Sunday, January 29, 2017

Peace in Action

Recycling a post from a couple years back today.   

“Let us take the risks of peace upon our lives, not impose the risks of war upon the world.” Quaker Proverb

Peaceful action, in my opinion, has little to do with how forceful or how tranquil the action itself is. Rather, the relevant inquiry is to examine the perspective from which the action arises. Even an action of great force can come from a equanimity of mind. When there is a true embrace of our shared humanity, I believe that even quite fierce or outwardly violent actions have the potential to move us toward peace. Internal state is where peace starts, and I believe that it's only through actions arising from an internal state of peace that we can bring the peace we have cultivated inside ourselves to the world around us.

On a wide scale, I believe humans have fallen into quite a different pattern. Our actions, large and small, aggressive and docile, are much more often fueled by a state of blameful separation and anger. The problem is that whether these actions succeed or fail in the short run, when we step back, we can start to notice that actions to taken with this blameful intention are in vain. The beast we think we are fighting just keeps getting stronger; it just keeps reappearing and morphing into more ruthless forms.

When Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” I don't see this as just a line of idealistic poetry. He was stating an observation about how certain kinds of actions work in the world. When we act in the hope for vengeance, in a belief that elimination and punishment will heal our wounds and make us safe, we become blind.

I notice a strong resistance to understand what offends us, and I think it is because we’re afraid that understanding would be like condoning or empowering what we think is wrong. So instead, we quite often choose to hate that which offends us. We choose the course of doing whatever it takes to eliminate, block, or oppose that which offends us. And in this course of action, we miss seeing an obvious pattern at work.

I believe that the opposite of our conditioned instincts is true. It is our resistance to understand, and the resulting hatred and loss of integrity that IS condoning and empowering the behavior that offends us. We're sending a clear message about what we think of as an empowered voice of opposition, and it actually invites the other side to continue speaking to us in the same language.

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” Gandhi

Entertain the possibility that this isn’t merely a lofty metaphor, but a statement of actual truth. Gandhi’s movement to free India shows how this principle can actually work to break the chain of violence and injustice. Gandhi was so unique in his approach to opposition. He never lost faith in the British; he firmly held that if they really knew what they were doing and saw it clearly, they would leave India. And as we all learned, he was right, and in my humble opinion, this faith in his enemy was one of the most unique and powerful waves of change the world has ever seen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I'm guessing that anyone who has seen me in the past 10 years has seen me in this:

Every so often I sub in a different necklace, but at the end of the day, I feel like I need to get that imposter off and quickly get back to home base.  I just feel most authentic and like myself with this around my neck.

And the events of this past week, starting with MLK Day, then to the Inauguration, and finally yesterday's immense display in DC and around the world with the Women's March, have really got me thinking about the core sentiment that makes this necklace so special to me: Unity.

My understanding of the Om symbol is that it represents the sound of the Universe.  If all the different sounds and vibrations could be heard together, creating one symphony, one harmony, one vibration, it would be the sound of Om.   To me, the Om represents the One: One Life, One Being, One Human Race, One Love, One God: an indivisible reality that includes Everything.

Starting the week off with a flood of quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it all felt so in line with this sentiment of unity.  And then, inauguration day demonstrations around the world reflected his famous quote:

Although a response more directly to Donald Trump's assertion of a policy to build a wall between the US and Mexico, the deeper sentiment of connection, love, and unity seemed very much at the heart of these global demonstrations.

But it was yesterday, as I spent the greater part of my day watching live feeds from the Women's March in DC, that all this inquiry into unity went a bit deeper.   

As the March was approaching, I felt happy to see it coming together, and at the same time, quite certain my low-level-anxiety, crowd-averse self was not meant to hit the streets.  This set of Unity Principles around which the March was to revolve all resonated for me, and the idea of people channeling their angst feelings about the new president into an action felt right.

Although not as a marcher, I did find my own perfect way to contribute: crocheting hats.  A cousin was heading to DC with a group of 4, and I made them all these pussyhats:

I loved the idea of this whole hat project.  The unifying image of a sea of marchers wearing similar hats to express their power, their allegiance to the feminine, their oneness; it really inspired me.  And more, the fact that the world wide club of crocheters and knitters were stitching their love and support into hats that they sent off to DC tickled my heart even more.

I tuned in to see this great sea of pink, this unified demonstration, and I saw it, far beyond the pink hats and the borders of DC.  Truly, a touching and great display of solidarity from around the world.

But, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I've been seeing repeat itself for years.  I wrote about it first in this post: the 100%.  There I was talking about the Occupy Wallstreet movement and the common slogan of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent.  And yesterday, I felt a similar sense of these gatherings that seemed in large part to be motivated by the desire for unity, for bridges, for inclusion, that end up expressing messages of divisiveness.

