Appreciation Casts Out Fear

From all sides, the media has been bombarding us with large and small, seemingly never-ending, incidents of violence. Terrorism, police brutality, random bombings, muggings, rapes, and acts of war – the list seems endless. Then come the responses. Let’s go bomb the perpetrators, shoot the cops, fortify ourselves in hideouts, give up our privacies and civil liberties, huddle in fear, vociferously judge each other, kick out innocents because they are “other” – the responses are hardly less violent. Mankind seems to be intent on labeling others less valuable, less human. What happens then, when the last human stands? Will he or she be any more valuable than the ones who fell?

It seems to me that what is missing is a sense of gratitude for life. That is rather broad, perhaps, so let’s simply call it a lack of appreciation for each other.   If the knee jerk reaction is “How can I possibly appreciate ____________” (fill in the blank), then the observation hits home. In every person, however opprobrious he or she may appear, there is a grain of good. In every person, even those who appear as saints, there is a grain of evil. I use those terms loosely, because what is good to one may appear evil to another. But in everyone, there are both. We need to learn to focus on what can be appreciated.

No, we do not need to lie down and let people beat us up or destroy us. We have both the right and duty of self-defense. On the other hand, we need to question how it is self-defense to take the aggression and destruction forward to the other, to meet hate with hate and violence with violence, physical or verbal. In so doing, we perpetuate a world culture of fear and death, and it is destroying us; the fear is at the root of the destruction, not the other.

If we could each take a few moments daily to appreciate at least one quality in the human and non-human beings with whom we share life on this planet, and with the planet herself, who is ill and suffering, we will have made a huge step in healing ourselves and our world. Many traditions teach those who learn from them to pray for their enemies. Appreciation is a form of prayer. It is powerful.

In this holiday season, where we celebrate in various ways the return of light, it is appropriate to reflect on and practice what illuminates the dark, the dark of fear and hate that causes us to diminish the humanity of others and hence begin to lose our own. Whatever tradition is yours, please pray the prayer of appreciation.

Peace, Diane

Responding Without Fear

It seems that news of the recent horrific attacks in Paris have permeated every corner of the media, touching us all with the grief and distress of the victims and the instability in the world.  It is not only in Paris that such things happen; the violence is worldwide.  It is that Paris has occupied most of the media.

Although there is a large contingent of people in Europe and North America who are advocating for a sympathetic response to the plight of Syrian refugees, the majority of official response seems to be one of drawing inward and raising the defenses, as well as an eagerness to fight back, to commit troops to what is hoped will be an extinguishing of the men and women who commit these violent atrocities.  There is not only a hatred of ISIS, but a distrust of and resentment of any Muslim – and perhaps of any stranger.

The reaction is quite understandable.  When one is under attack, the inbred, ancient response is to fight or to run away.  In our shrinking, interconnected world, it is not really possible to run away.  In addition, one wishes to protect one’s own family, one’s own tribe, one’s own culture. The right of self-defense exists.  The only problem is that these responses are usually born of fear.

Fear is present not only among the victims of terrorist guerrilla attacks, in the form of, for example, suspending civil rights in the name of collecting intelligence, refusing shelter to refugees in the name of protecting the people from terrorists who might be hiding among them, in the calls to arms and the aggressive political rhetoric that surrounds the issue.  It is also present among the attackers.  People, with the exception of a few mental deviants such as sociopaths, do not generally desire to murder others for no reason.  Most humans, in order to do that, need to first think of their victims as subhuman, as less and unworthy of life.  However, people will kill when they are afraid.  The more afraid they are, the more violent the aggressive defenses they enact.  The more afraid they are, the more they try to hide their fear or project it onto others.

What could these criminally murderous terrorists possibly be afraid of?  They do not appear to be afraid of being caught or of retaliation.  They even seem to invite that, to wish to escalate the conflict and atrocity.  Even more, they seem to be intent on attracting others, particularly young others, to adopt their viewpoint and join their efforts.  They are willing to die for that.  Their movement is not a resistance to any one government, or designed to eradicate human sufferings, such as poverty, or inequality of some people compared to others.  Their announced goal is to defeat, to eradicate, Western civilization.  Logically, that goal, as horrific as Hitler’s goals of the last century, is a clue to what they fear.  It would seem they fear Western civilization itself, perhaps fear that their own culture will be eradicated by the economic and cultural strength of the West.

