06/09/2013 11:34 BST | Updated 06/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Syria Crisis: How Much Shock and Awe Will it Take to Wake Us Up?

The debate about bombing Syria is, in part, about the shock-and-awe policy of politics: most of us remember the shock-and-awe blitzkrieg unleashed over Baghdad as a curtain raiser to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Shock-and-awe, known in military parlance as Rapid Dominance, is a doctrine developed at The National Defense University of the United States in1996.

Although now used as a technical military planning term, the fundamental idea is not new.

It is based on the age-old notion that using overwhelming force against your opponents, those who threaten you or who you want to eliminate, is an effective way of subduing them, disarming them or exterminating large numbers of them - and thus accomplishing a range of political purposes.

It can also be a kind of apocalyptic lashing out. Think of the people jumping hand-in-hand from the blazing, collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. Think of the 7,000 men and boys massacred in a single day in Srebrenica. Remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it has never been possible to know exactly how many died in the incandescent heat and radiation.

As you start to trace events like this back through history - including long, drawn-out campaigns of conquest and genocide - the mind boggles. You begin to wonder what has been accomplished, apart from an almost inconceivable self-slaughter of our own species over the centuries and a spiral of addictive recourse to armed might, terror and revenge.

I was pondering all this this past week at a meditation retreat. It might seem a bizarre, even macabre, subject to contemplate while supposedly calming the mind. But dealing with the seeds of war and peace is at the heart of working with our own minds.

You could say that a little shock-and-awe (of a different kind) goes a long way when it comes to contemplating ourselves.

Whether we are simply reflecting on how we lead our lives, or whether we are engaging in deeper purification practices, we can have shocking moments. For example, we might find we are at war within ourselves, swept away by a current of aggression. At another time, in the mirror of the mind, we might see our habits of self-centredness, fear, anger and impatience.

There are also startling moments when we are struck by the natural, underlying health and resilience of the mind.

It becomes clear that there is a seamless connection between these seeds of war and peace in our own lives and the challenges of war and peace in the world around us.

In the same way that we feel the need to wake up from the misunderstandings, pain and conflict in our own lives; I wonder what it will take, as a species, to wake up from our larger, collective habits of inflicting harm on others and our planet.

This is the inspiration for the Awake in the World festival that kicks off at the University of London in a few days' time. I'll be leading one of the panels and introducing the international meditation master, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, whose recent book, The Shambhala Principle, opens with the warning, "We humans have come to a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future."

It's a wake-up call worth meditating on, and a conversation worth being a part of.