Rambling Peace

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For as much as people speak of peace, you would suppose we would have no trouble accepting varying thoughts on it. Given the popularity of quotes about peacefulness on everything from coffee cups to t-shirts to calendars to charming works of decorative art meant to uplift your spirits, and those of anyone visiting your space, it would stand to reason that we would readily speak together on what we seek.

The topic of peace however is like any other topic: it has its rules and restrictions pertaining to personal points of view. We are still just emotional beings with mental and physical habits related to our personal comforts. It’s not that we don’t want to understand each other, we just sometimes forget how.

We forget how when we begin applying unspoken but very effective rules onto each other. For example, if you say or write in quantity, that is fine if there is also quality. Quality is going to be based on whether your opinion is exactly like mine, mind you. We need to join the Same Opinion Club which means we are among the exclusive. If we have differences in our perspectives, then sorry, but you are just rambling, and most likely guilty of diatribe to boot.

So goes the first rule. The second rule is that after it is determined you are rambling, you must then accept that you are mean. Really mean. You’re not only a devil’s advocate, but quite possibly the devil himself. The third important rule in discussing topics, including that of peace, is that since you are an idiotic, devilish and rambling idiot, you are not allowed to participate anymore. You are the cheese. As in the cheese stands alone. As in the cheese taken away with a scampering rat; most likely because you were one of those cheeses most people don’t like, an acquired taste smelly cheese. Only fit for a rat.

These are not my rules, so I apologize if I’ve offended. I’m simply helping you get ready to take on a skeptical crowd, of which there are many. If you are easily offended, hurt, or silenced by others’ unbridled emotions, work on it. Think about an acronym for ego, one that has been a helpful reminder for many: edge God out. If you aren’t religious or otherwise in a position where you believe in God, you can think about it as edge good out. Think about how this phrase works both ways.

When you typically respond to the world through the ego’s characteristics of total definition of yourself and other by your superficial titles—be it race, religion, socioeconomic status, profession, beauty queen or Don Juannabe, anything that you’re proud of, anything you’re ashamed of—it can be easier to get into the habit of being less selfless and compassionate, therefore less likely to listen to and understand others. And just when you have figured out how to move past your needs to be right instead and into sharing truths, you realize that as efficient as you are, there are many others who aren’t, and who will sit patiently while you listen to and understand them but then assess you, stamp you with a bold wrong, and walk away whilst pretending you’ve never met.

When we don’t listen and understand, we help keep misinformation and misunderstandings going. We perpetuate conflicts, little and big ones. Everything from a minor rumbling and rambling riff with a friend to something the size of World War III. Regardless of size, these are always in opposition to peace; for ourselves and for others. These things take away that which is good for us, an aspirational goodness which some of us would define as Godly.

Work on it. Work first on yourself, and then work on sharing with others, whatever your message is but especially if it is a call to peace. People will say things that are mean sometimes, or silly, or both. They will tell you to stuff your peace in your shirt, call you a delusional hippie, and laughingly ask you if you believe an ideal world is one where everyone sits in a giant circle (worldwide one would imagine) singing Kumbaya. Some of these statements will be incredibly incongruent, as they are coming from people who say they are standing up for peace and equality in society, but cannot yet look into how everyone needing the same rights does mean everyone.

There are inequalities and there are injustices, and we must work to correct them. In doing so we must never forget that to correct something means to shift power into an equal distribution, not shift it over to one group and away from the other. That is more akin to revenge. That is a way to give raspberries and middle fingers instead of resolving issues and healing collectively. There really are two sides to every issue; this means two sets of truths, two sets of responsibility, and two perspectives that are both valid to honor. This applies to every social conflict as it applies to every conflict contained to our personal relationships. We are all human beings, all worthy and each with his and her own experiences and perspectives. Therefore these two sides of an issue both deserve attention and exploration and then, an act of merging. It’s really more than a simple Kumbaya recipe; this is peace and unity we’re seeking, not the eternal Paradise, folks. Peace doesn’t mean never getting angry, never swearing colorful and pretty-when-you’re-mad phrases, never being sarcastic (case in point, an open letter offering, but not requiring, a lesson in both peace and sarcasm), or otherwise never being the full range of human that we are. Peace means living equally within our societies and with respect, love and honor for each other in place of fear, hatred and control. It also takes work and the capability to be honest and humble with ourselves.

People often criticize and define comical the positive things that they fear are impossible, be it a soul, a God, or coexistence and world peace. So much easier to laugh someone off as idealistic or delusional or naïve than to work past your personal feelings ad perspectives to get into the art of listening and understanding from a place of genuineness. So much easier to cop out with anti-hippie phrases (but if you really must, at least offer a jolly green ju-ju in lieu of communal peace) like Go back to sixties if you think you’re a hippie! or Where are your love beads and peace sign emblems? So much easier to avoid working towards something difficult when you’re afraid to find out if it will really work: why get your hopes up all for nothing?

