Metta’s Opinion

Campaign Nonviolence: Call Recap


Each month, Campaign Nonviolence (CNV) hosts a National Conference Call to build community and share ideas for participating in CNV’s upcoming Action Week in September.

April’s call was held yesterday. Moderated by activist/author Rivera Sun, the 60-min conversation packed in plenty of inspiration and take-action tips. At the start of the call, Ken Butigan (Pace e Bene’s director) and Rev. John Dear (Pace e Bene’s outreach coordinatior) recalled their recent experiences at the first-ever nonviolence conference at the Vatican, where participants called for an end to the Just War theory in favor of a Just Peace doctrine. For Ken, a highlight was acknowledging Church violence, an important step in turning toward nonviolence. He then called for all of us to do the same: to look at the violences within our own traditions so as to turn them toward nonviolence.

As the call’s guest speakers, the Metta Center’s Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook discussed Constructive Program (CP), the building of positive alternatives to oppression. For his part, Michael looked at the philosophical, practical, and strategic aspects of CP—the outer work of constructive program. Stephanie followed with the inner work: what we do as individuals to transform our relationships with ourselves and others.

As Michael noted, the aim of constructive program is to break dependency on an outside power while simultaneously uniting people. He drew on the example of Gandhi introducing the charka, or spinning wheel, as a tool to undermine the Raj. In spinning their own cloth, Indians simultaneously loosened their dependency on the British for clothing and worked towards the common cause of independence. Philosophically speaking, their charka work served to contrast the brute force of the Raj and the positive force of nonviolence.

From the standpoint of practicality, CP offers a set of interlinked actions and benefits:

  • Needs-based projects that go beyond obstruction – People collaborate to make the opposition’s institutions obsolete by establishing ones that meet real needs for an entire community/society.
  • Healing – Collaborating to meet our needs and fulfill our potential helps melt away built-up tensions, thereby undercutting the opposition’s reliance on divide-and-conquer modes to stay in power.
  • Effectiveness – Done well, CP may on its own topple the opposition, with no need for obstructive actions because CP essentially delegitimizes it and renders it powerless. Perhaps most importantly, CP projects provide movement continuity. In between actions and/or during opposition crackdowns, people can continue building parallel institutions. (Quick side note: Examples of CP we see today are community/urban gardening projects, parallel banking and currency experiments, transition towns, housing and business cooperatives.)

As far as strategy is concerned, Michael pinpointed two phases:

  • The first phase is non-confrontational yet wholly impactful. As with the CP spinning wheel campaign in India, this phase revolves around an action that is neither illegal nor likely to be deemed threatening. It flies under the opposition’s radar, and it also allows everyone to participate, paving the way for mass-scale obstructive actions if/when they’re needed.
  • The second phase ups the ante with confrontation. Here, the efforts build on CP to obstruct the opposition. During the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, for instance, Indians purposely broke the law to spotlight the Raj’s injustices and brutality.

The first phase is vital to the second—unity and widespread participation builds momentum for any civil disobedience that may be needed, infusing it with people power.

Looking more inward, Stephanie asked: How are we practicing nonviolence in our own lives—in our families, within our communities, at our workplaces?

She mentioned Maria Montessori’s educational work with children as inspiration for shifting culture into a positive view of humankind. Rather than see people as enemies, we must uphold a positive image of human beings—it’s the system that sets our conditions of being and acting in the world.

In nonviolence, we do our best to recognize and overcome these conditions within ourselves so that we can compassionately see how they affect society as a whole. Gandhi, for example, said he faced three opponents: the Raj; Indians, whom he saw as an steeper challenge than the British; and himself, his most difficult “enemy” of all. Winning our inner battles is what makes the work of nonviolence both so hard and rewarding.

Is there a concrete project á la the spinning wheel that US-based peace and justice activists can rally behind, wondered David Hartsough, the co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce and executive director of Peaceworkers, during the Q&A. “Changing the story is the charka of our time,” Michael responded, adding that all of us can rebuild the human image, and that this New-Story work is central to all other nonviolence changes.

The call closed with a reading of Campaign Nonviolence’s pledge:

I wholeheartedly pledge to take a stand against violence and to help build a culture of active nonviolence.

I will strive to:

  • Practice nonviolence toward myself.
  • Practice nonviolence toward all others.
  • Practice nonviolence by joining the global movement to abolish war, end poverty, stop the destruction of the earth and foster a just and peaceful world for all.

