Inner Healing, Inner Peace: A Quaker Perspective, John Lampen, Diana Lampen – (Christian Alternative/Quaker Quicks)
review by Steven Waling
First of all, the title. It sounds terribly like another of those ‘mindfulness’ self-help books that are very popular nowadays, with their pop-psychological techniques for dealing with stress, depressive thoughts and the burdens of modern life. “Say these affirming words and you’ll be fine:” essentially, selling panaceas and easy solutions to the difficult inner conflicts caused by constant war, climate change and the constant demands for profit in late capitalist society.
Also, isn’t inner peace something Po was seeking in Kung Fu Panda 2?
When I began to read the book, however, it became much more serious and interesting and deep. The two authors draw on their own stories and that of others, and these are not just stories of middle-class people who didn’t like their jobs. Their work in apartheid South Africa, Northern Ireland during the Troubles and in Russia has meant that they have had to find resources that help them carry on in circumstances that could very easily have turned them into emotional wrecks.
So as much as anything, this is a book for those who are involved in movements for change, for nonviolence. If the spirituality of the mindfulness movements seem to be skin deep and over-individualised, this is a spirituality that comes from deep wells, both from personal experience and from the study of spiritual practises both Christian and non-Christian.
Po found his inner peace by coming to terms with early trauma, and through forgiveness: processes that are not easy and often include boundary-setting and a great deal of inner conflict. Easy solutions are not on offer here. I have a friend who has been given a lot of formulas for dealing with their troubles, including ‘regard your thoughts with a gentle amusement’ but neither of these authors are pretending that the practises they recommend in this book are the only medicine. Someone who is depressed might need psychiatric help; political conflicts need political solutions.
There’s a realism in this book that overcame my initial skepticism. For those who are involved in peace work, it’s important to be able to take time out, to manage our expectations and to realise that we’re not alone.
The practises are all described in the final chapter of the book, after chapters looking at the questions they’re meant to help with. It looks at anxiety, at physical pain, at nonviolence, at nature, art and time, and finally ends with a chapter on death. The practises include everything from breathing to creative writing and art, to ways of remembering joy and reviewing one’s life. As a poet who also meditates, I use some of these myself already, in my own way.
My initial scepticism at the title of this book was blown away by the reality of lived experience in this book. Because it never claims that saying a few affirmations or meditating are the full solution to long-term intractable problems, this book is a useful addition to Quaker wisdom and may in fact help those of us who are involved in the struggle. Because sometimes we need to take a step back, to write about our feelings or draw them out, and to briefly ‘cease from mental fight’ and to put down the cares of the world for awhile.
Available from the Quaker Bookshop