Metta’s Opinion

A Mother’s Courage- true story

One evening in 2012, I talked for hours with Jawdat Said, a Syrian spiritual mystic and author of the first completely nonviolent interpretation of the Koran. His niece, Afra, from the University of Toronto, had recently visited Kensafra, a small town in the north of Syria. Here is a story she shared with me:

A young mother wanted me to meet one of her close friends, who insisted on serving me my last cup of coffee in Syria. She was the wife of a fallen hero, killed by regime forces, and living with her sister-in-law, who also had lost her husband, and raising their children together. Her story distracted me from the beautifully presented coffee, in true Syrian etiquette, despite the modesty and simplicity of the house.

“One time, I saw a huge crowd in front of our house,” she said, “and when I peeked from the window, I saw my 14-year-old son surrounded by the Mukhabarat,’ the infamous Syrian security secret agents.”

She rushed outside and broke through and grabbed her son’s hand tightly and stood facing the agents. “‘Move away, woman!’ 0ne of them screamed into my face, but I was determined to stand still and kept staring into his eyes.”

Juhaida explained how she and her son were trembling, but only from within. “I could feel the strong beating pulse of his little wrist in my hand,” she said. “He felt like a frightened little bird in my hand, but externally we both looked calm.”

One of the agents then moved in closer and brought his rifle up right in her face, “and placed the opening here, right on my neck,” she said, putting her finger on the spot. He then said to her, “if you don’t move away, you know what will happen.”

She was silent, then looked at me and said, “I was willing to die. There was no way I could have let them take my son after they killed my husband.”

Her stillness and defiance made the other agents uneasy and they started pressuring their colleague to back off. “You’re a strong woman,” he told her as he kept the rifle pointed on her neck. “I’m not strong,” Juhaida answered him. Then she added softly, “…It’s from God.” They finally backed off.

I sat speechless and held my head in my hands, overcome with the details of her story, being the mother of a 14-year-old boy myself. Finally I stood up, kissed her head, and told her, “I only read about your kind in books; I never met one in person.”

 

~Lorin Peters

“Basic Training” for Spiritual Warriors

Image of art from Kabul graffiti artist, Kabul Knights

Joanna Macy talks about three tasks needed to bring in a world of spiritual progress: create new institutions, change the culture, and stop the worst of the damage. At Metta we feel that the worst of the damage has been to the human image – who are we and what can we become. Stop that damage, and we’ve laid the groundwork for all the other changes.

There are five things each of us can do to recover a saner image of who we are, whether we think of ourselves as peace activists or not. We can all do them, every day, and thus they answer somewhat to Gandhi’s famous charkha, or spinning campaign at the heart of his work to reform and liberate India. Organizations and campaigns will grow out of this kind of personal change.[1] The first might be called “out with the old:”

  1. Shun the violence and vulgarity of the mass media. Long before television, the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “the only thing we can control, and the only thing we need to control, is the imagery in our own mind.”[2] More recently Judy Cannato brought this up to date:

“the images that engage our imagination …shape who we become. It happens all the time. We simply do not notice. But what if we were to notice? What if we were to be intentional about engaging our energy in a story that we know has the power to change our lives?[3]

What indeed! When we take charge of our mind we will find we are actually mastering a power that puts us in charge of our own destiny ¾ and to that extent the future of the world. Martin Luther King lamented, “We have guided missiles and misguided men (and women).” And we know what has misguided them: we have put the enormous compelling power of the media in the hands of people who have no idea how to use the power they are wielding.

Gandhi warned, in 1925, that while “The political domination of England is bad enough, the cultural is infinitely worse. When the cultural domination is complete the political will defy resistance.” The beginning of shaking off that domination is when we take charge of our inner culture. Think of it as a cleanse for the mind, which is if anything more important than one for the body.

You may be thinking, ‘But if I don’t watch the violence and vulgarity, there’ll be nothing left to watch.’ Well you know, there are worse fates! And besides, alternative media are growing on all sides, some of which we try to keep up with on our bi-weekly program, “Nonviolence Radio.” And now, it’s “in with the new.”

  1. Learn everything you can about nonviolence. Nonviolence, it turns out, is an extraordinarily rich subject. Its theory, history, and methodology are inspiring: a powerful antidote to today’s demoralization. Today, while it has made so far only tentative inroads into formal education (not to mention the mass media!), scholarly and popular books, websites, courses, and all manner of resources are rushing into the vacuum left by the old story of separateness, competition, and violence. Having taught nonviolence at a university and through Metta now for many years, I can attest that the very process of learning about it, even if you have no intention of using it in the political arena (though people almost always do), can be uplifting and reorienting. The most practical thing it offers, both for our own wellbeing and the reform of society is how to transform our anger into nonviolent power. If we could reach every young person in America who is low-income, low in self-esteem, low in hope for a meaningful future, with this awareness, we’d be living in a very different world.

 

  1. Take up a spiritual practice (if you haven’t already). ‘We may believe in nonviolence,’ said the great Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘but when the police are dragging us away, or the holdup man is ordering us to hand over our money, our ‘nonviolence’ will evaporate if we haven’t grounded it in us by regular meditation’. In meditation – following the classical definition of ‘stilling the thought-waves in the mind’ – we are actually rehearsing what we will have to do in a tense confrontation: rerouting the onrush of anger and fear to an equal but opposite energy of firmness and compassion. Meditation is the ultimate role-play.

Whenever I began the meditation course at Berkeley I would tell the students, most other courses you’ll take here address the content of the mind, and that’s important (the first two steps of this very list address that). But in meditation we start to address the state of the mind itself, the very energy that determines our moods, visions – even, according to recent studies, our longevity. Any genuine meditation does this by slowing down the speed of the thinking process and making it more one-pointed. As the mind slows down and gets more focused – particularly on something positive we ourselves have chosen – it becomes less ‘opaque:’ spirit begins to appear.

There are many kinds of meditation available today; the one I’ve been using for many years, for example, is Passage Meditation, readily available on that website.

  1. Cultivate personal relationships. The trend of our modern civilization has been to isolate us from one another, and that trend gets only worse with today’s flashy technological substitutes for face-to-face connections. Tyrants thrive on this because it disempowers us; we begin to recover our power when we intentionally go against it. To quote King again: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ civilization to a ‘person-oriented civilization. Steps 1-3, above, should position us to get ourselves out of the “techno-cocoon,” as teenagers call it, and enjoy interacting personally with people wherever possible. We are laying the foundation of MLK’s “beloved community.”

 

  1. Be the new story.[4] According to the Bhagavad Gita, each of us is born with a particular way to carry out what Jewish sages called tikkun olam, the repair of the world and Einstein called our “task” of realizing the unity of life. With a bit of self-knowledge (another important by-product of meditation), we can find the special match between our capacities and what the world around us needs. Within the overriding dharma for all that lives (nonviolence, of course), we each have our own svadharma or personal path to carry it out in the world around us. Look within and ask, what’s my best contribution; then look around and ask, OK, what do the community and the world need most?

Let me however add an important corollary: whatever you’ve chosen to work on, don’t hesitate to explain to anyone who’ll listen why you’re doing it, in terms of the new vision of humanity we’re seeking to embody.

You’re asked: “Why should I care about immigrants (or the environment, or animals)?”

You calmly explain: “You know, brother, we’re all deeply interconnected. Science knows that, now. It gives me joy to serve that ‘inter-being’ of ours.”

This is how paradigm’s change: when “early adopters” say and do the higher image of humanity.


 

[1] I was delighted to see that our friend and colleague Duane Elgin had independently come up with a very similar six point scheme; cf. his The Living Universe, (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009) p. 159.

[2] find Epictetus

[3] Field of Compassion, In the chapter, “The Significance of Story, p. 15. …takes whatever you focus on as an invitation to make it happen.”

[4] All right, I admit, I’m the one who’s always pointing out that Gandhi did not actually say “Be the change…” in so many words. But it fits here.

So You Say You Want to Start a (R)evolution?

Five Basic Steps for Nonviolent Action


 

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

 

“We will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witness to the truth as we see it.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

1. Never dehumanize anyone. Try to understand the real needs of your opponents. Always remember that they are human beings too; in fact the more you respect your opponent as a human being, the more effectively you will be able to change their unjust ways — and defend your own ideals. Harm no one: your struggle is with the problem, not the person. Violence begets violence: “Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) Never harm another’s dignity — or accept harm to your own. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (MLK, Jr.) Indeed, the power of nonviolence is that it offers everyone a way back to dignity. A Tagalog word for their ‘people power’ in the Philippine uprising of 1986 was alay dangal, ‘to offer dignity.’

(more…)

Yoga Day 2018: For Peace

Today is the fourth International Day of Yoga—June 21 was proclaimed as such by the United Nations in 2014. As noted on the UN site about this day, the purpose is to “raise awareness about the benefits of practicing yoga.” The 2018 theme is “Yoga for Peace.” Who would argue for less peace in the world (that’d be nuts!)? I sure wouldn’t. Yet I think this phrase deserves some critical discussion. (more…)

An inspiring commitment to nonviolence

Matthew Harman, a participant in our Certificate in Nonviolence Studies, has offered this beautiful pledge of commitment to the practice of nonviolence. What is yours? 

This image is from Stephanie Van Hook’s “Gandhi Searches for Truth.” 

 

All is one.

I continue to pledge my perpetually improving dedication to nonviolence, the most powerful force throughout the history of life. I continue to present violence as a problem to be solved rather than an authentic detriment to be rationalized. I emphasize the injustice embedded within systems of oppression rather than attack humans who support such systems consciously or subconsciously – including myself. I understand that humans are a diverse lifeform espousing innumerable perspectives, but that we are currently facing a limit barrier; the cycle of violence. As we continue to evolve spiritually and augment ourselves physically I continue my effort to share the timeless, albeit less well known, story of nonviolence.

To continue to be an example of nonviolence we must remain in the moment without forgetting our ancestors – across species – or ignoring future generations. To maintain respect across differences in experience, age, class, ethnicity, ability, planets, solar systems, galaxies. To empower through mutual dignity catalyzed via nonviolent action throughout our everyday activities. I also emphasize that nonviolent action can be as brief and transient as a smile or as deep and dedicated as lifetimes. No matter the course I always welcome nonviolence into my heart amidst processes and spaces that often seem bent on destruction.

Despite my studies, I do not know much nor will I, ever. I offer my presence to anyone who seeks to share or deepen our understanding of nonviolence as a form of cosmic, universal knowledge. Moreover, I continue to limit my exposure to the mass media while producing nonviolent, people-powered media alternatives, such as Peace and Nonviolence radio.

I am not a victim and continue to take full responsibility for my actions and encourage others to do the same through my public and private activities. I refrain from abusive thoughts, language, and deeds. I encourage movements to develop soberly but do not ignore or diminish those who rely on intoxicants because everyone is on their own path and some of the most influential nonviolent humans experienced lives of violent abuse before rededicating to the universal. I will make every attempt to redirect violent alternatives toward nonviolent actions without demand.

In our ongoing preparation for the struggle, I will continue to exercise daily in friendly competition with myself while encouraging others to use their bodies creatively.

In closing I forgive myself and others, knowing that every lifeform has the innate ability to transform.

A Yoga-Based Practice for Body, Mind & Spirit

This past Sunday, we wrapped with Week 3 of the 2018 Certificate in Nonviolence Studies course. Part of the week’s learning focus was observing our desires to do harm, for the purpose of eradicating these impulses.

Eradicating means to pull up by the roots. Desire is pretty intangible—it’s not like an object we can see or touch. So, how do we pull a desire to create harm up by its roots? Tenderly, with awareness and patience. (more…)

Memorial Day: A Reflection

I regard myself as a soldier, though as a soldier of peace. ~M.K. Gandhi~


We bow our heads in reverence to all those who have given their lives in witness to the truth, or had it taken from them in that effort; who upheld peace and justice in the face of persecution and oppression, often without any warrant of success for their effort but because they could do no differently; for those who have done all they could, often at great personal sacrifice, to keep the banner of human dignity aloft in times of turbulence and violence – like our own.

Many have also lost their lives in the mistaken belief that these very ends could be served by violence. Many entered upon military actions for more self-seeking reasons, or out of the mistaken belief that they had no choice. All these will be the ‘official’ recipients of today’s honor. We have no quarrel with their recognition, especially with those in the former group, but we do urgently propose that killing and its futility will go on and on until humanity recognizes, in holidays such as this one and in many other ways, that the sacrifice human beings have made for peace by the means appropriate to peace, namely nonviolence and not war, are of far greater benefit to humanity and they use such occasions and memorials not only as symbolic gestures, not only as tokens of admiration, but the jumping-off points of concrete actions for peace and justice – times of dedication to do whatever necessary so that, some day, killing is finally banished from our world.

 

Foundations of Resistance- Reflection

FOLLOWERS of that great pioneer of nonviolent action, the late Gene Sharp, often speak of the “pillars of support:” no dictator can function without police, armies, bureaucracies to carry out their orders (I suppose today we’d have to add a “deep state”). It is much more effective to erode these pillars, rendering the autocrat ineffectual, than to focus on his person, leaving his power intact. Would it not then be, in the long run, even more effective to work on not just the pillars but the foundation? That’s why we were so pleased to see this comment by Lisa López and Eduardo Burger in this weeks “Minds of the Movement” from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict on a remarkable popular movement going on in Venezuela, organized with high creativity not in big meetings or social media but the “Labo” (laboratory) of a Caracas bookstore:

These actions have helped the Labo understand that if repression succeeds by treating people like mere objects, then it is critical to design actions where participants preserve their individuality and capability of interacting as human beings—not as mere numbers in a street action.

Shades of Mario Savio’s famous speech! And well said, because violence is dehumanization, pure and simple; and rehumanization is, pure and simple, the foundation of any long-term success against it. If we forget, in our movements, to treat each other as human beings we may succeed to dislodge a bad regime but will lack secure foundations for a better one.