Next month’s call, scheduled for May 31, will feature Erica Chenoweth, co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works. Learn more about Campaign Nonviolence’s 2016 initiatives, including how to join conference calls. Sign CNV’s pledge, and double your distance by adding your name to our pledge too.

UPDATE on 4/28/16: When I uploaded these call notes, I didn’t know that CNV was also preparing a recap. You may want to check out their summary as well, especially since it includes a recording of the conversation.

Rethinking Earth Day Celebrations

The following piece is and adapted version of a post that originally appeared on the Peace Resource Center of San Diego’s (PRCSD) Facebook page. Stephanie Knox Cubbon, Director of Education at the Metta Center, serves on the PRCSD board.


Every year for Earth Day, San Diego holds Earth Fair, which bills itself as the “largest annual free environmental fair in the world.” Last year, I rode my bike to Balboa Park, where the fair takes place, a bike route that I frequent as I go about town. The difference on this particular day was the traffic: normally not congested, it was bumper-to-bumper, and I huffed and puffed my way up the steep hill, choking on the exhaust coming out of the cars. This is no way to celebrate Earth Day! I thought. There should be less traffic on Earth Day, not more…

Things only got worse as I got to the park. Consumerism was rampant, and booth after booth was selling things—cheap t-shirts, junk food, things we don’t need. I felt a sense of dismay. The spirit of so many people wanting to come out and celebrate the Earth was positive, and seeing people come out to enjoy the park on a beautiful day and be in community was lovely, but how we were celebrating this day—a day originally intended for awareness-raising and conservation—troubled me. It seemed like we were missing the point. The very event that was supposed to celebrate and care for the Earth was committing violence against it, with all the pollution, over-consumption and waste being generated. Is this really how the Earth would want us to celebrate her? I kept thinking, and How does the Earth want to be celebrated?

This year, for these reasons, I did not participate in this particular Earth Fair, but the day itself offers an opportunity for reflection on my relationship with the Earth and how I might live more sustainably and more deeply commit to the Great Turning, as Rivera Sun recently wrote. I try to celebrate Earth Day every day, and some of the main ways I do this include: eating a plant-based diet, riding my bicycle as much as possible, driving (my hybrid vehicle) only when necessary, buying things as a last resort. I find Sarah Lazarovic’s Buyerarchy of Needs an inspiring guide for consumption:


I realize I am lucky in that I live within biking distance to the park, and I am healthy and able to ride my bicycle. I know this is not the case for everyone. But I know there are many more of us who could do this, and many of us could take public transportation. While San Diego’s public transportation system is inadequate and slow, Earth Day is a great reason to take it, even if it takes an extra hour to get there. Maybe the long bus ride will provide inspiration to share our voices for better regional planning, and demand more buses, trains, trolley lines and bike lanes rather than freeway expansions.

We can get caught in the trap of “buying green,” when really what we need to do is simply buy less. Yes, it might be better to buy the greener version of a product, but ultimately we need to ask ourselves if we really need the product. Just because something claims to be green doesn’t mean that it actually is, and often the greenest thing we can do is to not buy at all. We can ask ourselves: Do I really need another organic cotton t-shirt, or can I make do with the ones I have? To paraphrase our friend Gandhi, there’s enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed, and we can ask ourselves this question (need or greed?) each time we think of consuming or using something.

Of course we are much more than just consumers, and our relationship to the Earth is not just based on consumption. We are the Earth. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says:

TNH Earth

I am still working on how I can better celebrate Mother Earth, take better care of her, protect her and live in greater harmony with her. It’s an ever-evolving process. Next weekend I’ll be participating in the Earth Holder retreat at Deer Park Monastery to learn how to take better care of our precious planet together in mindfulness community (full report to follow!).

The Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet from the Mindfulness Bell Magazine can serve as inspiration for how you might celebrate Earth Day every day. There’s something all of us can do, and it’s going to take all of us to heal our precious planet.

How do you plan to celebrate Earth Day this year?

As you reflect on your relationship to the Earth, what commitments do you want to make?

Re-Sourcing Activism

“The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace.  It destroys our own inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” ~ Thomas Merton

This morning, I put on the yellow Champion polyester shirt matching the yellow Polar watch that records heart rate, calories and miles.  I am training for a race in Marina Bay in June.  A month ago, I started running again, 20 years and a half a dozen injuries after I stopped.

