Peace Recipe

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March 12, 2007

On September 12 of 2001, my college instructor said she needed to take a moment to say how bad she felt about the previous day's terrorist attack. She asked if anyone else in the class had anything they needed to say about the US being attacked because of our wealth and freedoms. As usual, after 12 years in government schools, no one in class responded. They've learned to function in a semi-sleep state.

I was afraid of the response I might get, but I knew I wouldn't be happy with myself if I let the opportunity pass without making some attempt to speak the truth as I saw it. I put my hand up into the air. (You may as well put it up high--in for a penny, in for a pound!) I felt compelled to say that I believed we were not attacked because of our freedoms, godlessness, wealth or for any reason other than our interventionist foreign policy. Many of those other, previously silent people behind me suddenly came alive with "Yeah!" and "That's right!!" I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

The instructor said she didn't want it to denigrate into a political argument, but no one was arguing. She had made a political statement and if I had remained silent, it would have been interpreted as acquiescence. What she had said was also opinion rather than a given fact. I think she was afraid too, but she had courageously opened the topic anyway. I know I had been afraid of getting beaten up after class that day. (After all, this was in metro Detroit , and politics are fighting words.) It sums up the whole experience to say we were all just afraid, the usual outcome of terrorism.

No one else had raised a hand that day. Eventually that courageous, openhearted teacher became my friend and started to open her eyes to the truth, certainly not enough to declare herself an anarchist, but enough to indicate that she had begun to question the status quo, and nothing changes without an opening of the mind and heart.

People want someone to blame. They don't generally want to accept that their own actions contribute to a problem in any way. It's our victim culture. It's why politicians survive as a species; they agree that we're all victims of one kind or another and they are here to save us from every ill, including the ones we bring on ourselves. (Most Americans are indeed victimized by the most destructive criminal class of them all ' government.)

Begin With One Open Heart

Being vigilant about liberty to me means living consciously, including staying sober, so that I can use serendipitous opportunities for building bridges, for opening other people's eyes, not with force but with the simple truth. I cannot open someone else's mind when my own is closed. But when I approach others with a peaceful, open heart, it is irresistible. When I begin from a place of peace, it's as if everyone recognizes, on some level, this thing for which they have been searching but couldn't even name. Like responding in class that day, we're all just too afraid to be the first to offer it. Others must be given room to change, and a peaceful heart gives others the space to change their stance.

As anarchists, we believe in the non-initiation of force principle. I find that I need to take it one step further and not only avoid the temptation to initiate force, psychological or otherwise, but also refuse to push back when someone else is attempting to use psychological force against me. It's a choice that reaps amazing results when done skillfully and intentionally.

As a demonstration, you'll need another warm body. Got one? Good. Now try standing face to face with this person. Each of you make a fist with an opposing hand, one with his right, the other with the left. Now touch your fist together with the other person's. If you push your fist into theirs, automatically the other person will push back to the exact same degree of force that you are using against them to maintain their position.

Now, in the same position, again with fists touching, try not pushing, just hold your fist there, against theirs. If you ask the other person why they aren't pushing, invariably they'll tell you it's because you're not pushing them. Now ask them to push your fist. If you just let them push without offering any resistance, they spontaneously stop pushing. They just drop it. I've never seen it fail. This is a genuine demonstration of the skillful and intentional use of peace. Don't be deceived by its simplicity.

You can use this same principle psychologically. I've emotionally disarmed lots of people by not meeting their force but allowing it to spend itself without a result or reaction from me, as if it is falling into a black hole. The key is not to take other people personally. It is so rare to encounter someone who refuses to push back that it gets people's attention. I've used it to create peace in my own home and many situations. It is very powerful medicine for this sick world in which we live.

A friend told me a story once, about how a black neighborhood takes everything in to itself. It just absorbs everyone and everything. I try to be like a black neighborhood; take everything in and check it out. The more I do so, the more I realize that my potential for bearing life as it is is unlimited. All that's required is some patience, courage and trust in the process of peace.

Recently, in an airport, I approached a checkpoint with my driver's license, my open heart and a warm smile, the kind of smile that comes from one's eyes. I've had my share of unpleasant interactions with bureaucrats, and I'd heard plenty of horror stories, so I couldn't have been more surprised to be greeted with the same degree of warmth.

By no means am I endorsing the Department of Homeland Security. It is the latest installment of the Washington Waste Machine. They're the Keystone Cops, except their guns shoot real bullets, and there's nothing funny about it. What I am saying is that with enough skill, you can extricate the seed of human decency from beneath any wrapper because it is within us all. It's what makes us alive, so it has to be under there somewhere.

