Metta’s Opinion

Learning to Let Go

This is a guest post from volunteer, Astrid Montuclard, after attending our weekly Hope Tank. Find out more about Hope Tank at this link.

“What are you learning to let go of amidst the pandemic?” Bathed in my computer’s silvery light, my heart shivers to the question. For six seconds, the words bounce around the Zoom room of the Metta Center for Nonviolence’s virtual Hope Tank. She-who-knows-everything comes to my mind. How safe she feels… she has answers to heartbreaks, shortages of toilet paper, suspect coughs, procrastination, and longing for hugs. In these times, she is the best friend of those seeking for guidance outside of themselves. 

She-who-knows-everything, when scared, likes to emerge from the depths of my soul. Yet, she is not the facet of myself that I wish to offer amidst the crisis. I am vigilant to love her – and yet to also lie her to rest as much as necessary. For she does not always know to listen from the heart. She does not know to sustain silence for the additional second necessary for two gazes to catch a glimpse of their vulnerability. She does not know to let her body tremble when the news shout that thousands of people died today. She does not know to cry in front of those she loves. She does not know to embrace the full spectrum of human emotions with kindness. She only knows to paint her and others’ minds with Old Stories of strength, control, and composure.

But these days, I am learning to let go of her – she who believes to have an explanation, an answer, a solution, and a decision available when not-knowing and ambivalence fill her ribcage and the eyes of those around her. These days, I am learning to let go of avoidance and embrace the painful reality that I, too, do not always know how to respond to Change.

When she-who-knows-everything melts away, and I do not find words to comfort my friends who are scared because they lost their jobs, I smile painfully and convey through my gaze that “I am here with and for you – and I accept that is all I can do right now.”

When she-who-knows-everything melts away, and I do not find resilience to keep my composure as conflicts explode around me, I remind myself that being gentle in picking up the broken pieces of my ego is sometimes the only thing to do while waiting for the storm to pass.

When she-who-knows-everything melts away, and I cannot deny anymore the fear strangling my lungs while turning in bed at night, I put on music in my ears and let my body feel fully its own humanity, until sleep washes away the running stream of my thoughts.

When she-who-knows-everything melts away, and I can finally face that we will not be the same again after Covid-19, I try to sit quietly and listen with my spirit and soul for the quiet steps of slower mornings already on their way.

Yes, these days, I am learning to stop resisting and sit in the peaceful fire of feeling time flow through my body without direction. As I was sitting in the sun this afternoon, a feeling of expansiveness came upon me. She-who-knows-everything got it… There is rest in not-knowing. There is rest in not-knowing, when suddenly the need to think for answers or repeat aloud thoughts whispering the “right thing to do” disappears. When suddenly, sitting lovingly with myself and others, just as we are, becomes the right thing to do – and the New Story to embrace.  

Yes, there really is peace in not-knowing. And these days, I need that peace. It is fertile with new possibilities. I can let go of the belief that I must be perfect for everyone all the time – finally. 

Finally, I can rejoice in truly not knowing. And it feels like the Earth herself approves.

From Metta Mandir: Part 2

From Metta Mandir: Part 2

*During our first virtual hope tank, looking for upsides to the shelter in place rule affecting those of us in California and subsequently much of the nation we remembered that Gandhi actually relished his prison terms as times from meditation and R&R — and Reflection.  He published weekly articles under the title From Yeravda Mandir, since for him Yeravda Prison was a temple (mandir).

Last time we touched on what can be considered the most important single action an individual — any individual — can take to begin to restore a sane direction to our culture, which we regard, in turn, as the most important project to restore a sane direction to humanity.  We can read more details on how our media went off the rails in The Third Harmony; one aspect not touched on there is what one journalist has called the “journalism of deference” in which the White House and the military control the presentation of war-related news, creating, in other words, the ‘military-industrial, media and entertainment complex.’

Here, for a breath of fresh air, let’s look into Step Two:

“Learn all you can about nonviolence.” 

 On the psychological level any positive news will help us, as common sense, personal experience, and a lot of science confirm; but we believe that news about nonviolence — and anything we can learn about nonviolence, is particularly effective, since we regard nonviolence as the most positive thing that can be said about the human being, and about our possibilities in this world.

