On May 21, the day following the SOPP ceremony, 29 prayer leaders, guests, youth participants, and Byakko staff assembled at Fuji Sanctuary for a post-ceremony discussion—an opportunity for peace-minded people from a diverse range of countries, backgrounds, and faiths to come together and talk in depth about their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences with regard to prayer and the creation of a peaceful world.
The ceremony was facilitated by Dr. Bob Stilger of the Berkana Institute in the United States. Dr. Stilger has been working for over 35 years in the field of community building, serving as a teacher, speaker, consultant, facilitator, and coach, and he was invited to bring his expertise to this year’s discussion.
At 10 am, Byakko Chairperson Masami Saionji opened the discussion with some welcoming remarks. She thanked everyone for their participation in the ceremony the previous day, noting that this year’s event was particularly well received by the participants and guests. She also gave special praise to the youth participants, who, she said, represented humanity’s hope for a brighter future. “The Symphony of Peace Prayers,” she remarked, “builds upon our diversity to create a sense of oneness. Through our collaboration, and by bringing our hearts together, we are building a peaceful world.”
Mrs. Saionji then turned her attention to upcoming events, particularly the large gathering that is envisioned for 2015 at Fuji Sanctuary. “This is an era,” she said, “in which we need to broaden and elevate our consciousness, from an earthly consciousness to a universal consciousness—this is how we will create peace on earth.” She remarked that spiritual wisdom is needed to help solve many of the world’s problems. With this in mind, in 2015, Mrs. Saionji hopes to bring together people from a wide variety of fields—politics, economics, education, the arts, and so on, as well as religious leaders and scientists—to collaborate in the creation of a culture of peace. She asked for the support of those present in helping to make this vision a reality.
Following Mrs. Saionji’s remarks, Dr. Stilger introduced the theme of the discussion. “My hope for today,” he said, “with the diversity that is present in the room, is that it is possible for us, individually and collectively, to see and learn something new.” He also referred to the events of March 11, 2011. “In Japan, the question that’s being asked is a question being asked all over the world: How do we go from disaster and systems collapse to create something new that works better than what we had before?” He also noted three qualities—respect, deep curiosity, and generosity—that, when present, enable something magical and transformative to take place, and he asked participants to invite those qualities into the day’s discussion.
The participants first talked in pairs, walking around the grounds of Fuji Sanctuary as they focused on the question: What was surprising and what was moving for you yesterday? Later, they expanded their circles of communication to groups of four, where they based their discussions around a new question: What does it mean to you to truly meet together in peace? Each group created its own original topics, and at the last stage, the discussion results were shared with everyone in the room.
Nearly four and a half hours after it had begun, the discussion came to a close, having brought together a diverse group of individuals with a common goal. It gave participants a forum for sharing with one another, learning from one another, and inspiring one another, further strengthening the worldwide peace network that the Symphony of Peace Prayers continues to build.
As the participants continued exchanging ideas while strolling toward the waiting bus, one look at their happy and enthusiastic expressions made it clear that the session had been a resounding success.
After the discussion, Dr. Stilger remarked:
We began some important work. We started to connect this field of people in a way such that they were listening to each other. And in that process of listening to each other, they were able to listen to themselves. Those are two things that we often don’t do. We actually don’t listen to each other very much. And we listen to ourselves even less frequently. Even though we only had four hours to work with, we started creating a field of listening. It was out of that listening that we started to get new insights.
We don’t have to understand the whole system. We just need to be able to understand enough to know what our next steps should be. And I think the dialog gave people a sense of some of their own individual next steps.
I think we need more of these. And what we especially need is more times when people are listening to each other across the generations. This inter-generational energy is terribly important. Sometimes, older people get stuck with the answers that we’ve created. And sometimes maybe we get stuck with thinking that we are supposed to have answers.
There is a wonderful chemistry that happens when older people and younger people come together to dialogue. This is especially true with people who have dedicated their lives to make a difference. By coming together across generations, space is opened in some really important ways. When people feel that they are being seen and listened to by someone from another generation, it creates a spark of witnessing which helps them really understand and deepen their own sense of the importance of the work they are doing. When they see that their experience and contributions are valued by people of a different generation, it invites them into a dialogue where even more can be revealed.
One of my answers to the question of what happens when people meet together in peace is that we build healthy communities. We build resilient communities. We build communities that work. When we come together in peace, we come together with respect and curiosity and generosity. And we listen to each other as we begin to create communities where we can prosper.