We could try more invasions, bombing and torture; we probably will. We can call soldiers 'Peacekeepers,' shoot rubber bullets and 'support the troops' all we want, but it won't change the nature of our actions. Liberals think things would improve if we but used the ill-gotten gains of government to finance free food, rent and health care instead of war. This can never work because it is based on the initiation of force. My Dad used to say that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear no matter what you say or how hard you try.

What we've been doing hasn't worked yet. Will more of the same do the job? We need to try something new. Anything would be better than what we've been doing. I happen to know that love works. If a stubborn soul like me can learn to love an abusive parent or a ridiculous bureaucrat, anyone can do it.

We're all just people, no matter how hard we may pretend otherwise. I wasn't even asked to remove my shoes that day in the airport. Sometimes I am able to present myself as an ego-less being. I had no pretense to try to protect, presented nothing to push against, provided nowhere to 'hang a hat,' so to speak. If they had wanted to, they could have thrown me down and hauled me away. They could have planted drugs in my bag and no one would have been able to rescue me. They were certainly empowered to have given me a free ride through the bizarro 'justice' system our nation teeters upon.

Love is the Yeast

We're all human and all want the same things: peace, security, freedom, love and happiness. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that same desire in other people because their inner light has become so obscured for one reason or another ' abuse, greed, fear, what have you. They've strayed so far from love that they can't find their way back. Most people spend their whole life searching for love, forgetting that it lies within and is always available. You can sense it now, can't you?

Violence is not a useful guide, succor is. I remember a story that demonstrates it beautifully. It is a true story and I regret that I have no idea who first recorded it. There was a tribal woman out foraging while her toddler was busy investigating the world at her feet. Because she was concentrating on her work, she didn't realize that he had quietly wandered quite a distance, as children are wont to do when curious. She saw too late that her baby had reached the edge of a precipice. Everyone knows that if you tell a two-year-old to stop, they will not only keep going, they will run. The woman wisely said nothing other than the child's name and deftly exposed a breast. The child turned and immediately came back to its mother and her invitation of nurture.

Everyone gets upset sometimes. If I can just allow others to be upset, even if they want to blame me, the emotions eventually become spent. When I recognize this, I can resist the temptation to take their feelings personally. If I don't react or move from my centeredness of peace, it's like not pushing back, and the other person eventually drops their force. It's what Jesus meant when he said, 'resist no evil.' Peace and receptivity is the means by which we can have an intelligent dialogue and find solutions.

One time my home-schooled daughter wanted to 'opt in' to art and gym class at the local school. I won't even begin to delineate the bureaucracy we endured to simply get her inside the building that first day and in and out each subsequent day. I just want to give you an example of telling the truth and making peace. I will admit that at times it takes a lot of patience, but if we are not good guides, these lost souls may never find their way.

On her first day, the gym teacher was giving a written test on the rules of tennis. Sis had never touched a tennis racket. She wrote her name on the paper and then wrote across the page 'I will not take this test.' It was obvious her experiment of 'opting in' would be brief. I knew we needed to expand our home school studies to include diplomacy, but I was proud of her. Even though she couldn't articulate any further than 'no,' she recognized ridiculousness when she saw it and had no trouble saying so.

When I picked her up, she informed me that the gym teacher wanted to talk. He emerged shortly to inform me that he had reported the 'incident' to the principal. I gently explained to him that tests only create stress for children; that they only show how good you are at test taking, rather than how good you are at tennis. If he couldn't tell by watching her play if she understood the rules of the game, he could just talk to her for a few minutes and she could tell him; maybe ask any questions she had about it. (I had not anticipated that her first lesson in diplomacy would begin so soon.)

At this point, the poor stressed out fellow exploded. 'I have 600 students! I can't take ten minutes with each to find out what they know! This is the REAL world!' The man was obese, and with his personality, I was afraid he might have a heart attack or stroke right there. I wanted to get out a prescription pad and write down, 'eliminate junk food, walk briskly for one hour daily, one hour massage monthly and study yoga.'

I knew that I couldn't take his insult to home schooling personally, and I let it go. I told him, 'Tere is only one world and we're all in it.' I gave him my best, warm, mother smile. Basically I was showing him the breast, reminding him of love and succor, with which he immediately identified. I told him, 'I know you're very busy, but I think my daughter is the only one requesting a few minutes of your time?' His shoulders drooped. 'Yes,' he quietly admitted.

'Sis is a natural athlete, so I think you'll like having her in gym. She wants to be here.' I could see his emotions were spent. He seemed relieved not to have a war on his hands. This probably wasn't his dream job, a concept to which anyone can relate. He looked down and surprisingly admitted, 'I guess I shouldn't have given her a test on her first day.' I had made it easy for him to tell the truth. 'Ok, so there's no problem. Just call me anytime you want to discuss something.' When he encountered peace and love, he recognized it immediately. He had earned himself one more warm, mother smile from me.

