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If We Really Want It to Stop...
The following video is part of a live call on the online program I host alongside my former wife Patsy, called the Sanity Project. It is a very direct and uncompromising statement about what we must do to end the cycle that produces events like those unfolding in Israel / Palestine. Patsy starts us off with a little story and reference to Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ll add a lightly edited transcript beneath, but I suggest you watch instead. When I speak directly to people I don’t always speak in publishable sentences, and besides, voice conveys a lot of information that words cannot.
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Okay, welcome again. So today, what is present for me is a lot of dissonance in the world. When I was meditating today, when I sit down, there was some really loud noise, you know, some high school kids practicing drumming, and sirens, fire truck, you know, car, honking highways, lots and lots of noise, and it created a lot of anxiety. So I thought, wow, what better time than this kind of situation to meditate. And it reminds me of a story Thich Nhat Hanh told to illustrate the importance of inner equilibrium. He said, There's a refugee boat on the ocean that hits a storm. And it's very scary, and everybody is panicking. He said, when people are panicking, they're likely to take the wrong actions. But if there's just one person who is capable of keeping calm and speaking from the inner calmness, and asks the rest to remain quiet, then there is a chance they can come up with some kind of action or non-action to steer the boat to safety. So I thought, okay, how do I connect the inner calm when my stimulus around me is so discordant? So as I breathed, I closed my eyes, and I brought my awareness out further to listen to the birds and the trees. And I was wondering if I would be able to hear them. And I was able to. It was a miraculous moment. Wow, I can hold all the discordance and noises, the sirens, and even the cries of the victims of the wars and rage of the perpetrators. In that moment, I could even hear the stars. You can say that I am delusional. Maybe I was, but guess what? I felt peace. And that's what counts. And thank you for having me host this event for you. And welcome Charles.
Thank you. Thank you for that beautiful image. It is certainly relevant today, when in our political and psychic space, there's some very very loud noise, noise of wailing and crying and screaming and shouting and rage and grief and it's so present everywhere. Maybe for some of you less than for me, because, as you know, I’m so immersed now in the news and in politics now, but maybe for some of you more than me, because you might have family and loved ones living in Israel or Gaza or the West Bank. So Patsy, your story is a good reminder that through all of that noise, still there are other sounds, metaphorically speaking, that we can hear. There's just as much joy in the world, just as much laughter, just as much play, just as much love as there ever was before these terrible events unfolded.
The intense passions, the intense emotions that are coming from the trauma of these events call people into a kind of bewilderment or consternation. Some part of us wails, “How could this be happening?” When we read about the horrible events that unfolded last Saturday, there's some part of most of us that that can hardly believe it. How could people human beings do that to each other? That question and the energy behind it presents a potent opportunity for manipulation, because it can be channeled so easily into hate. Hate is kind of an off-ramp from anger and grief, which are uncomfortable emotions. Diverting them onto hate provides a kind of relief. It’s also an intellectual relief, because you're replacing bewilderment — How could this be happening? I don't understand — with “Oh, I understand. It's that bad person.” So blame is a an off-ramp from consternation, from perplexity, from bewilderment. And it channels the energy of those emotions onto a simple story. “Now I understand. Now I know what to do. I know who to hate. I know who to support, I know who to cheer. I know how to solve the problem. All we have to do is destroy those that we hate, and things will be better.”
And this is why I've gotten into trouble online now. Because when I make these points, I'm undermining that simple story of “Here are those that we must hate. Here are those that we must kill,” which is really what the Hamas terrorists were operating under too. These are those we must hate, these are those we must kill. And that story for them was so strong, that that's what they did.
So is the solution, is the way to end such happenings on Earth, to take the same storyline and apply it to somebody else? Because they're the actual bad people.
I make these points, and people jump to, “Oh, you're excusing them? You're justifying them?” No, I'm trying to explain, not justify. And I'm trying to identify a pattern that will keep us locked forever in a cycle of trauma. An insane pattern.
I look at these events, and I don't want them to happen again. I don't want them to happen anymore. It looks now that what's going to happen is the Israeli military is going to go into Gaza, and fight building the building. Most of them have been reduced to rubble, but there's going to be resistance, there's going to be shooting, there will be civilians caught in the crossfire. And it's hard even to tell who's a civilian and who isn't, in Gaza. And tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people might die. Half the population is children.
