Reflections on the NYC Peacewalk
This article was written in response to the New York City Silent Peace Walk, which took place on October 12, 2012.
On a misty Sunday afternoon, Central Park became a temple of Peace for the many hundreds who joined or observed the NY Silent Peacewalk in support of peace in the Middle East. There were intermittent soft showers, the smell of autumn leaves, lovers holding hands, homeless people on park benches, and beside them a stream of nearby traffic and taxis. In the midst of it all we walked as peacewalkers carrying a palpable, reverent, dignified and joyful silence. At the front of the line was Sufi Sheikh, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan holding hands with a prominent west side Rabbi, David Ingber, joined by other well known leaders. The column of silent walkers stretched behind them for nearly half a mile. It was a beautiful moving stream of people from every tradition committed to embodying peace and respect for all, walking with friendliness and dignity.
Inspired by ten years of silent walks of mutual respect in Palestine and Israel, the NY Peacewalk was an affirmation of peace longed for by so many. With over 2 million Muslims and Jews and millions of others who all ride the subways in harmony, New York is the perfect place to show this human possibility. Home to the United Nations and to huge politically active communities, what is seeded in New York can carry across the world.
Peacewalks date from the time of the Buddha, and in modern times, inspired by Gandhi and Dr. King and Cambodian elder Maha Ghosananda, peace walks have come to hold a special power. I remember how one morning in the 1970’s when the student protests against the Thai military dictatorship had reached a dangerous peak, a long line of Buddhist monks and nuns came and stood peacefully between the barricades of students and the military police. Bangkok’s biggest road had been blocked for weeks, government shooting had taken the lives of students, and the conflict was on the verge of spiraling further out of control. Barefoot and silent the line of forest monks and nuns had walked with their abbot for miles, and came to stand meditatively, in the center of the battlefield bringing their peaceful hearts to cool the danger. After standing for hours, they withdrew silently. But it was enough. Their powerful compassionate presence turned the tide, and negotiations between the leaders resumed and the resolution of student demands began.
Peacewalks are a practice of steady loving presence, slow, beautiful and dignified, without flags, placards or slogans. Instead of shouting in the name of peace, peace is demonstrated by the walk. The silent walkers embody the reality of respect and co-existence. They offer calmness, confidence, and a spirit of mindful empathy. They create community among disparate people, uplift spirits, and empower participants to act for peace. They end with listening circles, groups where participants can tell their life stories, learn from one another and voice the longing for peace in their hearts.
These are perilous times for people across the world especially in many countries of the Middle East. It is time for us too to walk between the lines, to show another way. Before we even consider another war, we can walk for peace. We envision silent walks in all parts of the country. We can join together as we did at Central Park, a collaboration of Rabbis and Imams and world famous peace negotiators, Quakers and Buddhists and mothers and activists and students and those who don’t want to just watch the events unfold on TV, but want their care and dignity to be seen by all the world. We can walk for those hiding in basements in war zones and those worried about what war will bring to their children and for all the women who are endangered when they speak up, and for all the men who long to go home after the battle.
Go to the Peacewalk site to learn more, to support this work, to join in or to inquire about holding a walk in your community. May you find a way to bring your seeds of peace to the troubles of this world.
Image Credit: New York Silent Peace Walk