Friday, April 04, 2014

Lenten Diary 8

Can We Outgrow War?

     Now that I’m taking a few vacation days off from my job—my grueling 10-hour work week cleaning our neighborhood Methodist church—I have extra time to practice my poetry for a number of performances coming up 
     It’s an instructive experience. One thing I’ve learned is how little I’ve changed my mind in the last ten or fifteen years.
     The earliest poem on my refresher list, “Letter to an Activist Friend,” was written in 2002. In it I apologize to an anonymous activist for turning down an invitation to join him in Washington, DC, for “an exuberant uprising against the politics of fear and the policies of greed.”
     I main point I make in this poetic essay is that fighting—violently or nonviolently—will never bring peace. But perhaps peace can bring peace.
     My most recent poem, which I’m currently committing to memory, is called “Expand Your Mind.” Its main idea is that the contentious bickering among human beings across society has never changed and never will unless we consciously make ourselves outgrow it.
     The only thematic difference between the two poems is in degree. Both find confrontation ineffective as a strategy for peace. But the current poem is more urgent in its call for a cease-fire.
     I suppose I can give myself some points for consistency. I grew up anti-war and I’m anti-war still. I only defected for a few years when I lived in the country in a house of ruffians who liked to pick fights with other ruffians, and for those years I became a ruffian, too, and enjoyed a few scuffles with people who pissed me off.
     But I found no lasting pleasure in it. I usually got hurt, for one thing, even if I came out on top.
     For another, I found it was a backward way to make friends.
     And for a third, I didn’t write any poetry then. I didn’t write anything. I was creative sludge.
     It became clear to me that peace was the better way to go.
     But of course we’re not trained to make peace to anywhere near the extent we’re trained to make war. Life is a battle. Isn’t that what we’re told? We can’t let our guards down.
     Or can we? Is it possible to face the world with no defenses—and survive?
     So many of my poems, I realize, talk about this. If we would just make up our minds to live in peace, there would be peace. I don’t know if it’s true. It may be too hard—even impossible—to accomplish. Can we outgrow war?
      Aren’t we obliged to try?
      I’m sure the brilliant minds who designed our total war machine, if given that problem to solve, could find a way for people to live harmoniously with the rest of this planet. Maybe they’re working on that now, in some west coast think tank funded by an anonymous donor.
      But until their results are announced, I must find my own way through the killing fields, through the urban jungle, on the road to my own Jerusalem at the start of this fifth week of Lent.


At 9:04 AM , Blogger Tom Ellis said...

A thoughtful essay, Delaney--although I wouldn't cross my fingers waiting for any corporate or government-sponsored think tank to hatch anything other than the next recipe for mayhem, upward concentration of wealth, or ecological devastation.
You are quite right, as is Thich Nhat Hanh, in saying that "there is no way to peace--peace is the way." I have given this a lot of thought myself lately. The important thing to remember is Gandhi's core advice, derived from his reading of the Baghavad-Gita, to "renounce the fruits of action"--that is, to do what we know is right without attachment to success or failure.
Nobody ever pretended that this is easy--especially when we look around at the urgency of the crises clouding our future--whether climate change, political corruption and tyranny, impoverishment, or war, or all three. But from a Dharmic perspective, we have all the time in the world--because NOW is the only time there ever is. And I have seen from my own experience where the practice of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity has immediate benefits for those around me--and hence, has ripple effects on the entire planet. As Lao Tzu puts it, "Cultivate Virtue in yourself, and Virtue will be real..."


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