The two most obvious divides I kept feeling arise yesterday were the Trump hate and the abortion debate.  When position statements about abortion and cutting criticisms of the new president were spoken or displayed, I started to wonder: how would I feel if I was strong moral/religious pro-life advocate? Or how would it feel if I was a woman who voted for Trump, not as a fan of his behavior or his every position, but only because I thought he better embodied my thoughts about what was good for the country?  When I explored what I'd feel like if I were those people, inclusion was not at all what I felt.

There was a subtle assumption that the liberal position on these things (Trump's a dangerous jackass and reproductive freedom is a fundamental right) are the only sane perspectives.  And even though these particular liberal positions are ones that resonate for me, I cannot agree that they are the only sane and loving ways to look at these questions.  I believe that it was this pattern of condescending liberal assumption that drove much of the momentum leading President Trump (for an article with a similar perspective click here), and this condescension isn't just coming from  liberals - it happens in both directions and in so many different ways. 

It's a reflex to belittle and even demonize opposing points of view.  It is a shadow that we need to tend to if we are ever to become truly unified.

No one can deny the incredible chasm that has been growing for many years in the US.  I saw one post yesterday that used the tag line "Two Americas" showing passionate and adorned demonstrators in support of Trump's inauguration and against it from this past weekend.  It left me wondering where these Two Americas is leading us.

Is the growing divide foreshadowing a civil war, or is it the call for us to do the difficult work of building bridges, even on the issues that divide us the most?  Will we face our disagreements with judgement and ridicule, or will we listen, try to understand, try to put ourselves in the position of those who see things differently?

Of the thousands, perhaps millions, of people that showed up around the world yesterday, a great variety of intentions were being expressed.  As I look to recent movements, I think this variety as it becomes expressed can be the Achilles Heel that becomes the movement's undoing at a certain point.  The more specific and loud different people get, the more people start turning away because the movement no longer really expresses their point of view.

There's another way though. We can rise above our differences of opinion and come together in our commonalities as citizens and as human beings.  If we look closely, I think we'll begin to notice the difference between our opinions and our humanity, and in this noticing, we can build a ground where more and more of us can meet, just as Rumi said, 

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there." 

True unification requires us to sacrifice our own sense that we are right.  It requires us to suspend our judgement and open our minds.  After listening, we still may not agree, and we still may need to hold firm to our convictions and work hard to help other people understand our points of view.  There may even be times when we face atrocities and injustices so great that we need to take strong and unbending positions, actions of great magnitude and importance. 

But, what non-violent leaders like MLK and Gandhi showed us is that it is possible to stand firm in a point of view with your hand still outstretched to the ones that disagree.  Yesterday, I wondered, what if some of Trump's family came to the March, maybe even wanting to put on a pussyhat and show their support in one way or another.  Would they be welcomed guests?  Should they be welcomed guests? 

My prayer coming out of this extraordinary week is that we start thinking of inclusion in bigger terms.  May we embrace and allow room for our fantastic and great diversity, including our diversity of opinion and belief.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Anger

I had a plan to write about something different this Sunday, something a little more obviously aligned with peace.  But as I sit down at the keyboard this morning, I feel like anger is the more useful place for attention in my own journey toward greater peace.

We've all seen lots of anger projected through our screens during the last year of political debate and division.  I've found it pretty distasteful, and I felt like I mostly stayed above the anger.  Then, last weekend was one of my yoga teacher training weekends, and we learned about Ayurveda. In identifying our dominant doshas, I confirmed that I am dominantly Pitta - the fiery one.  As our teacher was reading the traits and mentioned a tendency toward anger, I remember thinking, "huh, that doesn't really sound like me."

And ever since that passing thought, life's been poking fun at me.

True, I'm not prone to screaming fits or violent outbursts.  I mostly have control of my tongue and don't call people names or burst out with strong judgements.  I mean, we all have our slips every once in awhile, but mostly, I'd call myself pretty chilled out and not at all a candidate for anger management classes.

But as often happens when I have a strong and wrong sense of myself arise, contradictions start coming out of the woodwork. 

First, I kept noticing dumb stuff, like a hyped up reaction to my husband's socks, left on the floor, again!  I just dismissed these as playful and scrappy interactions.  He's obviously not intimidated because those socks will be there again and again, and I know he likes a little fire in his woman.  

But then, something happened at work that triggered me.  I could literally feel the burning in my chest, and although it didn't turn into an overblown reaction, it churned in my mind, pretty relentlessly.  I could come up with soothing thoughts that calmed it down or shifted the attention positively for a time, but I was floored to notice how once that fire is lit, man, it's really hard to stop it!