During the walk to the Berkeley Aquatic Park, my preferred running site, I noticed a tiny bird whose name I do not know sitting on the edge of a rooftop, singing its heart out.  The trees framing the sides of the house swayed and rattled in the cool air, and a soft sun peeked through the web of leaves. A bush of geranium flowers tickled my nose when I breathed in its sweetness. In the back of my mind, a scolding voice demanded that I “stop it with the distractions” and “get to it.” A few steps later, a bed of roses, pink, red and coral, each with its own scent, called to me. A few more steps after that, a brown furry cat with green eyes approached me cautiously, then moved closer to caress my calves with its torso while brushing my knee with its tail. Across the street, a little girl next to a kneeling mother pointed and smiled our way.

“I don’t want to miss that,” my heart whispered.

The scolding voice was low yet still audible: “You are wasting time.”  I put my hand to my heart and forgave myself. I forgave myself for having resistance to healthy exercise. I forgave myself for not meeting my own high expectations of the moment. I put my hand to my heart and felt something else open: Patience. I trusted I would start my run after I crossed the train tracks near Bolivar Drive. I trusted I could still add value to life even when I wasn’t “making it happen.”

black sneakers

My run started out slow, focusing on ease of breath and step. I easily fell into a rhythm, with my body warming up, my limbs easing into agility. At first, I was running intervals, meaning I was running for a certain amount of breaths and walking fast for another set amount of breaths. My own body nudged me into running longer and longer intervals, while honoring the breaths of “rest” in between. In what seemed like a blink, I passed what has been my regular turnaround point. I waved at the shaded platform that juts out into the water, into duck and kayak territory, knowing I could run a full circle around the water this time, and that I could run to the end without stopping. The trees and wind and endless sky all seemed to agree. There was only this knowing, and ease. There was no pushing.

When I met my goal, I lifted my arms and imagined myself breaking a blue race ribbon, coming in first, me with my objections, my judgments and the roses, ducks, kayaks, Frisbees, dogs and children that I met along the way. Felt like a “we” win.

I remembered the words of Martin Prechtel: “Life is a race to be elegantly run, not a race to be competitively won.”

I opened my apartment door to kick off my black sneakers and reach for my notepad. In it, I scribbled:

“From the fantasy that isolates to the dream that reconnects.”

Tell me…

Do you have an ideal you punish and isolate yourself for not meeting?

What helps you reconnect to inspiration, ease and belonging?

Tell me so I can forgive myself a little more, and run with you.

Person-Power Bodies: Instruments of Peace

This past weekend, the Metta Center hosted our Person-Power Yoga Retreat. As a yoga teacher, I’m constantly exploring links between our individual mind-body health and societal health. I had planned to speak about creating greater peace and happiness within ourselves and around us by consciously hacking our nervous systems. Toward the end of the retreat, we collectively favored group discussion, so we didn’t get around to my talk. Since a few people expressed curiosity about the topic, I’ve re-purposed the ideas into a post. Enjoy!


We are much more than our bodies—we are mind and spirit too. Yet it is very much through our amazing bodies that we live as human beings.

It is through our bodies that we experience person power, our ability to convert destructive states like fear and anger into constructive energies like love and compassion. It therefore makes sense to understand how we can wisely use our bodies to develop our person power.

Do you remember how you first learned about the human body? For many of us who grew up in the US, this grade-school song was lesson #1:

This song conveyed the idea that underneath our skin, we were just bones. But what about the parts of us we can’t easily identify, like the thoughts and emotions that arise and are expressed in our bodies—what is their meaning in our lives? What about the fact that we all came into being on this planet and that, as a result, we’re in this life thing together, not separately? That we’re in relationship with the rest of life around us, because that life makes our existence not only possible but a joy?

Our bodies are bona fide instruments of peace: we can consciously fine-tune our nervous systems to create inner and outer harmony.

To continue with the music metaphor, I’ll draw on artistic advice from the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma: “With every year of playing, you want to relax one more muscle. Why? Because the more tense you are, the less you can hear.” With a tiny tweak, his words apply to everyone: “With every year of loving, you want to relax one more muscle. Why? Because the more tense you are, the less you can hear.”cello playing

In one way or another, nonviolence requires listening—to the verbal and physical communication of others as well as whatever feelings arise in our bodies. If we’re not aware of what arises within ourselves, how can we evolve it or make good use of it?

We’ve all felt rigid in an interpersonal situation, when the harmony between ourselves and someone else was out of whack and we found it really hard to listen. We might have felt the discord in our bodies too, with a tightening in the breath or maybe in the tensity of hunched up shoulders. And we’ve felt the peaceful ease that comes into the body when we open up to the other person so that we can resolve the conflict.

