The conference started in earnest on a recent Monday morning at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton. Many participants took the ferry over from Mukilteo while others went many journey legs beyond that. There were representatives from Burundi, Haiti, Israel, Palestinian territories, Kashmir and Colombia.
They were gathered to discuss "the practice of peace," a term that embraces learning peacemaking lessons and applying them to any country, region, town or neighborhood. The conference proceedings can be reviewed at http://practiceofpeace.com.
"Whats amazing is how similar the stories can be," says Mary Ella Keblusekat, one of the conference organizers and a member of the Spirited Work group at Whidbey Institute (check out www.spiritedwork.org). "People feel more understood when they share their successes and frustrations with peace movements."
The 100-plus participants used "open space technology" to effectively design their own three-day conference. It is a self-organizing practice that invites people into a circle and encourages them to take responsibility for covering topics that matter most to them.
By mid-morning Monday, the conference "agenda" was posted on the meeting room walls on handwritten sheets. People volunteered to host sessions. For instance, on Tuesday at 3 p.m. people chose between such group participation as "Weaving a Light-Net for Heavy Grief to Run Through" or "Dancing, Singing and Breathing for Peace" or "Stories for Peace: Reclaiming the Media to Tell Them."
The singing group stood in a circle, harmonizing without any help of music or song sheets.
"Listen inside yourself," said the leader. "You will know what sound to make."
Within seconds, the 13 singers produced a wonderful piece of spontaneous music, complete with a lead voice (people effortlessly exchanged lead and backup roles), chants and a choo-choo sort of whisper.
The walls of the meeting room had provocative placards: "The Law of Two Feet: Motion and Responsibility"; "Whatever happens is the only that could happen"; "Be prepared to be surprised"; Whoever comes is the right person"; "When its over, its over."
In the Whidbeys Institute newly restored farmhouse, 15 people were discussing the media. One woman explained she was losing faith in peace protests.
"First, they are not covered," said the woman. "Second, the protests dont change peoples minds. Third, it doesnt change politicians minds; millions of people protested before [U.S. armed forces entered Iraq] and it didnt matter."
Another woman who lives on Whidbey Island responded. She and a few friends just recently renewed their peace protest at a local park-and-ride facility. They hold "honk for peace" signs.
"There were about 40 of us doing it before Iraq last year," said the woman. "Only three of us were left last fall. We all went on trips and it stopped. I decided to start again because I want to look people in the eyes and show them I care about peace in this world. I still want to be seen and counted."
As it turns out, the woman says she "thinks at least Whidbey Island is against our involvement in Iraq" if car horn honking is any indicator.
The woman finished her thoughts: "You never know what effect you might have on people."
Those are good words to keep in mind this month as we anticipate the holidays. We can make a difference with donations to a favorite charity that shares our values (see page 7) or we can vow to look into the eyes of people around us this season, be they co-workers, loved ones, neighbors, service people or the guy on the shuttle to the airport.
Whats more, we can take action on how we regard time and how we relate to it. Our cover report this month starts on page 16. It can serve as a practical guide on how to feel less stressed about time and find more joy, passion, love, laughter and even activism in your life. For other perspectives on using time wisely, we offer up a question-and-answer session with Patrick Martins, director of the Slow Food USA movement (page 12) and the sage advice of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on building a calmer family life (page 28).
Consider these stories on time to be our gift of peace to you this season. Please share them with others in your life, and, if you would, tell them about us.
Speaking of us, we are about to change our name as we enter the New Year. Starting in January, we will be called Evergreen Monthly. We have tried it on for size and feel it fits our mission of covering health, spirituality, personal growth, food, environment and social and economic justice.
Along with the new name, we will also be presenting a new design. So please look for us at the usual placesand you might find us in some new locations too. Well be the Puget Sound publication most interested in helping you find peace of mind and peace in the world.