Metta’s Opinion

In Brief: Pledge of Nonviolence

“Believing as we do that life is an interconnected whole, and that there is an inescapable harmony between means and ends, and convinced by the proven effectiveness of nonviolent struggles in a just cause, we take the following pledge…”

And so begins Metta Center’s “A Pledge of Nonviolence.” Pledging to nonviolence of course requires so much more than adding our names to a list (if only it were that easy!); it’s a serious commitment gracing every aspect of our lives.

I’ve signed the pledge as a friendly reminder to myself: “This is the path you’ve chosen. Tread with gentle feet, go forward with a courageous heart.”

forest trail with birch trees

To take the pledge is to commit to a lifetime of exploration and learning. I make mistakes (the blunders I can make sometimes!) and encounter unsureness, but I find these experiences incredibly freeing. As unsettling as some of these moments can be, I ultimately know that they’re stepping stones between what was and will be.

Nonviolence is always a present-moment opportunity. It’s how we put our intentions and knowledge into play; it’s where our deepest hearts’ longing for peace and total freedom meet our minds’ capacities to see connection.

“…[W]e will refrain from violence in deed, word, and as far as possible even in thought.”

This part of the Pledge’s first point can be very hard to meet, especially in times calling for urgent and simultaneous action on so many fronts. It can feel overwhelming, even exasperating. And that is why taking the pledge involves recognizing our greatest strength, our ability to grow into who we already are—conscious, creative, loving beings.

The Practice of Peacemaking in Early Childhood

A Higher Education:

The Practice of Peacemaking in Early Childhood-Brief Reflections.

Huong

By Stephanie Van Hook

A friend or spouse turns to you and says something unkind. How do you respond? Do you lash out with hurt and anger? Resentment? Or do you take a breath; perhaps even walk away for a moment, and return later to talk it out, all while trying to understand yourself and the other person better? Do you recommit yourself to the bond you and your friend have formed in the spirit of the higher goals toward which you are working?

Now ask yourself, how would you like your child to respond in a similar situation?

Peacemaking is a life skill. Some of us are lucky to receive such training in our early adulthood, but I know of a classroom where children as young as three years old practice resolving their conflicts nonviolently. Doing so, they grow daily in empathy and compassion.

These children attest to the reality that living among others has its difficulties. Unkindness and disrespect hurt us all. These forms of violence hurt children more deeply because they are still learning to get their bearings on this new world into which they have entered.

Children in early childhood are forming their vision of humanity, asking in their hearts whether the world is a friendly or unfriendly place. They answer this question by listening and observing: how do the people I love treat one another? how do they treat me? how do they treat others who are not a part of our family or community? And like good scientists, they experiment: what will happen if I respond by doing this? Will I lose love and affection if I do this?

Unkindness and disrespect, however, are even more problematic because they are compulsions–unconscious habits we have been forming in response to having situations go the way that we would prefer. In other words, they are manifestations of our own relationship to power.

Power is not negative, except when it is used to dominate others. This dynamic is referred to as exercising “power over.” We exercise this kind of power when we Insist that someone does something “our way” or else (fill in the threat here). Adults do not respond well to this kind of a relationship, neither do children. Or even animals! Even if you get “what you want,” the relationship suffers.

Another form of power over is referred to as “exchange power.” Give me what I want, and I’ll give you something you want. As for any disenfranchised group such as children–a group whose voices are only heard because of adult allies–exchange power already begins on an unequal footing: you cannot fully engage in an exchange when ultimately the person with whom you are exchanging is dependent on you. If you only would do things the way I want, I will give you this thing (that reinforces your desire)… It’s a vicious cycle.

The third form of power breaks the dynamic of the threat and exchange, and transforms the negativity of the situation into an opportunity to deepen the relationship in question. This is called “integrative power.” Instead of it working as a power over model, it functions as a form of “power with.” I am going to stay true to myself, and in doing so, it will bring us closer together, even if I have to resist negative behavior–from myself or others– in the process. This is the heart of nonviolence.

