Feel Peace, Speak Peace, Teach Peace
Nov 30, 2011 03:36PM
● By Susan Bloom
Sixty-year-old Rita Marie Johnson recalls a pivotal moment in her life, fifty years ago, that set her on a course of destiny. As a ten-year-old girl growing up on a farm in Missouri, she was mesmerized by a magnificent sunset one summer evening. “My heart filled with beauty, and an inner voice told me ‘You will work for peace,’” she says. “At that moment, I had a calling.”
Johnson has not looked back since. Armed with a degree in psychology and a desire to serve the community, she worked with troubled youth, adults with mental illness, senior citizens, and cancer patients. She eventually became Chief of Volunteer Services for the Texas Department of Health. “But I still didn’t know what it meant to work for peace or how to do this authentically,” she says.
The answer would come in 1993. Fascinated by the fact that Costa Rica had abolished its army in 1948, she moved there and soon became inspired by a Costa Rican poem called “Rasur,” which tells the story of a peace teacher who leads the village’s children to a mountain and instructs them on following the wisdom and compassion in their hearts. Johnson subsequently founded the School of Rasur and began to put the underlying principles of the poem into action with her students. “In the story of Rasur, the entire village was transformed into a culture of peace where creativity flowed and people lived in harmony,” Johnson said. “That was my vision, too.”
Johnson soon established the Rasur Foundation, designed to cultivate master peace teachers, known as Rasurs. In 2004, she developed and introduced BePeace, a synergistic practice that combines a scientifically tested method for feeling peace with an honest, empathic technique for speaking peacefully. According to Johnson, “This combination allows us to access our wisdom and compassion, which efficiently shifts us from stress to peace.” The organization offers a 32-hour BePeace Foundations Course, which has already turned out 500 graduates in 12 states.
Among those graduates is 59-year-old Kris Imbrie, a longtime teacher, social worker, and psychotherapist with a Sparta-based practice, who completed the Foundations Course this spring. Having studied the effects of trauma and domestic violence on people and believing in the need to help children be the best they can be, she felt an instant connection to the program. “I feel like the opportunity to be part of this beautiful movement called BePeace was given to me as a gift,” she says.
According to Imbrie, the BePeace practice uses the power of the heart to bring the brain into coherence and consequently feel peace. “If you’re feeling negative emotions, your ability to problem-solve or use good judgment is impaired. When we learn to achieve heart-brain coherence, we allow for the pause that enables us to thoughtfully respond instead of just reacting,” she says. “Scientifically, the heart is the strongest oscillator in the body and can bring the heart, mind, and emotions into sync with one another. This begins by focusing down into the heart, breathing deeply through the heart, and feeling appreciation for something you love,” she explains.
“The second part of the BePeace practice, speaking peacefully, is based on the understanding that human beings share universal needs,” Imbrie continues. “When we learn to connect to those needs in ourselves and others through empathy and honesty, our compassion emerges naturally.”
As Johnson says, “Coherence and connection to universal needs are the clearest how-to’s you will find for embodying peace.”
Since 2004, the BePeace program has been integrated into 18 schools in Costa Rica and has just been embraced by its first public school in the United States, in Houston. Johnson and Imbrie are hoping to incorporate BePeace into the curricula of more schools. “A program like this is absolutely for everyone, but I’ve always instinctively known that children are the answer,” Imbrie says. “If we teach kids to open up to their heart’s wisdom and connect compassionately with others, they’ll grow into adults who can practice and teach peace.”
Johnson wholeheartedly agrees. “We have to educate for peace. It’s inside all of us, we just have to know how to find it, and BePeace provides the simple tools. It’s my hope that all teachers around the world will replicate the story of Rasur so that, together, we can create a global peace story. We want to see a world where every person practices peace and passes this gift on to the next generation.”
Rita Marie Johnson will be presenting a BePeace Foundations Course in our area from March 28 to March 31 at Unity of Sussex County in Lafayette. The course is open to teachers, counselors, parents, grandparents, or anyone interested in helping children to be more peaceful. To register, call 973-383-6277 or email [email protected] For more information on BePeace courses nationwide and special tours to Costa Rica, visit RasurInternational.org.
Freelancer Susan Bloom writes weekly Health and Food features for New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press and specializes in topics related to nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles.