Inspired by Masters of Nonviolence

My heart is filled with gratitude as I begin to write. My mind is filled with hope. My body is energized, buzzing with the positive reverberations of music created together, harmonies that only happen when multiples voices unite in song.

I spent the last several hours at a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the last several hours with people who are deeply concerned about our country, about the well-being of every single person who lives in it. I spent the last several hours with people who are not only concerned, but are working for social, environmental, economic, and racial justice, and doing so through nonviolence.

I spent the last several hours listening to the words of my fellow Louisvillians, as they echoed Dr. King’s words and brought them into the realities of today.

It has been almost two months since I’ve written here. Two months in which I’ve left a full-time position, gone to Standing Rock in the midst of voices both affirming and disparaging the decision, spent a month with one sort of illness or another, sometimes one on top of other, retreated to a cabin in the woods, started teaching two classes on nonviolence, had a 29-year-old relative die of cancer and a new baby born into the family. I’ve refinanced my house and started to live into the new life I seek to create.

 

In my cabin in the woods, where I finally slowed down enough to listen to the quiet and insistent voice of Being, one of the clear messages I received, not for the first time, was that I must write. I must create.

Despite that, beyond what I’ve written above, I don’t much want to write my own words today. They’re still working their way through me, through channels that feel as jumbled as the tilling, loosening, and overturning going on in our country and world right now.

“We have arrived at the Revolution,” our MC said today. I believe her.

I want to be a part of the tilling that uproots those things that seek to choke out Life, pulls what needs to be cleared to make space for Love and Truth, prunes what’s growing out of control, and plants with tender care what will flourish and nourish us all.

I know that during the digging, uprooting, pruning, and planting processes, my words will come out eventually...when it’s time. So today, instead of trying to force my words, I will share some of the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King that I hope and believe will not only guide my writing, but also all that Life garden work.

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From Gandhi’s “The Doctrine of the Sword”:

I do believe that, where there is a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…

But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.

Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means putting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.

I invite even the school of violence to give this peaceful noncooperation a trial. It will not fail through its inherent weakness. It may fail because of poverty of response.

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From Dr. King’s “Loving Your Enemies,” 1957:

Returning hate for hate only multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

From Dr. King’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” 1967:

When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

From Dr. King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”:

…the inseparable twin of racial injustice [is] economic injustice.

…any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of [people] and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. It well has been said: “A religion that ends with the individual, ends.”

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months…I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

…nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist.

…it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.

…the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil.

…[it includes] a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back.

…it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.

…it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.

Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistent on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality… I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.

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May you be as inspired and challenged by these words as I am. Blessings. 

Breathing In...Breathing Out

I arrived home and opened Facebook where several friends had shared live video footage from the ongoing efforts to stop the construction of the North Dakota pipeline through sacred tribal lands: police in riot gear, a few water protectors shouting at them. I started watching.

Shouting is not the same as holding a baton, ready to strike.

The image froze on the police, faces shielded, batons across their bodies. Though not as ominous, my mind shifted momentarily to the "peacekeepers" in The Hunger Games. On my screen the image of the police changed to a screen with a geometric pattern. Was the signal lost or blocked? By the time the video came back on, the police were moving, telling protesters to move south. Some water protectors faced the police, walking backwards as the police moved towards them. “Keeping moving south or we’ll arrest you.”

I start writing with the video on, though I can’t see it as I type. I only listen.

This is not what I thought I was going to write about when I opened a new post.

I turn to the video and see armored police vehicles. I think of Palestine.

I return to my page.

This morning I woke up grumpy. I had no excuse for my mood except that I was tired. The mood followed me through the day. It’s actually been haunting me for several days, coming and going as ghosts do. The source is a sense of loneliness, a desire for more constancy than my current relationships provide, a ghost that visits me periodically, even in times like now when I am being showered with love and love and more love from far and wide. I would like to befriend this visitor, Loneliness, but thus far we haven't hit it off.  

This afternoon I had a meeting at the local Tibetan Buddhist center. The friend I was supposed to meet with was tied up in a call when I arrived.  I had arrived a few minutes late, but my attention only focused on her lack of immediate availability. I could feel a foul mood sweep over me again – resentment, loneliness, anger, impatience, each out of proportion to my current situation. And on top of these, frustration with myself for feeling all those things.

I type now and hear chanting and the rhythm of a drum, what I assume is prayer. I turn to the image and see the chanters standing calmly, feet planted solidly the ground, as their voices sing words I understand only in the way one understands rustling leaves or rushing water: they offer soothing beauty.

I return to the page.

As I sat waiting and stewing earlier, it occurred to me that a few feet in front of me was a beautiful shrine, a room that for me is peace. I entered, sat down, crossed my legs, closed my eyes, and turned my attention to breathing. The aroma of incense lingered in the air as I started to take deep, slow breaths.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing anger.

Ah, yes, there are things I need to let go of.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing sadness.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing impatience.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out, releasing intolerance.

Breathing in peace.

Feeling my body relax, calm.

Knowing I am ready to offer something different to myself, to the world around me.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out acceptance.

Breathing in peace.

Breathing out love.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out patience.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out gratitude.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out gratitude.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

I opened my eyes, ready to meet with my friend. Ten or 15 minutes had passed.  She had just finished her call.

She apologized for being late. She apologized for a few other things from the last few months that she labeled as “failures.” If I had not spent time in the shrine, I feel certain I would only have given an insincere “It’s ok” in return. Having had those minutes to focus, I could tell her that her that her delay had been a blessing and that her perceived failures had also allowed me unexpected gifts.

The video behind my writing has ended. I am relieved by the quiet, but left wondering about the well-being of all whose faces and voices passed through my consciousness.

I want to be there. If the protests continue, if my presence is needed, I will go in a few weeks.

In this moment, I am far away. In this moment, I can offer no more than my breath, my calm, my prayer.

This afternoon as the meeting with my friend wrapped up, she apologized again for our late start. I assured her that the wait had offered a gift, sacred solitude, that unfolded into other gifts.

I carried them home: calm, trust, patience. I nearly allowed them to spill out, wasted, as I watched and listened to the video. And then I heard and saw the prayer.

I remembered my own prayer hours before in the shrine.

Now, holding peace gently, I leave my hands open,

ready to receive what may come,

ready to release what must go.  

Breathing in love.

Breathing out peace.

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Commitment

A week ago at about the time I am starting to write this post, I was lying on the ground by a lake, looking up at a sky so unpolluted by human-made light that I could see the Milky Way and constellations whose names I’ve long forgotten.  I breathed in fresh air and listened to the night sounds that tonight enter my home through blissfully open windows.

A week ago I was at camp. Camp GLP (Good Life Project), a once-a-year weekend camp for adults, filled with many of the great things summer camp offered when we were younger: beautiful land, a lake and a pool, games, songs around a bonfire while toasting marshmallows, a talent show, and most importantly, a kind of joy that sometimes we forget to live into as adults. On multiple occasions when all 380 or so campers were gathered together, we danced. We Danced!

A week ago this night, there was a dance party.  Exhausted from the day and the previous night’s not-great sleep (the “comfort” of the beds was another indication that we were really at camp), I had decided not to go.

I was in my cabin talking to a bunkmate, when I heard the start of a song – Suavemente, bésame, Que yo quiero sentir tus labios  a song that compelled me to say to my bunkmate with an urgency that surprised me, “I have to go dance.”

Besándome otra vez – I slipped on my flip flops and jogged to the party to make sure I didn’t miss the song. I was not disappointed.

Suavemente, bésame
Que yo quiero sentir tus labios
Besándome otra vez

Once upon a time, I used to dance to it every weekend and I even sang it when I was in a Latin band. Last weekend, after the song ended, I stayed and danced with no one in particular for a while before eventually heading back to my cabin, where I slept maybe just a little bit better than the previous night.

Our camp days started (if we chose) with meditation. Despite being tired, I got up for it every morning. The first morning I stayed for yoga afterwards. The next two I chose to walk around the lake, sometimes taking off my flip flops to let my feet feel cool dew on soft grass. 

One afternoon, I attended a meet-up that included another guided meditation (bonus!).  What dominated the images in my mind were not so much pictures, but colors – red-oranges, browns, white, olive green mixed with just a hint of pink. I tried to make note of the colors, their nuances and changes. At one point in the meditation, we were guided to meet our future self, who would give us a gift. This image, not simply colors, was clear: she gave me a small box that contained a bracelet made of rusty-orange stones and clear quartz.

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Later I talked to the meditation guide and told her about the question I had brought into the meditation and the images I had seen. She suggested that the message was about commitment… to myself.

I have thought a lot about that since camp. I thought I did a decent job of committing to myself, following the path I know is meant for me, when it’s straight (rarely), with its curves, in its switchbacks.

Before I went to camp, I had reached out to a couple of people who I knew I needed to speak to in order to feel at peace. One of the people I’ve seen. I had no specific words to say, no agenda but to talk and to listen to whatever might surface in the moment. The conversation flowed naturally and easily. Without asking a question, I received the answer I needed. The other person I haven’t seen, and without any assurance that I would any time soon, I sent an email with words, precise and careful, that I needed to let go. Both were acts of self-liberation, commitment to the voice within.

In one of the camp workshops about project planning (more interesting than it might sound!), the speaker talked about the importance of displacement and asked, “What needs to go in order to make room for your project?”

As I am currently getting ready to lead a delegation abroad, whose preparation and execution require a lot of time and energy, I have twice said “no” this week to events I had planned to attend. One night I spent the newly freed time sending emails and doing other delegation work. The other night I  spent most of the time walking the bridge and soaking in beautiful weather and a lovely sunset. While the first night may seem to have been more valuable than the second in terms of preparation, both were necessary for me to be able to feel ready - logistically and energetically.

 As I talked to a friend today who has been going through a rough time (“I’ve aged ten years in the last 6 weeks”), cognizant of my own renewed commitment, I asked, “What are you doing for self-care?”

After silence was the first answer, “That was the reminder I needed,” was the spoken reply.

In order to get through those times that sap our energy, that can age us months in a single day, we have to make a commitment to ourselves, even if a small one.

In order to get through life with any sense of joy and peace, we have to make this same commitment, probably over and over again, as so many things or people attempt, wittingly or unwittingly, to steer us away from our center. 

We have to recognize that our most significant relationship is the one with ourselves – it’s the only relationship we have from birth to death, at all times, in all places. The way we honor that relationship ripples out into the way we honor any other one.

A new camp friend wrote about her experience standing on stage at the talent show reading a most powerful poem she had written. She described the experience as liberating and healing. As someone who was in that room, I can say that hearing and seeing her honest and deep truth was liberating and healing for more than just her. She had committed to herself.

And so I invite you, if you haven’t already done so, to commit to yourself. Not onlyto yourself, not to self-indulgence that shrinks you instead of growing you. But first to yourself, the kind of self-commitment that expands your being, enabling you to be more of who you are. Enabling you to breathe deeply. Enabling you to accept yourself, and thereby, to accept others. Enabling you to live into the abundance that is you and recognize the same in every other person.