The fear reaction is no longer a viable reaction.  This is increasingly apparent as distances in the world diminish and the pace of time increases.  The result of fear, multiplied many times over, is simply mutual destruction.  It is the voice of death.  And yet, it seems remarkably difficult to disengage from it. What if the other guy does not disengage when we do?  Yes, we must remain aware, ready to react promptly and responsibly to imminent threat.  We are also aware of fire, and protect ourselves against it.  No, we don’t need to simply bare our throats to a predator.  What we do need to do is understand, and to tailor our responses from that understanding.  It is the first step to response without fear.  Perhaps we need to double think responses which give an impression that we are trying to convert the world to Western secular culture, to eliminate others’ ways of life unbidden.  Perhaps we need to avoid those actions which would lead to our becoming less than who we are – such as suspending civil rights or closing our doors to innocents who suffer.  Perhaps we need to employ our creativity in creating defensive stances that do not involve bombing our attackers out.  Perhaps, even, we need to figure out ways to prosper on our planet without destroying it.  At the very least, devoting some energy to publicly thinking about these things would be a step in the direction of continued existence on our Earth.

Peace,  Diane


Time and the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. I love to watch the children, who, starting with Halloween, both anticipate and revel in the celebrations. I can remember, not only as a child, but also as an adult, looking forward to, preparing for and enjoying the holidays.

Now, it seems that there is an additional component – time. It seems to me that time has increased its space, telescoped, inflated – however one calls it, it seems that more time is needed to accomplish an increasingly greater menu of activity. As most people I know seem to have experienced this, I don’t think I am crazy in noticing.

I remember planning or helping to plan Halloween costumes, carving pumpkins, handmade treats, and admiring the costumes of excited trick-or-treaters. Now, I buy candy (my daughter insists the kids will be quite offended if non-candy treats are offered), and answer the door for two hours. The trick or treaters seem serious, out to get as much candy as possible in the shortest amount of time.   No more chatting. No pausing at any door. Yes, it is still Halloween, but what has time done?

I remember several days of preparations for Thanksgiving. There were family gatherings, pleasant or not, in which one could travel more or less at leisure. I remember being able to sit at table an hour or more, having real conversation. Now, cooking a Thanksgiving meal is rushed, and the people eating it finish as soon as possible. Travel is rushed – hurry to get ready, see how quickly one can get there, and shorten the visit because one needs to be at work the next day. What has time done? Or is it our devices that lure us away from each other?

I remember sitting at a kitchen table wrapping Christmas gifts. The aim was not to get done as soon as possible, but to make each gift as artistically beautiful as possible. Yes, there was preparation work for Christmas, but not the rush to hurry up and get done as much as possible in a short time. There was time to choose “the right” gift, to bake cookies and cakes, to attend parties, to work together to prepare. Now, I feel more like the manager of a warehouse trying to fill orders under a deadline. Decorations, if any, need doing in a hurry; the house needs to be cleaned pronto.   All these things need to be done as the pace of work life also increases, with deadlines to be met before the holidays. Yes, those things were there before, but not nearly as rushed as now. I am not Scrooge.   Holidays are still enjoyable, and the spirit of giving is an important part of life. I just wish there were more time to savor.

Perhaps there is a way to work with time’s increased pace. Perhaps the trend to fragment ourselves into smaller and smaller living units has something to do with it.   Many hands, after all, make lighter work.   Perhaps we again need the extended family, the tribe, the community.   Blessed are they who have successfully managed to support each other and share the joys and the work.

I wish for all the gift of time.

Peace, Diane

Go Forth in Peace, Find Joy

Grandmaster is retiring on Halloween.   My martial arts school is closing.  In the grand scheme of things, that is probably not news of great significance. Yet, it does set ripples in motion, and who knows where those ripples might lead.

For those of us who are students at the school, the change is definitely significant. We will need to transfer to other schools, find other schools, or retire ourselves from what has been a part of our lives – for some of us, a large part of our lives. For Grandmaster, the change is immense – he is retiring from what has been most of his life, and now must find another way forward.

So, life changes. What ripples will this change bring?   Grandmaster is an old school teacher. Along with kicks and punches and self-defense, he teaches patience, respect, courage, kindness, persistence, focus, confidence, resilience, and responsibility – things the TV portrayals of martial arts lack. The irony is that these qualities, often subsumed under the concept of “strong mind”, are actually more important to the growth of the martial artist than is the skill of high leaps and fancy forms. That is not to demean the physical skills – they are important, too, for self-defense, and for competition for those so inclined. Even more importantly, they facilitate a balanced and healthy body, which supports a balanced and healthy strong mind.

With Grandmaster’s retirement, those skills are lost to the world in the measure that he gave them. New students will no longer learn from him. Hopefully, enough of us have internalized what he taught so that we can carry them forth into the world, perhaps in ways not directly related to martial arts.   Hopefully, they will not be lost, just included in other ways, transmuted but preserved in essence.

Godspeed, Grandmaster, in your retirement. May your way forward be smooth, and may we all also find our ways to the next steps in our lives.

Peace, Diane