Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lessons in a Time of War, 4

An old Indian chief of an American northwestern tribe was once asked by an impatient journalist to describe, as briefly as possible, his people's spiritual values. In response, he stood up outside his home, spread his arms wide as if to embrace the river, meadows, and forest around him, and even the distant mountains. As he did so, he cried, "Gift!" Then, bowing his head, he slowly brought his arms back to his body, his hands lightly clasped over his heart. He murmured, "Thanks."

This is a message that gets somehow lost or muffled amid the sizzling dead turkeys, the parades, the football games, and the drone of cultural bromides that we are subjected to on Thanksgiving Day. Many of you who read this blog are no doubt aware of this, and of the fact that our world has much in it that arouses revulsion or sorrow more than gratitude. People are starving still in Niger; more suffer in Asia from the recent earthquake there; a vast Chinese city of some four million inhabitants is under threat of a deadly poison in its water supply; the continuing death and chaos in Iraq are still met with denial and deceit in Washington; and the suffering continues in the Gulf Coast, far from the front pages of the newspaper, while an oppressive government attempts to silence the voices of democratic dissent. In short, this would seem a time of bitter blame than one of gratitude; for we live amid a time of war and global privation. Therefore, I am offering the following reflections on blame in a time of war.

You can misplace your keys, your wallet, or your glasses, and still survive. But if you misplace blame, you will surely suffer; if you misplace it regularly and recklessly, you will surely and inexorably die, from the core of your being outward. There is no death to fear except the one that kills the soul.

Do not blame fate, god, society, or the universe for your life's ills. Blame belief and the institutions it breeds. You can clear out the mud of belief from within yourself; you can distance yourself from the institutions governed by belief, and thus preserve your true self, whole and sane. But you cannot kill a culture, dissolve a society, destroy the universe, or murder god.

Give yourself to conflict and you have fed the furnace of war. Wars are not born of bombs and guns, but of beliefs and negative emotion. When you look at another and think, "that is my enemy"—be it in a battlefield, in a marble hall of power, or a carpeted office—you have just started a war.

Peace does not arise when the last of an enemy force is slain, or when a personal adversary has been defeated. Peaces arises not through the consummation of conflict, but through its dispersal. Kill the beast of war within, and the phoenix of peace will fly without.

Belief is the insurgent of the psyche. Kill a little of it every day, and your life will clarify with the liquid light of living truth.

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