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Peace - Learning When to Speak and When to Keep Silent

This past week I have had to hold my tongue. Sometimes it felt like I was holding my tongue so hard all I could taste was blood. 

A few people have told me that I should have spoken up, said my piece right there and then, never holding back.  However, what I have learned in my own life experience and in my Druid path is that there is time to speak up, and a time to hold your tongue. It all relates to one word - peace.

It has often been said that the Druids were not only the political advisors and religious authority to the Celts, but that they were also the peacemakers within society.  They had the power to walk between the battle lines without being harmed, such was their honouring of the notion of peace and their own personal authority and control.  As a student of Zen Buddhism as well as Druidry, I have come to know the concept of peace from another worldview that blends in beautifully with what I hold to be true in my path.

Peace is when there is no need.  Peace is when we are able to step outside of our ego and relate to the world with loving kindness. Peace is when we are able to find compassion, both for ourselves and for others.

Peace and truth are inexorably entwined within the Druid tradition. Only when we have discovered the nature of truth are we able to find peace.  Truth is our natural place in the world, in its cycles and rhythms, the flow of life itself. It is in the riding of the currents of awen that we come to know truth in all its forms.  When we know truth, we find peace.

The Druids were also famed for their ability with words.  They chose their words carefully, knowing that words have power.  It is with this in mind that sometimes I hold my tongue, for I could easily lash out and then have to face the repercussions of my actions. In the Celtic worldview, personal responsibility was very high on the agenda, and the notion of having to make something right when you have wronged another was essential. I simply try to not get into that situation in the first place.

Our society however does not live with that Celtic worldview any longer.  All I can do is have total responsibility for my own actions. It is within my power to live with honour - I cannot, however, force others into that way of thinking.  So it is that sometimes, when people upset me, I take a step back and gather my emotions to myself, exploring their source carefully before considering a response. Often I will find that when people upset me, they are merely triggering deeper issues. Other times, people are just crap. 

By holding my tongue, I can preserve peace at that particular moment instead of exploding in a torrent of emotions that could have very negative effects both on myself and the other party involved.  I could easily slice someone to ribbons with my tongue, but I have chosen not to in order to maintain peace, both within myself and the world beyond. 

Some would argue that by restraining myself I am having a negative effect on my own self. Instead of harming another, by keeping it bottled inside I am doing myself an injury or injustice.  However, it is not kept bottled inside;  it is simply held for a moment while I take a detached step back in order to examine it fully before coming to a foregone conclusion.  This is not harming myself in any way - in fact it is helping me to understand myself better, the reasons why I do the things I do, think the way I think and behave the way I do. 

This is not to say that when it is required to speak out that I still hold my tongue; far from it.  In Buddhism there is what is known as 'engaged Buddhism', a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It is having personal responsibility for oneself, and also the ability to act in the world in a positive way. If we see people being harmed, we work to stop it. If we ourselves are being harmed, we work to stop that cycle and set ourselves on a new path towards enlightenment.  We have the ability to respond - responsibility. We use it accordingly.

Not all situations call for such engagement.  For the sake of peace sometimes we take a step back. When hurt or abuse is relevant, we engage.  We pick our battles wisely. If there is one thing I have learned these last few years, it is that we don't have to attend every argument we are invited to.

So it is that sometimes I hold my tongue when all I want to do is lash out; to do unto others what has been done to me.  It can result in moments of seeing red - but then those moments fade as I am able to explore the deeper issues.  Having emotions is so very important to the human being;  being in touch with our emotions ensures that we are in the driver's seat however, instead of being taken for a ride by the very same emotions.  In very few situations when I see red it is appropriate to react then and there - if lives are at stake or people are being hurt. However, in the majority of situations in my life it is not.  I will only make things worse for myself and others if I do not keep the peace, if I do not hold my tongue.

Taking a moment to step back when confronted by difficult situations is invaluable to me.  I take a deep breathe, and think of the word 'peace'.  This helps me to understand the situation better, in order to respond to it better. I feel it fits rightly in my worldview as a Druid, though others may disagree.  All I can do is to live with peace, honour and truth as my guides.

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 Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 30 years. She has written many books, including The Path of the Hedge Witch: Simple, Natural Magic and the Art of Hedge Riding, as well as The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. Find her channels on social media at YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.


  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 05 April 2014

    Thank you so much for this perfectly timed message. I know exactly what you mean!

    I was called out - quite politely, but still called out - for giving a pass to a commentator who had expressed an offensive viewpoint. I had wanted to treat all commentators to my postings with equal respect.

    I quoted Gandhi's reminder that I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the world, declaring that if human beings were the problem, then human beings like me had to be the solution. I was taken to task for this, since one way of being the solution would have been to speak out against abusers (even though I was not personally familiar with the case, and therefore felt that I was not in a position to rush to judgment).

    When I said that human beings like me had to be the solution, I meant that I would rededicate myself to living the most spiritually and ethically honest life I can, so that I may be an example to others. It did NOT mean that I would start telling other people how they should live.

    I was also called-out for wanting to stay above the fray, simply letting human beings be human beings - and this is absolutely right: I DO want to stay above the fray, as a Peace-seeking Zen Druid Priestess has so perfectly explained. You are not the only one holding his/her tongue as you walk between the battle lines, for the better good of all concerned. Nor are you the only one who seeks to use the most accurate words possible to express where you are coming from.

    Tashi Delek.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Saturday, 05 April 2014

    Thank you for your kind words, Tashi. x

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 05 April 2014

    Tashi means auspicious and Delek means fine or well. From Tibetan Buddhism. Different authors render it as "Blessings and good luck" or "May all auspicious signs come to this environment".

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