That’s only the ego edging the good out of your mind so that doubts may reside there; it’s untruth and unhealthy to buy into the idea that great big positive things are only meant for an otherworldy Paradise, or a fantasy book we can read but never be part of in reality.

Whatever it is you’re trying to help others understand, for the sake of them and all of us, not just because you’re for some reason personally invested to the point that you will judge and hate anyone who can’t see it your very same way, then don’t let others discourage you. Even if, and especially if, it’s a big, fluffy, rainbowy, unicorny concept like peace. With or without the Kumbaya.

Keep speaking, keep listening, keep understanding. Then keep speaking some more. It isn’t your job to make others agree with you; none of us have that power over others, and we must respect this. It is only your job to share something good in a good way, and to do so without shying away when others make you feel weird, stupid, naïve or whatever negative labels they directly or indirectly bestow upon you with their words. Give them compassion, it’s what they are seeking; don’t let defensiveness fool you. Don’t be angry with them because they too are imperfect, just as yourself. And they also will have things for you to listen to and understand.

Before you go out with the famous “be the change” Gandhi quote in mind, consider what being the change means. It doesn’t mean telling people how to think or what to believe. It also doesn’t mean bullying others if they won’t listen to or agree with you (the change you’re likely to create in this case is a black eye or a bruised and therefore stronger ego, for either you, for them, or everyone involved). Consider that being the change means ridding yourself of your stubbornness and judgements before you try to create meaningful interactions with others in support of something good for everyone.

After that, quite simply, keep speaking and listening and understanding. Then speak some more. If you aren’t understood right away, if they say your words are confused and inconsequential,  that’s okay; rambling peace is better than none at all. No different than a jumble of clouds, visually rambling, yet appealing to our instinctive needs for true beauty.

 

Someone Needs to Work Those Gas Stations

quote-our-job-is-to-love-others-without-stopping-to-inquire-whether-or-not-they-are-worthy-that-is-not-thomas-merton-252808 “Go ahead, drop out of high school. We need people to work in gas stations.” Did quote the junior high Algebra teacher. This comment–not one you might expect to be delivered from an adult in a role of educating our youth–happened one bleary winter morning in an 8th grade classroom of the school where I was employed at the time.

First period of the day: I was helping two students with functions and domains while they stared enviously at my coffee, the majority of the other students were sifting through folders to retrieve the day’s homework due, and one particularly owly student issued a statement regarding not needing to turn in homework, he was just going to drop out of high school anyway because “that’s how much I hate homework.”

In an attempt to avoid condemning the teacher overall, Mr. Blank (which we shall call him to protect his anonymity) was a methodic, technical teacher focused on learning practical skills and increasing knowledge in order to help teenage students survive high school, and beyond, through sharpening their logic. He was not one to get too friendly/warm/emotionally invested with the students, which is fine; he was an extremely efficient teacher with the ability to keep students focused and achieving much of the time. He was also, as you would generally perceive when he spoke about his wife and child, or his friends and colleagues, a warm and loving person. Mr. Blank as a multifaceted human being with genuine  human relationships is a different story, emotionally, than Mr. Blank as a teacher in the classroom. Even if intending to be firm in passing along an idea that school will make life easier, it remained confusing to hear such a reckless comment from a teacher to a fourteen-year-old boy who was among the many other students in the school who needed a little more positive encouragement.

First, it’s never a good thing for a teacher to dismissively tell a student to drop out of school, even if the intention is reverse psychology. A more straightforward tactic would be to ask the student to stay and talk with you after class, and actually initiate discussion about how school would be helpful in achieving various career goals. Second, how is anyone, of any age, supposed take a comment such as “we need people to work in gas stations” in relation to being a high school drop out? It clearly meant that if you work in a gas station, you are less successful, less important even, in society. The message was definitely there, in the connotation of the words and, something I cannot replicate here, in the tone of voice. As we know, non-verbal language is quite often stronger than even our most passionate spoken words.

Although I have nothing ill toward Mr. Blank as a human–imperfect as myself or anyone else–I long retained a sore spot in my mind over the comment. And I was not even the recipient of it. As someone who has friends who work in gas stations, stay at home, are physicians, are mental health counselors, are nurses, are teachers, are bankers, are waiters or waitresses, are cashiers, are graphic artists and world travelers, I have never judged anyone I know by their professions. It doesn’t factor into who they are as people. As someone who has taken her time finishing her college degree, and as someone who has worked through the whole caste system of jobs, I know better than to not realize that a job is a job and something to be grateful for.

Hopefully he won’t drop out of school, I later said in regard to the student (who ended up leaving the class even more owly than when it started), but drop out or not, if he works anywhere it would be a move in the right direction. It would be taking responsibility. Why put it in his mind that he is lower in society if he works in a gas station, or any other position that doesn’t meet someone else’s subjective standards of success?