Raising this consciousness is precisely Metta’s project, of course, which we try to carry out with all our projects that are aimed both at the level of particulars and their overall meaning for our culture and life, in other words, facts about nonviolence itself and efforts to build a culture based on that principle.  Accordingly, we suggest that people go to our website, books, courses, etc. as our default recommendation for anyone who wants to begin or deepen their journey to that discovery.

  When Metta was born (in 1981) you could read just about everything available on the subject of nonviolence, leaving aside Gandhi’s enormous contribution, in a few years.  Now it would take a few lifetimes. Academic programs were nearly nonexistent; now there are several within the peace studies fold that do a creditable job on nonviolence, like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford and the Endowed Chair in Resistance Studies at UMass, Amherst held by our good friend Prof. Stellan Vinthagen.  (Since there is virtually no funding in post-secondary education for anything outside science and technology an endowed chair, which I tried in vain to establish at Berkeley, is about the only way to open the field).

Outside the universities, we have free-standing institutes like the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, DC and specifically nonviolence-oriented non-profits like Metta: Nonviolence International, The Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, the MK Gandhi Center for Nonviolence in Rochester, and others.

All these resources are useful in themselves, and most useful as preparations for the best learning tool: our own experiences.  Nonviolence begins within us (the ‘third harmony’) and can express itself in almost any situation on any scale from one-on-one interactions to global politics.  

We have an unfailing “library” of experiences to learn from, then, once we know what to look for.  For example, we don’t just look at immediate, tangible results but also for processes going on under the surface that may show up far down the road, not infrequently in better results than we were aiming at.  

At Metta we call this “work” vs. work, and the classic example is Gandhi’s salt campaign of 1930 which actually achieved very little in terms of relief from the oppressive salt laws but which many recognize as the end of British colonial rule that was formalized 17 years later.  Spot some of your own! It’s a lot of fun.

From Metta Mandir: Part 1

From Metta Mandir: Part 1


At a recent virtual hope tank dedicated to finding positive responses to the “shelter in place” order here in California and elsewhere we realized that Gandhi did some of his best writing — and meditating  — in the jail that he renamed “Yeravda Mandir,” or temple.

There are parts of the Bhagavad Gita that I take literally, and among them two verses from Ch. Four stand out at any time, but particularly one like this:

“Whenever dharma declines, and unrighteousness swells forth, I incarnate myself from age to age . . .” 

If there was ever a time that fits this description, when human degradation menacingly raises its ugly head, it’s this one. Where, then, is our incarnation?

I can imagine the Supreme Being answering, “What did you do with the last one?” 

Or perhaps s/he is yet to come; or perhaps, and this is the safest interpretation, we are (to be) that incarnation, that saving power.  

Our response, in addition to everything else we’re doing, is to lift up the five points for Personal Empowerment embedded in the core of our Roadmap. 

They deserve some elaboration, and accordingly, we decided to follow up on our recent article in Waging Nonviolence, which introduces Roadmap in general, with five pieces over the next five weeks dedicated to each of the five points in turn.

The Roadmap

Point Number One: Use extreme caution with violent and degrading media.

How pertinent, when so many of us are “sheltering in place,” our kids out of school, desperate for wholesome entertainment on the one hand and of course glued to the news!  A hard time to tell people to back away from the media.

Yet, when you develop some sensitivity to what a human being really is and some skill in reading the “subtext” in an advertisement or a piece of “entertainment,” you begin to realize that there’s very little left in the commercial world of media that does not in fact trivialize, misrepresent and degrade us. 

It does not have to be an action movie or an ad message like “Our pain is your gain” (seen on a recent Petaluma billboard) to try to tell us we’re small-minded, competitive fragments caught in a nexus of violence.

So, one objection this suggestion meets with is, ‘There’ll be nothing left to watch.’ Point number two in the inner circle, and all of them in their own way answer this objection. 

The next one is, ‘How will I know what’s going on in the world if even the news is slanted toward violence and firmly embedded in the Old Story (which it is)? Fortunately, there are more and more resources now to fill that gap; the field is expanding so rapidly that even the Appendix to my new book, The Third Harmony will soon be out of date!

Don’t let anyone tell you that they “like” violence, and it doesn’t do any harm.  There are thousands of studies proving that watching violence makes us more violent in attitude and eventually behavior, and a growing awareness that while we may have been so far conditioned that we get a rush of some kind seeing it, violence alienates us and sickens the mind.

