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Ginny Belden-Charles and Marcia Hyatt
Ginny Belden-Charles and Marcia Hyatt
Years ago I had an experience that taught me an important lesson about community. I had joined a friend for overnight camping and meditation for world peace. The evening started with a quiet group of about a hundred people, almost all strangers to one another, circled under the stars around a campfire. It was easy to feel the peace as we listened to a program of poetry, music and drumming.

At midnight our reverie was interrupted by a crack of lightning. We ran toward the campsite to find the wind ripping our tents out of the ground and rain pelting everything. Our peaceful little "village" had become chaotic. After the tents were secured, things continued to fall apart. Some people reacted by loud partying, others were yelling at them to shut up. By 2 a.m., we were wet, cold and sounding more like a war zone than a peace gathering.

When the rain stopped, I decided I'd had enough. Wrapped toga fashion in my only dry item, a white bedsheet, I headed for the car. The moon had come out, lighting my way to the plowed field where our cars were parked. I started up my car and accelerated. No movement. I tried to gun my way out. With my tires spinning in thick mud, I dropped my head to the steering wheel and realized the obvious. There would be no escape.

Slowly I wandered back across the farmyard in my toga. Somewhere on that long walk I stopped fighting my situation. The stars were brilliant, the air smelled clean, the grass sparkled in the moonlight. I experienced a profound sense of peace similar to what Pema Chodren, a Buddhist monk, has described as the "wisdom of no escape."

The wisdom of no escape also seemed to play out in the same way at the camp. When we awoke the next morning, our morning meditation helped focus us back on what we were there for-peace. We were now facing our situation and perhaps forgiving a few people in the process. People began helping each other, with offers of dry clothing, sharing food and getting our cars out of the mud. What shifted, I believe, is how we chose to be together. There was nowhere else to go and we weren't getting out of this place alone. That morning we become more real, more connected and more able to work together. We began acting like a real community.

I learned some important lessons about myself and about community that night. Looking back, I can appreciate the value of holding a vision for world peace. I still haven't given up hope, but I know how difficult it can be to create real peace between people. For me, it starts by staying focused on the present, accepting what shows up and not getting caught up in a fantasy of the way I want things to be. What makes all the difference is inside of me.

The key for me is to see the situation clearly, eyes open, without sugarcoating it. And to be clear what I am choosing. If I choose to stay, I can tap into a deeper peace that comes from being exactly where I am, being in reality and being in the moment. That moment gives me choice, no matter what the limits of the situation may bring. Even if it is choosing how I relate to what happens.

Ginny Belden-Charles and Marcia Hyatt are business partners at Waterline Consulting, which supports leaders and organizations in creating their intended future. www.waterlineconsulting.com.