Recently someone on my FB suggested that we ignore the violence in our country, as if that would make it go away. Not everyone has the option of ignoring it. Not those who live in crime-infested parts of our country. Not those who may be sitting in a movie theater when someone pulls a gun and opens fire. This was my response to the idea that we ignore reality:
I believe those who say "just ignore the violence" endemic to our country are being naive or willfully ignorant. Would you say ignore racism? Ignore misogyny? Ignore climate change? Many people do say that: And look where that has gotten us. Joanna Macy instructs that we first much face the truth, face the reality, grieve it, and work from there. Any spiritual teacher worth her salt, any scientist worth her salt, says the same thing: Understand reality, understand the truth, and go from there.
If the violence were happening to you and your family would you say, "Ignore it"?
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, is an advocate of peace, but he says, once the bombs start falling you must go out and help. When asked once by PBS if violence was ever the answer, he said, "If you see someone who is trying to shoot, to destroy, you have to do your best in order to prevent him or her to do so. You must. But you must do it out of your compassion, of your willingness to protect, and not out of anger. That is the key."
So it's about being engaged, not pretending everything is la, la, la. When we close our eyes to the truth, we are part of the problem.
When asked about the violence in the United States, Thich Nhat Hanh said, "...we have the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. But in the name of freedom, people have done a lot of damage. I think we have to build a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast in order to counterbalance. Because liberty without responsibility is not true liberty. We are not free to destroy."
Walter Wink, a Christian scholar and progressive activist wrote, “Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death. Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety. Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors. It secured us years of a balance of terror. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace … It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America."
What is going on in our country is beyond guns, of course, although statistics show that having gun control brings down the violence. It's about the soul and the heart of our country. Mario asked me today if I thought there was something psychically amiss with our country. I said, "Yes," without hesitation. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake writes about places that have morphic fields or a morphic resonance: a kind of memory in nature, he calls it. (Not all scientists are on board with this idea, of course, and I'm not arguing here whether it exists or not.)
Part of what Sheldrake does with this theory is explain why certain places can have a good feel or a bad feel, or why terrible things can keep happening in one place, no matter how much people try to change things. (Think Haiti.) Perhaps something terrible or wonderful happens in a place once and that morphic field is established, and it's difficult to undue it. Maybe there's an energy field to certain places that cause, in a sense, good or bad things to happen. I don't know.
I think of it like depressive or compulsive behavior in people. Science is now concluding that these are habits in our brain which are difficult to change because the more we do them, the better the neural pathway becomes in our brain for doing that thing. (Yes, it's more complicated then that—chemicals, hormones, etc.—but right now I'm addressing neural pathways.)
In other words, every time we drink and we happen to be an alcoholic, we strengthen that particular neural pathway so that it's easier next time to drink. (Vice versa, once we stop drinking, those neural pathways shrink.) Every time we fall into depressive thoughts or depression, we strengthen those particular neural pathways so it's easier next time to be depressed.
So then I wonder if every time violence occurs in our country, are those particular violent pathways in the neural structure of our country being strengthened. (Or whatever the equivalent of neural pathways a country would have. I recognize our country doesn't have a brain. But it is a kind of thing, a concept, a being, if you will, generated by us, by our laws, our actions, and our feelings.)
Mario also asked me what could we do about the violence in our country, especially if it is exacerbated by an energetic field. (And all of you who are freaked out that I'm talking about energetic fields: Everything has energy. Energetic fields exist. I ain't talking no New Age woo-woo.) I told him I didn't know. If we are strengthening the field of violence by perpetrating violence, we could stop doing that. Well, then everything would be OK, right?
But that's not happening. Hiding from it doesn't help. Pretending we're not angry when we are doesn't help. We have to have a collective shift in our attitudes. A paradigm shift, perhaps.
Starhawk, when discussing the Occupy movement and confronting violence, said that the first thing that has to happen is to come up with a strategy. And the first part of that strategy is this: Admit that violence is endemic to our system.
She says, "Poverty is a form of violence. Racism, gender violence—all of those things are immense forms of violence that do untold harm, cause untold suffering to people every single day of their lives. But, they’re also hidden. When you say 'violence,' when you say to someone, 'Who’s a violent person?' they might picture a anarchist in a black mask with a bomb, or they might picture someone of a different race with a gun, but they very rarely picture a white man in a business suit who is making decisions which are causing far more suffering than anybody else.
"The strategy of nonviolent resistance, of what some have called the 'people power' strategy, makes the hidden violence in the system visible by contesting it nonviolently. The system can continue to inflict that violence, because in some sense we all consent to it, we all comply with it. Our lives are so entwined with it that to eat and to feed our kids and to pursue our goals, we do what the system requires of us. When we stop doing that, then oftentimes the system responds with that violence, which then becomes visible."
I agree. The first thing to do is admit we have a problem. Let's get away from this bullshit of pretending it doesn't exist. It does. Saying it ain't so won't make it not so. I think also endemic to this country is the idea that we are the best and we can do no wrong. Right now we are the best at violence, we are very good at killing one another, we are very good at ignoring science and the truth.
So where do we go from here? I don't know. I swing from despair to depression and back again. That's not healthy. But when I can crawl out of the grief, I act. So my advice is: Don't collapse into non-action because it seems too big. Don't ignore it. Come up with a strategy for you and yours. First up: Admit the truth.
Next: Ask what is your responsibility? In other words, what is your ability to respond. We all have different things going on in our lives, we have different energy levels, different responsibilities, different levels of health. But once you determine what is your ability to respond, you can begin to figure out where you want to direct your energy.
Next: Don't participate in the violence, if you can. I know that I fall right into violence so easily when I'm stressed or pressed. It's what I know. I was raised in this country. I was brought up on guns and violence even though I come from a liberal family. I swim in this culture, just like everyone else does. I need to change my morphic field. Thich Nhat Hanh says peace starts with each of us, AND he said, get off your butt and participate. (That's a paraphrase.) He calls it Engaged Buddhism. I would call it Engaged Living.
Next: That's up to you. Mario just handed me my dinner. So that's what's up next for me.
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