Also, what were any of those students thinking if one of their parents or relatives happened to be employed in a gas station? You never know where your negative words are going to land, and whether that landscape will be stronger than the impact or fragile enough to be cracked, scratched, or otherwise blemished by impact.

We need people to work in gas stations. This is true. We need this just as we need physicians, trash collectors, plumbers, train attendants, cable and computer technicians, Art and Chemistry teachers, podiatrists, hotel managers, and so on and on. To be honest, I appreciate having gas in my vehicle, and I am grateful there are people to operate the fuel systems and take my money when I am ready to fill the tank. Recently, I decided to take a second job. I’ve learned this is the best way to save money and/or catch up on finances quickly. (Note: something I forgot to mention in a previous post about visiting the immigration field office–love is priceless, but be that as it may, immigration fees are a surefire way to break the bank.) I first accepted a position at an Autism center, which went well with my Behavioral Science degree and my years of related work history, but the hours weren’t working. It was also a far drive from home and therefore a lot of money spent for gas. I was going to stay because of my love for and experience with the work, and it sounds decent on a resume–even impressive to some. I decided to look for something closer to home though, and something that would keep me busy yet not flow into afterhours in the form of paperwork and writing behavior programs, competing for time with family and school and job number one. Therefore, somebody has to work in gas stations and among those somebodies is me.

I accepted a job in a neighborhood gas station. I am willing to admit that I returned home after my first six hour shift with no break and cried to my husband about the exhaustion, the leg cramps, the mildly sore back this created. I admit also that I won’t stay in this job for years, as it’s not a long-term career for me. It is, however, benefitting my life right now, and I am thankful. I also get a chance to help people as I am inclined to do–offering kindness, smiles, and concern to those you interact with is always helpful, and when you are dealing with customers who expect you to politely and efficiently perform your job duties, it is imperative to recognize the worth of good interactions.

The gas station is in truth not such a bad gig: I get to chat with people, make them smile, take home the extra funding I seek, and drink free coffee. I get to investigate yet another place in life from a new angle. I will have a license to practice as a mental health therapist within a couple of years and until then, and even then, I don’t find myself above an honest job of any type. Work is work, it is taking responsibility and taking responsibility always enriches our lives. I’m sure Mr. Blank could respect this point of view, as I recall how he would often tell the students how much hard work he did growing up on a farm, how much discipline it gave his life. If he happens to stop by my cash register one day, I’ll offer him a discount on his coffee, or maybe just offer it on the house.

I know some days as I ring up cigarettes, convenience store food, liquor, and gasoline, I will feel like a Dante, but on most others I will be more of a Randall–perhaps my affection for Clerks subconsciously prompted me to drop that gas station application. I can only hope I might have a few Clerks moments–maybe a hockey game on the roof, or a fight involving hoagies with my best friend, which in my case would be my patient husband. Very patient–so far the wildest hijinx I’ve had was shaking husband’s can of Red Bull as he purchased it from me on day one. He lamented to me when I got home that his drink had tasted, “a little strange. When you shook it, the sugars settled at the bottom got all disrupted. Just put the whole taste out of balance.” Still, no war was waged, and not a single hoagie hit me upside the head. One can always hope, though.

Movie Note: Clerks is a 1994 film created by writer/director Kevin Smith. It is a comedy, it does have some vulgarity, but mostly is free-spirited fun, a little bit of whimsy, and offers discussions in the realms of philosophy and life-actualization. ALSO Kevin Smith was working in a gas station/convenient mart when he wrote Clerks, and he actually used his place of business as the primary filming location. From clerk to film writer and producer. Use wherever you are at to build on your dreams.

Ahimsa (Non Injury)

The word of the day is ahimsa. It has been drifting serenely–in little ripples like a pond surface lightly touched or the easiest of breeze on clear nights–and purposefully through my mind for days now. I feel like I’m settled onto it, drifting as well in a snug and smooth-sailing, non-roiling vessel, so incredibly full of serenity and refusal to injure and all other good intentions toward all living things of this world.

Until “words, like violence, break the silence, come crashing in,” to quote from a classic, and in certain moments quite apt, song. In other words, this magnitude of serenity and good, healing intentions envelops me until the moment I turn a negative thought into a negative chain of words and engage in life’s simplest of wars, The Argument.

Life can benefit from the act of disagreeing, we do learn, grow, and actually increase durability and intimacy in our relationships through the art of disagreement. Disagreement as an art shows us how to agree when we disagree, to dislike the idea but not the person, to operate with tolerance and accept diversity of personality for the richness that diversity provides. When we learn to disagree effectively, when we maintain both composure and compassion, and some integrity along with a little class, then disagreement is an art and a tool and a positive resource. If an argument evolves, so be it; sometimes it is a good emotional release and still leads us to opening our eyes to a new perspective once all simmers down. When argument evolves into the realms of untrained aggression though, then it is just untrained aggression–a misguided use of passion that grows beyond our control and is more inclined to harm another. To hurt. To injure. If the injury avoids manifesting in the physical, then it is an emotional/mental/spiritual type of injury. It is neither a comfortable or healthy state of disarray to be left in, most definitely not able to be classified among the good stresses we encounter.

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There are many times I simply wish I could live in a world where animals talk, unicorns exist, people smile quite a bit if not all of the time, and dragons can be good friends of ours. A completely idealistic (and of course quite unreal) place of innocence.

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And so a little day of arguing can do such things to our emotional processes at times.

When I come back to myself, within this world and all of its beauty amidst imperfection, I shake away my escapist desires for blissful perfection (including unicorns, dragons, and talking, cute animals) and accept that all trials and tribulations are wonderful opportunities to learn, teach and continue building values. And ahimsa enters my mind once again and without judgement; never judging me for losing sight of its principles for a few moments, never judging me for needing to work extra hard at times to make it an action rather than an idea.

Ahimsa means “non-injury” in the Sanskrit language. I have read about it many times over the years while studying history and spiritual practices related to Hinduism and Buddhism, in biographies of Ghandi, and in seeking inspirational humanitarian quotes to add to the collection in one of my notebooks. I crossed paths with ahimsa again in a World Religions course at a time when I had begun putting more spiritual practices into practice in my own life. It always struck me what a nice coincidence it is that the word is soft and light. Ahh-heem-sahhh. It sounds like a comfortable sigh in a sunny and quiet room inside of any comfortable, comforting place of peace. I like to combine it with my breath at times, say it quietly and with repetition, when using breathing techniques to level away daily stresses and relax. I say it also as a reminder, a post-it note stuck with a big,gold star sticker to the mind’s third eye.

Turn the other cheek. Don’t injure. I want to be a turn-the-other-cheek type of person, in the way the saying, the instruction, was intended, which biblically refers to refraining from an act of retaliation for a physical or emotional attack. I want to keep with me what I inherited from the Christian upbringing I had and all of the glorious, confusing mythology of the Bible that was an unavoidable part of the package. If my personality remains shaped in any possible way by the dogma of the religion I was born into, even though I don’t classify myself within anymore, it is that part of my personality that so dearly wants to contain every harsh word and action I have for others, that so much more dearly wants no one to feel the slightlest trickle of pain inflicted by a fellow human being. That part of me that strives to act, react, and live in peace as to avoid injurious behaviors to anything or anyone living.

Never have I been or will I be perfect. I still at times have temptations to throw down with a few words or a gesture when driving in the highly emotional space of rush hour traffic, and I did recently have to overthrow a few baby insects that appeared to be cockroaches when they showed up in our clean (very clean! I am clinically obsessive compulsive as well as Feng Shui in regard to cleanliness and organization.) apartment kitchen. Mind you, both types of situations bring me guilt and the reminder that there is room for improvement. I definitely call, as much as possible, upon my ahimsa mantra as I see myself falter in some situation with others, including in trying times of traffic, and as I look to kind options for bug removal when possible–usually a small container of any kind is good for transporting said bug to an outside realm that you might both be more comfortable with. The last spider I escorted out inherited a lovely, fragrant box from strawberry/kiwi hookah tobacco. A win-win situation, I’m guessing.

The word of every day, in any situation, should be ahimsa. It’s a good practice, and like practice implies, it means you take on trial and error and develop a skill and expect skillfulness, not perfection. And most certainly, as with anything you would develop your skills for, you don’t hate, judge, or degrade yourself if you find you are unable to maintain good form every single time. Do not give spiteful words to even your own self in those times when you skip the principles of peace you are compelled to live by and find yourself arguing or otherwise inflicting your negative energies on another fellow living being. Harsh words are harsh words; they are no more productive when we place them on ourselves. Non injury also means non-self-injury.

Practice, practice, practice and you will develop the skill for disagreeing with the least amount of negativity possible. I know I have found this to be true. I have found, most often, with consistent practice, the art of disagreement where unbridled agression is disallowed a takeover and not given the opportunity to bare its pointly little injurious teeth. Ahimsa. Non injury. It helps one find peace in this world. Especially on those days when you realize you are just not going to find a magic portal to perfection and unicorns, so you might as well settle in and get back on the horse. It’s much more real.

Maybe.

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“Fae and Unicorn” image courtesy of ElevenstarArt.com, a lovely art blogspot I encountered which shares the art of Rebecca Sinz. http://elvenstarart.blogspot.com/2012/06/unicorn-and-fairy-wip.html

Lyric quotation in paragraph two courtesy of Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMfV0sVQ_VU