The Peace Project: Kay Wills Wyma

It’s safe to say 2020 was a year unlike any other. The first half of 2021 has provided much needed hope but many are still struggling to see the silver lining. Kay Wills Wyma brings a Soul 30 Challenge to help us be thankful in times of uncertainty, show kindness to others, and understand why mercy is key. We caught up with the author to learn more about her new book, The Peace Project.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: What prompted you to write The Peace Project?

Kay Wills Wyma: Honestly, it all started with a bit of a rotten attitude from an unexpected curveball. On my way to the grocery store to pick up milk for a morning gathering at my house, a big black pick-up truck barreled up on me and stared me down until I backed down (the street) in order to make way for him. 

Mid grumble, I looked up and was moved by the beautiful morning sky and breathed as I took it in. The crabby melted into thankfulness. Thankful to be in an air-conditioned car on a hot Texas summer day; Thankful to be on my way to a grocery store with refrigerated items, where nice people might say hi to me by name and on it went. Thankfulness is like that. You get started and it keeps going, inviting in oxygen to our souls as it does. 

Refreshed, I willingly backed down the street to make way for the truck, not realizing that this simple and heartfelt act of kindness would join gratitude’s soul-boost. At which point the truck drove past and I looked in the window to the driver. My thoughts genuinely turned to compassion (mercy) for the person behind the wheel. I had no idea what was going on in that guy’s day. He could be running late, or on his way to the hospital, or so many things. All of this worked together to re-humanize a moment that only a few seconds earlier had made me feel walked over, less-than/unseen. And, I found myself literally energized, physically feeling great. Not quite what you’d expect on the other side of road-rude.  

It was significant enough to share with my friends who arrived at my house an hour later and for us to collectively be willing to dig into all the what’s and why’s behind the boost. To see if it was real. Was that physical high a thing? Could it last? Spoiler Alert: it was all that and more. And it’s available to all of us each and every day, in the smooth sailing as well as the rough patches. Peace, shalom peace, stands in the wings ready for center stage when we invite it through these powerful practices of thankfulness, kindness and mercy.

RM: With COVID and the pandemic, mental health is just as important as ever… how can this 30-day Soul Challenge?

KWW: May was Mental Health Awareness month. It couldn’t have come at a better time as we’ve started re-entry into certain normalcies of life that don’t feel quite normal. From the isolation, to the sadness so many have encountered through the challenging impacts of illness and death, to the distancing either with school or work or even interaction with each other, plans and very regular expectations were sidelined, this Pandemic has hit mental health as hard as it has our physical well-being. Only the onslaught has been on our inside where it resides unseen yet very real. 

Maybe we can use May’s awareness to jumpstart a summer of mental health action. We can proactively put into practice healthy actions to benefit our minds. If we needed to shed some pounds to improve our health we might start with a diet (like Whole30). So why not try the same for our thoughts with a Soul30 – practicing thankfulness, kindness and mercy for 30 days. One of my friends, after only a few days, called it a “feast of goodness” because these practices not only shower goodness on those receiving, but also on the givers. 

RM: How can we be thankful, even during times of uncertainty?

KWW: Thankfulness invites perspective as it gently moves our eyes off the moment at hand and invites us to see the broader picture and to breath – especially in times of unsettledness or uncertainty. With our eyes off the chaos in trying moments, we can momentarily focus on good at hand, the things we have rather than what is lacking. And we can reframe long enough to feel the ground settle. 

Which is one of the keys to this prospect – the settling of unsettledness that comes as we reach not only to grasp perspective, but as we act on it. 

So, as I was met with discord on that early morning street stand-off (such a minor, yet real life issue like so many things that steal from us during a regular day), the thankfulness of realizing what I had going for me (air conditioning in a Texas summer is big!) was like a re-boot, an invitation to peace that settled my thoughts.

RM: What are ways we can show kindness to others?

KWW: With kindness, no act is too small or insignificant. And the amazing things about kindness, it benefits everyone involved, literally impacting our brain function as it increases levels of dopamine (known as “helpers high”) and decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) while increasing a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels and literally lowers our blood pressure. Pretty amazing.

And each action goes a step further to minister to our souls in places of core human needs like the need to be known. 

Just recently, I had the opportunity to let someone into my lane so they could get over to make a turn. It was an easy pause that cost me nothing more than a few minutes. As the person passed in front of us, my daughter looked over from the passenger seat. “I’m so glad we did that,” she said, clearly feeling goodness from such a small act. Then she added what has stuck with me, “If someone did that for me, it would make me feel seen and feel like I mattered.” 

No act is too small – whether dropping off a meal, sending an encouraging text, seeing and acting upon a need (I have a neighbor who puts people’s papers on their doorsteps so they don’t have to walk to the curb to retrieve it), quietly filling the gap. Every act has big results – making someone feel seen and known, that they matter.

RM: What does mercy mean, and why is it key?

KWW: Mercy is not about being a victim or condoning. Just the opposite, mercy invites dignity and brings into focus the worth of a human being. Maybe that is why mercy is such a powerful player in this process. 

Mercy, by definition, involves humility, compassion, patience, forgiveness and grace for others, as well as for ourselves. Mercy is a narrative changer. 

To understand mercy, I sought wisdom from folks who actively engaged in practicing it. For St Francis of Assisi, an Italian Catholic friar who was known as “the Channel of Mercy”, practicing mercy softened and deeply altered him, setting him free from preconceived ideas and perceptions, setting him on a path of connection with human beings of great worth that had previously been discounted. St Francis shared the power of mercy as “that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.” 

James Keenan, a Jesuit priest defines mercy as “the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.”  Mother Teresa said that mercy in action “was the ‘salt’ which gave flavor to her work, it was the ‘light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” For me, I think mercy is narrowing down to the willingness to compassionately consider and proactively meet someone, whether in thought or deed, where they are. Especially as it relates to myself. We could all give ourselves a little grace. Especially after all that has gone on this past year and a half. Mercy is key as it ministers at the soul level. Which is right where peace does its best work, inviting joy and wholeness into circumstances and situations that might feel everything but peaceful. It’s worth a try today.

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