Category Archives: From Violence to Peace

Essays about the transition from the prevailing culture of violence imposed upon humanity by our egos to a culture of peace to which we are invited by the Spirit of Love.

Hating Our Helpers

As we were raised to believe ourselves to be false identities called “egos,” we were raised within a system of reward and punished to conform to the ego’s rules prevailing at the time of our upbringing.  As these rules changed throughout our lifetime, we’ve done our best to adjust to the changes based on the same core principles of reward and punishment.  We seek reward and avoid punishment as best we can, unless we become convinced that there is reward in being punished, a reversal that happens often.

The twisting changes required of us to adjust our actions and reactions to conform to the unstable rules of the ego eventually twist each of us into a pretzel of confusion and despair.  We become convinced that there is no way to sort out the twists and turns of our lives and move forward along a simpler, straightforward path.  Convinced of the futility of sorting out the confusion we’ve adjusted to, we seek instead to become masters of the realm of confusion – by whatever dishonest means our mastery must be achieved.  Although it is impossible to consistently enjoy mastering confusion as our way of life, we seek as best we can to do so on the basis of reaping as many rewards and avoiding as many punishing consequences of mistakes as we can.  This is the ego’s game.  Within it, pride is a reward and shame a punishment. There are other rewards and punishments, too.  Our goal becomes to experience as much pride and avoid as much shame as we can manage. It’s an impossible task to achieve with any degree of reliability, but we’ll silence anyone who attempts to tell us that we’ve not done it well enough.

There are many ways to silence those who might tell at that our egos’ efforts to amass pride and avoid shame are inadequate.  All of them are forms of punishment we seek to allocate to others of whom we do not approve because we believe that they do not approve of us.  Within the ego’s realm, social approval becomes our demigod. We reward those of whom we approve and punish those of whom we do not.  How we allocate rewards and punishments reveals how we judge ourselves and the values we hold dearest.  Yet, we prefer to think that we are judging others and evaluating their values instead.  We are blind to our truths and the manner in which we reveal them in twisted ways as we struggle through life according to the ego’s pretzel plan.

Thus it is that we come to hate those who truly try to help us unravel the ego’s pretzel plan and straighten out our lives to live in simpler, egoless ways.  Actually it is our egos that hate being uncloaked and exposed in this way.  It feels painful to have our egos revealed to us.  It feels harsh and cruel simply because one of the ego’s main agenda items is to remain unseen and unchallenged.  When a helpful person challenges our ego, the challenge causes us to look at what the ego prefers we do not see.  Because we’ve come to completely identify with our ego as if it is truly who we are, we believe that the ego’s shortcomings are our flaws, even our “sins.” The ego’s reaction is defensive, an attempt to make the helper regret having offended our ego.

To defend our ego (as if we defending our true nature instead of a false substitute), we may directly attack the helper in ways to make the helper feel pain or we may dismiss the helper in some manner to avoid having to deal with him or her.  We justify our defensive maneuvers by the ego’s primary justification:  “It’s not fair,” so the ego says, “for ‘me’ to feel shame or guilt or any other painful emotion that it has taken ‘me’ so much effort to deny exists.”  So long as we allow our ego to think, decide, communicate and act for us, we will remain confused and at the mercy of the ego’s pretzel plan.

The helper’s dilemma is that the shame or guilt that the helper brings to light by challenging the ego is already at work within the person being helped.  It’s already buried in that person’s heart undermining that person’s health and happiness.  Yet, the burdened person does not know of this buried toxin and continues to deny its existence as best he or she can by resorting to the ego’s standard operating procedures.  “Do not be that honest with me,” cries the burdened person whose ego-based reactions are rooted in fear.  The burdened person mistakes the honest helper for the person who originally inflicted the pain and now attacks or dismisses the helper as the burdened person could not (but would have liked to) attack or dismiss the pain-inflicter earlier in his or her life.

No truly helpful person can avoid triggering painful memories and raising to awareness buried painful emotions from their tombs within the burdened person’s heart.  These tombs are hallowed ground, enshrined pockets of holiness within the burdened person’s heart.  To help a burdened person to resume being aware of his or her true nature as an innocent, holy child of Love, the helper must eventually lead the burdened person to look at and address these buried pockets of his or her heart and resurrect the qualities of life entombed there.

So long as the ego is allowed to maintain its guardianship of these entombed qualities of tender holiness, the burdened person will remain burdened by buried grief and a victim of his or her own perceived grievances because he or she will remain blind to his or her natural innocence and holiness — as well as to the natural innocence and holiness of others.  The ego insists that none of us is innocent and holy.  It insists instead that all of us are guilty and unholy, often beyond redemption no matter how great may be the power of redemption that is available.  Its final defense is often to assert that the helper may be an exception to the rule and be in fact innocent and holy (a “saint” says the ego with scorn) but the burdened person cannot also be that way.  From the perspective of that defensive posture within which the burdened person must remained condemned by his or her own ego, the burdened person hates and distrusts the helper all the more.  Thus those who seek to lead us into awareness of the sacred life we all share suffer at the hands of egos the consequences of their efforts.