The space of integrative power is a world in and of itself. In this place, one has to discover who one is, or at least, have a working sense of what that means. This does not come naturally–it requires practice. How can I know that I am really kind if I have no practice of being kind in the face of unkindness? What happens to my kindness and confidence when someone challenges me? Can I learn as a child how to draw from these reservoirs? Or have all of my attempts at resolving conflicts been intervened in, mediated and judged by a grown-up, or simply controlled by someone other than myself?

It’s not easy taking a step back and observing when the child is working through a conflict. However, it is entirely worth it. For instance, when you hear in the middle of a conversation around a conflict that seems to be going nowhere, one child realizes that the person with whom she is speaking may need a tissue. Can I get you one? The child is growing in her confidence around empathy and the situation enabled her to reveal it on her own. It’s an amazing discovery.

MariaMontessoriConsider the words of Dr. Montessori:

“These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying : ‘Help me to do it alone!'”

The role of the grown-up is simple: help the child to do it alone. Offer the tools of peacebuilding–the words when needed, the personal examples and even the worldview through storytelling and other media choices.

When a child hurts another with her words or even deeds, ask them how it felt, whether it resolved their problem, and what they can do. Help them to widen their vision to see that violence creates only more problems and let them take the lead in imagining nonviolent solutions–i.e. What do you think would work to resolve this? Let’s make a list of ideas and talk about them. (It is important to emphasize here that the adult’s perceptions will influence those of the child–such as labeling other children as “bad,” “mean” or as “bullies.” You can critique a behavior without mis-labeling the child who is learning who they are…) But most importantly, give them–and everyone to the greatest extent possible– the gift of an environment of practice. Create in your homes and in your lives a space where we have opportunities to review mistakes and offer suggestions around trying again in a new way that upholds the dignity of all. Explain that we do this in an effort to make our greatest contribution to the well-being of everyone. This is the highest form of education.

 

Listen to this interview with Montessori educator Andrée Young on Peace Paradigm Radio. 

 

Traveling into the Heart of Gandhi’s Work

While connecting with friends and supporters on Facebook earlier today, we noticed the following post by Benjamin Brown, who participated in portions of our Certificate in Nonviolence Studies and is currently in Mumbai, India. We found his post so touching that we asked his permission to share his words. We quote him directly. All photos courtesy of Benjamin Brown.

Photo of Mani BhavanJust leaving the Gandhi House “Mani Bhavan,” in central Mumbai… Words aren’t really gonna do it here, but I’ll try anyways:

So I was told I’d probably stay for an hour or so, and I ended up staying for 6… Two minutes after I walked in, suddenly overcome with emotion, I excused myself, and cried my eyes out in the side ally, as all the memories flooded back from Gandhi books & movies I’d studied over the past couple years… Whoa… I’m actually here. The heart of the largest nonviolent campaign ever waged in human history… The energy in this place and within myself is palpable, like a pilgrimage I didn’t even know I was on…

A little background: Mani Bhavan served as Gandhi’s Mumbai headquarters from 1917-1934. He learned carding and spinning here, which later became the “charka,” or keystone symbol / leverage point of India’s Independence. Gandhi issued his unregistered weekly bulletin “Satyagraha” from here. He organized boycotts on foreign cloth, fasted in protest of riots, and got previously banned literature re-legalized from here. He called the country to observe January 26th as Independence Day from Mani Bhavan, and much much more…

TPhoto of Gandhi Libraryoday, the building, (a 4 story mansion on an amazingly quiet street for Mumbai), serves as the homely Gandhi Museum. It holds the largest collection of books about Gandhi, read by Gandhi, and written by Gandhi. His personal spinning wheel is housed here, along with many other items that he used during his stays. There are extensive timelines, photographs, & texts about his life and India’s fight for liberation. My favorite part however, (though I don’t think I was supposed to be there), was on the roof, where Gandhiji’s big canvas tent was often set up outside of the monsoon season.

I laid in the shade of the staircase housing, listening to the sounds of the city below, and tried to imagine those hot summer days he spent up here reading, resting, and helping to create a new world. I wondered what his inner state must have been in these times of deep contemplation and creativity. I caught what I thought to be some essence of this man as I dozed off to sleep, and proceeded to have several really vivid dreams along these lines…Photo of Gandhi poster

I’ll be gestating on these for a while, I’m sure, but in short I’d like to simply state that “My life has always been, and is now more consciously coming into service of Life.” This is no longer a test drive, something to be scared of or make trivial. This is IT. And much like Gandhi, I’m beginning to take it a lot more seriously… Today was a mile marker, a landmark on my path by which to guide myself… And I’m deeply grateful for it.

I’m also deeply grateful for a couple special people, without whose inspiration, I probably wouldn’t have found myself here, literally or metaphorically: Michael Nagler, Stephanie Van Hook, & Nicholas Ernesto Sismil of The Metta Center for Nonviolence Education… Thank you all for helping to bring the heart of Gandhi’s work into my life. It has and will continue to be a very special thing for me…

Beyond Ferguson: the Deeper Issue

Michael Nagler’s op-ed as seen here first appeared at HuntingtonNews.net on December 4, 2014. You may also want to read The Shanti Sena Network’s response to Ferguson we posted last week.

It can only be a good thing that the attention of the nation is focused on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and its aftermath. However, if the debate continues to be on the details of this particular case–many of which will likely never be known–or even on the growing problem of police heavy-handedness, or even the besetting problem of racism in America, we will never reach a solution to these tragedies.

As one minister from the region pointed out, every time a black person is killed by a white police officer, the country is split in two.  What we need is a national dialogue on unity, on healing.  I agree; but I think we need to go even further.

We need to remember the prophetic words that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pronounced from the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, in his famous sermon called Beyond Vietnam: “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” he said, and to cure this malady “we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  King instinctively knew and often said that racism was a form of violence, so until violence itself was addressed racism would never leave us.  And he was right.

I am not in the habit of patronizing the mainstream media, but I did see that even as the reports and debates over Ferguson rolled on last week they were interspersed, on the TV set in the men’s locker room at the gym I go to, with a “reality” show where a woman sneered in rage against someone else (not being able to hear the sound from the room I was in only made the mental state of the people clearer).  Sure enough, the word RAGE in huge letters came on the screen, evidently the name of this show or the whole program, and indeed the more she raged the more the audience roared in approval.  Am I watching a gladiatorial game in ancient Rome or a reality show in America, I asked myself.  My point is this: if we do not want the brutality of some policemen, or of anyone else, we will have to stop the brutalization of the human image that has become, even since King’s day, a norm of popular “entertainment.”

No act of violence occurs in a vacuum; it occurs in an atmosphere, a climate, a culture.  In the Beyond Vietnam speech King connected the dots between the racism of our northern or southern ghettos and the violence that pervaded our “policy and values.”  We can specify today that the way we’re supporting wrong policies and wrong values is very largely with the dehumanization, what he called the “thing-orientation” of our commercial media.  A lot of good research has established this point – research that is no less valid for its being largely ignored.

Of course, there are other things we can do to address the kind of violence of which the tragic killing of Michael Brown has become an icon.  We can stop militarizing the police – a blatant violation of the principle, enshrined in the Posse Comitatus Act in this country, that in a democracy military forces are not to be used against its own people.  We can greatly spread and support the establishment of peace teams that have been so effective – often moreso than, and appreciated by, local police – in making police intervention unnecessary in certain community situations and calming disturbances that are likely to occur after a tragedy like this one.  But measures like these by themselves will not go far enough unless we are also addressing the root cause, the cause that underlies racism itself, which is violence.  And since a large part of today’s violence comes from the images of who we are and how we are to relate to one another, and since these images are put before us most effectively by our violent media, there is one simple step every one of us can take: not to watch them.  This is the platform on which we can build the world of trust and peace we seem to be crying for, a world in which not only police brutality but all kinds of violence are all but gone.

Ferguson Statement- Shanti Sena Network

risk-peace-and-justice_1

Response to Ferguson from the Shanti Sena Network:

Whether or not you believe that Darren Wilson is guilty, no one can deny that trust in the American police force is really low. This trust is especially low in communities of color and low income communities.  A list of demands from Ferguson protestors included: a plan to end racial profiling, more diversity in the police force, investigating criminalization of communities of color, an end to over-policing and criminalization of poverty, and a representative police force and intentional officer training. In regards to the last demand mentioned, it was written,

“We believe that a police force should be representative of those citizens that it is designed to serve and protect.”

Can we really reform the police? While there may be a place for reform, most people are not aware of alternatives to the police. For those involved in the Shanti Sena Network, the idea of ‘peace teams’ is the cutting edge of alternative community security that is just beginning to take shape.

What are Peace Teams? The idea for peace teams (or Shanti Sena) originated by Gandhi who believed that in order for true peace to reign, societies must have trained groups of people dedicated to nonviolence and nonviolent conflict transformation. The job of these teams or armies would be the same as the police or military, with one caveat: their brand of serving and protecting would be 100% committed to nonviolence and only use nonviolent methods. While peace teams have been sent overseas with a high success rate for international conflict intervention through such organizations as Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, and others, domestic community based peace teams are a new development that organizations such as Meta Peace Team, DC Peace Team, Emergency Peace Teams, and others are exploring.

What is UCP?  “Unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) refers to the use of unarmed civilians to do ‘peacekeeping’. Peacekeeping is about preventing, reducing and stopping violence. Unarmed civilian peacekeeping is a generic term that gives recognition to a wide range of activities by unarmed civilians to reduce violence and protect civilians in situations of violent conflict.” -from Nonviolentpeaceforce.org

Why are these things relevant to Ferguson/police brutality?

Protestors can fight for police reform, and they may see some changes (President Obama recently announced he is setting up a task force to see how to improve modern day policing, and met with activists along with Vice President Biden and Eric Holder). A few changes here and there do not address the underlying structural violence of the police that seems built into a system that not only targets communities of color and low income people, but also seems at times to enforce unjust laws and suppress constitutional freedom, thus contributing to the continuation of the cycle of violence; think, for example, of  the cruelty perpetuated in the prisons. So if we want to move beyond small reforms here and there, how can we harness the energy of recent protests and use it for concrete action towards our goal of major structural change?

We want to actually address the conditions that cultivate criminal acts, and thus get to the source of the problem, so we can have REAL long term change. That is why it is absolutely important that we empower ourselves with the tools of nonviolent de-escalation, conflict intervention, and restorative justice practices so that local communities can learn how to transform their own conflicts and be responsible for their own security. We are passionate about safety, justice, peace, courageous action and humane treatment of all.

Building this alternative to the police is in line with what Gandhi called ‘Constructive Program.’ We seek to create new structures that run parallel to existing structures. This way we do not have to only spend our energy in protest and demanding reform, but we can be actively engaged in creation of a new infrastructure that truly fits the needs of each community.

So if you share the passion that the protestors feel and desire a change, we invite you to become involved and learn more about what we believe might become the future of security.

 

On Fear: An Excercise in Personal Power

A funny thing happens when I receive love, appreciation, support: I freak out. An intense fear permeates the whole body. From the outside, I probably appear calm (unless you’re standing right next to me, in which case you’ll notice my face growing red and sweaty). But on the inside, I experience a frenetic energy that muddles my thinking and tightens my breathing. Curious how fear shows up for us sometimes, isn’t it?

image of tarantulaPut me in the midst of interpersonal turmoil, and I’ll sail through it with total clarity and confidence. Talk someone out of stabbing another person? Hold my mental own against a very strong man on an alcohol-induced rampage? I’ve done both with zero hesitation or fear. I used to wobble at the sight of the standard house spider. I now live with jungle for a backyard, and tarantulas bigger than my hand occasionally sneak into my casita, and I mindfully relocate them. But place me in an intimate social setting, and the survival instincts trip false alarms; I habitually go haywire. What do you experience when fear snags you?