You might say, “Well, these deaths are justified. Any country if it experienced what Israel experienced would do everything it could to punish those responsible.”
I'm not interested in justifications. I'm interested in the pattern ending. And that's why I've been saying the things that I've been saying. Because from the perspective of one of those children — they don't know anything. All they know is that, you know, their parents are dead. Their brother is dead, their sister is dead, their house is destroyed.
We can do better than this. And doing better than this starts with...? Well, it starts with ourselves.
In the recording I made with Benjamin, I asked myself, I asked him, and I asked all of us to look at, When do I go into that kind of a storyline of — maybe I wouldn't go so far as to say hate, but you know, a little bit of contempt, a little bit of dismissiveness — that enables me to treat somebody as less than a full human, with less than dignity, with less than respect. Do I do that? And what are the opportunities that I have? When I am triggered by anger and grief, and those emotions are getting so intense that I want to offload them, I want to redirect them onto something else. Can I hold those emotions? Can I experience them? Can I feel them all the way to the end so that they can be alchemized? And so that they can reveal what is mine to do?
It's not recipe for passivity, to say, Okay, I'm not going to direct the anger and the grief onto hate and blame. But instead, I'm going to be with this and see where it takes me. It's not a recipe for passivity. It's just that the action will not be channeled through a storyline, that simplifying storyline of good and evil, hate and blame, perpetrators and victims, and the simplistic solutions that come from that. The energy will be channeled differently, it'll have the opportunity to express itself differently. Because really what it wants, what the discomfort of those emotions wants, is for us to look at things we have not looked at before. Because it makes the status quo unbearable. We have to look now. That's what it wants. We have to no longer accept the way things have been. That's where these emotions — especially anger, I guess I'm talking mostly about anger, not about grief — that's where it can take us. And ultimately, it leads to compassion.
This touches back into the No and the Yes. In my previous video, anger is the No. And then what? Not this, but what? And then compassion leads to the Yes. Because if you really don't want these kinds of things to keep happening, you have to understand why they're happening. To understand why they're happening, you have to understand the human beings who did them. So then you look into their circumstances, you look into your own role in creating those circumstances. And this is what I hope that the people of Israel do, that they look into the role of the Israeli state, the Israeli government with, to a large extent, the complicity of the people. That they look into their role in creating the conditions where there's so much fury.
That doesn't mean that I'm justifying the hate of the Palestinians, the violence, the terror, the horrors that that Hamas has perpetrated. You’ve got to get out of that, out of that immediate jump, to “Oh, you're justifying them?” No, I'm not justifying, I’m trying to understand. If you understand, then you can stop continually creating the circumstances. To do that you have to understand, you have to see what you have not been seeing — if you really want it to stop. If it's more important to you to get vengeance rather than to make it stop, then you don't need to see. You don't need to understand. But it won't stop.
This should be obvious. You destroy your enemies, and you birth a new crop of enemies. They become martyrs. And for every enemy you destroy, there is a brother, a son, a father that you've radicalized, a friend, that you've made into a new enemy. Like the Hydra. In Greek mythology, you cut off one head and two new ones grow. So you're locked in an endless war. And then the security of your country of your family depends on constant arms, walls, permanent Security, a defense mindset. And it's never complete, you're never actually secure. When you are living behind walls, you're never actually secure. When you're living among enemies, you're never actually secure. So ironically, the things that would actually make Israel more secure, are the opposite of what they're doing in the pursuit of security. And the same thing for the Palestinians. The things that at least Hamas has done — although there are many other Palestinians and many other Israelis, there's a peace movement. So I don't want to equate Hamas with the Palestinians. But what Hamas and their supporters have done in violence, with the goal of an autonomous homeland and freedom, of self determination, has brought the opposite, to the point where they might lose their homeland entirely. Gaza could be utterly destroyed.
That's the situation before us. And the other path, besides an escalating cycle of vengeance is, ultimately, forgiveness. It is to say, I'm not going to continue the cycle, I'm not going to hate the one that harmed me, I'm not going to harm the one that harmed me. If forgiveness means anything, that's what it means.