And then lastly in this parade of my own disillusionment, on Friday night my daughter dropped her phone and broke the screen.  She was so freaked out about how I would react.  I was calm and fine.  (She did give me a text warning and seeing how nervous she was about my reaction quickly put me in check.)  As I talked to her later about why she was so nervous about my reaction, she had all kinds of good evidence for why she thought I'd lose my shit over it.

And finally I gave in: I am a bit of a crazy hot head. 

I had a lot more self-awareness about this part of myself when I was younger.  I liked it and would describe it as passionate, not angry.  I saw it as this sparky firecracker part of my personality, and I thought it served me well in treading my own path and making sure the world gave me my due respect.

But as I've gotten older, I've been less enchanted by this passionate side of myself.  In the early years of buckling down into marriage and motherhood, that wild stallion wreaked some havoc, and wanting to cultivate more stability in my family and my life, I put some strong focus on calming that aspect of myself.

Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at more consciously deciding how to direct those energies.  I'm filled with ideas and training about calming the fire - breathing through it, doing some yoga, writing in a journal until it begins to dissipate.  And that's all well and good, but the problem is: I'm just one sock away from another flare up.

I know it will come up again and again; it's a pattern that is seemingly hardwired into me this time around.  And my big concern is that sometimes this scrappy side feels like a complete contradiction to my deepest interests and hopes to be a contributor to peace in the world. 

The faces of peace and of fire seem so different from the outside, completely opposed.  But for some time, I've had this intuition that they aren't as separate as they seem.  I started exploring this idea of fierceness in peace a long while back in this post: the other side of peace.

As I think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and other heroes of peace, I sense a certain grit and fire that fueled their faith and leadership to go beyond the dominant movements of the culture.  I sense that this fire has a place in a movement toward greater peace, both within and out in the world. 

Dealing with the anger is so tricky though, and really, I feel like a novice.  On one hand, I sometimes hold it inside myself to my own detriment, imploding with a fire that craves expression but I'm too afraid will come out wrong.  Or then, there are the times when I let it rip, and I feel horribly guilty for being unkind in ways I truly did not intend. 

The anger seems like the sword of the peaceful warrior.   It can be the tool that slices through resistance, ignorance and inertia and brings real and lasting change.  But, as we have seen in recent times, it can also be so cutting and simply fuel more destructive anger. 

I get the sense that our fate will be determined in large part by how we learn to wield this sword.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Happy New Year!

I took the last two weeks off from my regular Sunday posts because holidays fell on both Sundays.  It gave me a good excuse to just take a full on break, and it was just what I needed. 

But now, it's a new year, and I feel ready to get back to it.

This week my mind took me down a dirt road from my past that led to a butterfly garden in Costa Rica where I worked just about two decades ago.  In exchange for room and board on the grounds of the garden, I gave hour long tours to tourists passing through the little mountain village, and in order to fill up that hour, I had to study butterflies pretty intensely for a week or two.  During my crash course, I also gained quite a strong affection for those pretty little winged creatures.

It was the butterfly life cycle that really pulled me in.  We had a chart of the life cycle somewhat like this one hanging in our nature center:

I saved my stop here for the end of my tour; it was my big finale.  I'd point out to my group that there is not a single thing in common between the caterpillar and the butterfly that it was to become.  I'd confess that before coming to work at the butterfly garden, I had assumed that when the caterpillar curled up into a ball, wings sprouted off some remaining part of the caterpillar body in order to form the butterfly.

But no, I'd tell them, it wasn't that kind of transformation at all.  It was a total and complete obliteration.  I'd tell them how the caterpillar broke down completely in the chrysalis, into a cellular soup.  There was nothing at all identifiable in the caterpillar that you'd find in the butterfly.

Then, I'd cover up the chrysalis at this point and say that if we didn't see this part, there would be nothing at all to let us know that this caterpillar and this butterfly were ever the same creature.  I then ended with my big punch on how the butterfly gave us a rare opportunity to peer beyond the veil of death and birth.  You know, just to leave them with a little something to ponder. 

My boss always joked about how he couldn't believe how I'd get even grown men cooing over the magic of butterflies.  It was easy for me though; my own cooing was completely authentic.

And this week, my old friend started fluttering into my mind quite surprisingly.

Over the last few weeks, I've felt like brokenness kept showing up.  Within my personal life, within my country, around the world, I just kept feeling like brokenness was showing its face around every corner.  And just as I was starting to feel overwhelmed by this sense of so much apparent destruction, the butterfly popped into my mind.

And with it, a sense of hope moved in.  As my brain started reaching back into those old files and that butterfly life cycle came back to the front of my mind, I remembered that brokenness and destruction can be part of a much bigger pattern, just as they are in the butterfly life cycle.  

To me, the butterfly represents the hope of life after death, the hope that something beautiful will come from the destruction of what came before.  Here's to the hope that 2017 will be a great year of transformation, moving some of this brokenness that's come before into something new and beautiful.