Let us salute those who risk being helpers who challenge the ego’s dominion at whatever risk to their own well-being may appear to happen.  Jesus risked his own physical existence as a helper who challenged the conformist traditions of the egos of his day.  Yet, what he risked losing was nothing compared to what he ultimately revealed is true of all of us.  None of us are defined by or confined to our bodies as the sum and substance of our lives.  As A Course in Miracles states more than once for emphasis, “I am not a body.  I am free for I am still as God created me.”  This insight is as true for you as it is for me as it ever was and still is for Jesus.

Let us confront our ego’s habits of crucifying those who come along to help us become free of our egos.  Let us no longer hate those who seem to be such radical enemies of our egos and embrace them as lovers of our spirits who help our spirits rise free of ego’s tombs to soar into the light of God’s love – even while yet experiencing and expressing ourselves through bodily forms.  In truth we have no enemies.  Only our egos can perceive of our fellow pilgrims on the planet as anything but friends and helpmates.  An honest helper is merely one whom we’ve dared to trust so much that he or she takes the risk of being honest with us and touches our heart with love — even when the touch reminds us of hurts we’ve tried so hard to forget we carry in our hearts.  We are not betrayed when we allow our hurting hearts to be revealed and brought to the light of divine love’s healing and redemption.

© Art Nicol 2016

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We Brought the War Home to Us

While I was in college and exiting into the work place, the Vietnam War was still actively causing US citizens to take a stand for or against war in general or for or against that particular war.  It hit home for many of us because of the draft.  We could not avoid struggling to make up our minds whether or not we agreed with the use of weapons to impose our will on other people and, more intimately, whether or not we’d kill anyone to end a difference of viewpoints of any kind.  Could I see myself learning to use weapons in order to kill someone?  That issue remained a struggle for me.  I did not resolve it in my own personal life until many years after the Vietnam War was over.

Today I’m less concerned about death than I used to be because my experiences with God reassure me that there is definitely life beyond the death of our bodies and that no one is going to hell after his or her body ceases to function.  It’s amazing how knowing those simple facts to be true has clarified in my mind whether or not I’d use a weapon to settle a dispute or protect myself from harm.  Since I no longer believe in settling disputes by any means of violence, there’s no question in my mind that I’d not use a weapon to protect myself.  I’m simply willing to go to be with God free of my body’s limitations under whatever circumstances may come along to free me from my body.

Meanwhile, as I was gradually increasing my awareness of God’s reality and my opportunity to relate intimately with God’s reality while yet in the body as well as beyond, I watched us bring the Vietnam War’s issue about taking another person’s life home to us.  It’s no longer a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person who is one of “them” beyond the US borders.  It’s become a question of whether or not we’ll kill or harm another person here at home to settle a dispute “once and for all” or do so to revenge a wrong we believe has happened that matters enough to us to use violence in anger to redress it.  The violence we used to export we have domesticated.  It’s ironic that at the same time we’ve out-sourced so many life-sustaining jobs to places beyond our borders we’ve managed to in-source use of weapons as a more and more acceptable life-terminating solution.  Is there some sort of correlation?  Has the growing hopelessness of finding the means to support ourselves and our families increased our willingness to kill someone we may be able to blame for our loss of self-sufficiency and accompanying sense of dignity and self-worth?  Has our gradually declining sense of self-worth caused us to view life in general as less valuable and assume that everyone’s life has little worth?

I’m not in a position to answer all aspects of the questions that were commonly on many people’s minds during the Vietnam War – nor those commonly on many of our minds today.  I still don’t know what I’d do if I were armed and had the choice to protect a loved one or even a stranger from harm by using my weapon.  I’d hope that I would be well-trained in the use of my weapon and in taking full responsibility for exercising wisdom and calm reason in deciding whether or not to use it under any circumstance that confronted me.  I could make conscious decisions to undergo such training to the fullest extent possible and remain current in my training.  But what I’d do after that remains unknown to me.  How would adrenaline and other by-products of fear affect my decision-making and performance?  Would I want to be trained so at least I had the additional option of appropriately using (or not using) a weapon?

Unresolved. By default I’m not trained or likely to ever be trained.  So, unarmed I continue to be.  After being so grateful for having not been in combat at any time in my life, I’m reluctant to participate in domestic combat now.  My saying that does not denigrate those who have made an alternative choice to become well trained in the use of weapons under the terms specified by the law and according to wisdom and reason.  Until we’ve resolved the issue of violence in our society at large, we need to carefully consider how widely available weapons are and in whose hands we allow them to come.  Continuing to escalate violence as an option while arming ourselves with increasingly more powerful weapons seems unwise to me when we seem to have so little control over the emotional and mental state of those who access those weapons and what their motives to use them may be.

For now I remain committed to investing all of my time and energy in promoting ways to reduce violence and reduce motives for using violence to settle disputes or seek revenge.  It seems to me that to the extent that we can reduce tendencies towards violence in our society and truly promote domestic tranquility intentionally by A) nurturing emotional and mental health for all of us and B) encouraging us all to be forgiving rather than vengeful, the issue of weapons and their use will fade in significance.  We simply would not need to bring any kind of warfare home to us anymore because we would have ended the emotional warfare that rages within so many of us in our private inner battles and spills out as domestic violence in our homes, onto our streets and into our schools, businesses and other gathering places. Our emotional battles within us extend outward into acts of violence.  It’s time to learn how to nurture lasting inner peace and allow our peace to extend outward instead.