It’s a part of what the military calls “moral injury” (and tries to ignore).  While breaking an entrenched media habit is unquestionably going to be a struggle for many of us, it really doesn’t take long for our sensitivity to return so that we enjoy peace of mind, and not at all its disturbance.

Go at your own pace: a periodic “cleanse,” cold turkey, a gradual reduction to just about zero — whatever works for you. The benefits are their own reward; who wants to be conditioned, really — to anything.

May there be harmony…

Emergencies can be times of emergence…

I’ve been thinking, writing, and consulting with individuals and movements about the power of nonviolence for many decades, and I’ve never seen a time when it was more needed. Why do I say this? Because times of chaos and confusion are also times of fierce caring and connection. Emergencies can be times of emergence. As I argued in my recent article in Waging Nonviolence, times of upheaval are when nonviolence can express its full force; often, if we are prepared, the real mirror of our human nature appears (and it’s not violence!).

(more…)

‘The Un-Shock Doctrine’ — or why we need a plan to rebuild

In times of uncertainy and turmoil, the only way to rebuild — rather than regress — is to have an alternative strategic plan.

They had set the bar pretty high. The science students around the world who wanted to enter the contest to see whose rubber-band powered airplane would fly furthest saw that even to qualify their model had to fly 30 yards. But some of them made it. In particular, the Chinese students: Their entry was in a class by itself, and flew way further than the nearest competitor. What was their secret? A translation error. They thought to qualify it had to go 300 feet — or more than three times further. We are now challenged to come up with the same daring and imagination; only the stakes are a lot higher than a model plane contest.

Many of us are familiar with Naomi Klein’s 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine,” in which she describes with devastating accuracy how regressive forces systematically exploit — and even create in order to exploit — times of uncertainty and upheaval to press their cynical agendas. There is a lot of fear that the pandemic now upon us, the mother of all upheavals, will be used for just that purpose. In fact, it’s happening: Think of the trillion-dollar bailout the president wants to offer fossil fuel industries! The fear is not unjustified. But it is not the whole story. Times of upheaval and turmoil are also times of possibility.

What makes all the difference, what makes it possible in such a time to rebuild rather than regress, is an alternative plan. In her recent interview with Amy Goodman, Klein, quoting Milton Friedman (of all people), said that at times like these opportunities open up for “whatever ideas are around.” And she goes on to list some of the excellent ideas that have been around, in some cases, for quite a while: a Green New Deal, healthcare for all, decarceration, forgiving student debt, etc. But that’s just the problem: They’ve been around for quite a while without gaining traction, and in the presence of so many bad ideas with untold resources behind them, there’s no guarantee that they will prevail now — that the opportunity presented by this fluidity can be seized on by those of us who want a new day.

“Apathy can only be overcome by enthusiasm,” said the famed British historian Arnold Toynbee. “And for enthusiasm you need two things: an idea that takes the imagination by storm and a concrete, practicable plan for putting that idea into action.”

We’ve already got that idea, if we know where to look. Jonathan Cook pointed to it in an article published by Common Dreams. Among the lessons the virus can teach us (assuming we’re prepared to learn) is that: “In a globalized world our lives are so intertwined that the idea of viewing ourselves as islands — whether as individuals, communities, nations, or a uniquely privileged species — should be understood as evidence of false consciousness.” Cook further explained by saying, “In truth, we were always bound together, part of a miraculous web of life on our planet and, beyond … in an unfathomably large and complex universe.” There’s no problem identifying the wrong consciousness: a “political worldview … so obscenely stunted by the worship of wealth that it refuses to acknowledge the communal good, to respect the common wealth of a healthy society.” I want to emphasize the terms “worldview” and “false consciousness,” because that’s what we really need: a truer consciousness, one that underlies and is a common foundation for the political or economic fixes listed off, quite correctly, by Klein.

We need the worldview that’s always been there, but is mostly buried in what are called the world’s wisdom traditions — and that have now, for the first time in over 300 years, the solid backing of science. The core of this worldview for our purposes is its strikingly different image of who we are as human beings. We are not primarily separate bodies, as advertisers and others try incessantly to tell us. We are body, mind, and spirit, or consciousness — indeed primarily consciousness. And that has tremendous consequences. It means we have untold resources within us, and we are deeply interconnected in a single web of life or what Martin Luther King called a “single garment of destiny.” It means that the life we have been given to live — and the universe we’ve been given to live it in — are not the result of random forces. They are deeply endowed with meaning that, in principle, we can discover, and according to which we should live.

This idea both pulls into a single focus and provides a conceptual framework for the many components of a progressive agenda that have been proposed but not adopted, and can help them get adopted. It has been identified and worked out in some detail by a long line of distinguished thinkers, including — in our own age — a line that goes from Teilhard to Einstein and, conspicuously, Gandhi. Yet, despite the prominence of these thinkers, and the increasing support of modern science, this worldview cannot be said to enjoy much currency in public discourse. Hence the need, as Toynbee pointed out, for a “concrete, practicable plan” to get it realized. And that plan, as I see it, will have three parts.

The first part needs to be a manifesto that boldly lays out the world we want. This might be something like the 500 Year Plan for Peace that was put forth by the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka. Although the movement has faltered, to be sure, the plan is still inspiring.

The second part should be a very carefully thought out strategy for moving people to implement the plan. Fortunately, in the last 20 years or so peace and justice movements have been systematically collecting and analyzing their “best practices,” ranging from insurrectionary movements like the one that overthrew Slobodan Milošević in Serbia in 2000 to the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce and other groups that carry out what’s called Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping. (As I write this, Nonviolence Peaceforce is concluding an ambitious series of global gatherings for this very purpose). Thanks to strategists who have been in this business for some time now — like Daniel Hunter and George Lakey to name just two — the futility of one-off protests and the value of starting with the “low hanging fruit” of achievable goals and advancing steadily toward far-reaching change are getting to be common knowledge among activists.
Finally, part three, we need a way to organize people to make this happen.

The Metta Center’s Roadmap is a way of making the movement of movements visual. Click to see large version.

I may be in a position to offer at least a framework for all this. At the Metta Center we’ve been working for some time now with what we call a Roadmap that gives visual expression to the potential unity of our emerging movement. For convenience, it divides the issue areas to work on into six sectors. They are, as I say, for convenience and not to be taken as rigid boundaries. But there is one thing we regard as essential: the sector called “New Story Creation.” This is the work, formulating and promoting the new paradigm, that must be front and center if we’re to have the kind of new consciousness Cook describes. At the least it should accompany everything else we’re doing. Roadmap has two other features of interest: It lays great emphasis on what Gandhi called Constructive Program, building the new world, piece by piece, without waiting for the powers that be to give it to us. What’s more, it fits it into a kind of centrifugal trajectory from Personal Empowerment to Constructive Program and finally to Direct Resistance where that’s still needed. This is a natural progression for a successful movement.

Many parts of what could become our constructive program are already happening more or less spontaneously in response to the crisis. People are growing their own food, shifting from schools to homeschooling, from hospital births to home births. Here and there prisoners are being seen more compassionately and getting released from prisons. People are trying to figure out how to make their own things — and helping their neighbors in this and other ways. In some cases (despite the proposed stimulus giveaway), a Canadian friend tells me that even oil companies are putting off their projects. Meanwhile, another friend points out that “sheltering in place,” now affecting about a fifth of this country, could be a blessing in disguise. Didn’t Gandhi welcome jail time as a badly needed opportunity for reflection and serious spiritual practice? The heart and soul, after all, of Personal Empowerment.

There’s a big picture hovering behind these spontaneous activities. That picture can pull them all together, give them a local habitation and a name, and rough out a strategic plan for implementing them. We will never say we were glad the pandemic happened, but if we can pull this off we’ll be able to say that all the suffering was not entirely in vain.

“We are all part of one another.” Discussion

Take some time to read and reflect on the following message from the late Barbara Deming, which I came across in a book dedicated to her on the Women’s Encampment for Peace and Justice. These words contain profound lessons for nonviolence and are immediately practical.

Please leave your comment and join the conversation below.

What speaks to you? What is an experience you have had that these words express?

Our movement is composed of all kinds of groups and all kinds of individuals. It is certain that many of us will make all kinds of mistakes. It will be tempting to wish that this group or that group, this individual or that individual were simply not among us. My particular plea is that we not surrender to this temptation. We must certainly be frank with others when we disagree, but my plea is that we not begin to be afraid of any of us, and in a panic, try to wish any of us out of the picture. We will need every one of us. We are all part of one another.

MLK Today

Image courtesy of the GPA Photo Archive.

We need a new story. Now.
George Monbiot

In 1936 a delegation of African Americans headed by Dr. Howard Thurman, a well-known figure of the Harlem Renaissance, called on Gandhi at his ashram in India. After hearing Gandhi speak, Mrs. Thurman pleaded, “We want you to come to America. . . we need you badly.”  Gandhi replied, “How I wish I could, but I would have nothing to give you unless I had given an ocular demonstration here of all that I have been saying.  I must make good the message here, before I bring it to you.”  This was his principle of svadeshi, or localism: you have to fulfill your work in your own circle of influence before trying to grow beyond it.  However, then Gandhi added a prophetic remark: “Well . . . it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence is delivered to the world.”

Martin Luther King was seven years old.

If anyone can be said to have brought the unadulterated message of nonviolence out to the wider world, it was he.  The theory and practice of nonviolence have begun really to blossom in the last thirty or so years, and we can give a fairly concrete meaning to the term “unadulterated,” which Gandhi had called the “nonviolence of the brave,” or “of the strong:” in the field we call it principled nonviolence (PNV) today, in contrast to strategic nonviolence or non-violence with a hyphen, meaning simply the absence of (physical) violence.  Practitioners often explain that PNV is not just a technique but a way of life; I think it would be more accurate to say a state of mind.  Even as you strongly reject injustice you are not hostile to those acting it out.  These are the famous “two hands of nonviolence” of the late feminist and activist Barbara Deming: “I will not put up with your injustice,” but “I’m open to you as a human being.”

The power of this balanced force was brought out by someone on the receiving end, the great British historian Arnold Toynbee, who said of Gandhi, “He made it impossible for us to go on ruling India.  But he made it possible for us to leave without rancour and without humiliation.”  It’s a law of political dynamics that’s been discovered by all people of vision.  According to a well-known hadith, or saying of The Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), he once challenged his followers that a Muslim must help everyone.  Surely not an oppressor, they asked him.  And when he insisted, yes, even an oppressor, they asked, how?  He explained, “By preventing him from oppressing.”

Spiritual vision translates into political power, and nonviolence is the bridge.

Where we are today with all this was clarified for me recently by a verse from the Bhagavad Gita (xvi.9): “Those who hold the wrong view become the destroyers of the world.”  This is, alas, a perfect description of what we are now experiencing: the (militarily) most powerful nation in the world headed by a “malignant narcissist ” (an official diagnosis of the President) with a cult-like following who does seem hell bent not just on dominating the world (call that Dictatorship 1.0) but destroying it, along with his colleagues in Brazil and elsewhere.  And what, exactly, is their “wrong view”?  The Gita explains, these people are lokāyatas, ‘materialists.’  They are clinging the prevailing paradigm, or old story (as it’s now called) which has it that the universe consists of material particles that collide randomly to create somehow beings like us who have no overriding meaning, and no power to change this random order of things.  Condemned, in other words, to the practices of consumerism, competition, and eventually the violence that is now reaching its extreme, the extinction of all life.

Grim as it sounds — and is — there’s a slender hope.  This violence, while it’s arising from primordial impulses deep in the unconscious, is engaged and made active in the outside world by a “wrong view.”  Views can be changed.  But not, of course, by violence.  Violence might get you changes in behavior, but if you want to win hearts and minds you need nonviolence, or love.

King’s real importance lay therefore not only in the fact that he was an inspiring leader heading up a movement that changed history, or even the way increasing numbers are following his example around the world, but also that he was a visionary, a pioneer of the new story and therefore of human evolution.  When he says that their movement would “set our white brothers free” in the nonviolent process of freeing themselves, when he says,

All men (and women) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. . . This is the inter-related structure of reality.

or,

I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be; and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be,

or,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,

he is not only engaging a powerful strategy but witnessing the new vision behind that power.

“Through the deliverance of India,” Gandhi had said, “I seek to deliver the so-called weaker races of the Earth from the crushing heels of Western exploitation. . .”  It was not a one-man job; even if the man was Gandhi.  King and many others are putting their shoulders to the wheel; you and I also have our roles to play.  And each one counts.

Today we have quite a few thoughtful souls working out this story of the unity of life, the interconnectedness of meaning and the fundamental benevolence of the universe.  King was essential for not only giving it a public voice but showing what it can do.

This piece was published at Tikkun on January 20, 2020.

Re-organizing the future

I ordered “Gandhi the Organiser” along with some other books last year when I was asked to give a talk at a Stanford leadership conference. The book arrived long after the conference and was not at all what I expected. Instead, it was one of the best, most inspiring books on Gandhi I’ve ever read.

