Earlier this week, the city of Hiroshima, Japan held the Peace Memorial Ceremony to console the spirits of those killed in the world’s first atomic bomb attack 74 years earlier on August 6th, 1945. It was a beautiful, sunny morning when the American B29 bomber, The Enola Gay, dropped the bomb at exactly 8:15am on that morning which directly resulted in the deaths of approximately 80000 people who were going about their normal lives when this tragedy struck. Another 60000 died from illnesses linked to radiation exposure over the next several years.
Although the anniversary of the attack brings a certain sense of somberness to this city and its people, the day itself is also devoted to sharing the importance of world peace.
Each year, on the evening of August 6th, the city holds the "Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony” which is a beautiful event that anyone is welcome to attend. Thousands of people write personal messages and appeals for peace on colorful lanterns, which are then set afloat down the Motoyasu River, where they pass directly in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome. Praying for lasting peace is the focus of this evening.
Having lived in Hiroshima, Japan for nearly ten years, my wife, Neila Steele and I, were able to attend this ceremony a couple of times between the years of 1997-2007 when we had lived there.
The beautiful city of Hiroshima remains a very special place to us. We developed strong friendships with many of the Japanese people and ex-pats that we had connected with over the years while living there. As well, both of our boys were born in the city that still feels like a second home for us. One of our close Canadian friends, Scott Mckeeman, still lives and works in Hiroshima today. Scott is the godfather of our oldest son Eli.
As I reflect on our time in Hiroshima, I’m always drawn back to the city’s journey of understanding and identifying what peace means to them. The city has taken ownership and autonomy over this journey in a way that has placed peace at the very core of what it represents.
Although Hiroshima’s efforts are devoted to raising international awareness about the importance of nuclear disarmament, it is a deeper sense of peace that they envision not only for the citizens of their own city and country, but also for the people of the world. As you walk the streets of Hiroshima, you can feel the strong undercurrent of peace that prevails.
Despite the fact that the normal person might have very little influence on improving levels of world peace, on a micro-level, every single person does have control over how they choose to interpret and perceive peace within their own lives.
In her best-selling book, Practicing Peace, the author Pema Chodron, asks her readers a very important question to reflect on:
“Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war today?”
Peace can be so easily disrupted in our lives in lots of different ways. Perhaps this disruption of peace is caused by our own internally activated voice that might be trying to create chaos, fear or worry within. At other times, it might be our knee-jerk reaction to daily annoyances and frustrations that result in us reacting aggressively and defensively toward others. Whatever the cause of our disharmony is, we can do something about it.
Some questions we might consider exploring are:
How might we more readily practice peace in our own lives?
How can we strive to be more peaceful and self-compassionate with ourselves?
How might we lower our own levels of defensiveness when interacting with others in more stressful situations?
Peace in our own lives can be greatly impacted by the mindset and attitude we carry with us throughout each day. The practice of mindfulness allows us to be more present with our thoughts in a non-judging way. In bringing more concentrated levels of attention, focus, and self-awareness to our daily lives, we can begin to see certain patterns of behavior and response.
The act of noticing comes from being more present. Simply paying closer attention to how we emotionally respond to our own negative self-talk or how we respond to others in stressful situations is a great starting point. Rather than subconsciously going into autopilot mode, we can consciously choose to bring greater levels of self awareness into our daily lives by more deeply observing our own thoughts, actions, and emotional responses.
Take the next few days to think about what peace with yourself and with others means to you in your own life. Take a moment to find a quiet place to just sit with your own thoughts about peace and how you might be able to bring more of it to your life. With peace comes more happiness and a greater sense of well-being.
If you had to set a more peaceful intention in your own life, what would your message to yourself be. What message would you write to yourself on your own colored lantern to set afloat?
Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily