A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
“Hey, want to get arrested with me next weekend?” she casually asks over a latte.
“No,” I answer without hesitation, surprising even myself with the alacrity of my decision.
My friend, Linda, frequently attends protests specifically to get arrested. In the subsequent courtroom appearance, she gets a chance to speak her truth to power and pay a social penance for the sins of our government. She sees her role as witnessing on behalf of those yearning for peace and justice – a missionary who wants people to realize there are ways to push back against injustice, corruption, and the war machine. And over the years, she’s inspired me to take more risks in the name of peace and justice. Inspired me to show my face when numbers matter. However, Linda’s goal to get arrested in order to bring attention to a never-ending supply of causes has been controversial among many who support the causes yet question her strategy of breaking the law and intentionally tying up government resources.
But that’s not why I turned down her so-called invitation.
I had once entertained that strategy in my desperation to be an instrument for social change. From Vietnam to our first Middle East invasion, I’d been an inveterate war protester, standing in front of the United States Post Office with my sign. Ranting. Chanting. No matter the weather. I even went to civil disobedience training, offered by the daughter of the infamous Philip Berrigan, who is now infamous herself. I learned what to do if handled by police (don’t fight, go limp), what to (not) say, and how to get in touch with the group’s attorney.
That was in preparation for a protest in New York City against holding the prisoners at Guantanamo. The prisoners who are still there ten-plus years later.
I never went to that protest. If I’m to be honest, I was too scared of possible physical injury, damage to my social standing, and the potential for a miscarriage of justice. What if I ended up in Guantanamo? Stranger things have happened…
So I did nothing except buy a bright orange t-shirt that reads, Shut down Guantanamo.
And now, I still don’t want to get arrested. Not because I’m still scared (although I am a little, which is why I don’t even wear that orange t-shirt). But because I’m now seeking to bring about social change through a shift in my energy.
My evolution toward a higher consciousness has been slow. More visible and militant actions better suit my personality. For instance, I used to be annoyed by Buddhist monks and nuns who, in my opinion, did nothing but work at keeping themselves peaceful. It all seemed somewhat self-serving to me. What about the rest of us who couldn’t afford to go off and live in a cave?
That was until I met Jun-San, a Buddhist nun from the Grafton Peace Pagoda, who walks 180 miles to and from New York City each year on September 11. No spring chicken, she’s made that trek since 2001 and has also crossed the country at least three times on foot, walking and drumming for peace.
This quintessentially-bald Buddhist nun showed up at my church’s annual Peace Fair in 2009. My minister asked me to interview her, but I had reservations. I struggled to understand her contribution to alleviating pain in this war-torn world. After a few niceties were exchanged between us, I brazenly went for it: “How does your walking and drumming contribute to peace and justice? What purpose do you think it serves?”
I’m sure I had a smirk on my face.
With a smile, she graciously bowed to me before answering, while I silently cast my apologies to the Dalai Lama.
“Peace is a step-by-step process. It takes time to grow. Our world is too fast – we must slow down and listen. And always remember that we never know who’s listening to us. When they hear my drum outside of military bases, they know there’s another way. When people see me go by, they wave and shout ‘Thank you.’ By walking, I’m planting seeds. I’m raising consciousness, and that’s better than doing nothing.”
Although moved by the serenity of her response, I remained skeptical as to the efficacy of her approach. Afterward, strolling the grounds of the Peace Fair, I found activist groups with petitions to sign, buttons to wear, and marches to attend. Yeah. That’s the way to do this! Rage against the machine! It made much more sense to fight fire with fire. After all, I’d been an anti-war activist since my college days. As my fellow students were waiting for their draft numbers to be called, I was marching around campus with a black armband.
But had I been stopping anything? There has been continual war since that time despite the miles I’d put on my own feet. Systemic change was not occurring.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.
I began to wonder if there were another way.
And then life dealt me some personal blows. Blows for which earthly, human comfort just didn’t suffice. Blows that forced me to call upon a higher power in order to find peace and healing. I began to seek paths to internal peace that were spiritually and energetically-centered. I devoted my mornings to practices like reiki, prayer/meditation, yoga, spiritual reading, journaling, and visioning/imaging. Not only did I feel better emotionally but amazing physical healing occurred.
