Embodying Peace in Times of War


No culture or community or individual escapes the damage caused by war. War is the ultimate betrayal of humanity. It occurs when we have so completely lost our way and we cling desperately to concepts such as possessiveness, power and separation. Yet, psychiatry has declared war on big emotions; those very human experiences that help us find our way in times of difficulty. Big emotions are the heart’s way of calling out for support when we need someone’s good attention and thoughtfulness to help us get back to ourselves- to find our equilibrium.

The release or expression of strong emotions is part of the coming home or healing process. There is a great chasm between living our lives genuinely from our heart and deepest values versus living in conformity with an oppressive culture driven by exploitation, greed and productivity. How can we remain genuine in an irrational world?

What do we mean by peace? What does it look like? How might you live your life differently if you were creating peace every moment? How might your relationships change?  What can we do to end war and give peace a chance? Mad in America is taking a bold step by hosting a film festival celebrating the courageous battle for liberation and how to stay grounded in our humanity while social, economic and political forces continuously pull us towards war.

The invitation is to find inner peace so that we may co-create global peace. I don’t have anything better to do with my life. Do you? Having a clear intention and purpose to my life helps me to stay focused on moving towards peace knowing that in any given moment the micro and macro steps will shift with windows of opportunity.

What gets in the way of embodying peace-making? I am finding that I need to let go of everything I ever thought was mine – objects, projects, relationships. I find I also need to let go of everything I was taught to me as my identity. From as far back as I can remember I was told ‘who’ I was – separate from others, female, white, nice, pretty, don’t cause trouble or make waves (middle class oppression), homeowner, manager, psychiatric survivor, artist, student, friend, daughter, cousin, teacher, student, etc. Many of these identities come with beautiful attributes as well as a lot of internalized oppression. My mental health liberation journey (with the gold star chronic schizophrenia diagnosis) has taught me that there was never anything wrong with me or my brain. It taught me that the experts too quickly jumped to the pathology conclusion never considering or possibly imagining that the “madness” was a portal to deeper understanding of my mind and of my self. The experience was an opportunity to gain greater insight into the purpose and meaning of my life. Long ago I realized, with a little help from my smart friends, that the ‘experts’ were very wrong.

The grip of the psycho-pharmaceutical industry, the beautification industry, the war machine the U.S. has become and so many other oppressive forces make it hard to stay true to the heart.  I try to keep my lens as clean as possible by recognizing the impact of living in a shallow, exploitive, mind-numbing, TV-tranquilized, micro-wave, high speed technicolor, gimmicked-to-death magic pill culture that leaves little room to be human.

I peal off layers of pond scum, that is, misinformation and lies. It is a painstaking process but it is where I need to go to find peace and appreciate why peace is so hard to embrace. So I let my heart break and then break some more. The betrayal of humanity runs deep. I remember feeling it as a child. Where had they (caretakers) gone? No one was holding me. No one was really there and present to keep me safe in a scary new world. I was terrified and anxious and became hard and tough in order to protect myself against the daily assaults of disconnection, abandonment, powerlessness and isolation. These daily micro and macro assaults taught me how to defend myself and were the birth of my inner war. Our culture seems to be made up of a constant string of attacks on our genuineness, our innate capacity for love, connection, cooperation and compassion. And I have hurt others unintentionally, unawarely and I try to stop acting out on the war that rages in my head.  I think I need to let go of so much that I will truly become unrecognizable to myself. I am not there yet, it’s a process. I am heading towards a paradigm where there are no judgments, leaving my mind as open as possible. If my mind is truly open, my heart will follow. Or is it the other way around? If my heart is open, my mind will follow.

Embodying peace seems mostly about alliance building, reaching for others respectfully so that we may forgive and create understanding and peace.

