was a struggle to see beyond the pain.  I just couldn’t see the “good” in the situation, when all I felt was pain and all I could see all around me was tragedy and devastation.  Yet, I knew I would be called to pray with others and would need to come to terms with my own feelings regarding this horrible tragedy.  I would need to find my own “peace” of mind regarding the horrific events.

As a person on this spiritual journey, like many of you, I seek advice and solace from many mentors in the spiritual/ personal growth arena.  So I wondered what some of the great minds I had studied, like Neale Donald Walsch, Marianne Williamson and others would say about the recent tragedy.  What would their perspective be, and what words of wisdom would they offer to help me and others move beyond the paralysis of pain to the comfort of healing?  Thus the book Peaceful Earth:  Spiritual Perspectives on Hope and Healing Beyond Terrorism came to fruition.

After reading the collection of stories and insights from all of these spiritual teachers, I was able to come to a place of peace and centeredness.  I was able to go forward with a feeling of expectancy for all the good that could come about.  I was filled with hope and peace.  I know anyone that reads these powerful messages will also be able to stay centered in peace.

All the stories and perspectives in the book have a common theme.  Even though there are many different authors, and many different ways of saying or expressing their feelings they all basically say the same thing.  And in order to demonstrate the three main themes I would like to tell you a story.  I often see things in stories, so I would like to share this one with you.

It was Christmas-time at a crowded bus station.  One man stood out in the crowd.  Why?  Because he was rude and obnoxious.  He had an angry face filled with hatred; you could see it in his eyes.  His forehead was crinkled and he glared at anyone he made eye contact with.

The man reeked of body odor, and his physical appearance was disheveled.  He wore mangled clothes, and his facial hair was matted together.

His language was obscene, and under his breath he was cursing at everyone.

Not only that, but he was obscenely drunk.  He teetered and stammered as he bumped into anyone in his path.  He had no concern for the space of others.

People at the bus station were getting upset at the actions of this vile man.  Many of them decided to push him back when he bumped into them.

One young man, pushed the drunken man when he bumped into him, and said, “Watch where you’re going, Jerk.”

As the man pushed the drunken man, he became easily off balance and bumped into more people.  Everyone started pushing back and yelling things like, “Jerk, Scum” 

This only fueled the anger already in the man’s heart.  He cursed louder and became more obscene. Before you knew it, everyone in the bus station was full of anger and disgust.

Suddenly one man pushed the drunken man so hard, that he fell over and landed near a woman sitting on a bench with her eight-year-old daughter.

The eight-year-old girl looked at the man trying to get up, and then looked at her mom.  “We should help him, don’t you think?” she asked her mom. 

The mother responded, “Normally, dear, we’d help, but not in this situation.  This is different.”  The mother silently prayed that the vile man would not come over and disturb them.

Suddenly, the little girl got up and went over to the man, who had at this time stood up.

The little girl looked the man directly in the eyes and said, “Sir, why are you so angry?”

The drunken man slurred and yelled at the little girl to go away.  “Leave me alone,” he yelled.

The little girl was persistent.  She pulled on his shirt and got the man’s attention.

“Leave me alone, get away from me,” he slurred.

The little girl again, looked him in the eyes and said, “The reason I asked is because I was wondering if there was anything I could do to help?”

The man froze in his tracks.  The angry look on his face softened, and he broke into tears.

The three of them; the drunken man, the little girl and the mother, cried together.

They found out that a year ago, the drunken man’s wife had died.  They had been living paycheck to paycheck as it was and with the high cost of funeral expenses, and the downgrade to only one salary, the man took a turn for the worse.  He lost his car and lost his home, and most importantly, he lost the love of his life. He became homeless.

On that day, the year anniversary of his wife’s death, he had sold his only winter jacket in order to get bus fare so he could visit his wife at the cemetery.

Many of you may be wondering how this story relates to the recent terrorist events.  Yet, there are three principles demonstrated in that story that parallel our recent tragedy.

The first is that behind every act of lashing out in anger, there is a deep-rooted pain.  We may not know what it is, but the outward manifestation is anger. Like the drunk man in the bus station.  All we see on the outside is a disgusting man with no respect for others.  We don’t know his situation, we don’t know his pain.  We just see the outside manifestation of his anger.  Yet, all anger has pain at its root.