There is another important component of listening to our bodies: self-care. The body can tell us when to slow down, get more rest, spend more time in the woods or surfing or pursuing whatever passions make us feel alive. If we ignore those messages we pay the price with burnout, illness, unhappiness. Listening to our bodies is like person power vitamins—we can’t make a difference if we’re worn out or unhappy. We can’t bring harmony back into a relationship unless we can soften our hearts and minds enough to relax and hear others.

Anyway we slice it, our bodies are involved in making change.

When the stakes are really high, our human bodies are literally on the front lines of change. During Gandhi’s campaigns in India and throughout the civil rights movement, people took on physical abuse, even death, to illustrate injustices. Because the activists had mastered their bodies, by training themselves to forgo reactivity and by anchoring to their spiritual ideals, they changed history.

One of my favorite nonviolence stories highlighting how our bodies can be on the front lines is when Amandine Roche, a human rights worker and yoga teacher, disarmed a suicide bomber while she was working in Afghanistan, with nothing more than a smile. Long story short: her inner voice told her to smile at him, and she listened to that voice. Observing but not caving to her fear, she ran up to him, made eye contact with and smiled at him. That small recognition of his humanity was enough—he took off the suicide vest and walked away. (Hear Roche’s full story in her Peace Paradigm Radio Q&A).

A simple smile, as Roche proved, can do wonders. Science backs this up. As the Italian neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni points out, the mirror neurons in our brains will register the feel-good responses associated with a smile as our own. So fine-tuning the harmony within our bodies, by playing down fear and playing up love, can go a long way in creating peace around us. It might even save lives.

Our incredible human bodies have evolved for love, as Barbara Fredrickson writes in her book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. Physiologically speaking, our chests lift and expand when our bodies and minds feel good, which makes us more open for connecting with others. In the physical practice of yoga, we often do chest-opening poses that replicate this physiology, literally creating a physical memory of love in the body.

One of the body’s most incredible tools at our disposal, as Fredrickson also notes, is the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve. It runs down from the brain stem and travels into the body, where its tree-like roots connect to all our organs, including the heart and lungs.

The world’s religions and mythologies all have their version of a sacred tree or tree of life, and I like to think of the vagus nerve as our personal tree of life. Not only does it oversee the body’s involuntary functions, it also feeds information from the body back to the brain, which then adjusts its instructions to the body accordingly. For example, it regulates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which kicks in our calming mechanisms during fight-or-flight responses.

People with strong vagal tone are more resilient to stress and recover more quickly from illness. A low vagal tone can lead to outbreaks of depression and anxiety. Needless to say, having high vagal tone is vital for our person power: it’s key to resiliency and acting from a place of love.

Just like muscles, the vagus nerve can be strengthened with training. With practices like yoga and meditation, we literally build up our vagal tone, consciously boosting the body’s ability to tap the calming powers of the parasympathetic nervous system. We can’t control what happens around us, but we can choose how we respond. Yoga and meditation prepare us to instinctively go with calm, which can help set the conditions by which others tap their own peace.

Refugee Stories from Izmir

The following post was contributed by Annika Roes, who is currently in Izmir, Turkey, where she is volunteering with a refugee support group. Annika interned with the Metta Center last April.


It is a Tuesday night, and it is already a bit late when the doorbell rings. Another five people have come to join the Volunteers of Izmir.

The room is already full of people and there are no chairs left—but the newcomers are greeted and five glasses of steaming tea are quickly filled. Then there is a clap from one side of the room. “Guys, back to order! Let’s plan what we’ll do this week. So we’ll have three groups for Wednesday…” The  Volunteers of Izmir that now fill up that room are a group of Turkish and international people who only assembled themselves a few weeks ago to help the refugees in Izmir. Every week, more people join the volunteers, and more people receive help. (more…)

A Lesson (Still) Not Learned

Thanks to Counter Punch, Pace e Bene, and The Sierra County Prospect for publishing this essay on their sites.


I was deeply saddened to read last week of the death by suicide of Cmdr. Job Price who was with a Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan.

I was even sadder when I realized that the hopeful idea that sprung up in my mind was naive: “Now maybe people will understand why soldiers commit suicide.” The only reasons for his suicide that the media could offer were the usual suspects: it was a bad deployment, “a cautionary tale of how men were ground down by years of fighting and losing comrades,” and of course, the old fallback that puts a stop to the whole inquiry, “no one knows why.”