To explore more thoroughly this issue of ending war and creating peace I am returning next month to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp (during WWII). Doing this work with others has changing my life. Going into the darkness (the deep emotional abyss) with others by my side, and releasing the emotions, allows more space for me to begin to find peace. The more I release pent up emotions, which are the result of the inner war, the more I am able to think flexibly and creatively. It follows that when there is less pressure to keep my emotions under control and thus less pressure on my brain then my intelligence is freer to operate more spaciously. And when my mind is freer I think more clearly and am more adept at finding elegant solutions to challenges or opportunities. Every challenge is an opportunity. Alliance building on an individual level may be as simple and as exquisitely difficult as two people (who have been torn apart for any number of social, political, historical reasons) reaching for one another.

The alliance building questions are:

  1. What do you respect about this (other) person
  2. What gets in the way of respecting them? In other words, what have they (or their people) done to you (or your people) that has made it hard for her/him to be a close and trusted ally.
  3. What specific steps you will take to build an alliance with this person.

Imagine a Jew and a Nazi doing this work. Imagine any two people who have been torn apart – facing each other, standing in their truth, not blaming self or others but taking responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and actions – and reaching for one another.

Another approach – the Open Dialogue process – also provides a pathway to peace. Open Dialogue, as practiced in Tornio, Finland, has demonstrated not only the most impressive outcomes in the world for people with first episodes of psychosis, it has transformed the community surrounding Tornio from having the highest rate of schizophrenia diagnosis in the world to, 25 years later, the lowest – all but eliminating new diagnoses of schizophrenia. They have created a mental health service delivery system that models building peace, understanding and compassion throughout the entire community, and points the way toward how we can do the same with our communities.

This approach is also reflected in other approaches that grapple with the effects of trauma and strife on people, by seeking to collectively rewrite the stories that we share as we move forward. The Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa is an example of a collective opening to each others’ truths, and the creation of a new reality. Not forgetting the past, necessarily, but by learning let go of our individual world views as being central, and replacing them with a collectivized experience of the world as being an essential part of human life, the possibility of new relationships – to each other as well as to ourselves – emerges.

The Open Dialogue approach refers to speaking in our authentic voice, suspending preconceived notions about others – and ourselves – so we can deeply hear what the other is communicating, respecting and learning from the other person using curious inquiry to embrace differences in thought or behavior,  equally valuing everyone’s contributions and experiences, speaking from the heart and eliminating power differences such as those based on social status or position (Emotional CPR workbook, 2014)

Co-creating peace is a possible outcome of open dialogue.

When our hearts and minds fuse there is a deepening pulsating awareness of the light of our consciousness which evolves us forward. The grace lifts us to transcend our cultural conditioning and co-create the future together. Buddha said, “All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world”.

When we embody the practice of dialogue as a way of being we may become aware of the following processes.

  • The extent to which we get emotionally hooked on what someone is expressing reflects the extent to which we are not free – that our thinking is stuck on a particular belief or ideology that we have not thoroughly examined and let go. It may indicate that more reflection may deepen our awareness or self-knowledge.
  • If we reach this ‘ideal’ very open dialogue we transcend our social conditioning. We see other ways of thinking and being in the world as valid and good – and that means that more possibilities and relationships open up. Our heart and mind expand, our perceptual barriers dissolve.
  • When we transcend our social conditioning we become more open to co-creating a new paradigm. In this fertile ground of openness, we think more clearly and therefore can more effectively co-create the communities we want. When the war in our mind ends, peace emerges.

There are other approaches including the Narrative Therapy work done by the Dulwich Center, which travels the world helping distressed societies recover from war and other disasters.

What approaches do you find most helpful?  What are you doing to bring peace to your family, your community or to the world? I welcome more dialogue on this here, at the Mad in America Film Festival … or anywhere.

* * * * *

To read more about the author’s journey towards peace, see her memoir; “Living For Two: A Daughter’s Journey From Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.

