I had the good fortune to be in Sicily, the beautiful island off southern Italy. Whenever I visit Italy I always enjoy La Dolce Vita, and on this visit “the good life” had a special meaning that brought me closer to the land, people and myself. I was attending the “Peace Celebration — Segesta 2015,” the opening event for a local cultural festival. The location was a 2,000-year-old Greek amphitheater, on a remote hillside with an amazing view down to the ocean.
Sicily has a special history, having been occupied by the Greeks, Normans and Arabs, as well as one other group that was like an unfriendly invader — the mafia — who for generations made parts of the island a war zone. This recent history made Segesta’s event all the more heartfelt as they commemorated their signing the European Union supported Bruxelles Declaration, Pledge to Peace initiative, on “an occasion to celebrate the topic of the peace close to the ones who make them a reality every day in their own life, with concrete actions.” Piero Scutari, president of “Associazione Percorsi,” one of the sponsors, said, “We have to reflect peace every day.”
A local TV personality, Massimo Minutella, was a humorous and energetic host, and he began the evening by introducing a classical harpist performing operatic music that captivated everyone with an authentic taste of Italy. She was followed by a couple of short videos that included excerpts from Inside Peace, an award-winning documentary about a project sponsored by The Prem Rawat Foundation to help prisoners around the world learn about the peaceful side of themselves, which was a recurring theme of the evening.
A local band called the Lab Orchestra livened up the event with a mix of jazz, pop and standards and the first song was James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” The gorgeous singer later sang an old song by a famous Sicilian performer who dared to denounce the violence of the mafia, which had a heartfelt resonance in this land where people had dreamed of peace for many years.
Following the music, there was a speech by the keynote speaker, Prem Rawat, who has been speaking at many events worldwide as an Ambassador of Peace, promoting the Brussels initiative as part of a lifelong work he has been engaged in for close to fifty years. One of the event’s sponsors was a charitable foundation he founded to help with water and food sustainability projects in Africa, India and Nepal.
Prem spoke about how peace will be the greatest achievement of mankind. Pointing to the moon that had risen over the back of the amphitheater, he said that long ago man had dreamed about going to the moon. But some said it wasn’t possible while others said it was, and eventually it happened. If people believe it’s possible to have peace in this world, it can be achieved. We are the only people for billions and billions of miles, so it is our duty to make it work here, no one else is going to help.
Using the example of the unique location, including a pillared temple on a neighboring hill, Prem talked about Socrates and other scholars from that time who enquired about important issues in places like these.
Socrates said, “Know thyself,” and in that effort to understand who we are, one can discover a place inside that is common to all people and begin the process to care more about each other.
“We don’t care because someone told us to. We tap into our own nature. And the caring comes from inside.” We were all encouraged to join the Socrates Club, to begin an individual effort.
Following a musical interlude, including a song from the film “Life is Beautiful“ (which Massimo was proud to point out was Italy’s Oscar-winning film), there was a question and answer session. Salvo Ficcara, a famous Italian actor and comedian, was the host for the session that included questions from a Nepalese earthquake survivor, an inmate at a prison, and a gang member.
The prisoner asked: Is it possible to forgive those who have done violence to you? Prem’s answer was, “We have both good and bad, anger and peace inside of us, in a 50-50 ratio but it is our choice which part we embrace. Don’t let anger manage you — you manage it. For example, if someone else takes a parking place you also had your eye on, you can choose to get angry or simply smile and be gracious, saying ‘yours, good luck.’” Another question came from a student in Rome who asked if the expression: “Building peace by preparing for war” was a valid approach. Prem commented: “Did this strategy work until now?”
Salvo shared a very poignant story about a local priest who was seen by the mafia to be critical of their activities, so a contract was put out on him. One night as he was arriving at his home, a killer approached from behind. The priest knew he was a target and turned and gave the man a kind and compassionate smile. He started to enter his house and was shot. The killer, who was also responsible for other murders, surrendered himself to the police soon after. He said he could not live with the guilt of having killed such a peaceful man. The moderator said it was a gift from Sicily to Prem, to use the story in his speeches to show the power of peace.
