Living Peace, by Gary L. Hellman, Psy.D, LP, LMHC

PSI Staff and clergy discussion
March 2, 2011
St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church
Presentation by Gary Hellman

Any attempt to speak about “LIVING PEACE” is sure to lead to over promising or under performing in a short or even a long presentation.

My desire to speak about “living peace,” points, indeed, to a grandiose ambition, especially when I consider living my life today in the reality of making a living, participating in the consumer capitalism, international news, worry about the economy, and of course maintaining a most primary relationships to my iphone, to my clinical schedule, and the crush of meetings that press down on a daily basis.

However, there is not much too wrong with voicing ideals, not to mention taking a careful look at how living into the images we associate with ‘peace’ even “Living Peace” seem hopeful in pushing a conversation like this in a good direction.

The ideal of “living peace” involves first and foremost not being isolated in me, rather in this case, being here today as part of an ongoing “community of practice.” I call it a community of practice making a distinction between monastic communities on the one hand and the traditional relationship to being an employee that can so often fail to nurture the soul. Even as a young person, I wanted a “hybrid” between private practice and working for a large corporate setting.

The model that has been part of this ‘community of practice’ for me has been the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Begun in the 1960s, in the heyday of de-institutionalization of great society programs, the national enactment of the community mental health system expressed the desire for patients to have civil rights by living in the community and thereby focused a need for clergy to have more expert training in pastoral care and counseling. Roughly 60% of families turn first to clergy for care.

Such an encouraging image found its relevance in the community support experiences of church life and the values of prayer, service and education as well as the assurance that church communities would know persons in more intimate and effective ways to provide quality care.

I became a pastoral counselor as a way of specializing ministry from that of being a leader of a congregation; it has become a ministry aimed at those who were troubled in mind and body as well as spirit and who sought to go to an interior psychological and spiritual place to make sense of the emotional difficulty and often to face that underlying alienation and loss of meaning in this age of anxiety.

That sense of social disorder, upheaval and alienation was part of my life in the 60s and 70s as a student seeking to make my way in the world studying theology and in training as a therapist. But it was a time also of creative development and hope for a better world. “Living Peace” cannot be mentioned in my generation without reference to the War in Vietnam and the goals alive in that movement of seeking Peace: “What do we want, ‘PEACE’ when do we want it, ‘NOW!’

The second aspect of “living peace” grew for me in the recognition of the sheer depth of social alienation in the world and in the social order.

We live in a post Copernican world where we find ourselves relegated to being a small speck in an ever expanding and impersonal cosmos. The earth is not the center of that universe; far from it. We live in a post Darwinian world in which we are part of the descent of species, a product of natural selection, related to animal life more than anything we can construe as divine, at least in the former sense of that word. We live in a post Freudian world in which our sense of motive for goodness and virtue, not to mention ‘peace’ has to be tempered by understanding that the “I,” that once imagined strong solid ego, is driven by unconscious dimensions of development leaving each of us sorely challenged to bring about anything resembling “peace.” Whether personal, civic, national or international, solutions to vastly complex ways of organizing ourselves and our circumstances drown us in complexity.

One of the more compelling and well known poems stood as backdrop to my quest for Living Peace.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming!
Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

It seems to me that we, as clergy, as pastoral counselors, as psychologists, are indeed challenged (I would say deeply required) to engage such a new birth of indeed “Living Peace” in our daily lives. I do not think we actually have much of a choice.

I am struck, and hopeful, by the images of modern saints who show a way forward in this complex time. Each of us most likely has our own: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu to name five that immediately come to mind. I want to touch on Martin today as one who has a particular and powerful light shining on us seeking to “live peace.” His is a profoundly charismatic voice that calls us to renewal of social justice; it would be hard in our day to find another of equal moment.

Taken from writings about his “Beloved Community,” I quote:

“Behind King’s conception of the Beloved Community lay his assumption that human existence is social in nature.”The solidarity of the human family” is a phrase he frequently used to express this idea. “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” he said in one of his addresses. This was a way of affirming that reality is made up of structures that form an interrelated whole; in other words, that human beings are dependent upon each other. Whatever a person is or possesses he owes to others who have preceded him. As King wrote: “Whether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally ‘in the red.’ Recognition of one’s indebtedness to past generations should inhibit the sense of self-sufficiency and promote awareness that personal growth cannot take place apart from meaningful relationships with other persons, that the “I” cannot attain fulfillment without the “Thou.”

What is most remarkable about this quote is not that King said these words but rather that he lived them. It is this aspect that stands out most profoundly. The accent is on “living” this concept of “peace.”

Bringing this back to myself, my own quest for “living peace” resides in this community, right here, as we gather to share, it resides in my study to deepen an understanding of our vocation and it most deeply resides in my relationships with those who arrive for sessions to face the hardships in the conduct of their lives.

The most important element for me of living peace is that “living experience” of sitting with another person who has entrusted their hope and desire that a human relationship will be significant in the transformation of their lives.

It is what is meant by pastoral care.

“Living peace” for me is the living experience of empathy with “another” person who brings into our life such shared suffering in themselves, showing their vulnerability, longing for things to be different from what they have come to be. Over time, over years in some cases, such relationships impinge on our ways of being. Such relationships create a profound focus; of attending deeply to the common pain, the pain of sharing, the pain of listening, the pain of being heard, the complexity of entering into the life of another person, neither judging nor fixing, rather, sitting in the presence of that which is transcendent to each of our individual selves, bringing the possibility of living peace… together.

And thereafter, that sharing in the office becomes this sharing with this community of practice, our supervision weekly, our case conferences, learning new and essential aspects of the work; and as it grows beyond us, reaches out taking ever new shapes in our world.

I must say also I feel profoundly lucky and very privileged. I have been living here in this community of St. John’s in the Village since 1976. I am still sitting in the same office that has been a pastoral psychotherapy office since 1978. I have the joy and challenge of being met by an amazing number of people who have brought themselves into the office and revealed their stories allowing both of us to discover how much beyond words it is to celebrate, to be allowed to sit thoughtfully, empathically engaged, to listen for the voice of that transcendence who is present in the silence.

Psychotherapy & Spirituality Institute
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New York, NY 10038

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