Violence and Nonviolence

by JMeier on June 13, 2011

I went to a silent retreat last month. I was surrounded by stillness, quiet, and peace.  I felt very calm. On the fifth night I had a dream.  A close friend of mine was in the dream. She’s in her early seventies.  In the dream she has a small dog.  She irritates teenagers in the neighborhood when she walks the dog.  So they killed the dog.  She complains to them about the dog.  So they killed her too.  The dream consists mostly of me talking to this group of teenagers.  They are telling me what they’ve done.  No remorse, just cold, hard, no emotion. “She’s just an old lady.  What’s she to us?  She got in our way.“ One less old lady hobbling down the street. That’s it. That’s the dream.

I awake, shaking and distraught.  “She’s just an old lady so kill her, murder her”?

I’d been reading Stephen Levine, Meetings at the Edge, which includes a chapter about families dealing with murder. He says: “There is just no way we can be protected from any of the changes that happen in the world. All we can do is allow ourselves to be open to the moment, to allow what we feel to arise, to honor the pain in our heart.”

I let go into feelings from the dream.  It rips my insides out.  The loss, the anger.  Just the look of utter disdain in their eyes, their words, their manner.  I surrender to the process of deep mourning.

I sit with it for awhile.

Eventually some questions come up.

I acknowledge my deep desire for safety in this world. I envision using force to restrain the teenagers and to protect others.  But what about the impulse towards punishment and revenge  that is also there, if I’m totally honest?  I start to get in touch with how violence and hurt can lead to further violence. When I recognize these impulses in myself, I find that people who might advocate punishment or revenge don’t seem quite so foreign to me anymore. I wonder, can nonviolence survive in the midst of deep hurt?

I begin to look at my own propensity for violence. I may not be, in my heart, only that loving, caring person that I think of myself as being. Seeing the impulse towards violence in my own soul seems to somehow help me loosen around at least some of my “good” vs “evil” ideas about the world.

At some point I realize what I really want is for people like these teenagers to fully comprehend the depth of my pain around violence and oppression but I feel powerless to bring that about.

I become fascinated by the interplay between my inner and outer worlds.

I start working with all parts of the dream as if they are parts of myself.  First, I notice myself in the dream. I’m oddly passive. I seem to be disturbed at listening to the teenagers but not overly upset. How can that be? Next, I notice the puppy and see aliveness, energy, creativity, enthusiasm, youth. My friend is an older part of myself, cantankerous.  I don’t like that part so much.  I don’t like watching myself grow older.  And the “gang”.  My gang rubs out, murders my contribution to life, my aliveness, my youth and vigor, my being, with complete, cold, hardness and no recognition of what they do.  How can it be?  Are there ways in which I really do that to myself?

There are no quick or easy answers. I start to watch how the outer world manifests itself internally and vice versa. Maybe if I can work with the dynamics internally, I’ll get some insight into how to live in the external world.  Similarly, the external world may help me see what is going on internally. If Martin Luther King can love those who beat and humiliate him, can’t I find love for myself including all my imperfections?

Conflict, violent crimes and wars are such an endemic part of our world, and my private world too, it seems. Is there any alternative to endless war? There will be times in my life when I feel deeply disturbed, hurt, angry, even vengeful. I will also come face-to-face with injustice and oppression many more times in my life, I’m sure. What can I do when this happens? What options do we have in these situations?

Next week:  Violence and Nonviolence, Part 2

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admin June 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Beautiful reflections, Jean!
They inspired the following thoughts regarding inward and outward violence. When I accept some of the harmful interpretations of what was going on that I unwittingly created as a child – e.g., I’m bad, there’s something wrong with me – I am more guarded, more fearful, more likely to interpret outward events as threats. I am more likely to acquiesce to and accept victimization by current situations. And further, the corresponding anger within myself – directed at myself – can easily get diverted into anger and judgment toward others. Something like…”if I don’t feel ok about myself in that area (being smart, lovable, spontaneous, etc.) , how dare you feel ok about yourself in that area?” The self-directed anger results in a contracted, competitive space.
I’m thinking perhaps peacebuilding involves letting go of all harmful interpretations, and using an overarching narrative of interpretation that we’re all seeking and fully deserve happiness, peace, connection and that no one at the level of their soul/heart means to hurt anyone.
I can imagine the “gang” in your dream so filled with unexpressed rage and grief about abuse and neglect they’ve received, that they are eager to inflict violence on others.
Anyway…these are some initial reflections that came up. Thanks again for your thoughtful and courageously honest exploration of the inward/outward!

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