The fact is, we know very well why soldiers and veterans commit suicide – if we allow ourselves to know it. In his book, “On Killing,” Lt. Col. David Grossman describes that from the beginning of the historical record up to the Korean War, soldiers were extremely reluctant to kill their fellow human beings, going so far as reloading weapons they hadn’t fired.  Muskets were found on the battlefields of the American Civil War with as many as eighteen balls rammed down the barrel in this pretense. And what Grossman concluded has been strongly confirmed by science: human beings have a strong, inherent inhibition against killing and injuring their fellows.

We can, of course, be trained or conditioned to go against this inhibition; but what results is what psychologist Rachel MacNair calls Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS), a form of PTSD that affects not only combat soldiers but police officers, prison guards who carry out “legal” executions, and many others. In any of these people, the cognitive dissonance can lead to suicide. This inhibition is arguably what makes us human; we cannot violate it without serious consequences, no matter what society or our conscious minds tell us about it’s being necessary, or even glorious.

This inhibition, which we should be very proud of, goes back so far in evolution that we are born with “mirror neurons” in our brain that cause us to feel what others feel. Distinguished neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni of UCLA says, “Although we commonly think of pain as a fundamentally private experience, our brain actually treats it as an experience shared with others.”

In Grossman’s second book, “Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” he reports that after the military had discovered how few men were actually firing their weapons in combat situations, it set about conditioning recruits to override the inhibition. In some cases, they simply used the same games that our children are playing on their X-Box or Playstation (hence Grossman’s title). They were very “successful” – that is, in increasing the firing rate – not in changing human nature.

A SEAL is supposed to be beyond all this, but the case of Cmdr. Price shows it isn’t so. Now, I have no idea what goes into the making of a Navy SEAL, but as part of basic training in the regular army, recruits shout out in unison when asked the purpose of the bayonet “to kill, kill without mercy.” But to be without mercy is to be without your humanity. And this is what veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are telling us: “I lost my soul in Iraq,” “I no longer like who I am,” etc.

When will we realize that the reluctance to kill and injure is not an inconvenience, but a precious capacity that we should celebrate and reward and that we could use as a guide to how we can and should live?

There was, to be sure, one hint in the press: just before he killed himself, Cmdr. Price had in his pocket a report about an Afghan girl who had died in an explosion near the base. But it was mentioned without comment, and of course with no attempt to draw conclusions. It’s left to you and me to tell this story when and wherever we get a chance. Of course, it means that Americans will have to rethink how we conduct ourselves in the international arena, how we treat offenders in our society – many such things must be examined and re-examined, and we shouldn’t shrink from this challenge. The alternative is to go on dehumanizing our servicemen and women, who are already committing suicide at an appalling rate. And why should we shrink from it, when if we accept it we can build a far better world based on the true recognition of who we are.

Emergence: The Winter 2015/2016 Issue

Emerg cover_Winter 2015:2016MC Yogi appears on the cover of the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Emergence, which revolves around yoga, spirituality, and action.

In addition to touring the world with his music, MC Yogi runs a yoga studio in Point Reyes Station, CA. He has taught yoga at diverse venues, from festivals and museums to the White House (yes, that White House).

You won’t want to miss our feature Q&A with him—he dives deep into our questions about his music, Gandhi’s activism, and what change looks like for him.

This latest issue of Emergence is being packaged and addressed—it should be reaching mailboxes very soon. Not a regular donor lined up to receive the print edition? You’ll still be able to see the whole issue: we’ll share the PDF version with you in early February.


Behavior Change Practices in Schools

Perhaps part of what makes restorative practices so effective is that these practices embody a variety of approaches to behavior change.

These approaches markedly contrast with what many media outlets have served the public in 2015; numerous news reports, that highlighted the use of physical force and sometimes violence in schools, dominated the public’s attention on school behavior management. Some examples of these stories can be found here and here.

Kids raise handsAlthough these news stories highlighted legitimate school behavioral management concerns, they provide little in way of explaining how behavior change could function in school settings. They framed behavior change as a choice; that is, students might logically choose not to engage in these behaviors again because of harsh consequences (this is a part of the theory of reasoned action). They stressed the use of power to force behavior change. Ultimately, they provided little incentive for readers to consider engaging in empathy, understanding, or compassion for all people involved, so that readers might develop a more comprehensive understanding of behavior change.