While I may be fearless in shaky physical situations, I can nevertheless get rocked off center by feelings of unworthiness, the emotional expression of fearing connection. The inner child’s voice tells me not to trust closeness. “Don’t go there,” she warns. “It’s unreliable, and it’ll lead to hurt and humiliation.”

At Metta Center, we tend to put being before doing. Our staff and board meetings typically open with the sharing of personal revelations—in short, the nurturing of loving, appreciative and supportive connections. This revealing places me squarely in my discomfort zone. My voice quivers, I rush through words and forget important points. During my first board meeting, joined by phone, fearful feelings jolted me with adrenaline. The flight mechanism kicked into high gear, but of course there was nothing to run from—or to. While sitting in my chair with the phone muted, I found release in a burst of tears. Good, I thought. Let the tensity rise. Let it rise!

Transformation, individual as well as societal, depends on the arising and dissolving of unreleased tensions. It can be discomforting to reveal who we really are—in so doing, we go against the grain of superficial interactions. What a risky feat in a culture that claims we’re empty-headed consumers on an insatiable quest for material pleasure and in a never-ending race to the top (wherever that is). Revealing who we are, then, is an obstructive rejection of separation and a constructive reappropriation of our physical, mental and spiritual energies.

A couple of weeks ago, Metta Center asked me to join their staff as Director of Communications. I’m both honored and humbled to contribute my love for creative communications in a meaningful way. The world needs stories that elevate the understanding of our inherent human worth and potential, and I’m ready to help bring those stories into being. image of keyThe members of Metta Center’s team are my collaborators and spiritual teachers rolled into one. By inviting me to join the staff, they’ve graced me with a golden key to my svadharma, what our founder and president Michael Nagler calls “the articulation of your capacities with the needs of the world in which you find yourself.”

Work that offers us no chance to practice, develop and maintain peace and harmony for ourselves and the people we share our everyday lives with is work humanity no longer needs. May we all find and live our svadharma.

If anything I’ve shared in this post resonates with you, you may be interested in a day-long retreat on personal power hosted by Michael Nagler, Stephanie Van Hook and Linda Sartor. Scheduled for December 7, the retreat is called “Turning Fear Into Power.” If you’ll be in the Santa Rosa, CA area, you can register for it here.

Ahimsa Center Conference 2014

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Ahimsa Center biannual conference on nonviolence at California Polytechnic University Pomona, and in this blog post I would like to share with you a round-up of the conference presentations and a little about my own experience, takeaways, reflections and lingering questions.

-Stephanie Knox Cubbon, Metta’s Director of Education

ahimsa program “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Background

The Ahimsa Center was founded in 2004 by Dr. Tara Sethia, a distinguished scholar, author, nonviolence practitioner and history professor at CSU Pomona. In addition to hosting the conference, the center houses the minor in Nonviolence Studies which Dr. Sethia coordinates, a biannual summer fellowship for K-12 educators to learn about nonviolence, and numerous other educational programs and outreach activities on campus and in the local community. This year’s conference theme was Care, Compassion and Mindfulness, and the panelists included educators, religious scholars, psychologists, designers, and artists – people from a wide variety of fields who are incorporating these themes into their work. The interdisciplinary approach led to an enriching cross-pollination of ideas and allowed each of us to bring in new perspectives from other fields.

 

Some of the key themes during the conference included:

Happiness and fulfillment come from within us

In his opening talk, Dr. Allan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute of Consciousness Studies talked about “cultivating conative intelligence.” He explained conation as the mental faculty of purpose, desire, will to perform an action, or volition. He described conative unintelligence as when we try to escape suffering, we run right towards it, primarily through craving and attachment (which causes more suffering).