The last speaker was the mayor of Segesta who gave an impassioned speech about the individual duty of people to look for peace and presented Prem with an honorary citizenship. The tone of the event was so uplifting that when the band came out and played Pharrell Williams “Happy,” the whole theater was on their feet dancing along, waving phones with the screens lit up — the ancient Greeks never had it this good!
As I walked back down the hill through the fragrant countryside, past the Greek temple, I reflected on the generous spirit of the local people in this small town. They had put on such a sweet event to affirm the importance of peace. It was done in their own simple, heartfelt way, with the special Italian style of passion, some typical chaos, a bit of art, and a lot of warmth. The event was very touching, making the invitation to join the Socrates Club to “know myself” an appropriate next step. I don’t expect to find an ultimate answer anytime soon, but the journey is the destination, full of rewards along the way. Being in Sicily was certainly one of those, as I set off to meet some friends to enjoy the fine dining in the harbor below.
You and I—as human beings—have much in common. You are fundamentally no different than I am. I am alive; you are alive. A breath comes into me; a breath comes into you.
I’m not talking about our achievements, our potential, or the things we’ve been through in life. It is the quest for happiness that you and I yearn for, regardless of the ways we try to achieve it. We are caught in a tornado of change because everything around us is continuously in a state of change. Our thoughts change, ideas change, and perceptions change.
You and I change and change and change, and we fight the changes until at some point, we come to the conclusion: enough fighting—let them come. There is something inherent within us that seeks the unchangeable—so we can have stability. Could it be that peace has been placed inside our heart, so we will know where to find it? Can I accept change and retain my dignity? In the middle of all the changes on the outside, is there something that doesn’t change inside of you?
People say, “Oh, I’m just me. It’s no big deal.” But it is a big deal. You are alive. There is no one like you on the face of this earth. The way you smile, the way you see, the way you think, the way you laugh, the way you cry, the way you walk, the way you understand and the way you don’t understand—is completely unique. And because you are, once you are gone, you can never be replaced by anyone else—ever.
When you see something beautiful like a sunrise or sunset, it evokes a sense of appreciation in you. When you hear something beautiful like a guitar played perfectly in tune and with feeling, it strikes a chord in you.
You can think, you can understand, and you can feel. Your assets are your clarity, consciousness, and the ability to experience peace. These are miracles taking place inside of you. You already know this. All that you need to do is to play the drum of clarity, which evokes the rhythm of peace. What you are looking for is inside of you. It’s that simple. Breath comes into you; you are alive. It’s beautiful by design that you are here.
Everybody has a story. What is your story? Being alive on the face of this earth might be the most trivial thing to you: “I’m alive. So, big deal?” But it is a big deal, in fact the biggest deal there is.
Right now the story goes: once upon a time there is a human being. And this being has all the possibilities. No limits. And of all the choices that the human being has, he, she can choose clarity.
In your life story, how many times would you be clear? How many times do you ask yourself, “Why am I here?” How many times do you wonder, “What’s going to happen to me?”
You can choose clarity every single moment of your life. Or you can choose confusion. Both are in you. How much? Exactly 50-50—not 51 or 49. 50-50.
Strength and weakness are also in you. How much strength? Exactly 50 percent. How much weakness? Exactly 50 percent. And you have to choose.
When I was growing up we had a little Lhasa Apso dog, and he had a temper. One day, this dog was barking and barking. “Who’s out there? What’s wrong?” So we ran outside. And there he was, this little thing, in front of a mirror that somebody had left outside. He saw himself in the mirror, and he wanted to tear that other dog into little pieces. It was very funny for us to watch. It was like, “But doesn’t he know that’s him?!” And the answer is, “No!”
That’s what happens to you as well, to the whole world, when we don’t know who we are. In your life story, do you understand that this is the most precious time, that life is the most precious gift? Do you know your self? Not the idea of yourself, but do you know your self?
