Tag Archives: Spirituality

Fear and other motivations…

Since our most recent blockade at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield last week, I’ve been thinking a lot again about fear, stress, and what it is that guides and motivates us. On our way to the base, I was feeling particularly nervous – the combination of the practical things that needed to happen to make our action work well, combined with the potential legal penalties made for a rich cocktail that fed fear and nerves, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling that way! Fear can be pernicious and I’ve found one of it’s little tactics is found in the desire to ‘find a way out’ can be powerful; the little voice saying “you don’t have to do this, you don’t have to be here, it’s OK to bail out…” can sometimes be making a lot of sense, but it can also be a voice driven by fear.

On that journey, driving through the Berkshire countryside at half past six in the morning, I found myself looking for a source of motivation, of something to be guided by that wasn’t stress, fear, or even determination and desire to be effective (whose counterpoint is the fear of being ineffective) – I was looking for something that put the action we were about to take into a wholly different context, beyond the pressure of being right or wrong, beyond effectiveness and failure. I wanted my actions that day to be born out of love, and while that feels easy to type, and easy to say in comfortable, warm, safe spaces, it didn’t feel immediately easy while sat in that van!

Looking out of the windows though, we were met with a deer running across the road, beautiful rays of dawn light through big, leafy trees, gentle mists, and – as we approached the boundary fence of one of the most abhorent places in the country- a bird (a Jay, I think) flew briefly fly alongside the van. Breathing gently and purposefully – finding those little seeds of joy and love, as Thich Nhat Hanh might say – and thinking about the beauty of the creation we’re so blessed to live among, every day, became a wonderfully rich source of guidance and strength, taking me a long way from the logic of fear. As we approached the gate of the base, opened the doors and got the lock-ons out of the van, jumped into the road, and blocked the gate, I felt glad to be where I was and doing what I was doing – once we were in the road, I felt happy and content (a long way from where I’d felt a few minutes previously!) Managing to see the world with eyes of love felt like a deep moment of prayer; I felt like was able to carry my fear much more gently afterwards.

Reading back, it can seem almost trite to recall those minutes in the approach in such a way, but the experience was once again a lesson in not letting fear be the sole, overwhelming force that it can become. There are other, brighter, lighter, more gentle emotions and experiences to be guided by, and we’re surrounded by them every day. While we were locked on, we witnessed a Red Kite treat the SOCPA law – which consider anyone who dares enter designated areas as a terrorist – with a beautiful disregard for the ridiculous contractions humans have set around particular areas of land, as it flew over the base! Even when legitimate and logical, fear is paralysing and disabling; it can stop us acting with the love we hope to. Seeing the world with eyes of love, even just very briefly, is empowering and nurturing. I felt lucky to be able to take the action we did, and glad to briefly find those little seeds of joy and love that fed my spirit while lying in that road.

In peace

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Prophecy

While our friends were on trial this week, we held banners and handed out leaflets, declaring them prophets. ‘What a hideously grandiose, exaggerated claim!’ was my initial reaction to the idea, to the suggestion that any person might be able to adequately fulfil all all the necessary requirements to be able to claim that their words and actions are prophetic, not least people I knew! I felt uncomfortable with the idea that we might claim to carry a truth that others didn’t know – ‘surely we’re all as broken and lost as each other?’ I found myself asking – ‘who are we to judge?’

However, as we prepared for the days of solidarity outside the court, and especially sitting in the public gallery watching some of those same people take the stand to explain to the magistrate why they had taken the action they had, I began to feel more and more comfortable with the word. This was because my original understanding of prophecy had been of lone, angry voices sat on the outside of society, bellowing down it’s criticism from lofty heights, but not involving itself in the world. However, what activists – prophets – actually do, is to act in a way that’s integral to society, and is deeply rooted in our communities, and in the earth. When my friends took their action, they identified deeply with those directly affected by war and violence in the world, and sat alongside them in love. They demanded that we imagine a world where it is neither possible nor necessary for a tiny minority of people to profit so greatly from death and destruction.

I had been thinking of prophecy as something hierarchical, of something some are preordained to do, while others blindly follow. Actually, it feels like something anyone can do, if they can think of a world rooted in peace and justice. At Greenbelt a few years ago, Barbara Glasson spoke of ‘prophetic communities’  – those who are living lives of peace, equality and justice (she identified the LGBT and environmental communities as two examples) that we might hope all would aspire to. Prophecy is active, and identifies with the oppressed and marginalised, and with that inner, hidden voice which says “this is not the way the world needs to be!” Acting prophetically in this manner invariably creates conflict, because we are challenging society and ourselves to imagine something different to what it currently is, and it is conflict that drives and inspires change. Thinking of conflict – in it’s nonviolent forms – as positive is deeply liberating. This was a form of prophecy I could get behind!

Activists – from the great and famous to the nameless and forgotten – should be considered prophets, because they carry an understanding of what it might mean to create a world of peace, love and justice. Many of them choose nonviolent means in order to articulate this, and they power change in our societies by creating conflict, by demonstrating the injustice of the system, and they do this not by sitting outside of society and simply bellowing their critique, but by rooting themselves centrally in society, living, working and breathing with and amongst their community.