© Art Nicol 2016

United in Opposition is Not United

Current dynamics at work in US politics highlight the false idea that our nation will ever be truly the “United States” while the call to unify is based on opposition to some identified opponent, here or abroad.  Check out the pattern prevalent in US history. You will see example after example of groups of various descriptions supposedly uniting in opposition to the identified opponent of their day only to have their “unity” disintegrate once the occasion for opposition ends.  Today we see this pattern at work in our presidential election as two main parties call for unity within themselves by clarifying and rally around their opposition to the “other” party.  Within our republican form of government where one vote more than 50% wins all the marbles, this practice works temporarily to put some people temporarily in power but is not a sustainable practice for the welfare of the nation or the world we so heavily impact.

We have become participants in this pattern as if it is the only option available. The media hypes this pattern in order to gain market share and profit from the controversies it helps stir up by sensationalizing them moment by moment as entertainment.  Are we truly entertained by watching our nation cycle through this pattern of futility decade after decade?  Do we truly want to elect and empower men and women to lead us around and around in this pattern without hope for any alternative of true, universal, national unity?  Where might we find the common ground for sustainable unity not based temporarily on identifying an enemy abroad or at home?

We will find that common ground buried beneath the rumble of painful emotions we harbor in our hearts.  We harbor them out of ignorance.  We neither know how to release these painful emotions and the memories seared into our brains by pain or to establish the noncyclical stability of peace we’d prefer “if only.”  But we can overcome our ignorance if we truly want to.  We can learn what we need to learn.  It is not beyond our capacity to learn.  It’s actually child’s play, more natural to children than to adults but still within the capacity of adults to relearn.  Adults do struggle with issues and responsibilities by which children are not typically burdened, although many children are bearing such burdens these days in earlier and earlier years.  In failing to release our emotional pain in caring, healthy ways so as to discover how to enjoy sustainable peace (domestic tranquility instead of domestic violence in all its forms), we are dumping our buried pain on children and expecting them not to be harmed by being dumped upon.

Buried pain, like harmful toxic waste, leeches from the dumps where we think we safely bury it to contaminate the waters of life within which we expect our children and ourselves to swim and find clean water to drink and bathe in.  Our buried pain poisons our lives and robs us of the most enriching qualities of life we’d otherwise enjoy.  We must cease to use our hearts as waste dumps for toxic emotions.  To cease to participate in this pattern, we must learn to grieve through our pain and find peace again beyond it.  In our present state, our society allows no one to avoid experiencing pain.  Thus, we all must learn to release pain as a necessary life skill. To fail to master this skill means to guarantee that the pain will pass along to the next generation for them to deal with.

We adults must stand up for protecting our children from the pain we’ve not yet processed, stand up as adults before us likely did not do for us.  In some period of our history, the cycle of pain must stop.  Our current generations of adults can be that time.  The cycle can wind down and be replaced with healthier conditions if we are willing to participate fully in those conditions.  It’s up to us to have the courage, compassion, commitment, creativity and curiosity to discover again how to cooperate with each other in unity about this process.  It is a process that requires no opponents and instead welcomes all to participate.  By definition, grief is universal to us all.  We can stand together not in opposition to pain but in unified commitment to learning how to release pain in all its forms and reasons for existing.

Pain need not be as prevalent as it is.  It need not be endured forever as we’ve been taught to believe.  We can learn to stop perpetuating it.  To release our personal pain one person at a time releases the nation from pain.  Let’s help each other enter into a process of grieving through the lifetime of pain we’ve endured as dumping grounds for other people’s pain and unite in peace beyond our pain.  Peace will not come immediately because the process of grief must allow time to identify, express and share our buried pain for healing and release to happen.  But our commitment to the process of grieving is enough to ensure peace will come in time.

Peace is actually our natural state of being.  It is the tender condition that exists within our hearts but is now buried beneath the rumble of the patterns of opposition we’ve endured.  We have the power within us to seek no longer to engage in artificial reasons to perpetuate our pain and instead to free ourselves of the rumble and return to our natural state of peace and goodwill among all peoples – of every age, gender, station in life and other demographic parameter by which we measure ourselves.  Let’s now measure ourselves as peacemakers and peace-sustainers instead of as participants in the internal warfare to which politics currently calls us under the mistaken notion that that’s the only way.  There is another way.  It leads to the end of suffering for us all.  Might not that outcome motivate us all to explore this possibility?

© Art Nicol 2016

What If We’re All to Blame?

The blame game is sheerest nonsense since most of us adults who are participants in the US economy and have the right to vote both with our money and our polling place opportunities share the blame for the deplorable state of the world.  If you’re as convinced as I am that the blame game takes us nowhere closer to understanding how the US has fallen to the low we’ve reached, perhaps you’ll consider with me this solution:  Let’s treat the situation as if we’re all to blame and take up responsibility for our part in generating this deplorable condition and for our part in co-creating the true alternative.  The false alternative, of course, remains to deny that the US society is in deplorable condition and keep right on going down the drain with our eyes closed.  If we try that approach, we won’t need to worry about being blamed for sticking our heads in the sand because we’ll have already stuck them somewhere darker to prepare for our future drainhood.