- Prem Rawat
As human beings, we have a need–not a need created by society, but a fundamental need to be fulfilled, to be in peace. It is easy to toss around the word “peace.” But what is peace?
Is it just hearing wind chimes? No traffic? No airplanes or trains buzzing by?
Or is peace a feeling–an undeniable feeling not born of thought. Everything that comes to us is born of thought. We get good news and we think, “Things are going my way.” We get bad news and we think, “Why is this happening to me?”
It doesn’t take much for us to get unsettled. It happens when we’re in traffic and somebody honks their horn. Your son or daughter tells you, “I failed,” and you get upset.
So is peace simply not being upset? What is peace? Something that is not born of thought, but felt. Something that resides in the ocean of answers, not in the ocean of questions Your life. Your being. What does it mean to be here, to be alive? I want to understand it as clearly as possible before I lose the ability to understand it. I want to know what this life is.
Breath–the coming and going of this breath–out of nowhere it comes and to nowhere it goes. From this breath comes the gift of life. You can be. You can admire. You can be thankful that you exist. You can feel and give kindness. Know that all is well.
We only think of this in times of trouble. Do you know that you’re fine? You always were and always will be. We live in a world of fear. But there is something within you that you should not be afraid of. It is the ability to enjoy and appreciate this life.
Imagine you are in a park—beautiful lawn, trees, flowers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a little boy comes over to you. With a smile and a laugh, he hands you a flower. What would you do? Then he goes to a group of people and hands them a flower. The first question is, “Where are your parents? Are you lost?”
Then somebody asks, “Oh! Is that for me?” Somebody else says, “What a nice flower.” Another person asks, “What’s your name, little boy? How old are you?
Where do you live? What are you doing here?” What would you ask?
There are times in life when it is essential that you understand something.
You didn’t ask for it. You weren’t looking for it. But a situation presents itself and calls you to acknowledge something. Some people don’t like it when that happens.
And others realize, “Here is an opportunity for me to learn.” I will tell you who I want to be in that garden. With the same innocent smile as the child offering me the flower, I want to extend my hand and accept it—no words exchanged.
It is not how I see myself; it is who I want to be. With the same innocence, I want to accept that gift. I am in a garden. Every moment comes with incredible innocence and joy. This remarkable gift of existence keeps unfolding and unfolding. This magnificent power of life is handing me a flower of breath.
One day, we all have to go. You know that. Some days, it’s in the back of your mind. Other days, you don’t bother to think about it. For most people, the subject is unpleasant. But the issue is your existence—you being alive. What does that mean to you?
People everywhere know they want to be happy, to be content, to feel good. This is our nature.
We seek equilibrium. Yet the storms in our lives can be difficult. When a storm outside comes, we seek shelter. We don’t say,
“This is the perfect time; I’m going to go out for a walk in\nthe storm now.”
We know we need the equilibrium. There are certain things that work for you, and certain things that don’t. Feeling good works. Feeling bad doesn’t.
When you are feeling bad, you want to get out of that situation. But you never get bored with feeling good. This is your nature. Are you in synch with your nature? Do you try to nurture a good feeling and perpetuate it as much as possible? Or do you carry around a pocketful of band-aids?
A pocketful of band-aids means: “I’m not going to be conscious or perpetuate happiness in my life. Instead, I will do things unconsciously and when I get hurt, I will simply pull out a band-aid and get through it."When you don’t listen to your own fundamental needs, something will happen and it won’t be pleasant.
What is pleasant is when the priority of your life is acknowledged and your heart begins to fill with gratitude.
You are alive!
Gather your strengths, not your weaknesses.
What are your strengths? Your strengths are consciousness, kindness, understanding, appreciation, and love.
When you walk with these, the outcome is beautiful. Every second you spend with the beauty inside of you liberates you. You feel free.
There is no promise life will last forever. But you have the potential to experience true and unconditional love. And that resides in your heart. When you experience that, you begin to live.