What does this have to do with happiness? He discussed two types of happiness, hedonic happiness, the stimulus-driven pleasure derived from what we get from the world (such as through food, sex, and material goods), and eudaimonic or genuine happiness, which is derived from what we bring to the world.  Dr. Wallace explained,  “As long as we are seeking happiness through hedonic pleasures, we are gamblers and the house always wins.” The materialistic worldview and consumer way of life that we find ourselves in currently (the “old story”) is hedonistic, and is essentially doomed. Dr. Wallace urged us to develop a richer vision of a good life, which includes meditation (which he compared to “mental hygiene”) as well as shifting our priorities towards finding purpose and meaning in life. If you know Metta’s work, this should sound familiar! What Dr. Wallace was saying resonates with the second of Metta’s five propositions in our vision, namely that we cannot be fulfilled through consumption (as much as the media would like us to believe), and can only find fulfillment through discovering our own person power and through the expansion of our relationships.  Check out Metta’s course on the Meaning of Life for more on that subject!

We are mind, body and spirit

Shamini Jain shared with us the fascinating research she is doing through the Consciousness and Healing Initiative to research the “biofield” therapies – energy therapies such as reiki, acupuncture, and others that work with what ancient healing traditions call the energy body (prana, chi, qi). Emphasizing that we are mind, body and spirit, she said all of these modalities have some similarities, such as:

  • the assumptions  that consciousness is primary and that healing takes place on all levels (mind, body & spirit)
  • the practitioner engages in grounding,  letting go of ego and connecting with universal energy
  • the practitioner uses gentle touch that directs energy flow through the system, and
  • the practitioner consciously intends for the patient’s highest good.

Her research attempts to bridge the gap between ancient traditions and modern science, which is an important contribution to the field of nonviolence!

Mindfulness and Moral Injury

Lisa Dale Miller talked about her work using mindfulness with veterans to heal moral injury, what she described as, in contrast to PTSD, the trauma induced by witnessing or actually compromising one’s own morals judgment. For example, moral injury may result from the deep grief and regret a soldier might feel for carrying out orders that go against their moral compass. In her work, she has found a “toolbox of awakened presence” that veterans can self-apply to heal from moral injury, such as nonharming, nonhatred, nongreed, and kind recognition to whatever comes. Her presentation made me reflect on the role that we can play to support the members in our communties who may be suffering from this kind of trauma, and how we might contribute to the collective healing needed from our engagement in decades of war.

Peace Ecology

Randall Amster, author of the new book Peace Ecology, shared with us about ethics of care for the Earth, and discussed the peacebuilding and transformational potential of the Earth, since it’s what we all have in common. He discussed the relationship between human-to-human and human-environmental conflict, and asked the question “How can we alter the cycle (of violence)?” While he acknowledged that window of opportunity for change is closing rapidly in terms of our environmental challenges, he holds the view that we still have potential to change if we can muster the will and take action.

Panel on Ethics and Methods of Caring and Healing

Mindful Parenting

Mindful parenting was also a theme, and Kozo Hattori  of Raising Compassionate Boys told us about his efforts to raise instill compassion in his sons. He humbly told his own struggles as a parent to raise compassionate boys in our society, and expressed how mistakes are opportunities to role model compassion and forgiveness.  His presentation touched upon themes of gender and how societally-imposed gender roles are hurtful to all genders.

Discipline, selfless service, nonattachment

Themes from Vedantic philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, and Jainism also appeared throughout the conference. Chris Chapple of Loyola Marymount University (which has the first Master of Arts program in Yoga Studies in the US) discussed the four immeasureables (lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) and the Bhagavad Gita. One of the themes that stood out to me was tapas – the will to develop a rhythm of purification, essentially spiritual discipline to let go and burn away (tapas literally means fire) anything that is keeping you from your true self, your highest potential. In my own life and practice lately, I have been contemplating this theme a lot, as we live in a society that generally tries to pull us away from, rather than support us in, our spiritual practice. In order to discover our own person power, we have to create some effort. The state of our world requires us to be disciplined with our  intentions and actions, and it’s a helpful reminder that all of the wisdom traditions emphasize discipline and an important part of the spiritual path.

