Wednesday September 21st has been designated as the International Day of Peace by the general assembly of the United Nations. First celebrated in 1982, 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of this event. This years’ theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously approved by the 193 members of the United Nations at a summit of world leaders last year in a fifteen year plan to address the challenges of poverty, hunger, diminishing resources, water shortages, disease, environmental pollution, social inequality, racism, and corruption. It is a monumental project that will require an enormous amount of patience, kindness, cooperation, understanding, compassion, hard work, perseverance, and generosity of spirit. By 2030, the aim is to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity and peace for all.
Based on recorded history, it’s easy to be cynical regarding the prospects for world peace and to retreat into our self-created bubbles of insulation and isolation. After all, what can I, as an individual do in the face of all the violence, hate, cruelty, and injustice that goes on in the world? On the days I’m brave enough to read the paper I’m appalled by all the horrible things happening in the world, the lunatic ravings of a certain presidential candidate, and all the people eager to jump on his bandwagon of fear, hate, and divisiveness. Peace of mind seems more elusive than ever in the fast paced, highly caffeinated, complex world of 2016, and without inner peace what hope do we have for outer peace? Pharmaceutical companies are getting rich selling record amounts of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, painkillers, etc. Wine, beer, marijuana, and opiate sales are at an all time high as people self-medicate to try to cope with the increasing stress of modern life. People are even flocking to yoga classes as never before in the hope of finding some peace as their chitta vrttis rage out of control.
I’ll never forget my first yoga class. In January of 1978 the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam opened half a block from my house on La Veta Ave, in Encinitas. On the evening of January 6th, The Feast of the Epiphany, I decided to check out the new yoga place, thinking that I’d by doing some painful and exotic stretching. At that point in my life I was a mess—anxious, depressed, and toxic, with seriously low self-esteem. As I lay in savasana at the end of that first class, I was transported to a place that transcended my body and mind—a place of stillness, spaciousness, peace, and joy that felt like home. It was this experience that immediately made me fall in love with the practice and want to do it for the rest of my life. I can’t say that every yoga practice since has been as profound as that first one, bit it is still the most reliable source to provide me with health, balance, equanimity, peace, and occasionally even some degree of transcendence.