In peace.

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Last summer, I visited Taize, in France.  I spent two weeks there, living and working alongside the other hundreds of people from all over the world, who had visited this isolated monastic community to work, pray and spend time together.  I spent my second week in silence, and one of the books I took with me was Thomas Merton’s “Contemplative Prayer” – flicking through one morning I found a set of prayers by the Zen Buddhist Tich Nhat Hanh, who had written the forward for this beautiful, challenging, inspiring book.  I spent an afternoon gently working through these prayers.  I found considering myself, those I love and those I find less easy to reconcile myself with equally, patiently and with eyes of love at first a challenging, difficult experience, but ultimately liberating – for a short while, I was that bit freer from the weight of prejudice.

For each prayer, first consider the words in relation to yourself, then the person you like, then the person you love, then the person you are neutral to, and finally the person who makes you suffer when you think of.  

Then you can practice “May they be . . .” beginning with the group, the people, the nation, or the species you like, then the one you love, then the one that is neutral to you, and finally the one you suffer the most when you think of.

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May he/she be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.

May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May he/she learn…
May they learn…

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May he/she be able…
May they be able…

May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May he/she learn…
May they learn…

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May he/she know…
May they know…

May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May he/she be able…
May they be able…

May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
May he/she be free…
May they be free…

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Reflections from Ireland

From Waterfallswimmer:

I’m enjoying reading and discussing John Dear’s book ‘Lazarus, Come Forth’ as part of our continuing shared journey of nonviolence. Something I read last week resonated with me and I’ve been able to think more deeply about it so thought I’d share that here. Firstly I’ll quote the passage from page 15 in the section entitled ‘The Kingdom of Death, the culture of Violence’

“Life is hard, life is a struggle. For many, life means only death. People all over the world are stooped under the burden of hunger and war, ignorance and neglect. They flee and die under the military adventures of the superpowers and elsewhere under the terrors of tribal warlords. Many labor for little; many come to early and unjust deaths. And over us all hovers the spectre of nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, both a result of a few thousand rich people spawning an epidemic of corporate greed. To protect their global control, their “national interests,” their “way of life,” sleek armies march and drill all over the globe……… Alas, this seems to be the way of the world – a kingdom altogether different from the Kingdom of God. Call it the kingdom of death, and how hard for our transfixed minds to concede its reign. There is in the nature of deathly powers something elusive. Hectic and threatening and adroit at covering their tracks, they ensnare and overwhelm us; they exhaust out mental capacities, feeble as they often are. In biblical parlance, they possess us.”

Lately I’ve been feeling very much ensnared and overwhelmed by injustices in the city I live in, the country I live in and the world I live in. This feeling takes over mentally and then physically. It’s beyond words and description but I become unsure of what I can do to change things, to bring life, and am left with a sense that maybe there isn’t anything I can do that could make a difference.

However, last weekend I found myself on the West Coast of Ireland for a swimming event in Killary Fjord which leads to the sea between mountains – a breathtaking place to be. I was walking by the water and mountains as the sun was setting and the sky turned from bright blue to deep orange and then purple, reflected in the water as the mountains slowly became silhouettes. It was so beautiful, again beyond words and I was overwhelmed by it and if I had to use words I might use love, peace and hope.

I realised that this came from the same place in my being as the feelings I might call pain, despair and hopelessness when I’m aware of and ensnared by injustices. It was the same energy but manifesting in different, almost opposite ways.

This is helping and encouraging me because I now know that if I’m feeling hopeless I can find hope in the same place, if I’m feeling pain or despair I can find love and peace in the same place.

I may find myself in the midst of a human-created culture of death, but no matter what is happening in the world around me there is life within me, I’d call it God, and even if its hard to reach I know it’s there and will keep me searching for and walking on the path of nonviolence.

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On reflecting on ‘loving the enemy’ in relation to violence and active nonviolence, the following quote from Walter Wink’s ‘Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination’ articulated so well something I had been grappling with for a long time, so I wanted to share it here:

“Nonviolence is the spiritualisation of violence, the overcoming of violent desire. It is not the mere absence of violence, but an effort to transcend, rather than commit violence….It may prove beneficial to be forced to face, daily, the humiliating fact that some of us are no less violent than those whose policies we oppose. Maybe then we can love them, since we are no better, and avoid the self-righteousness that ends all dialogue….

Nonviolence is clearly the way of Jesus. But we need to offer our violence to God as well….so that the new synthesis, the third way, manifests not only our love but also our shadow. We are not paragons of peaceableness, but wounded, violent, frightened people trying to become human. We are not wan saints incapable of evil, but plain people clad in both light and dark, under the banner of love, seeking to be spiritual warriors.

Jesus’ third way shows us the path forward: neither repressing our violence nor acting it out, but letting it be the fuel by which God empowers us to struggle for the nonviolent future.”

I think he puts it so well (!) that I have nothing to add to it.

Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press: Minneapolis: 293-294

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