Milky Way

From Violence to Compassionate Strength

January 2010

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I began this post by discussing the concept of the sacred activist, as it is being developed by Andrew Harvey. As I see it now, having worked my way through this Mars-Pluto portal – as discussed in this series of posts – the true task of the sacred activist is to create an environment where compassion prevails over the potential for violence. This does not mean simply rolling over and playing dead in the face of aggression, injustice, or the violent taking of either schoolyard or planetary bullies. It does mean conscientiously and intentionally avoiding the fatal pitfall of seeing the other, however despicable, as the enemy.

On the last day of Andrew Harvey’s workshop, we were instructed by an ex-special forces marine in some basic martial arts moves for taking down aggressors – a skill Harvey ominously hinted would be necessary in the days to come, although he didn’t specify why or where he thought these skills might come in handy. Be that as it may, as I understood the instructions, the essence of the teaching was that a would-be opponent is easier to take down when you align yourself with him (or her), and move in such a way that you allow a space for their own energy to work against them.

While I can’t imagine doing this, or having to do it myself, I can see its value as a metaphor for a compassionate approach to violence or the potential for violence. As another teacher whom I respect – American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron – once said (Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, p. 103):

The basic ground of compassionate action is the importance of working with rather than struggling against, and what I mean by that is working with your own unwanted, unacceptable stuff, so that when the unacceptable and unwanted appears out there, you relate to it based on having worked with loving-kindness for yourself. Then there is no condescension. This nondualistic approach is true to the heart because it’s based on our kinship with each other. We know what to say, because we have experienced closing down, shutting off, being angry, hurt, rebellious, and so forth, and have made a relationship with those things in ourselves.

This is not about problem resolution. This is a more open-ended and courageous approach. It has to do with not knowing what will happen. It has nothing to do with wanting to get ground under your feet. It’s about keeping your heart and your mind open to whatever arises, without hope of fruition. Problem solving is based first on thinking there is a problem and second on thinking there is a solution. The concepts of problem and solution can keep us stuck in thinking that there is an enemy and a saint or a right way and a wrong way. The approach we’re suggesting is more groundless than that.

Although my relationship with Mars-Pluto is a lifetime work in progress, where I find myself now as I move through the first portal of the new cycle, is in alignment with Pema Chodron’s approach. I think it is important to stand my ground with the bullies of the world, and I don’t see this changing any time soon. What I like to think I am gradually learning in my own bull-headed way is to stand my ground with no teeth – anger, fear, or projected blame – hands in my pocket, looking for common ground on which violence can have no footing, or if need be on which the one I might have previously called my enemy will simply fall down with the weight of his or her own unbalanced momentum.

To read the next post in this series, go here.

To read more blog posts, go here.