The silent treatment
Locals sit in silence to meditate on peace

Ruthanne Garland and Katherine Barr brave a frigid Monday afternoon at Schneider Park in an effort to quietly promote peace./Photo courtesy Todd

It’s noon on a Tuesday in Durango, and long January shadows slink across sparkling snow. Four women in lawn chairs sit in perfect silence in Schneider Park. Their sign, computer generated and sticking out of a white, plastic bucket reads: “Sitting in Silence for Peace.”

While the women are silent and still, all around there is noise and motion. The rumble of cars on Camino del Rio never ceases, nor does the steady flow of the Animas River chugging downstream behind them. Crows pierce the moment with scratchy shrieks, an ambulance screams from a distance. The wind plucks brown leaves from the Lombardy Poplar above them, floating the foliage to the snowy ground. Even the sign rocks gently in the breeze. A woman walks by and says, “Y’all look so peaceful!” She then reads the sign “Sitting in Silence for Peace” and apologizes “Oh, excuse me.”

None of this is a problem, nor are the less pleasant noises, like the man who once shouted from his car “Why don’t you go live in France. We’re at war you dipsticks!”

“It’s fine. It just is what is,” said Katherine Barr, instigator of Sitting in Silence for Peace, of the comments, the noises and the changing weather. “When we first started, we had someone walk by insisting ‘that’s not going to do any good, what you need to do is get in the street and scream!’” Barr laughs, cherishing this comment as one of the funniest. “This is what our action brought up for him – he and others are simply reflecting what’s inside. This is what we do all the time.”

This action of reflecting what is inside is exactly what Barr and the others who join her on Tuesdays are doing. “We are simply taking one hour a week to cultivate inner peace, knowing that what gets reflected outside is what we hold on the inside.” Meditating an hour a week for peace may seem like a small act, but Barr believes small acts done by many people can affect great change. “What is put out to the world is significant,” she says, “particularly when there is great conflict in the world. And there has never been a time when there is not great conflict because we are always reflecting on what is taking place on the inside.”

The silent sit for peace began in October 2002 when Congress voted to give President Bush the powers of war, advocating for a U.S.-led preemptive strike against Iraq. At this time, it became painfully clear to Barr that the government did not speak for her. “I felt that words were cheap, and it was only in silence that I felt there was an expression of what was important,” she says.

Although silent expression may sound like a contradiction, for Barr and the millions of others who practice meditation in the Buddhist tradition, it makes perfect sense. The purpose of meditation is to practice bringing awareness to the present moment rather than getting lost in distraction, reliving the past, fantasizing about the future or many of the other things our minds do (worry, plan, calculate, judge) instead of being awake in each moment.

Barr explains that when we become aware of our endless inner dialogue and the parade of emotions that march through our bodies daily we can often see the anger, judgments, and fear that are behind many of our actions and reactions. We may begin to see the small wars that we create or engage in internally and externally. Had there been more silence within the U.S. government in the autumn of 2001, to both listen to our attackers and each person’s own deepest inner emotions, Barr believes the urge to retaliate might not have been so strong. Aware that many may see this view as un-American, Barr says, “to have asked the question as a country ‘why are we being attacked’ would have been the most patriotic thing that could have been done.”

Make no mistake; Sitting in Silence for Peace is not a protest. “This is an opportunity to reflect on the nondual rather than get into the us vs. them mentality,” Barr insists. Ruthanne Gartland, who has been Sitting for Peace for the past year agrees, saying, “This action is more about saying what I am for than what I am against. I’m not afraid to state publicly that I am against the military action in Iraq, however, this silent sit is an equally important statement of my beliefs. Often it’s unskillful protest that perpetuates war.”

This committed group, which fluctuates in numbers and faces, sat through the dizzying heat of June, the monsoon thunderstorms of August, and now, their second winter, through the freezing air of the darkest season.

Sari Salisbury laughs at the time there were four of them sitting through a snowstorm. “I later found out the four of us were from Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota and Minnesota,” she says.

The light dusting that accumulated on the meditators was no problem. And rain? “I have a really good rain jacket.” Barr smiles.

Barr believes that taking time to slow down and be in silence gives one time to formulate an appropriate response to the challenges in his or her life, rather than reacting only from blaming, misunderstanding and fear. “When President Bush took three weeks after the tragic events of 9-11 to come up with a response to the violence, I thought maybe he was contemplating not reacting with more violence,” Barr says, laughing at her own naivetE9 and noting that a universal truth of most religions and spiritual paths is that violence only begets violence.

“There is no way that responding to violence with violence can lead us to peace, it just can’t,” Barr adds, shaking her head. “If the United States, the most powerful country, was leading by peace, this could have been transformative, absolutely transformative.”

If you are so inclined, you are invited to join this group on Tuesdays at noon in Schneider Park for any or all of the hour of silent meditation. Bring your own chair and your willingness to investigate what lies in your heart. Regardless of who joins her, of who joins her, Katherine Barr will continue to sit through the comments, the ceaseless noise and the changing weather; remembering, always remembering how the outer is a reflection of the inner. Hoping for a global shift, she rests peacefully in what is happening in the present moment.







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