Fake News for Real Peace

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I have been a Friend for forty-five years. I started attending a few years after returning to the U.S. from a tour in Vietnam. It was a stressful time. We had two young children. At the encouragement of Charles and Mary Minor, we visited Flagstaff Friends Meeting on South Beaver Street, just off the campus of Northern Arizona University.

Within just a few meetings, I felt At Home. The “silence” especially appealed to my condition. It has done so ever since. I was a Vietnamese linguist during my tour of duty, and I’ve come to appreciate that an element of silence is an important component in most religions and spiritual journeys. A meditation practice might begin with appreciation for the external environment, but then it proceeds to a quieting of the mind. Buddhists are a prominent group following this path. I was especially grateful to discover Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh a few years after finding Friends.

My own “being peace” has often been disturbed by my country’s politics. Our most recent ex-President was hardly the first of these disturbances. However, his flagrant use of internet media to spread provocative messages quickly became a serious obstacle to my peace of mind.

Twitter “news” seemed impossible to turn off. Even worse, the “tweets” seemed to be maliciously crafted as constant distractions from human compassion, and as appeals to large portions of the population to direct their attentions to the needs of their own egos. Well, most Friends do not need to be apprised of the effects.

At some point, I began pondering a well-known series of statements by George Fox. In the years leading up to the founding of the Religious Society of Friends, Fox felt tormented by his inability to find anyone who could “speak to his condition.” He sought guidance far and wide, but could not find it anywhere – not from the church establishment, not from preachers, not from the Crown. Finally, he found the Light he was seeking in the words of Jesus, as they were recorded in the Testaments.

Frankly, I have studied early church history and am not totally convinced that all the words written in Greek are historically Jesus’s own. Nonetheless, I began trying to find a way to draw upon Jesus’s teachings to help me block out the words and actions of authoritarian politicians (like the Romans in Jesus’s day), which constantly assailed me from the news and faux news.

Over time, I developed a practice that helps me when political events and messages aggravate my sense of outrage. Each time I feel an internal mental monologue triggered in me by some news item – virtually always a monologue that denigrates the message or the messenger – I take that moment as a signal to initiate one of several meditation modes.

Quaker-style worship is one of those modes, but I found that it was not always effective for me during the last administration, especially early on. So, I began increasing the amount of time I spent doing tai ji quan, and when even that failed to stop the monkey mind from intruding to argue against the latest Twitter outrage, I experimented with numerous qi gong exercises.

Since the occurrence of those triggers was frequent, I found myself spending frequent periods in standing meditation. After the murder of George Floyd, I engaged in 108 daily meditations of eight minutes and forty-six seconds each. Gradually, I felt an increase in the amount of time I could spend in a state of internal silence. I discovered I could sit in the silence of Quaker worship with an extended internal peace that I had not been able to achieve earlier.

I have continued to practice various forms of meditation more frequently. The deep silence I experience through these exercises has also continued to increase. Even though these practices were the result of external events, my internal peace has increased with each silent exercise and each meeting for worship.

Find your trigger and use that to initiate your worship.  ~~~

Charlie Thomas is a member of Cascabel Worship Group in Benson, AZ (IMYM).

 

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