In order to solve the problem, like Neale Donald Walsch said in the book, we must look at the cause, or the root of the problem. If we ignore the deep-rooted pain, or the cause of the anger, the problem will not go away and we will never fully heal.

I love Jean Houston’s analogy in the book when she likens the terrorist events to a cancer.  To further the analogy, if we rely on the doctors to remove the problem, (like we’re relying on government to solve the problem) through surgery, but we continue to smoke, for example, than we haven’t solved the root problem, which is the cigarettes.  The doctors can keep performing surgery to remove pieces of the diseased lung, but until the culprit (cigarettes) is stopped the problem will continue to manifest.

So I ask all of us to not just look at the outward manifestation, which was the act of terrorism but to look at the cause behind the bombing and to remember that behind every lashing out in anger there is a deep-rooted pain.

Second, anger begets anger.  In the above story, the angry man angered others.  When the people at the bus station retaliated with anger it only fueled the anger that was already in the man’s heart.  Eventually, the anger spread throughout the whole bus station, leaving everyone angry.  Yet the problem still continued, and was even compounded. 

I heard that in Native American tradition they have a saying that says the man who seeks revenge must dig two graves, one for the person he is seeking revenge upon, and one for himself. This illustrates the principal that anger only begets more anger. 

The last principle illustrated in the above example, was that the only thing that could dissolve the man’s anger was the pure, innocent love of a child who cared enough to find out what was going on inside the man.

Like Alan Cohen reiterated in the book, the quote from Gandhi that said, “the pure love of one person can offset the hatred of thousands.”  What a powerful illustration of the power of love.

In Alan Cohen’s story he talks about the fact that in Native American tradition one person is assigned the role of Faith keeper.  That person is responsible for keeping the faith of the entire village, even when drought, disease or famine is prevalent. 

This is our mission now, to become Faith keepers of peace. To keep love in our hearts, and to see peace everywhere. We all know the power of staying centered in peace and seeing only peace in the world until it becomes a reality.

How do we stay centered in peace?  The easiest and most natural thing that I do is “put myself in another’s shoes.”  If someone appears to be disrupting the peace, I choose to look beyond the situation and put myself in his or her situation.  And, even though I may not know what is going on in their life, I can sympathize with them, knowing that they must be in some kind of deep pain in order to be so angry or act foolishly.  Again, it doesn’t mean I’m condoning the behavior, only trying to see or understand the cause of their behavior.

The second thing I do is pray.  Whenever I feel like I’m not centered in peace, I pray.  I acknowledge the perfect peace all around me.  I confirm the peace of the world, and my part in it.  I utilize my chaplain training, and “see” peace everywhere.  As part of my prayer I see myself connected to my friends and immediate family than connected to people in Africa, Australia, England, China, etc.  I see a ball of energy joining us all together.  And, I acknowledge that “we are all one.” I send love out to the world.  I see it radiating outward to everyone.

Lastly, I remind myself of the readings and words of our great spiritual leaders.  I remember Alan Cohen’s story about being a Faith keeper, then I make a conscious decision to be one or I remember Dan Millman's statement about not giving power to “a small group of zealots, to not let them live in our head rent-free.”

Like St. Francis of Assisi said, “while you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it more fully in your heart.” Once peace is in the hearts of each and every one of us there will be no violence, there will be world peace.  But we can’t expect world peace, when we can’t even be at peace with our coworker or mother. So, again the three tools I use to stay centered in peace are: Sympathize, Pray, and Remember.

Change starts at the individual level, then spreads like wildfire to the hearts and minds of everyone.

About the Author

Lisa Hepner is a chaplain at the Living Enrichment Center in Wilsonville, Oregon and has been studying spirituality for over ten years.  She is an entrepreneur, creating inspirational products.  She compiled her second book, Peaceful Earth:  Spiritual Perspectives on Hope and Healing Beyond Terrorism which contains insights from leading spiritual thinkers like Neale Donald Walsch, Marianne Williamson, Jean Houston, Dan Millman and more regarding the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Contact the Author

For more information, or to purchase "Spiritual Perspectives on Hope and Healing Beyond Terrorism", please visit Lisa's website at:

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