By Kanta Bosniak
“Herein lies the real hope for our future. We are moving toward the ultimate destiny of our species—a state of compassion and love.” – Jane Goodall
“Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment.” –Nikola Tesla
“We use our gifts to bring people together.”–Babtaunde Olatunji
Over a period of twelve years, I painted a series of sixty Contemporary Folk Art portraits that I use as teaching tools and which I exhibit in universities and other educational settings. The Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech is currently exhibiting a show of sixteen of these modern icons, entitled “Mentors of the Peace.” During the holiday season, we heard songs of hope. We greeted our friends with affirmations of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. We came together in gatherings and celebrated our connections and family milestones such as new additions to the tribe. At Year’s end, we reflect on where we have been and set our intentions for where we want to go. And now, as we begin a fresh journey around the sun, we might take a moment to consider our past and future as a world community.
How are we in the human family evolving toward peace and a more compassionate way of engaging with one another? What would life look like if we all considered ourselves as members of the same tribe? How might coming together to exchange gifts serve the Peace that we seek to establish? How can we as individuals create a supportive environment for the birthing of this Peace? Where might we look for leadership in our efforts?
I have been fascinated by these questions for much of my life. I was predisposed to consider them because of a lifelong love of biography, because of my religious, educational, and family background, and because of an awe-inspiring experience I had as a teenager in an auditorium packed to the rafters, yet so quiet that the only audible sound was the speaker’s impassioned voice, calling every one of us, in our own way, to dream a dream of peace.
I was raised in a Quaker family and I attended a Quaker school for twelve years. There was much talk of peace in the environment, but plenty of contradictions to it outside and in my family home. I was born in 1950, the same year Joseph McCarthy launched his “Communist spy” witch hunt. After living my first five years in Salem, Virginia, I began kindergarten in a suburb of New York City, where children were being taught to “duck and cover” in case of nuclear attack. In 1956, we moved to Philadelphia and I began my first of twelve years at a Quaker school. That same year, Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchev took his shoe off and beat on the table to amplify his infamous threat to Western ambassadors, “We will bury you!”
My parents were well-meaning people who did their best to support world peace and understanding. They were part of a group of concerned Friends who met with a visiting Russian delegation to foster understanding and friendship across boundaries. They hosted a Lebanese exchange student. They served on committees.
But there was little peace inside our home. And my parents could do little to teach peace because they did not feel it themselves. The family discord served to inspire me to find my own peace. I discovered a variety of ways that I could shift my state from anxiety, sadness or fear to serenity, happiness, and a feeling of confident well-being. I began as a little kid with simple triggers such as breath, movement, art, and focus on the beauty of nature. As a teen, I went on to explore shifting my emotional state by using music and meditation, and by replacing limiting beliefs and negative messages with ones that were more resourceful.
One of the most powerful state-shifters I could find was service. But not just any service. I tried doing different types of volunteer work, but I found they drained me dry. I felt a sense of malaise when I did work that didn’t feel like it was mine to do. Art and writing always made me feel good. But it wasn’t until I began teaching and sharing my writing that I knew I was on the right path. I began to feel that electric feeling that animates me and gives me energy and courage.
Hearing and seeing Dr. King speak was a turning point. That “I have a Dream” speech helped me connect with my purpose: inspiring others though self-expression. It took me some time to weave the pieces together, but I understood that the work for me is where ministry meets writing and art. I had learned who I was and what I was here to do, and that simple understanding gave me direction and a sense of inner harmony that has lasted me all my life and even seen me though some scary outer conditions with relative ease and grace.
For real peace to occur, we must be congruent with our nature. It is not enough to establish peace. We must embody it, and we cannot personify peace if we are holding back on commitment to life as who we are, expressing our unique talents and abilities. Moreover, it is essential for happiness to find ways to identify and express our gifts and share them with our world. It is in so doing that we the find wholeness and meaning that give us peace as individuals and that we create community.
One of the easiest ways to find our calling is to notice who inspires us, and not so we can imitate these leaders
as we might seek to emulate an idol. An icon is different. He or she (or rather the excitement we feel about what that person represents to us), serves as a trigger to activate our inner compass, so we can quicken the inner desire to be our authentic selves and blaze our own paths. For example, hearing Dr. King speak did not activate my inner social activist, because I don’t have one. What I do have is an inner spiritual activist with public speaking skills. So, when I experienced the power of public speaking to inspire, my inner mentor was called up, like a genie in a magic lamp.
Similarly, visiting with visual images of those whom we admire can stir an inner mentor or even several of them. Complex tasks we may wish to accomplish will probably require the development of multiple skills. Each of us has a unique blend of qualities and gifts that we embody, with our own piece of the Peace to offer. In a way, it could even be said that we are each our own icon of that special essence that we are. When we are living in accord with that essence, we then become inspirers of others. We best encourage them, not by inviting them to follow us, but rather to follow that within themselves that our presence helps them to awaken.
“Mentors of the Peace” Art Exhibit at the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, 2nd floor, Norris Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, through January 20th, 2014
Kanta Bosniak is an artist, writer and minister with 44 years’ experience as an educator in personal growth and the arts. She is a frequent radio guest and presenter at universities and professional conferences throughout the US. She is the author and illustrator of 22 books and audiobooks. Web: http://KantaBosniak.com email firstname.lastname@example.orgShare this post with your friends.