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Dear Anonymous Spiritual Warrior,

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Ah, thank you for your comment. I don't know how to answer your questions but I was stimulated to think about my relationship with self-defense and aggression through my growing up.

When I was a little fellow growing up in school was tough on me. I was a delicate child with slightly more talent and smarts than the average kid in my class. I was tall quickly, and thin and reed like and gentle and kind. The boys in my class didn't appreciate me. They beat me up regularly. They would whisper threats to me in class endlessly telling me what they were going to do to me at the break. Then they did exactly what they had threatened.

I loved school and because violence wasn't in my nature I tried to imagine they would get tired and go away. I was afraid of them. They didn't go away. Not until one day, surrounded by a whole group of them I heard one laughingly say to his buddy "Look how scared he is!" and I knew they were never going to go away because they were "on to me" I was very scared. I made the decision in the moment: I punched the main man on the nose and that was the end of it. They never bothered me again. Well not that group at least. Others did. Teasing carried on and whispered threats, but it bothered me less and less.

As I grew older and fell in love with spirituality more and more I began to feel sadness about that I had used violence to put an end to violence. I became attracted to ideas about non violence and gentleness and decided to never again commit an act of violence. Then one day in my late teens I was confronted with a terrible soul searching moment. I watched an African man get beaten savagely for the mistake of getting onto the wrong color train and I did nothing. It happened so fast and was so brutal that the only intervention I could imagine would have been to jump on in and physically stop the violence. I was frozen in shock and in terror.

I haven't ever forgotten that moment or the unanswered question of what is right to do and to what degree a person should or shouldn't defend themselves and others. I became a vegetarian and struggled with the knowledge I learned in science classes that our bodies are
well trained defense mechanisms of their own ruthlessly hunting down aliens in our blood and biology and savagely destroying bugs, pathogens and whatever else doesn't belong. I couldn't even be comfortable with the line drawn between what I would eat and what I wouldn't eat. It didn't help one little bit when I heard Dr. Spock explain on Star Trek that even an apple's life is forfeit when I was munching down on it.

I had no ideas about how to be, eat or exist - I tried only to do my best to no contribute any violence. But I was continually afraid. Afraid of the threats to my personal well being, afraid of the accumulating acts of violence my biology was conducting in an ordinary inhalation and exhalation. I know... I'm odd.

Then one day, as a young adult, I was invited to be the male-model for a Women's Self Defense Class. I got to be the perpetrator night after night as women learned strategies to get out of and avoid dangerous entanglements. Through the constant onslaught of self-defending women I learned their strategies and techniques and to my surprise I noticed that the better equipped I became to defend myself, the greater my peace of mind. I have never used the strategies I learned in that class, however, I continue to be grateful for having learned them.

I wonder what I would do if a loved one was brutally attacked in front of me. I would probably not stand by silently like I did when I was a teenager. And I'm glad I know a little bit more about how to have a better chance of surviving such an entanglement. I'm still a delicate being, not reed like anymore, and I'm probably not the fastest or the first choice on anyone’s team or defense project. I just don't see myself standing by and watching ever again.

One day, a teenager from our church was walking down College Avenue. A car of young men stopped and jumped out and beat him up because he looked "gay". They put his eye out and changed him forever. I have sat with that for years. I can't say that I have found forgiveness for the young men who beat him. I've never met them or laid eyes on them. I can see on the deepest spiritual levels how they have brought something precious in its darkness into my life, because I continue to work towards non-retribution in my thought and to give them safe passage through my mind when I think of them.

I wonder what I would do if I was there when it happened. I get afraid just thinking about it. Would I still want to flee? Would I still want to do nothing? Am I still afraid I might die doing something?

One evening in downtown Santa Rosa, I was waiting for a dinner date. A young man walking quickly down the side walk focused his gaze on me and started saying derogatory things about me as he changed his direction and started walking directly to me. I felt something new. I became angry and time slowed down as I wondered what I should do. It clearly looked like the young man intended to hit me in the face. And I decided in the slowed down time to do nothing. I can't say why. He rushed forward and at me angry and wild and threw his fist towards my jaw and pulled it back at the last moment and laughed and ran away.

I hadn't flinched. And I was quite peaceful. I can't explain what had happened. I wonder if my presence of mind has something to do with my growing understanding of how to be a good steward of my body and affairs. I lock my doors. I have insurance. I am mindful about what I leave in plain view in my car. I have accumulated a whole host of day to day safety strategies that contribute to my sense of being able to move through this world peacefully.

Boxing is one of the safety strategies.... Not because it is equipping me to knock someone out. I wouldn't last ten seconds with any kind of boxing amateur or pro. I box because of the amazing upper body strength I am regaining, the flexibility and dexterity and the cardio work out. Oh my, I had no idea that all that bopping around would be one of the most effective fitness strategies I had ever encountered.

When someone asked Gandhi why it is he revered a book like the Gita that promotes war, he answered something like this. Go ahead and practice the principles of the Gita and see if it can possibily lead to war.

6 comments:

  1. If violence is such a pervasive activity (as within our very physiology) how then are we to expect peace anywhere? Is it not more about finding that stillness or peace as a state of mind & being in the face of violence as you so beautifully narrate in your stories? Or perhaps what is required is reframing what we call violence? All of the violence you described, and in war between nations and people, seems to be related to survival--just like the reactions within our bodies. Perhaps violence is a fact of life and to pray for world peace is futile in terms of what we expect when we think of world peace. If you were present at that teen’s attack I am imagining that you would have reacted and stepped in as a shield, to protect him. You may have been able to see both sides of the equation and totally understand how survival was dancing in the incident for each party. What was in the young man, and even yourself as a child, that attracted violence? Is some survival strategy within the collective at play? Isn’t peace more about acceptance, acceptance of death and surrender into the ultimate One regardless of the pain, hurt, and aggression? How can one practice non-violence when there isn’t a thing about this world that is non-violent except for our detachment and non-judgment—and even our love or Divine Love in relation to it? We live on a violent planet and while I am an advocate for peace I am not sure how it fits with reality at the moment. Hmmm……. Perhaps you could expand on the Gandhi quote. Thank you for the comments. A pondering Spiritual Warrior.

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  2. Thank you, Rev. Edward, for a straightforward honest answer. In my heart and mind I am deeply moved: I was moved by Anonymous' question, and I am moved by your answer. I am so grateful for the attention each of you has given the question... and I continue to look to God within for clarity-within-the-clarity.
    xoxo

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  3. Thank you for such a beautiful insight.

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  4. Thank you Mary and thank you Swallow Tail for reading my blog. I appeciate your visits and comments. :) Edward.

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  5. I am in awe of your candid reflection. Thank you Edward, you keep teaching me over the years and give me so much to think about.

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