Dr. Padmanabh Jain, professor emeritus of UC Berkeley, discussed the connection between ahimsa and aparigraha (nonclinging or nonattachment), saying that ahimsa is impossible without aparigraha, and that everything in excess is himsa, harming or violence. This made me reflect on our current culture:  What does this say about our society, which puts an emphasis on overconsumption and excess? What might happen if we think about our overconsumption as a form of violence? Dr. Jain encouraged us to consider that we already have enough – another helpful reminder.

Gandhi and Restorative Justice

Dr. Veena Howard shared about Gandhi’s strategy for restorative justice and how we desperately need this approach in the US, which has the highest prison population in the world. Gandhi thought of crime as disease, and that as a society we need to defeat crime but not criminals, and to understand and take responsibility for the conditions we are collectively creating that result crime. Click here to access Metta’s self-study resources on restorative justice and nonviolence.

How inspiring to be in a room full of people who are passionate about nonviolence!

Education

The last panel of the conference was on mindfulness in education, which gave me much food for thought. Christian Bracho asked us to remember the teachers who impacted us the most, and said in all likelihood,  it wasn’t a teacher who knew the content, but it was someone who really cared. For me this rang true, as I immediately thought of Mademoiselle Konig and Mr. Hoffman, my high school French and history teachers, who were two of the most caring teachers I encountered in my scholastic career. Who were the teachers who impacted you the most?

Another idea that emerged from the panel was that of peer coaching, and this has been on my mind a lot with respect to peace education. A lot of times, those of us who are doing peace and nonviolence education may feel isolated, like we are the only ones doing it, and we don’t really have the means to reflect on our own practice and get new ideas. So my personal goal after this conference is:

a)      To start a peer peace education meetup/coaching group in San Diego, where I live (and if you’re reading this, why not start one where you are?)

b)      If you are reading this blog and this idea interests you, I would also consider starting a monthly Google Hangout for those of us who may be in different places to connect virtually to discuss peace and nonviolence education. Interested? Email me! education@mettacenter.org

Vikas Shrivastava talked about the Mindful School Project, and what struck me most about his presentation is that he shared about lessons learned from what he called “a disaster.” Rather than share with us a success story (which is often the case in public presentations), he shared about what didn’t work. He talked about our tendency to project-ify and certify everything, to make everything into a framework that we can then sell and replicate, but in his opinion this is not necessarily the best way forward. He offered some suggestions, such as:

  • Working within your realm of influence (and not feeling the need to “scale up”)
  • Let go of the “franchise dream” (creating something that can be replicated)
  • Stay focused on the work you have
  • Serve at the request of others
  • Your life is your journey

In my notes I wrote “more teacher training institutes? Community workshops?” as ideas the percolated during his talk. In a discussion after the panel, some of the Ahimsa Center graduates (of the teacher training institute) discussed the need for more professional development opportunities in this area, which has my wheels churning.

 

Can empathy be disruptive?Selfless Service, Gift Ecology

Finally, the closing session was with the ever-inspiring Nipun Mehta of ServiceSpace.org, who discussed how being consumers is not our highest potential as human beings, and we unlock our greatest potential when we engage in selfless service. He also talked about the power of internal transformation, and how Gandhi’s internal transformation was really the engine of India’s liberation. He shared with us the principles of Service Space, which are:

  • Be volunteer run – unleash the power of many to see the collective intelligence that emerges
  • Don’t fundraise – unleash a gift ecology, and people’s cup of gratitude overflows
  • Focus on the small – unleash the ripple effect

He also talked about our need to think of different kinds of capital other than money, such as time, and how we are blind to other forms of “capital.”  He urged us to think differently about abundance, saying none of us were born into this world empty-handed. To help broaden our ideas of capital and abundance, he invited us to ask ourselves, “How can I help people today? What do we have, and how can we work with what we have?” Some of the best conversations took place around the meals that were part of the conference program (which were all vegetarian! You know you are at a good conference when vegan cupcakes are on the menu :).  The mealtimes gave us lots of opportunities to connect, network, and engage in rich discussions around these themes. I left the conference feeling very invigorated, with lots of questions, and with lots of new friends and connections with whom I can grapple with these questions.