Truly, no one knows better the utter deception behind the illusion of government as harbinger of order, justice or security than a bureaucrat. If you play along with their delusion of being a representative of the state rather than a living, breathing human being, you've already lost. The apparatus of the state is a machine designed to place an artificial barrier between human beings, thereby enhancing the need for more government. When we refuse to participate in the pretense, the machine stalls. It has no fuel to run on if humans refuse to be grist for its mill. It's like Toto pulling back the Wizard's curtain to reveal the frail, ignorant, old guy who doesn't know how to get home, either.

If, however, you remain centered in your humanity, you have stopped agreeing with the illusion and the justification of the use of force. You expose the fraud of the system that bureaucrats pretend to honor. By standing true, you expose their individual nakedness. Mahatma Gandhi understood this profound truth and used it to extricate his country from the grip of colonial England .

I read an amazing story about individual heart cells. When they are removed, separated and treated properly, they each continue to beat with a pulse. Sometimes those beats can get out of sync while they are separated, but if the individual cells are reunited, they immediately return to beating in sync again.

This is a microcosm of humanity. All people everywhere are actually 99.9% exactly the same. We're all made up of a few simple elements, which, Deepak Chopra tells us, could be had at a hardware store. We all came from a mother, from the same earth and elements, breathing the same air. Some particles of our world become the cells of some of us, and some become the cells of others, it's that simple. When we start to think that we are truly different, we are deceived. We look for ways to divide life and naturally, we must be not only different, but better than some 'other.' Must we wait until we die and return to the cosmic soup to re-recognize our one-ness?

Jesus knew the truth. He knew that we are all brothers, and that love is the whole point. He didn't take anyone's deceptions personally, not even when they were foisted upon him. He resisted no evil. He practiced what he preached.

In order to successfully provide our own peaceful response, we must come from a deep knowing of the truth about peace, love, who we really are and what it is that we're about. It's a powerful place, but not forceful. This is where peace begins, not in the halls of Congress or 'over there' somewhere where the Decider declares hollow victory.

Take Stock

'Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently*,' as the song goes. So the way to begin this vital work is through self-examination. Get the log out of your own eye before attempting to help your brother with the speck in his, says Jesus. Here's a fast, fun and easy way to do this. Ready for another exercise?

Write at the top of a piece of paper the name of an irritating person in your life. Then list all the things you dislike most about him or her. This part doesn't take long. Didn't I tell you it was fast, fun and easy?! It's also terribly useful. Don't read ahead.

Finished? Now cross off the name at the top of the page and write your own name in its place, because this is a list of things you must work on in yourself. I know what you're thinking--how handy to have them listed right there at your fingertips! You can paste the list on the refrigerator; your family will be happy to help you address your defects of character, trust me!

What this exercise teaches us is that underneath we are all the same. You'll know when you've made progress correcting your own flaws when the things you listed about the other person no longer irritate you. They only irritated you to begin with because they are your own 'buttons.' It's not easy to recognize them in yourself unless it is your intention. Once you do, however, you are then free to meet the world in all its horrors because you have met the horror within yourself and no longer have need to react to it. Only then are we truly of any use to others.

When I am able to meet the deception of bureaucracy and the dependent mindset that is prevalent today without any hostility or force, others often just drop their push like magic. It's hard to believe how well this works until you try it yourself. When you can meet people where they are rather than where you'd like them to be or where you think they should be, well, then you have a place to begin a real dialogue. I believe an open hearted dialogue is the only way we can hope to stop the killing in this world. If you can learn to drop resistance and force on every level, you'll be modeling peacemaking, and modeled behavior is the primary way we humans learn.

Our capacity is only limited by our own thinking. 'I can't handle this,' is an example of deceptive thinking. When someone says this, they're already handling it, because whatever 'it' is is already here! You only think you can't handle it. You may not want to handle it, it may not feel good to be handling it, you may not want to handle it again at some point in the future, but the fact is that you're already handling it right now. In actuality, our capacity for meeting life as it is is unlimited.

The truth is, the worst things that happen in life, the things we think that we can't handle, create in us the most profound changes in the way we live and in the way we see things if we but allow it. Surely, no one signs on for painful experiences, but people who survive them appreciate life more and love easier and more thoughtfully than people who bumble along in mediocrity.

Try making some peace today. Don't talk about how badly the warmongers are behaving in Washington unless you're willing to stop warring with life here at home, right now, today. It's simple, just stop resisting this moment. Tell the truth, not with blame or superiority, but because you've seen that we are all the same and we have no more need to pretend that we are our title or our possessions, or some other thing that we identify with that is not who we really are. Do this without pretense the way a child tells the truth. If you would dissasemble the apparatus of the state, you must stop taking government personally. It's simply what happens when people are afraid.

* 'Put Your Hand in the Hand' Anne Murray

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.