If you’ve been waiting for a good reason to call a truce or cultivate compassion toward someone who seems different from you, here it is: the International Day of Peace. It’s observed around the globe every year on the 21st of September.
The day, which the United Nations established in 1981, is designated as a 24-hour period of non-violence and cease-fire.
Who knows if it’ll manifest in ways commensurate with current world conflicts. Even if it does, the UN acknowledges that “achieving true peace entails much more than laying down arms.”
Yep, the UN knows that getting to the heart of the struggle is the only way to engender true change, true peace: “It requires the building of societies where all members feel that they can flourish. It involves creating a world in which people are treated equally, regardless of their race,” the 2022 declaration reads.
This year, the day focuses on racial discrimination, themed “End racism. Build peace.”
I’m sure we all agree that achieving that aspiration takes more than a day, but it’s worth a start. Recognizing that humans prefer harmony to discord can solidify our resolve to take action.
“We all seek peace of mind … and (we’re) usually uncomfortable when the mind is disturbed,” says Lobsang Chunzom, a Buddhist nun and founder of the Limitless Health Institute, whose mission is fostering interpersonal connection and peace in order to improve health. “Emotional override, negative thoughts all disturb … the mind. The small acts of violence we do every day that harm others in small ways affect our own peace of mind.”
Those seemingly small acts start with feelings and thoughts. When our anger, lust, greed, attachment and ego increase, “the greater the element of fear that flows through our way of thinking and seeing the world outside of us,” says Sister Dr. Jenna, author of Mayhem to Miracles: Sacred Stories of Transformational Hope and director of the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Museum, located in the Washington D.C.-metro area. “The journey inward helps us to identify what we feed most: fear or love.”
Self-examination also can help us change what we feed. “What we have not been doing is this simple practice of living from our interior world,” she says.
Sister Jenna offers 6 steps to follow on International Day of Peace in order to help end racism (and generally help peace prevail), through personal work that reminds, recalibrates or does both. Follow the suggestions in the prescribed order so that you reap the most from them.
The exercises, which educate and create awareness, are just the sort of thing the UN encourages for the day, if you’re lucky not to be on a literal battlefield, where, unfortunately, some people are.
1. Come face-to-face with yourself.
Look in the mirror and acknowledge yourself as a peaceful soul, Sister Jenna suggests.
How does it feel? This practice works even better if you carry it into coming days because the habit reframes your mindset, which will affect everyone you interact with.
2. Embrace your power.
Take a deep breath, and hold it for as long as possible.
“Observe how powerful your life is and what it means to be given life,” Sister Jenna says. “Decide at that moment, how you will choose to live: with love or with hate?”
3. Find inspiration — and it can come from outside you.
Listen to something motivational in the morning or while having your breakfast.
This encouragement might be the affirming nudge you need to seal steps 1 and 2 into your being. “Racism will always find room to breathe in an unattended peaceless mind,” Sister Jenna says.
4. Stay aware by being your own cheerleader.
Practice “traffic control.”
Pause every hour, on the hour, and remind yourself, “I am a peaceful, pure and powerful soul,” she says.
5. Reach out and take action.
Be a bearer of good wishes and pure feelings for everyone, especially those you find difficult to see with love.
Don’t try this cold. It’s much more attainable after you’ve done steps 1 through 4. Otherwise, you’re forcing feelings and thoughts, which means they aren’t genuine and might make you resentful, countering the whole point of this exercise and this day.
6. Take stock and move beyond.
“Last but not least, count your blessings that today you have been given another chance to make good,” Sister Jenna says.
Maybe International Day of Peace is mostly about awakening and realization so that you can move toward a better internal dialogue in days, weeks, years to come. “The more we live from inside, out, the greater the wisdom (that) will emerge,” Sister Jenna says.
And that wisdom is what guides us toward compassion and connection.
“When we are able to see people around us with eyes of equanimity, we will overlook differences. This worldview emphasizes equal rights for all living beings based on a very basic principle: Everyone wants to be happy, nobody wants to suffer,” Chunzom says. “In that way we are completely equal. Therefore, we are not very different walking through life.”
Wellness writer Mitra Malek is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, whose driving mission includes understanding global conflict, from the interplay of nations to the interplay of people.