For myself, my children, my grandchildren and others about whom I care, I prefer not to go blindly down the drain without doing my best to head back up towards the rim of the basin and perhaps even climb out of the tub, sink or toilet bowl we’re in.  I believe we’re flushing our future down the drain no matter what downward spiral we say we’re stuck in.  I want to be honest enough to see that pattern at work as we whirl around in our confusion pointing fingers at each other while trying to transfer blame to someone else.  We’re acting like terrified children on a merry-go-round screaming at each other to make it stop so we can get off and blaming the person on the other side of the merry-go-round for making it go around faster and faster.  Just because we keep seeing the same people on the other side of the merry-go-round does not mean that they are more to blame than we are for the ride we’re all taking.  We’re all being taken for a ride.  (That last sentence uses a verb in the passive voice that does not disclose who’s doing the taking.)

Perhaps you find spinning in circles amusing.  I don’t.  After a while it makes me sick to my stomach.  So, I decided to listen to my gut and search for a way off the merry-go-round.  I found it.  I’ve found that the process of getting off made me feel confused and disoriented at first because while standing on solid ground beyond the merry-go-round my head was still spinning as if I were still on board.  It took a while to adjust to standing on stable ground rather than spinning around.  At first I was still dizzy, even more aware of my dizziness than before. In the process of regaining my balance, I learned that I had adjusted to the spinning as best I could and now needed to re-adjust to non-spinning stability again.  In time, I did.  Now my stomach has settled and my mind is at ease.  Now I can heed my gut intuition as well as reason with my mind as a unified field of feeling and thinking my way forward through life with wisdom as my guide.  I enjoy using this new orientation to guide me forward beyond the merry-go-round into more promising, stable territory.

To stay off the merry-go-round in all of its forms and formats in the world, I had to shed the part of me that is tempted to ride along and play the game of spinning tales and using circular justifications and excuses for my decisions and actions.  I had to stop pointing my finger “over there” and claiming that the “other guy or gal or they” made me do it.  I even had to stop claiming that God or the Devil made me do it.  I had to take full responsibility for “doing it,” whatever “it” was from time to time.  “Yes, I did it and I accept full responsibility for doing it.”  Tough sledding sometimes.

It was not easy to offend the popular opinions of powerful people and go against the flow of social conformity to act according to my heart’s intuition and my mind’s reason as best I could.  It has not been easy to make mistakes and take responsibility for them so as to learn all I could from them rather than close myself off from these ofttimes painful learning opportunities.  It has been no easier to make right decisions, be roundly condemned for them by others and still take responsibility for them as if they might, perchance, have been right or at least closer to the target than I’d been before.  Whether I decided or acted “right” or “wrong” in the eyes of others depended on the views of those who judged my decisions and actions according to their own preferences, prejudices and power to control what I did.  The characterization of my decisions and actions as “right” or “wrong” did not depend on their objective nature but on the subjective viewpoint of those who judged.  Some judges even relished the chance to punish others so much that they would leap at the opportunity to wield power over me, even arbitrarily, just to feel powerful.  I’ve offended a lot of viewpoints as I did my best to swim upstream as a nonconformist against the current of conformity that’s relentlessly sweeping us all down the drain.

What part of me is tempted to go along with the crowd and not offend the status quo of the drain-heading flow?  It’s the part of me that’s susceptible to being influenced by social approval, an experience I admit I crave.  I much prefer to be approved of than disapproved of.  The part of me addicted to social approval is the same part of me that is susceptible to other forms of addiction or dependency under the influence of any of my natural appetites.  It’s my ego.  Based on any appetite, my ego may turn me back drainward at the least little excuse if I let it.  The patterns of my life are aligned with drainward compliance because I was taught all my life to be a “good little boy.”  Translations for that phrase for me turned out to be “conformist,” “people-pleaser” and “conflict avoider.”  To fail to conform to the expectations of others, displease someone important or stir up controversy was “bad” and was punished by social disapproval.  I had to learn to stand up in the harshest streams of social disapproval and nevertheless face away from the drain and do my best to swim away.  Sometimes, the best I could do was root myself in place and resist the drainward flow, like the post of a pier resists the flow of the tide swirling by it.  The tide of social opinion blames me for resisting its flow.  Yet the truth is that all I am doing is standing my ground and refusing to go along with the riptide of popular social viewpoints or the egotistical preferences of authority figures supported by those who blindly follow them as frightened, compulsive people-pleasers, as once was I.

It’s not been easy to learn to stand up for myself after spending my first decades learning to go with the flow and not assert any viewpoint not pre-ordained to win me social approval or at least avoid social disapproval.  I had learned to be silent when the risk of disapproval presented itself.  In fact, I had learned to take no risks and hide myself from the mainstream of the drainward flow.  For some time, I clung to the rim of the basin and held on for dear life.  Eventually I let go of the rim and allowed myself to be swept totally down the drain while being characterized as totally disapproved of.  There turned out to be no greater freedom from fear of lost approval than to lose it all, drown in disapproval and resurface somewhere down the drain where the flow is freer of the ego’s judgmental attitudes and assumptions.

Freedom turned out for me to be downstream, drainward and then out the drain into natural channels into which artificial drains arbitrarily dump their social outcasts.  There are unflattering terms to use as labels for such outcasts.  I became identified with them and their social exile.  And I found myself in good company.  What do I mean “good” in this sense?  I mean spiritually free to rise up to become new lives without blaming anyone for our circumstances but ourselves.