The dilute form of forgiveness is restraint. I'm not going to harm he who has harmed me quite as much as I could. Restraint is on the spectrum of forgiveness. And anytime you exercise restraint, you invite the other to also exercise restraint. If somebody doesn't do that, the situation will spin out of control and engulf the whole world. That's why I say that this is actually important. This is something in the news that's actually important, and deserves all of our attention and our prayers and our commitment to creating a field of forgiveness in our lives, a field of restraint and a field of forgiveness and a field of non-judgment, so that those who now have the fate of the world in their hands tap into that field and make similar choices.
I don't want anyone to feel helpless in the face of what is unfolding in Israel. There are other powers at work here that are not easily seen. The prayers, the individual acts of restraint, the ceremonies, people meditating for peace, all of that has has an impact. If we were just subject to the predictable political calculations, the typical political predictions, then there's no hope. But the world does not work that way. There are other powers at work here. When we practice restraint and forgiveness in our own sphere, we summon guardians into our world. Every time that we practice those qualities, we create an opening. It opens the door for beneficent beings to come in and help us.
That's all I have to say for the moment.
Charles, can I come in and ask you something before we move on to Q&A? So for me, I need to actively choose forgiveness, in order to fuel my capacity for restraint. But when I do that, before I can even choose forgiveness, I frequently notice a underlying anxiety that forgiveness means that what I'm forgiving will keep happening. Right? And I know that I'm not the only one. So could you say something about that?
So again, yes, forgiveness does not mean that you just let it happen again. Forgiveness means that you don't act on hate, you don't act on vengeance, but instead you act on on actual safety. So suppose there is someone out there who broke into your house and beat you up, or there's a murderer out there. And you work through the forgiveness and you say, I genuinely don't hate this person, I genuinely do not wish for them to come to harm. But that doesn't mean you let them run around out there and kill more people. So maybe you put them in prison. But prison is not actually — the higher incarnation of prison is not punishment. In fact, I think Norway has a prison system that's not based on punishment. It's based on keeping people safe from dangerous criminals, and, for those criminals who can be healed, who can be changed, providing opportunities for that to happen.
Applying that to national security, or to the situation in Israel now in Gaza, it would mean distinguishing what of this bombing campaign and invasion of Gaza is in the interests of revenge, and what is in the interest of preventing it from happening again. What are you really serving here?
I hope that answers the question. Revenge and preventing it from happening again, are all mangled together. If you really wanted to stop it from happening again, maybe instead of an invasion, maybe you bring a million peacekeepers into Israel, and Gaza and the West Bank, and and they flood the entire region, Peace witnesses. And nobody gets punished. But nobody does it again. Would you settle for that? If no one got punished, but it never happens again. That's the choice that we will have to make. And that's the choice that informs true forgiveness. You have to let go of something.
Forgiveness is a sacrifice. And what you let go of, is vindication, that feeling, ah, they got what they deserve. Feels nice, doesn't it? But do you? Is that what you really want in your soul? Is that what you really want for them — to get what they deserve? Or would you rather, if you had to choose, would you rather choose that no child ever has to experience that again? I know what I would choose.
Yeah, thank you, thank you. I believe that humanity, if you give them the space to really make a choice, they will choose forgiveness. But what I see oftentimes is that people are incapable of choosing forgiveness because of that lack of tools to hold the rage, because the rage and anger is so powerful. And if you don't have a way to hold it, or have your allies, friends, and support the whole way together, oftentimes that will be the basis where you make your choices.
It’s not just tools. It's also what Thich Nhat Hanh said, you know, about one person holding peace. Because the rage is contagious, People will provoke each other into more and more hate, and circulate stories that might not even be true, or preferentially circulate the ones that are most infuriating. The mob gets worked up into a frenzy and will do anything. It is the person who holds the center, holds the quiet place, and doesn't react right away who might may be able to calm others. So it's not just tools, it's also a vibration, it's a field that we can look for. In those moments of “Oh my god, I cannot handle this” you call someone who speaks for the part of you that knows, “I don't want to go there, but it's too much for me. I need help.” This is why I say again, sanity is a group project.
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