Earlier this week, on September 21, the United Nations honored the International Day of Peace, a UN-sanctioned day on which all violent conflicts are expected to cease so that humanitarian aid might more effectively reach victims of the conflict. The day also gives warring parties and all humans an opportunity to reflect on creating a more peaceful world. On this day and the days around it, groups and individuals around the world participate in various kinds of events—from peace marches to comedy shows—as a way to contribute to the growing movement to find new and safer ways to foster peace and well-being in the world. It's a remarkable day—but what I want to express today is the way that any day can be an opportunity for the kind of creative social activism that the International Day of Peace signifies.
The Peace Project
With my organization, Heartwalker Peace Project (www.heartwalker.org), I have organized events for the last five years in honor of the International Day of Peace. From 2005 through 2009, I hosted and lead a Heartwalk in San Francisco. “What is a Heartwalk,” you may ask? A Heartwalk is a peace march that is not “anti” anything; it is a celebration of peace. All kinds of people gather and walk a route in the streets that is shaped like a heart. The goal is to get people who might never connect, to talk to one another and share ideas and visions of peace, as well as have fun advocating for peace, instead of going to yet another angry protest where nobody really gets heard.
I try to organize events in the same spirit throughout the year, integrating the International Day of Peace with the rest of the calendar. This year, on September 10 -11, I hosted a 24-Hour Peace Vigil at my studio space in Oakland, bringing various people from the Oakland area to connect and pray together, meditate together, make music together, and inspire one another. Not only could you come and meditate, but there was a Heart Labyrinth, classes for adults and kids, speakers and performers. It was a fun and creative experience, where people who would never have connected, had the opportunity to send prayers of peace to Oakland and the world.
I am not bringing this up to simply brag about what I have done. I want to bring this up as an example of something that I find essential for each of us in our own personal growth and also in our pursuit of personal fulfillment and happiness. I have found from my own experience and from my various spiritual and developmental studies that the one thing that truly leads to happiness is authentic service to others and the larger community. The Dalai Lama has said many times, “Look for your own happiness and you find suffering; seek the hardship of helping others and you experience true happiness.”
I have discovered in my many years of spiritual practice that this is really true. When we are caught up in personal gain and focusing completely on our own goals, we ultimately experience crisis. There are many stories of people who devote their lives to making profit and getting ahead, only to discover that their possessions and status are not bringing them the happiness they were hoping for. This is one extreme.
It Begins with One
The more we focus on the well-being of others, we experience the deeper levels of happiness that go beyond the satisfaction of obtaining personal success and gain. For some people, this belief shapes their lives to the point that they give up all possessions and worldly goals and become monks or nuns, or choose a life based on total service to others. This is unique in our current society and requires enormous amounts of self-discipline and courage. Some good examples are Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa. And this is the other extreme.
I believe that there is a way for us to be in our modern world where we can both pursue our own fulfillment and achieve the goals we set out to accomplish, as well as devote some of our time to being of service to others less fortunate, or align with a cause that will improve the quality of life of all beings. In fact, I say often to my clients and students that the most effective way to find personal happiness and fulfillment is to both take care of your own needs, as well as find creative ways to help others.
Many people say to me, “I would love to do something to help, but I don’t know what to do.” I can imagine that it can be daunting to look at all the problems in the world and get discouraged: “How can one person make a difference?” Well, I say that the contribution of one person can make a difference. Just look at history. Look at some of our greatest heroes of recent times, like Gandhi and Mother Theresa. They didn’t eliminate all of the problems, but they did have a huge positive influence on society. It has to start with one person!
I don’t really think that walking in the street in the shape of a heart is going to end war. But I see how my projects create the opportunity for people to get active. It starts with taking the first step. And as you may know, that first step is oftentimes the hardest. Right? So, my goal is to create the space for others to get out and connect and maybe share an idea with a stranger that will spark new solutions for our problems. These projects of mine are expressions of my values and talents. And I call this kind of service to the larger community “Creative Social Activism.”