Back when I taught Gandhi in my nonviolence class at Berkeley I always had the students read some standard texts — Eknath Easwaran’s “Gandhi the Man” for the spiritual dimension, B. R. Nanda’s “Mahatma” for the “history” (that is, the political history) — and I also urged them to read one of the day-by-day diaristic accounts by Tendulkar, Mahadev Desai, or others because something qualitatively different emerges when you encounter the sheer intensity of the Mahatma’s daily life and activities. If it had been available at the time I would certainly have recommended “Gandhi the Organiser” for that purpose. But it is much more.

Author Bob Overy, an independent researcher based in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent in-depth study of the critical phase of the freedom struggle that saw Gandhi’s transition from a force to reckon with in his home state of Gujarat to a national leader. Overy studies this process in insightful detail, piloting his course between “Gandhi the saint” and “Gandhi the freedom fighter” to bring out the gripping story of the Mahatma’s shrewdness and his indomitable will, how he pushed through apparent “failures” with an unstoppable drive that gives credence to his claim that in satyagraha there is no such thing as defeat. Gandhi comes alive in these pages with rare force.

The title may therefore be as misleading for others as it pleasantly surprised me. This book is not like, say, “Gandhi CEO” or others that apply some principles of Gandhian organization to business leaders. The difference, of course, is that Gandhi was not organizing a corporation; he was organizing a revolution, and not just a political upheaval but what we might call an “existential” step forward in human evolution.

Before reading Overy I knew that Gandhi came to put more and more reliance on constructive programme, or CP, and bemoaned the fact that most modern theory and practice tries to get along without this crucial dimension, but I had no idea how nuanced the Mahatma’s approach was to the complementarity between CP and direct resistance, or what I have come to call, as Overy does, constructive vs. obstructive action. Depending on whether you were dealing with a regional or a national issue and whether you were working on a specific issue like the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 or the ultimate goal of independence, swaraj, Overy is able to identify no less than five positions ranging from situations where CP is not essential and civil disobedience can be effective by itself to those where CP is essential and civil disobedience need not occur at all. (Gandhi even states “civil disobedience, mass or individual, is an aid to constructive effort,” not the other way around).

Fascinating and inspiring as this book is, with its insight into Gandhi’s drive and sagacity, into his lofty vision of human nature, for many of us the most practical part will be the final section where Overy applies what he’s discovered to the problems and possibilities facing activists today. Along with giving constructive program its full meed of attention, he addresses directly the difference between what’s usually called strategic and principled nonviolence. I could not agree more when he writes that, “It appears to me that the attempt to separate the technique of action (i.e. strategic nonviolence) from the background of beliefs and social initiatives which supported it, (the more principled view) has diminished our understanding of the technique.” Or when he adds, “it helps us to understand Gandhi’s technique …as a method of social struggle informed by strongly held positive values, with rules about how we approach people and present ourselves and with the vision of how life could be better, virtually all of which may have some relevance for us.”

By and large, activists and scholars have pretty much stopped talking about the strategic/principled difference because those conversations were getting us nowhere, but there is a way to look at the difference that’s very useful now in terms of a related development, the slowly emerging “paradigm shift” away from what’s often called the “old story,” that frame of reference (still prevalent in political science circles and elsewhere) in which people tend to be seen as rational cost-benefit calculators locked into competitive relationships in a random, essentially material universe. Strategic nonviolence is nonviolence looked at through the lens of this old story. You coerce people into changing their behavior by putting pressure on them, not by awakening their sympathy for the harm they’re causing you. Conflict is still a win/lose proposition, not an opportunity for reconciliation and reunion. Unfortunately, there is no room in this view for what Overy correctly calls “Gandhi’s ultimately religious concept of satyagraha, a force acting on society in mysterious ways” — those “spooky actions at a distance” that even Einstein had a hard time accepting.

