Monday, July 20, 2009

On war and peace

Yoga master Lisa Matkin opened class last week speaking of the relationship between fear and separation. She asked us to start noticing whenever we felt afraid, particularly in the presence of another person. Lisa believes that this fear is a reflection of separation: feeling separate from that other person, feeling disconnected. Which of course is completely disjointed with yoga, the essence of which is union: union of mind, body and breath. Union of self and other.

So Lisa asked us to start by noticing whenever (and how surprisingly often!) we feel fearful. And she encouraged us to try and sense the union, the sameness, the connection between “us” and “them”... which by default would lead to acceptance, feelings of peace, and a natural diminishing of fear.

All this got me thinking about war, and how easy it is for most of us to look away and claim no involvement in a war that rages between two peoples far removed from the rest of us. War between Israel and Palestine. War between Russia and Chechnya. Between The West and Islam. Many of us have nothing to do with these conflicts, right? Why should we feel involved with them, or responsible for their existence?

OK then, what about the war between you and your husband/wife? You and your neighbor? You and your boss? How do you really feel about that stranger who seems to be so unlike you, maybe because they have a different religion or different skin color, or because they have less or more money than you do? Do these supposed differences make you feel scared or afraid or even just insecure around that other person? Do you have any thoughts of racism, or elitism, or just mild irritation toward another? Is it possible that you are at war, even if only through your thoughts, with any other human being?

And how about the war inside – that war that rages between you and yourself?

I ask this, because I have come to understand that this is where and how the big wars starts: small, with you. With me. And if this is true, which I wholly believe it to be, it carries with it a whole lot of implication… and responsibility. Because it just may be that every time there is a person (or situation) we feel separate from, different from, fearful or hatred or anger or annoyance toward, this is an expression of war. A small one, yes, but this is where it all starts. And it may seem insignificant to you, but when multiplied by the near 6 billion people on our planet, it starts to become unbearable. Next thing you know, we are at war. We are killing one another.

Imagine what the planet would look like if no one ever saw the other as an enemy, as someone to fear or distrust? What if we were all able to see in the other a true connection to ourselves? If we never felt separate or different from any other? Can you imagine what that would look like? (Are you hearing the John Lennon song?)

if we really do want world peace, which I think most of us do, shouldn’t we start by making peace with the guy who is talking loudly on his cell phone in the theater? Or the friend who flaked on dinner last night? Or that kid on the subway who looks just a little scary? Shouldn’t we clean up our own thoughts and relationships before we can start cleaning up the mess on Earth?

Look inside yourself. Who or what are you at war with? Can you recognize it? Can you make peace with it? Can you forgive, accept and feel grateful for the lesson learned?

I am not there yet, but I like to believe I’m a work in progress.

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