Yes, I’m to blame for my going down the drain and being flushed out of the pools of social approval amid which I once swam.  I think it helped me to slip readily down the drain that I never swelled with pride when I swam in such pools because secretly I knew in my heart that I did not belong there.  Not swelled by pride, I did not clog the drain and readily slipped through.  I did not belong in the pools, especially in the sense that no one owned me as their belonging.  I was not bought and paid for and required to do my owner’s bidding no matter how degrading it might be, like some slave or prostitute or junior partner in a firm.  I always had the option of dropping out and not participating in the pool.  And I found that the option to drop out could also transform into the option to rise out.

Both dropping out and rising out diverge from conformity to social norms.  To the extent that modern society embraces the norm of citizenry enslavement within the economy, I became abnormal to find freedom from our social institutions of slavery. To the extent that modern society imposes the norm of poor physical, emotional and mental health and loveless relationships upon its citizenry, I became abnormal to discover how to be progressively healthier to the point of wholeness and how to experience divinely defined love.  I highly recommend exploring and engaging in such social abnormalities!

Yes, I’m to blame for what has happened in my life and for the decisions and actions that flowed from my life.  I still am.  By accepting the “blame,” I accepted and still accept full responsibility. And I discovered that with great responsibility comes great power.  The converse of the Spiderman Principle is true!  My life has proved it to my own satisfaction.  If you don’t like being blamed for other people’s decisions and actions, try taking full responsibility for putting yourself in the position to be blamed and then consider exiting that position for higher ground.  In the long run, drainward is not really as fun and rewarding at it looks.  No addiction or dependency is. Just when you fear most falling ignominiously into utter failure in the pursuit of your highest ideals and most heartfelt dreams, let go, sink to the bottom and swim out the drain to freedom beyond the pools of social approval within which you fear being judged and condemned.  Down there in the dark you may be surprised to find your way to the higher, more lighthearted ground you’re looking for.

© Art Nicol 2016

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

We live in a distressing time in the US because we live amid the nests to which the chickens are coming home to roost.  The phrase “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the cycle of insanity that returns to those who act insanely the consequences of their deeds.  “Chicken” is an especially apt term because it’s also typically used as a label for a person who is extremely afraid.  (Supposedly, chickens are easily scared and scattered in fear before a marauding fox. Yet, if one has tried to interfere with a hen who is protecting her brood of chicks, one might not be convinced that all chickens are readily frightened away.)

Let’s look at the possibility that “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the actions of scared people returning to haunt them.  Since actions arise from thoughts and since feelings of fear can cause thoughts that are irrational, one can readily see how actions that are of chicken nature are based on fear.  Fear distorts minds to think irrationally, even to the point of causing chronic irrationality we label “insanity.”  In recent generations, the US has become a society of chronically frightened and irrational people who prefer to deny our emotions and hide behind the masks of our egos in pride than to admit that we are afraid most of the time.  We acquired the habit of denying our fears by many decades and multiple generations of denial of emotions in general.

For example, during one insane cycle of fear-generated violence, one generation created nuclear weapons to solve the problem of needing to feel more secure and then faced the very real possibility of triggering a nuclear holocaust to destroy humanity and render our planet cruelly less habitable.  Chickens threatened then to come home to roost.  But, we learned to live under that cloud of nuclear fear and march on undeterred in our commitment to our consumerist militarism.  We proudly called our lifestyle Darwinian capitalism and by well-crafted propaganda fooled many of us into believing it was “free enterprise” — an expression of our more expansive freedoms as free people,  who, as it turns out, failed to realize how seductively our egos were enslaving us on account of our unconscious fears.

We still live under the fear of pending doom of nuclear disaster and many other fears that have piled on top of it in the dark caverns of our minds where our egos entomb them rather than face them. We still march on undeterred as long as we can manage to remain undisturbed by the consequences of our decisions.  On account of our habit of denial, we’ve become increasingly indifferent to the legitimate needs of human beings, others and ourselves.  Instead of caring how our actions may affect “others,” we carefully plan our actions to make sure that their ill-effects fall on others but not upon us.  We’ve practiced this principle of exporting ill-effects for many generations in both our military ventures and our business ventures.

In our military ventures, we expected US citizens to go “off to war” in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other smaller scale combat actions. And somehow we expected them to function within horrifically terrifying battlefield conditions without falling apart or being adversely affected by their experiences.  We expected them to be brave and strong and committed to protecting their faraway homes from the threats we believed were so significant that we placed our citizens in harm’s way in distant lands to avoid those threats.  Those who survived physically, we welcomed home as heroes with far too little regard for how their service to our welfare cost them emotionally. We saw physical wounds and disabilities but not emotional ones.  We failed to expect, as reason dictates, that after the intensity of battle is over, the falling apart comes along naturally as a part of grieving.  It must if anyone is to regain his or her sanity after being subject to such insanity.  To us who had learned to harden our hearts and deny to our emotions their sane, healthy role in our lives, emotions became invisible and readily ignored.  It takes sensitivity and empathy to detect emotions in ourselves and others and we learned well how to deaden those human attributes of sanity and pretend to live “well” without them in operation in our lives.  In fact, we often ridicule and look down upon as “weak” and certainly unmasculine those who have not deadened their sensitive, empathetic nature. We too have learned not to fall apart nor to grieve to restore our sanity.  Insanity — to one degree or another preserved by unprocessed emotions — has become our national norm.