In the new story, in its fully developed form, where the world is seen as a field rather than a collection of separate entities — a field of consciousness — and human beings as interconnected nodes of that consciousness, or “evolving spiritual beings” as a friend of mine says, it is much easier to understand how, as Gandhian coworker Raihan Tyabji put it, “His consciousness grabbed hold of our consciousness and moved it to an incredible place,” or why Martin Luther King was able to say so beautifully that “All men (and women) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. . . This is the inter-related structure of reality.” And this was before neuroscientists discovered, in 1988, that we are endowed with a network of “mirror neurons” that precisely reflect the actions, thoughts and intentions of others, evidently evolved in the brain to activate that mutuality, making the nonviolent effect or what Gandhi called “moving the heart” possible. Gandhi’s worldview, without understanding which it’s not possible to arrive at a just assessment of his nonviolence, was essentially that of the “new story;” though it was hardly new for him, being in his case largely an extension of the Vedantic worldview that had been taken for granted down the centuries in India’s spiritual traditions.

There is thus a reciprocal relationship between the development of nonviolence and the parallel development of the new story (a subject I go into in my forthcoming book, “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature,”). This is of critical importance to us now since, as many are coming to believe, we cannot save the world from climate disaster or the threat of nuclear annihilation unless we change our prevailing paradigm. Trying to force people to stop using fossil fuels, for example, or animal farming without helping them see a new vision of who we are and what we need for our fulfillment will only create a backlash and simply fail or seem to change only to return at the next opportunity.

There are two insights in particular that emerge from this larger viewpoint. One, as mentioned, is the importance of constructive programme. Overy charges, I think justly, that in the West CP has been overlooked along with almost all other aspects of what he calls Gandhi’s religious outlook (and I call the new story): “the principal authorities on nonviolent action have neglected practically all these aspects – with the partial exception of the vow. In particular, the fundamental point that nonviolent action as a method and technique focused just as much on constructive work as campaigns of civil resistance, has been virtually ignored. Yet Gandhi’s success as an organiser cannot be understood unless it is recognized that at the base of every campaign of civil resistance – especially at the national level – was a programme of constructive work.” (Incidentally, that’s what Gandhi himself said: “My main politics is constructive work.”).

The other aspect, referred to in the first part of this quote, can be summed up, as follows: what Gandhi always wanted to do through whatever issue he was addressing at the time was to uplift humanity. To recover the human image that has been and still is so badly damaged by materialism and its commitment to separateness, competition, and violence. Overy quotes approvingly from R. Kumar’s “Essays on Gandhian Politics,” writing that “Gandhi’s romanticism rested upon his attempt to relate political aspirations to moral instead of material objectives; to the flowering of the character and personality of his countrymen rather than to the achievement of economic and social goals.” When Gandhi himself refers to the success of his fast to rally the striking Ahmedabad millworkers in 1918 he describes it as much more than a political victory, as Overy points out: “The sight convinced me… That Indians are still their true selves, capable of realizing the Self within and knowing its power.”

For Gandhi the “sun” of his “solar system” of CP was charkha, the cottage industry of spinning and weaving homespun cloth. Recognizing the full significance of CP for today’s struggles I and my colleagues at the Metta Center have devoted a great deal of thought to the possibility of a modern equivalent. Charkha would (if it had been fully mobilized) recover an industry that was at one time the pride of Asia, restore economic independence to his “starving millions,” and break the hold of the British monopoly on cloth which was among others (like the monopoly on salt) essential for keeping India in their grip. Charkha was also the way to unite the movement itself, as it could be done by everyone every day, whatever else they were working on. It was what I sometimes call a “stealth” weapon because the British didn’t fully grasp its revolutionary significance until it was too late to do anything about it. Indeed, since it was non-confrontational and technically legal (despite its subversive power) it would have been difficult to put a stop to even if they had realized it. A modern equivalent of charkha is a tall order!

We have not come up with anything as concrete as cloth, but we can recommend something that could be done by anyone and everyone, and in the end be just as subversive, we believe, to the prevailing order. As more and more people come to believe that our disastrous political, moral, and ecological situation is based on how we see the world, the vision of ourselves as evolving spiritual beings with the ability to pilot our own destiny in an extremely meaningful universe is taking on tremendous appeal. Hence our candidate for a modern charkha is that we familiarize ourselves with the essentials of the emerging new story and tell that story to whomever is willing to listen. Explain that you’re saving the coral reefs because life is an interconnected whole and you can’t damage any part without hurting the rest, that you are using nonviolence not only because it works but because it doesn’t ravage the human spirit the way violence does, explain above all that we can prevent the catastrophe of the climate crisis if we act in time (i.e. right now), because we are at least to some significant degree agents of our own destiny.

As Buckminster Fuller famously said, “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” That is more true than ever where the model in question is our vision of who we are and what we’re doing in this world.