To Be Quiet In a Raging World
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
The world feels like it’s on fire. Between seasonal fires due to climate change, the hot temperatures of politics and people’s exhaustion with, and in other cases, heated denial of, Covid, it seems like inflammation is the defining trait of this period in history.
I have long felt the desire to be quiet and still in a world which feels loud and chaotic; to be a cool body of water on a roasting hot day.
Quiet and softness do not equal complicity. Being dedicated to kindness and non-violence does not give consent to bullies, corruption, abuses, or inequity… Practitioners of non-violence are strong in their convictions towards justice and equality and understand that fighting and struggle are futile. There are teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching the art of presence, middle-ground, and seeing clearly. Recognizable names include the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, Rick Hansen, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and countless others who teach to smaller audiences. Regardless of your decision to formally teach or not, both being non-violent and teaching non-violence are immeasurably valuable and essential.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, said, "Terrorists are human beings who are sick with the virus of terrorism. The virus you see is made of fear, hatred, and violence. You can be a doctor for a person with this illness. Your medicine is the practice of restoring communication. But if a doctor cannot talk to a patient, if the patient refuses to cooperate, then how can the doctor help? If the patient refuses the doctor’s help, doesn’t trust her, and fears the doctor maybe trying to kill him, he will never cooperate. Even if the doctor is motivated by a great desire to help, she cannot do anything if the patient will not collaborate. So the first thing the doctor has to do is find ways to open communication. If you can talk to the patient, then there is hope. If the doctor can begin by acknowledging the patient’s suffering, then mutual understanding can develop and collaboration can begin...." (see article)
What is the value of choosing non-violence? What is the value in choosing the middle-ground in a world that asks you to choose a side?
1.) You have the open-heartedness to see multiple perspectives
2.) You have less fear of uncertainty and are able to remain open to listening and communicating
3.) You create a safe space for others to explore their own biases/prejudices/conditioned thinking so that they may have an opportunity to safely shift perspective
4.) You hold things lightly knowing that everything changes but can still be anchored in fundamental values of kindness, non-judgment, non-grasping, and being present
5.) You are able to see things more clearly and rationally since you respond rather than react to a given stimulus
Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax talks about a strong back and soft front:
“All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply."
Even the most proficient practitioners experience pain, loss, tragedy, or turbulence; no one is immune to these experiences in life. The difference is that they “see” the experiences differently, with more detachment, less judgment of good or bad, and more acceptance. Those who are well-practiced might feel the uncomfortable sensations but are able to digest and metabolize them quickly and shift again to awareness, non-resistance, and readiness to do what is called for.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of awareness, celebrate where you are in your own practice, continue to cultivate compassion, patience, and kindness, especially when you falter, and honor the prolific teachers and their wisdom instead of comparing yourself to them. Fill your well drop by drop and over time you (and others around you) will benefit profoundly from your practices.