We have avoided bringing the battlefield home to us by exporting it abroad to other cultures and lands where we felt freer to resort to violence that spilled over into civilian populations, but not our own.  Now the chaos and violence of the battlefields we exported under the influence of our fears are coming home to roost.

We also have exported the harmful commercial side-effects of a materialistic, hedonistic society to place those burdens on others as much as possible.  We’ve used the “toilet bowl theory” to justify dumping toxic wastes where we who enjoy the byproducts of that waste are not directly affected or even confronted by the sights and smells of toxins that are robbing others of life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.  Extraction and use of fossil fuels — and the disposal of waste produced by their extraction and use — proceed apace so long as the harmful consequences of the their extraction, use and disposal fall on others.  We don’t care unless toxic waste or garbage dumps show up in our backyard. Someone else’s backyard is just fine with us. Pollution is other people’s problem so long as we have options to avoid it.

As a long-term consequence of playing chicken with the truth and failing to honestly face our fears throughout multiple generations, we are now no longer able to reroute the chickens from returning to the roost from which they originally flew.  The chickens of our militarism and consumerism are coming home to roost.  The empire we’ve enjoyed living within for many generations is now undeniably soiling its own nest.  Our lifestyles of denial, of pride and of shifting blame no longer protect us from facing the consequences of our insane, heartless decisions.  We are faced with the consequences whether or not we want to be. And we find it difficult to see the justice in this backflow of chickens to their roosts.  But just it is.  How we’ve come to abhor justice!  We fear justice most of all!

If we are to adequately address the escalating violence rising in our society, we must hear and heed the call of justice and do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God — not “our” God as if we define God but “God” as if God defines His/Her own nature.  Micah 6:8 states what is required of us, oh, fallible mortals that we are.  We must face the fact that those whom we trained to use weapons to protect our insane lifestyles are returning home to find other uses for their training and their weapons.  We trained them to become insanely insensitive and lacking in empathy like us and we now object to their teaching us the consequences of our heartlessness.

Certainly, we find it attractive to hire some of our former military personnel to staff our internal civilian military forces to protect us internally from harm that we have created through our heartless lifestyles and to route some of our citizens off to prison.  Mass incarceration is another form of dumping ground for the waste products of our militarism and consumerism but we must face the fact that God created no human being to be labeled “waste” and so unjustly treated.  Although we claim to be, we are hardly entitled to critique those whom we’ve trained to do our dirty work of harming others on our behalf in the course of their assigned duties as if we might expect them to be always capable of setting aside their emotions and acting reasonably – with sensitivity and empathy –  in the face of perceived threats to their well-being.  We’ve trained them to react instantly without out consideration for the harm that might flow to others from their defensive reactions and then later purport to hold them accountable for using reflexively the training that we required of them.  Having required of our guardians of domestic tranquility other than the duty to do justice, love mercy and walking humbly with a merciful, forgiving and gracious God, we reap the consequences of our unholy expectations.  We must hold ourselves accountable!

We also object to finding scummy green algae clogging the beaches upon which we prefer to frolic in our escapist activities so necessary to offset our denied internal emotional pain.  We have learned to flee from the natural consequences of our harmful, heartless lifestyles to beaches, parklands and other scenic nature preserves to which we have consigned the last remnants of nature by which we feel rejuvenated while we cause it to become ultimately extinct.  The loss of beaches and waterways to algae on account of unfettered use of fertilizers to grow profitable crops and the loss of picturesque mountain vistas to rapacious mining and deforestation or to acid rain from the byproducts of industry to feed our materialistic appetites are chickens coming home to roost too close to home for us to ignore.  But ignore them we will if we can.

And if we can no longer ignore them, we will shift to others the blame for causing them and the responsibility for correcting and cleaning up our messes – if we can.  As taxpayers who have already funded construction of the highways and airports we use to escape on our vacations to beaches, waterways and mountains, we hardly think it’s fair to also expect us to accept responsibility for the harmful side-effects of our lifestyles and bear the cost of cleaning up after ourselves. Let someone else bear the brunt of our insanity!

And if you say that there is no one else available upon whom to shift the burdens, you are wrong.  We may no longer be able to find others in different parts of the 3-dimensional physical world upon whom to foist the consequences of our insanity, but we are creative thinkers.  We can export the consequences into the 4th dimension – to the future and let the next generation deal with it.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps we are living amid the time frame of that “next generation” even now as the chickens we raised and exported to the winds now journey home to roost among us.

© Art Nicol 2016

Arbitrary Power Expresses Maximum Powerlessness

News media reports the arbitrary use of power against innocent targets with increasing frequency. Why? Why do we hear of and see so many senseless expressions of power used to harm the least reasonable targets?  Because such expressions of power are symptomatic of an underlying social condition of perceived powerlessness.  Individuals who used to comfort themselves by associating in their minds with being part of a powerful group, team or nation no longer find comfort there because those opportunities for vicarious “power by association” are disappearing.  Traditions of parasitically drawing a sense of power by belonging to an unassailable, always winning group are crumbling.  In the absence of traditional temporary relief from secret (often unconscious) feelings of personal powerlessness and resulting frustrations about lack of control over one’s own destiny, individuals who are vulnerable to such feelings of powerlessness for whatever reason are popping to the surface with their frustrations in both planned and spontaneous acts of reactionary violence.