Previous articleTurning Distress into Joy, Part II:  Channeling
Next article“ADHD treatment market value to reach $9.9 bn by 2020”
Lauren Spiro
Lauren’s vision of social justice and mental health liberation focuses on developing our capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human heart and mind, and inspiring compassionate action. Her life’s mission is to embody inner peace to co-create global peace, thus she curates transformative learning experiences. She co-founded two non-profit corporations and Emotional CPR (www.emotional-cpr.org) a public health education program that teaches people how to support others through an emotional crisis. She is a multi-media artist, a 20+ year practitioner of yoga and meditation, the first Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, has been featured on national media, and consulted on numerous federal projects. Her memoir paints a poetic picture of her journey into madness and her pathway home. She has an M.A. in clinical/community psychology. For more information see www.Laurenspiro.com


    • I think there are absolutes and a brick wall of hatred is a brick wall of hatred. The same goes for greed and useless idealism. Working with people who can be worked with seems like a higher priority than trying to work with everyone or trying to change minds that are determined not to change. Leaving things in the dust seems more doable to me than trying to change those who hate change or have too much invested in not-changing.

      Besides, sociopaths love it when good people spend their time spinning their wheels with those who will not yield to anything— especially when it’s all talk and giving the benefit of a doubt to people who will exploit it. We only have so much time in this world.

      Report comment

      • “Besides, sociopaths love it when good people spend their time spinning their wheels with those who will not yield to anything— especially when it’s all talk and giving the benefit of a doubt to people who will exploit it.”
        Exactly. There’s nothing more funny for a person like that than to spit you in the face and have you forgive him and wonder what you did wrong for 2 weeks straight or make up excuses for him/her (you know bad childhood). The only problem is that nobody prepares you to spot people like that so before you have a close personal and usually traumatising experience of abuse and betrayal you have no idea how to tell a sociopath from someone who really has issues that can be understood and helped.

        Report comment

        • Once you get it, though, you get it. No matter how a sociopath dresses it up, it’s really the same old baby tricks over and over again. Not having a hole in oneself that one wants to have filled by someone or everyone else— like the hole of ‘everyone is basically good no matter the evidence and I will demonstrate this with mystical forbearance’— helps to keep the sociopaths away. They choose their victims in an instant because they can smell that weak spot. Their instincts are uncanny.

          Report comment

          • “Once you get it, though, you get it.”
            Unfortunately, I think the only way to “get it” is to either experience it yourself or watch the trick being performed on someone next to you.

            Report comment

  1. I really like the quote…, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I also try to follow the thought that, “means equals ends.” The way we do things equals what we do…if we achieve something through war or any kind of violence, we have created oppression and trauma…not peace…violence sows the seeds of pain and the next war…peace is our challenge each and every moment…

    Thanks for this article and for your invitation for us to share our thoughts about creating peace…

    Report comment

  2. Your post is too beautiful for words…

    Like truth.

    Please, please continue to break, to reassemble, to spread healing through your own pain.

    “It is to be broken. It is to be
    torn open. It is not to be
    reached and come to rest in
    ever. I turn against you,
    I break from you, I turn to you.
    We hurt, and are hurt,
    and have each other for healing.
    It is healing. It is never whole.”

    ― Wendell Berry, The Collected Poems, 1957-1982

    Report comment

  3. Nothing I would argue with in the sense of being the change you want to see in the world, etc. but just a reminder that wars in this day and age are not reflections of people’s attitudes so much as cynical and violent enterprises sponsored by and in the service of corporate capitalism. So being that change should also involve working to eliminate that illegitimate power.

    Report comment

  4. Lovely piece, Lauren. And as someone who was psychiatricly stigmatized and majorly tranquilized because I thought 9.11.2001 was disgusting, I too hope for an end to the wars. And unfortunately for the psychiatrists, neuroleptics, “mood stabilizers,” and “antidepressants” don’t rid a person of their disgust at war. I hope they learn this soon, and stop drugging all the soldiers.

    Report comment