The Language of Peace (#981)

My son Oliver is traveling in Senegal at the moment, and he has been learning Wolof, the Senegalese language, to supplement his French, which is the other primary language there. While I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his first lessons in the language, I was fascinated by some of the phrases he’s been learning and what they imply about the values of what is known to be one of the kindest and most peaceful of the African cultures.

Most conversations begin with the traditional Muslim greeting of “Salaam maaleekum” (May the peace be upon you) and the response “Maaleekum salaam” (Peace be upon you as well). But the variations on the theme are equally interesting. If you want to ask someone how their day or night has been, the response of “Jamm rekk” translates to “Peace only” or “Very peaceful.” And instead of asking “How are you?”, people ask “Have you peace?”, to which the response is once again “Peace only, and you?”

Perhaps my favorite little snippet from the basic phrase book is another variation of “How are you?”, which translates more directly as “Are you there?” The response is “Maa ngi fii” – “I am here.” This one phrase to me reveals a beautiful recognition of the essence of well-being.

“Are you there?”, to me, is a recognition that there is a space inside us that transcends the separation of ego – the space in which we are all made of the same essential energy. While what is written on our eyeballs creates our separate realities, what is looking through them is our shared humanity.

Hearing that simple question in the context of a language lesson took me back to some of my earliest spiritual explorations studying with an enlightened Australian teacher named Barry Long. He once described the purpose of his teaching as being (these are my words) “to help people get in touch with that deeper space of meditation inside them and then keep their conscious minds entertained while the healing energy of life rid them of unhappiness from the inside-out”.

He would often ask us as we sat in his teaching sessions “Are you there?” No verbal response was expected, but had I known Wolof, I would have said “Maa ngi fii” – I am here.

My favorite languaging of this space came early on in my conversations with my long-time friend and mentor Bill Cumming. He described it as “a space of loving-kindness” and introduced me to it by sharing the story of Marge Knuuti, a nurse and teacher who had decided to do volunteer work at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying in Calcutta.

Here’s how I retold her story in Feel Happy Now:

After many hours spent on old train tracks and bumpy roads in the heat of the Indian summer, she arrived exhausted, wanting nothing more than to jump into a cold shower and collapse into a cool bed.Instead, she was greeted by the scene of dozens of people lined up outside in the hope of being given the right to die with dignity and compassion. Her tiredness fell away, and she reached out to a man whose legs had been crushed in the street and whose life was clearly ebbing away. As she looked into his eyes brimming with love and compassion, he kept repeating the word namaste to her.Many hours later, she asked one of the other volunteers what it meant. She was told that it was a Sanskrit word signifying:

I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides. I honor the place in you of love, of truth, of peace, and of light; and when you are in that place in you and I am in that lace in me, there is only one of us.

Are you there?

With all my love,
Michael

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