The USA population includes many frustrated people who no longer believe that they have power to influence the course of their lives and cause any improvement in their lives or the lives of others they care about.  The mythical American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and single-handedly achieving success on some terms valued by the achiever is a bubble that has burst.  Like the housing bubble, .com bubble and so many other illusions of permanent prosperity based on constant growth, the American Dream of continuously improving prosperity based on continuous expansion of the economy and of dominance by the USA empire around the world has burst.  We’d like to pretend to blame that bubble’s bursting in air on current leaders or even upon past leaders and comfort ourselves with renewed bombs bursting in air, but that’s another illusion.  The truth is that illusions are illusions and don’t last forever.

If an individual feels powerless, one way of compensating for his or her sense of powerlessness is to find convenient targets of sufficient weakness to inflict harm and pain upon in some way dramatically obvious that the “power to cause pain” flows from the individual according to his or her arbitrary willfulness.  “See how powerful I am?” is the message.  If the individual feels frustrated about not having his or her way in other areas of life, at least in this one area he or she is can assert unchallengeable dominance.  The more arbitrary the expression of power in relationship to any true justification for that expression of power, the more powerful the person feels temporarily.  It’s like a “fix” for that person.  Arbitrary use of power is addictive, a drug upon which the powerless person depends for relief.  Plus the more publicly the person gets away with his or her abuse of power, the more thrilling the expression of power becomes.  Targeting senseless victims for abuse becomes not only an addictive habit but a destructively meaningless hobby, sadistically amusing to the person who expresses power in this manner.  “Getting away with it” adds to the thrill of arbitrary power.  “Getting away with it in the open with no one being able to stop me” is the greatest thrill of all.  “Recruiting others to protect me while I am openly abusing power by harming innocent victims” also adds to the person’s false sense of power.

The emotional and mental inner workings of people who senselessly use power to harm or cause pain to others is not as much of a mystery to humans as we’d like to claim.  Most if not all of us have had occasion to be at least tempted to engage in such power dynamics as a way of compensating for the frustrations of our lives.  “Kicking the dog” in private is a minor expression of power for this purpose.  Punishing weak members of society for their acting out their own frustrations in public upon arbitrary victims is another expression of this power.

We much prefer to accuse others of doing what we’d likely do ourselves when the shoe is on the other foot and then inflict pain upon them as if to flagellate ourselves vicariously for participating in such a weakness.  The temptation is strong to point the finger at others and declare ourselves free of any related habits and hobbies.  It would be better for all of us if we’d spend at least as much time pointing the finger towards ourselves and confessing our own misunderstanding about power and how power to cause pain and harm to others is never a true expression of power.  It’s a game our egos play to express how undeserving of love we secretly believe we are and to convince us how much we are powerless to do anything about improving the condition of the society in which we live.  The ego lies.  True power is the power to help another person recover from having been the victim of arbitrary power or any other form of pain and find his or her path to freedom from otherwise, in turning the table, becoming an abuser of power too.  We must get up from that table and take no side of it. Instead we need to fashion campfires and other circles of reconciliation around which to gather as one village.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes this kind of transformed village to raise us all up to envision and share true power from another perspective.

If our nation is ever to stop abusing its power by subjecting weaker nations to pain and harm, we as individual citizens of our nation must undertake personally to adopt a different understanding of power and participate with wisdom in the alternative vision of power as a capacity to heal rather than to harm.

© Art Nicol 2016

Let’s Address the Root Cause of Racism, Sexism and Other Egoisms

Many and vocal are the voices speaking out today against institutional or systemic racism in the USA.  A growing awareness emerges that the racism once thought adequately addressed by the civil rights movement decades ago still prevails beneath the surface.  Racism may have gone underground and become harder to pin down because of the camouflage it has acquired, but it is still operative in the United States. Like a virulent virus it has formed new strains that resist detection and eradication.

I propose here to shed some light on why this is true.  Will this light be all the light needed to illuminate this topic?  Hardly likely.  But perhaps it will help some see more clearly the patterns that support racism and the treatment necessary to eradicate those patterns. To keep things simple I will draw upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s insights as starting points.  The overarching pattern I observe is that we’ve not taken MLK Jr.’s insights to heart and applied them rigorously as far as they would take us if we did so. Having abandoned any commitment we may have once felt to be inspired to action by MLK Jr’s words, we now reap the consequences of abandoning his principles instead of remaining faithful to them while traveling together along the full length to which they would otherwise have taken us.  To eradicate institutional racism we need to apply the antidote of principles espoused by MLK Jr. until they work their miracle of transformation fully.

First, I start with this observation made by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” We have failed to admit to ourselves that laws may repress undesired actions but that they have never changed the underlying motives for socially destructive actions.  Repression by punishment, sanctions, consequences, etc. forces the motivating attitudes underground.  “Don’t ever let me catch you behaving that way again, young man!” berates a parent to a wayward son.  Some sons change their attitudes within and do not misbehave again.  Many sons simply become sneakier to make sure that their parents do not catch them misbehaving again but do not actually cease to misbehave.  They learn to misbehave in ways not as readily detected by their parents.  Thus it has been with making racism illegal.  A change of heart is needed, even among the heartless.  It is not enough to threaten to punish or impose consequences upon the heartless for misbehaving.  Their thrills come from defying authority and seeing how craftily they can get away with misbehaving.  It’s an ego-driven game with rewards of its own.  We fail to admit that anyone who has become heartless on account of themselves having been treated heartlessly is likely to have become immune to change forced upon him or her by additional painful consequences.  We need to stop the insane practice of trying to out-bully bullies (both within our nation and beyond).

