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Milky Way

Taking Out Your Teeth Going Into Battle

December 2009

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A "Chance" Encounter With an "Enemy" Who Had No Teeth

In my last post, I described a process for approaching waking life as though it were a dream developed by Robert Moss that I decided to experiment with on a birthday trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with my partner Sara. The question that I took with me into this exercise was the one I have been exploring in this series of posts: “How can I more effectively deal with those who feel threatened by my words, or my actions, or simply feel some need to oppose me for whatever reason?”

My first clue – in possible response to this question – came on our way out, before we had made it to the main road. By “coincidence,” we happened to run into an old friend of mine – one who in times past had also often been an adversary with whom I butted heads, but a man I admired nonetheless for his integrity, his courageous political zeal, and his willingness to fight for various environmental causes, sometimes at great personal expense. Had he had more of a spiritual practice, or one I didn’t know about, he would have been a great sacred activist of the kind Andrew Harvey wanted to train. As it was, time had taken its toll on his body, if not his spirit, though he was still fighting the good fight, as far as I could tell.

After we had exchanged a few pleasantries and went our separate ways, Sara said to me, “Did you notice, T___ had no teeth?” I hadn’t, but the question immediately put me in mind of our exercise, since it was the kind of thing that might have happened in a dream, and T___ being who he was, our encounter seemed somehow synchronistic.

After allowing myself to simply be with the “symbolism” of T’s missing teeth all weekend, without immediately grasping for an interpretation, it suddenly occurred to me that the message was about the counter-intuitive, but deliberate decision to disarm before going into battle. “Don’t go into battle,” the essence of this message became, “without taking out your teeth.”

A Memory of Taking Out My Own Teeth

I actually remembered doing this once before. When I turned 21, my college friends took me bar hopping. We walked into one bar, just as some hulking fellow wheeled around on his bar stool, obviously drunk, and barked, “I want to fight someone, anyone.” Then locking eyes with me – just as I happened unluckily within his field of sight – he said, “You!” and started lunging forward.

Instinctively, I put my hands in my pocket, and said, “Why do you want to fight me? You don’t even know me? Why don’t you let me buy you a drink, and we can talk about it?” He thought about this for a moment, grunted, and waddled back to his bar stool. I went with him, bought him a drink, and spent the next hour listening to his sad story – how he had just lost his job, how his wife had left him, how his kids didn’t understand him, and so on. By the time he had finished, his anger had momentarily diffused, and I took advantage of the respite to take my leave. As I stepped back out into the street with my astonished friends, I heard a voice behind me saying, “If want to fight someone, anyone….” I kept going and didn’t look back.

Obviously, nothing had really shifted for this man, but I had at least managed to sidestep becoming his victim. More recently, in at least some of the close encounters mentioned during my last Mars-Pluto cycle, I had also instinctively kept my hands in my pockets, and took out my teeth before battle, and gotten more mileage out of this strategy than I would have had I geared up to fight.

Cultivating the Toothless State as a Response to the Potential for Violence

During one incident mentioned under the waning sextile, for example, this strategy seemed to help. During this period, I was compelled to confront a logger about working on land cooperative land in the rain, after we had asked him not to. When I reminded him of our agreement, he became surly and scowled at me. “I was just quitting,” he snarled, even though it was quite clear to me that if I had not confronted him, he would have kept working as long as he could. I do think, had I said the wrong thing, this confrontation might actually have led to violence, as this man obviously did not take kindly to my reminder, however diplomatically I presented it.

Somehow, however, I was able to take out my teeth and disarm both myself and my potential opponent. “Look,” I said, “I know what it is like to have to quit when it rains. I had a painting business for many years, and every time it rained, I had to quit. I hated it, and I’m sure you do, too. But that’s just the reality of the kind of businesses we have chosen to be in.” He seemed to understand. He remained silent for a few seconds, then said, “Well, ok then. I guess I’ll see you around.” And that was that.

Except that over the course of the next few weeks, I made it a point to check on these loggers every few days or so, and usually struck up a conversation of some kind. One day I showed up with my chain saw goggles perched on my hat and my ear protectors around my neck, covered from head to toe in wood chips, obviously fresh from a session with my own chain saw. They gradually began to see that I was, if not one of them, at least not “the enemy.” We had something in common, and over time we developed a respect for each other. I began to understand more about what compelled them to work in the rain, and they became increasingly curious about who I was, what I was trying to do on my own land, and why what they were doing on the cooperative’s common land mattered so much to me.

The next post in this series is Falling into a Bottomless Well of Compassion.

To read more blog posts, go here.

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