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As I returned home to my neighborhood, brimming with inspiration from the weekend, I heard the news that the remains of the 43 missing students in Mexico had  been found.  The students were studying to be teachers, and were known for their activism around social justice issues, reminding me that we live in a world where teaching and learning about the state of the world – and critiquing it –  can get you killed. As the optimism and inspiration I was filled with met the despair and pain I felt from acknowledging this reality, I was reminded that we have so much work to do. But I feel prepared, and charged, to do that work. It’s our responsibility. Sunset from the car

Meditation: A Brief Reflection

“Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been practicing meditation for more than two years, and I come to this realization each and every time I sit: Meditation meets us where we’re at in life, opening and strengthening our hearts and minds where they most need to be.

As Eknath Easwaran and other masters have pointed out, meditation can’t be understood from an intellectual balanced stonesstandpoint. It’s by practicing that we develop the calm and wisdom needed to move through life with grace and ease, to bring greater peace into the world.

None of us is born enlightened—we all have a context that shapes who we are and become. Childhood poverty and rape deposited stones in my heart, hardening me in ways I couldn’t see or feel until I began meditating at the age of 39. Through my practice sessions, I regularly confront and dislodge these stones. Each extraction leads me to a fresh sense of freedom.

With each stone-plucking, I also gain a more profound compassion for others: it’s by seeing and feeling the contours of my own stonework that I can truly comprehend the ways in which life bestows difficulties upon everyone. Compassion means to suffer with. The word evolved from the Latin roots of com, or with, and patī, to suffer. In these terms, suffering connotes the basic ups and downs all of us go through just by the nature of being alive.

None of us escapes pain, upsets, or failures. They’re factors of life. But some of us are so saddled by emotional burdens that we can’t feel a deeper love for ourselves or others. As a society, it would behoove us to provide everyone accessible, supportive ways to confront and transform our life wounds. It’s an important piece of the Constructive Program pie, because societal harmony depends on widescale healing and compassion, the very masonry of cooperation.

I’ve heard from people who don’t meditate that I’ve got my head in the clouds—all that sitting accomplishes nothing but self-absorption, they say. My response? Meditation isn’t about creating our own private bliss bubbles. It’s about ameliorating our suffering and making spiritual leaps so that we can fearlessly serve humanity in our own loving ways.

For some of us that might mean being more present with our children or life partners; for others of us that could look like speaking truth to power, committing civil disobedience, building economic alternatives. No matter how small or large the role, each contribution matters. As poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

Time and again, it’s the meditation that reminds me to strengthen my capacity for compassion and love—and to forgive myself when I slip and reenact ingrained patterns. It also helps me remember that the smallest actions can serve others in the most heart-inspired ways. On any given day, our greatest contribution in life could be bringing a smile to a stranger’s face. We never know: one smile could be the action that tips us toward enduring good, the peace we’re all looking for.

Addendum: If you’re wondering how to bridge your meditation practice with peacemaking work, you’ll find inspiration in Michael Nagler’s Meditation for Peacemakers. This insightful e-book covers a lot of historical-spiritual ground.

 

Photo of Kimberlyn DavidA catalyst at heart, Kimberlyn David is forever dreaming up ways to contribute to a more loving, peaceful world. She’s the founder and lead creative at Changemaker Communications, which uses the power of words to inspire people to actively participate in their own lives and within their communities. She also teaches donations-based yoga classes and practices Vipassana meditation. Kimberlyn began blogging for Metta Center for Nonviolence after taking PACS 164-c.