When we think of social activism, we think of organized marches, or lobbyists and policy makers. This is serious business and deserving of great respect. This is one kind of activism, and not for everybody. A good example of this is the Peace Alliance, an organization that is committed to getting the US government to sign a bill to create a cabinet-level department of peace. They are fully committed to this cause and worth knowing about. Check them out: http://www.thepeacealliance.org/.
Create Your Activism
However, there are millions of other ways that you can contribute to the well-being of others that doesn’t have to involve a full commitment. Creative Social Activism starts with a personal desire to want to be of service, either for the larger society, or for your neighborhood, or maybe even your family or friends. Then you need to figure out what unique interests, values, talents and skills you have to contribute. Here’s a way to do that. Start by getting some paper or a journal, and a pen. Get centered and take some time to breathe. Then, follow this process:
- Take a look at the following list of values and read through each item. Accomplishment/success, Accountability, Accuracy, Beauty, Calm, Challenge, Collaboration, Community, Competition, Creativity, Delight of being/joy, Discipline, Efficiency, Equality, Faith, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Hard work, Innovation, Justice, Knowledge, Leadership, Love/romance, Loyalty, Money, Peace/non-violence, Power, Prosperity/wealth, Service, Simplicity, Skill, Status, Tradition, Truth, Wisdom.
- Notice how each value makes you feel. Do you have any connection with the value? Did you feel some energy when you read it? Do you find that value important to you? Make notes.
- Choose 10 values from the list. Now that you’ve taken the time to read through this list, go back and decide which of these values resonate with you the most. Which ones get you excited and energized? Which ones are you willing to stand up for if you feel they are being threatened or violated. Which ones inspire your creativity? Write these 10 values in your journal. Take your time before you decide.
- Choose five values from your list of 10. Now we are getting deeper into the core of who you are. Of these 10 values, which would you say are your top five? Write these five values in your journal. Take your time before you decide.
- Choose three values from your list of five. Of these five values, which would you say are your top three? Write these three values in your journal. Take your time before you decide.
- Breathe and meditate, and focus on these three values. Notice what happens when you contemplate your highest values, the core of who you are. Notice the feelings that arise. Notice the energy that flows. Allow yourself to feel your power when you connect with your highest value.
- Add your three values to statement below. Write your three top values into the empty spaces in the statement below:
“I realize that I have only one life and that I have the fortunate circumstances in my life to ensure that I can bring purpose and meaning to my time here on this planet. I will find creative ways to bring about more harmony with myself and to empower others, tapping into my unique abilities and core values stemming from _________________, ___________________ and ____________________”
- Make notes on what you have discovered. Write down anything you have discovered. See what this new information opens up in terms of ways you can share your uniqueness. Get clear on your own personal philosophy and beliefs.
- Come up with creative ideas to express your values and uniqueness. Think about interesting ways to use your time and energy to be of service to others. As you can see from my projects, three of my top core values have to do with fun, collaboration and heart. What will your projects be?
Once you have filled in the blanks, read the statement to yourself a few times, either silently or out loud. Notice what you are feeling when you read it. If the wording I offer isn’t working for you, write your own statement with your core values included.
One of my clients was an expert knitter, and she decided to go to senior citizen centers to knit with people there and listen to their stories. She brightened up their lives. Another client was skilled at working out and committed to taking mentally challenged young men to the gym to teach them how to do a basic workout. These two clients may not change the world with their projects, but they are certainly bringing more happiness and healing to others. And they are happier for doing it.
So, this is one way to bring about more personal fulfillment and vitality in your life. It doesn’t require a lot of money, nor investment of time. All you need to do is have confidence in your own abilities and the courage to take that step to make something happen. When you take on projects that benefit others and are in alignment with your own values, you find that doors open up in other areas of your life, you meet people that you resonate with, and you attract opportunities that excite you. Find the balance in your life between taking care of the self and service to others, and discover your own personal key to your happiness.
About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supporting them on their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and a variety of spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He is currently writing a book entitled “Respectful Confrontation: the Path to Compassionate Engagement, True Power and Personal Freedom.” He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. To find out more about his workshops and his personal coaching, visit www.joeweston.com.
Joe leads lectures and workshops in Respectful Confrontation around the world. This autumn he will be in Oakland, Boston, Amsterdam, New Orleans, and Washington DC. For more info, click here