My energy shifted.
I felt more peaceful, not because all was miraculously well but because, by drawing on the universal reserve of energy, I knew I could handle what came along.
Without realizing it, I began to open to the ways of the Buddha. I witnessed irrefutable proof of the Law of Attraction as interpreted by him: All that we are is a result of what we have thought. I began to understand that we should shift our focus from what we don’t want to what we want in order to attract our desired outcome.
Mother Teresa seemed to understand the importance of shifting energy. (After all, isn’t that what prayer is really about?) Despite her lifelong quest for peace and social justice, she spurned protest rallies: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
Similarly, our use of language matters too, on both the neuro-linguistic and emotional levels. Consistent with efforts to shift negative energy, political candidates should stop telling us what they’re fighting against and tell us what they’re supporting. This is also applicable when trying to redirect children’s (or employees’) behavior: It’s best to focus on what we want them to do, rather than on what we don’t want them to do. Instead of saying, “Don’t slam the door,” tell them to “Close the door quietly,” thereby creating a positive vision of what success will look like.
Such a shift can have powerful implications in our daily lives and in our collective future. This month, we’re coming up on the 28th anniversary of the Harmonic Convergence, the world’s first globally-synchronized meditation during which millions of people simultaneously coordinated prayers, meditations and ceremonies at sacred sites around the planet. It coincided with a rare alignment of planets in our solar system and was intended to shift the world’s energy from warlike to peaceful. Many people reported a significant shift in consciousness as a result, although it proved hard to quantify a noticeable shift in our warring behaviors.
I didn’t participate in what I considered a laughable concept at the time. But if it happens again, I’ll be all in. Since I’ve personally experienced the power of intention, such a phenomenon no longer seems like new-age hocus-pocus to me. Marianne Williamson, a prolific author and speaker on metaphysics and spirituality, writes in Illuminata: A Return to Prayer, “A mass movement is afoot in the world today, spiritual in nature and radical in its implications…Things we thought were primitive beliefs turn out to be more sophisticated than we are….As we transform the energies inside ourselves, we transform the energies of earth.”
She among many others believes we are in a time of a great cosmic shift.
In New York State, The Albany Peace Project is deep into a 10-year study designed to determine if an organized group of trained meditators focused on peaceful intentions can measurably reduce violence in the state capital. Thousands of people are participating from all over the world. A mathematics professor at the State University of NY at Albany is reviewing violent crime statistics from the Albany Police Department to determine if such peaceful intentions have had an impact. So far, the results from this and similar studies have been promising.
In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun dedicated to making Buddhist teachings practical for Westerners, writes, “Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?’” She urges us to shift our energy away from “unconscious self-absorption” to a higher consciousness of forgiveness and acceptance.
My spiritual practices are far from perfect, requiring constant reframing. But my path now feels different after directly experiencing cosmic synergy through practices that shift my incoming and outgoing energy.
There are many paths to peace; Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Jesus used a combination of activist strategies. I’m glad that Linda still has the courage and the energy to make a big noise in D.C. and New York City. And I appreciate CODEPINK activists popping up in the most unexpected but necessary places. Such visible acts of civil disobedience still play an important role in our media-driven culture. But my energy and my path have shifted.
Be the change you wish to see in the world, Gandhi counseled. More specifically, he showed us how our thoughts are the gateway to our destiny:
Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviour.
Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.
I’m embarrassed to admit that while I initially dismissed the finer points of Jun-San’s message, I was very interested in what kind of footwear she was wearing for her long treks. When I asked her, she simply lifted her bright yellow robe (the color of renunciation, letting go, she informed me) and showed me. Perhaps if you someday hear the gentle beat of a drum passing by your window, you will choose to walk with her for a few miles, and you can sneak a peek at her feet yourself. As she told me, whatever you do is “better than doing nothing.”
Copyright 2015 Patricia A. Nugent
Patricia A. Nugent is a reiki master, teaching courses in spirituality and healing. She has been published numerous times in professional, literary, and online journals. She is the author of They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, a compilation of vignettes portraying the stages of caring for and saying goodbye to a loved one. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.