Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

The dream of peace is still alive

The English wear their national pride too lightly, but I love my country and I am passionate about London. I was in New York during September 11 and while I was sucked into the horror, nothing prepares you for what you feel when your own city is ripped apart. Londoners take their city for granted and like to grumble over its shortfalls.

Many of us dream of moving out to some rural idyll only to return with our tail between our legs. Some years ago I succumbed to the "Good Life" fantasy (though it was obvious even then that I was more Margot then Barbara) and dragged my first husband to West Sussex to run a smallholding in a wood.

For months I toiled, trying to grow vegetables biodynamically in the barren, acidic soil, manning the recycling skip every weekend in the pouring rain, and dealing with marauding badgers, foxes, deer and flashers that wandered uninvited into our ungovernable garden. Amazingly, my first husband loved it, but I lasted six months. Ultimately the clarion call of the Mother Ship (Peter Jones) and the delights of the Kings Road Waitrose proved irresistible and now I restrain my Good Life urges by tending a window box instead.

The attack has renewed my appreciation of our incredible capital. This morning I even saw the beauty in Watford, where I was an attendant at an exhibition describing the achievements of three of the last century's greatest peacemakers, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Daisaku Ikeda, which has just opened at the Harlequin shopping centre.

At times of disaster people are more inclined to seek spiritual solutions - so this exhibition was timely. Holding the exhibition here was a creative way to deal with the modern phenomena of spiritual shopping - one can combine Top Shop with philosophy. These great shopping malls are the modern cathedrals.

The exhibition was put together by the philosopher Dr Lawrence Carter, a friend of Dr Martin Luther King, who is now Dean of Morehouse College, USA. Dr Carter says that these three men encourage millions of people all over the world to look beyond the "cultural wardrobe" of class, colour and religion and follow a path of peace. We can incorporate their teachings into our own daily lives.

While everyone has heard of Ghandi and King, Dr Ikeda is less well known. Yet Dr Carter believes that with 50 years of non-violent peace work in Japan, and by being responsible for opening universities and schools around the world, Ikeda is the "living embodiment of what Ghandi and King stood for".

I was a bit nervous that 'the public' might ask penetrating questions I could not answer, but fortunately people wanted to be left to read and absorb. We attendants had been instructed not to speak unless spoken to - like the assistants in Harrods who are marvellously unbothersome.

Fortunately I was only asked easy questions. Four people enquired where the nearest toilet was. One asked for the nearest MacDonald's, so I directed him to a wholefood shop - for his own good.

I had gone to Watford feeling grey and flat, but I left reinvigorated. This exhibition proves violence and war solve absolutely nothing, and through the process of inner transformation an individual has the power to change society, the environment and the planet itself.

We need the message of these three great men now more than ever if we are to transform this young century, which has already seen so much war, into a century of peace.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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