Inner Peace: Myth or Reality

By Larry Sherber

Spiritual growth is an ongoing process for many of us, especially for free thinking Unitarians. What we hear from that internal voice is constantly changing as we absorb new knowledge, input, and life experiences. For me this change has been influenced by having children, becoming a Unitarian, going back to school, and the recent birth of my grandson, to name just a few. I see my spiritual growth continuing indefinitely; I accept that, and at times even embrace it, stagnation being the alternative. However, western thought, and particularly American thinking, into which most of us have been brainwashed, dictates that we set goals and then try to reach them, come hell or high water. So, at the commencement of my spiritual search, which began as a young adult, my goal was to attain that elusive inner peace. Those of you who have heard me speak before know how much I love movies, especially old ones. So, of course, my definition of inner peace comes from ďLost Horizon,Ē a classic movie about Shangrila, an idyllic community located deep in the Himalayan Mountains, cut off from all, quote, civilization. The leader of this society, played by actor Sam Jaffe, was a wonderful, wise, 200+ year old man who reeked of inner peace. You could hear it in his voice and see it in his face, obviously a great makeup job. I got the feeling that if I ran this man over with a truck he would just smile and say ďThank you my son.Ē I thought when I saw that movie for the first time that I was destined to know that peace. The fact that I later saw Sam Jaffe playing a doctor in old TV series did not deter my spiritual journey. Well, here I am at 57 years old, still struggling to find any feeling that even slightly resembles what I saw on Sam Jaffeís face so many years ago.

Now common sense tells me that inner peace can most easily be achieved in the proper environment. However, outside of Shangrila, which legend says can only be found by accident, from what Iíve seen and read, thereís no place on this planet that I think would work for me. I know what youíre thinking. The obvious answer is that inner peace exists in the heart and mind and not in some geographical location. I understand that concept intellectually, but when I close my eyes my emotional self keeps bringing up this clear picture of Sam Jaffe, sitting in his priestly robes in my Honda on interstate 285 in Atlanta, cussing out 2 teenagers who have just cut him off in heavy traffic. Putting yourself in the proper environment helps. Realistically, however, Iíll probably never end up in Shangrila, so my search for harmony and tranquility will have to take place in north Georgia. Given my present circumstances, I would now like to share some of my thoughts concerning roadblocks I am encountering on the highway to inner peace. I will then discuss a few of the steps I am taking to try to overcome them.

The first and most overwhelming barrier is all about people and the inherent contradictions of the human condition. As human beings, our greatest concerns should be for the welfare of others, both close to us and globally. So why canít people, as they say in north Georgia, ďjust act right.Ē Now I love diversity, all kinds: racial, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, ethnic, religious. Diversity keeps us from stagnating. It creates new ideas and new ways of thinking. It also continually blocks my path to inner peace. Example: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. I love to see African Americans appointed to the Supreme Court. Great! But this man opposes affirmative action and has no empathy with Blacks less fortunate than himself. His attitude that ďI made it, so why canít everyone elseĒ is unrealistic and insensitive. He has the potential to significantly set back civil rights in this country with his vote, and thatís not so great. Hey, Iím just getting warmed up! Example: Log Cabin Republicans. Who said all gays should be democrats. Diversity demands that we have some politically conservative gays in this country. Wonderful! But their votes could very well interfere with the legal rights of gays to marry and have access to job benefits that straits take for granted. I know that Log Cabin Republicans are trying to change the partyís stand on gay civil rights, which as an admirable goal. But they also send a message to the mostly unenlightened strait population that they are supporting the party that is backing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages in the United States. This only prolongs and justifies the discrimination. The victims here are our friends and relatives and this is not so wonderful. Example: Right wing conservative women. A terrific concept! I donít expect every female to be a feminist and to think and vote the way I do. Besides, I love to eat the cookies they bake! However, many of these women are inadvertently keeping the injustices of patriarchy alive. Teaching submissiveness to impressionable younger girls encourages physical and emotional abuse and promotes glass ceilings, and that is not terrific. The final example of a contradiction which is blocking my path to internal harmony concerns ďborn againĒ Christians. (tell story about Jerry Rhome- drugs, both using and selling- prison and /or early death- my inability to save him) But the same people who saved his life and claimed to have saved his soul have him convinced that anyone who has not been saved is condemned to hell because we havenít turned over our minds and souls to Jesus. He now thinks he needs to save me! Hey, Iím not in danger from a life of drugs and crime, and its too late for me to die young. Hereís one Iím sure youíve all heard that never fails to bug me. (tell story of Sandy and Bill) ďGod sure knew what He was doing when He brought us together in front of the bank that day.Ē When I hear a statement like this I canít help thinking if this god is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (all knowing, all powerful, and everywhere) why did millions of innocent children all over the world suffer and die of starvation and horrible diseases on that same day? Donít get me wrong. These are 2 very decent and caring individuals who Iím sure both want to save my soul. But I donít want to be saved- all I need is a little peace!

Another roadblock to my spiritual tranquility relates to forgiveness and acceptance. Why is it that I can live with and excuse what I perceive as the shortcomings of the ones I love, but I canít accept the opposing opinions of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, even when they are in the majority. If my kids, my grandson, my significant other, my friends, or my fellow Unitarians commit misdemeanors or even crimes against humanity, forgiveness comes so easily. But if the opinions, rules, and laws of a free society are contrary to my own beliefs, I canít deal with it. Some people have a better attitude. For instance, I was talking to Janet Dunsmore a few months ago about the election. She said something like: ďIsnít it great that we have a system where we can argue and debate the issues, accept the results of a free election, and then move on.Ē Now thereís a chunk of inner peace Iíd like to get my hands on about now!

Surprise, surprise! I was watching a movie the other day. It was about the Delaney sisters; the true story about 2 Black women who lived past 100 years old. One of the sisters was adamant about not being able, or not wanting, to forgive or forget the abuses she had experienced in her long life. I was horrified at the possibility that I could live another 50 years and still not be able to accept the inadequacies and imperfections of my fellow human beings.

Another one of my pet peeves is the effect of advanced technology on the quality of our lives. This high tech world we live in has been a major problem for me in my search for peace and harmony. Trying to maneuver my way through computerized telephone systems has taken years off my life. Dealing with cell phones is another issue. I canít see my patients, drive my car, or eat a decent meal out without someoneís cell phone causing a disturbance. We have signs in all the operatories in my office requesting people to please turn off their cell phones, yet people still use them while Iím trying to give them treatment. If I believed in a traditional god, I would pray for deliverance from cell phones. Computers: donít get me started. All the computers in my life have banded together in a conspiracy against me. As you can see, Iím desperately in need of therapy to treat my high-tech paranoia. Yes, Iím an admitted technophobe. But for those of you who are not, remember: just because youíre not paranoid, doesnít mean theyíre not out to get you!

There is one area of high technology that does increase the quality of our lives in many ways, and it occurs in the field of medicine. Medical technology creates new miracles everyday and has made us capable of saving lives and alleviating much of the suffering produced by diseases; both naturally occurring and people caused diseases. The problem is that only a painfully small percentage of the global population has access to these treatment modalities. Even in the richest country in the world, most of us are blocked from taking advantage of medical technology by a delivery system that has no heart; a system produced by a society that seems, at times, to have no soul.

At this point in the discussion itís time to break out the prozac. It appears that inner peace is unattainable and the best we can hope for is to retain some small semblance of our sanity. However, one of the greatest qualities of the human spirit is its resilience. I refuse to give up my search and my struggle.

So what positive steps can I take to move along in the right direction? The first is to have faith in my own philosophy. Those of you who heard me speak on ďEvolutionís JokeĒ might remember that I arrived at the conclusion that humans are slowly evolving into higher beings in spite of setbacks along the way. Surely one of the side benefits will be to bring us closer to the peace that we seek. Well, thatís fine for future generations, but what about a little immediate gratification? Here are some of my well thought out recommendations: 1) Use the TV remote in a positive manner by immediately cutting off anything disturbing, including but not limited to, the war in Iraq, environmental disasters, terrorism, Fox News Network, and the Presidentís face. 2) Donít read the Wall Street Journal or take part in political discussions outside of Church. 3) When driving in heavy traffic donít succumb to road rage. Instead, try making up games to play, such as guessing which drivers are on cell phones, which ones are drunk, and which are listening to talk radio. 4) Never lose your sense of humor! And finally, donít take yourself too seriously! Try adopting the philosophy of one of the great deep thinkers of our times, John Cougar Mellencamp, whose album title declares: ďNothing matters, and what if it did?Ē Thanks for sharing these thoughts with me this morning. If anyone has any comments, or even better, any ideas or suggestions to help me on my spiritual journey, the floor is yours.