If we are to truly learn anything from our decades of utterly failing to eradicate racism, it must include the insight that passage and enforcement of laws, no matter how artfully worded or rigorously enforced they may be, will not eradicate racism.  What might the alternative be?  How are the heartless transformed to consider being and then actually daring to become less heartless?  How do we release ourselves from the prisons of heartlessness within which  we seek to survive and instead make wholehearted empathy and compassion new prevailing norms in the USA?  Surely we will not try to legislate empathy and compassion.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream about the alternative I have in mind: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  He took the risk of dying while doing his part to make his dream come true, not merely for his children but for all children.  And the risk he took materialized and he was silenced.  We have repeated his dream speech many times since then.  But as Eliza Doolittle sings in My Fair Lady, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words. Is that all you blighters can do?”  Words frequently repeated but rarely applied become slogans that lose their meaning.  MLK Jr. was not a “blighter” who failed to put his words into meaningful, sustained action.  Many of those who repeat his words contribute to the social blight of racism by being “blighters” who do fail to “walk the talk” as 12-steppers might say.  Instead we tend to relapse into our egostic pursuits of choice and fall off the wagon of transformation needed to actually accomplish social justice.  We are seduced in part by the appeal of social approval to which we remain addicted, an appeal to remain safely hunkered down in the crowd rather than to stick out our necks.

So it has been with MLK Jr.’s inspired dream.  It died amid droning repetition of the words not matched by their vigorous application in our lives.  His dream inspired and challenged us when he first revealed it.  It does so yet today.  But we have failed to respond.  That is our failure.  That is our own heartlessness revealed in stubborn apathy and resignation to the way things are as if that’s how things will inevitably always be.  Until we overcome our own failure to respond and transform our own hearts, we are part of the problem and have no standing to prosecute those whose hearts remain hardened along with ours but whose violent actions, both overt and covert, remain expressed without restraint.  To end the torrent of racism eroding our nation, each of us must cease to contribute our little stream of heartlessness and add instead our most wholehearted rivulet-grown-to-river participation in the alternative of which MLK Jr. dreamt and spoke and for which he lived fully until his life was cut short.  We must stop resisting forward motion and instead begin relentlessly persisting in it.

Are we willing to fully and persistently participate in the alternative society that offers the only solution to systemic racism? Do children’s lives matter?  To what degree?  Are we willing to risk it all for the possibility that the children who matter to us will grow up to live in a nation that does not judge them by the color of their skin nor by any other superficial and unworthy criteria?  MLK Jr. said “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”  Are we willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the children on whatever terms we are called to lay them down?

I suggest to you that dying for a cause is not the more difficult way to lay down your life.  The more difficult ways of laying down one’s life involve continuing to live in the face of intense fears with the courage of one’s convictions no matter how unpopular those convictions may be in the minds of others.  We must be willing to put at risk the very social approval by which our thinking, speech and actions are too often unconsciously censured, shaped and stylized.  Once again, participating in public rallies, cheering (or even being) inspirational speakers and generally repeating the patterns of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past are in vogue.  Missing are the rigorously probing self-examination and repentance that will help us all let go of our attitudes and beliefs that support racism, sexism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism and other forms of egoism so as to deprive institutional and systemic expressions of those dehumanizing “isms” of support.  Doubtlessly, MLK Jr. engaged in such self-examination and repentance.  His private process of rigorously examining his own character to root out pockets of hypocrisy must become our own process.

To examine our institutions for signs of any “ism” (including the scourge of intellectualism) while failing to examine ourselves — as citizens of a republic who staff, patronize, support and give legitimacy to our institutions — for attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate all forms of “isms” is to fail once again to learn the lessons of history and doom ourselves to repeat them.  Is our only goal to change the current flavor our egoism or to eradicate it entirely in all flavors?  Will it be unpopular to call for examination of our individual and collective character so as to be capable of judging ourselves by the content of our character instead of by the color of our skin, age, ethnicity, religion, gender/gender orientation, sexual orientation, economic class, educational level, marital status, family type, etc.?  Yes, but MLK Jr. had an insight for us here too: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”  He, she, we . . . let’s not quibble about pronouns now.  We have more important issues to address.  As writer Walter Kelly once said long ago through Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The overarching pattern that we must address radically, at its roots, is the pattern of the ego’s dominance in our personal lives and elsewhere throughout our nation.  The ego is based on fear.  Fear is the opposite of love, which the ego has zero capacity to honor and share.  Love is an anathema to the ego.  Yet, love is also the antidote to fear because it is the only true alternative to fear.  Fear corrupts our character, causes our hearts to harden and seduces us by alternative temptations to not be true to ourselves and to stray from our paths of transformation.  We must apply the antidote of love rigorously as compassionately necessary to ourselves and to our neighbors without judgment or condemnation until all fear is released and we rise up together as “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Again repeating words makes us numb to their meaning unless we live them out radically through our own lives as if the welfare of the children depends on us.  It does.

If we truly desire with all our hearts to lean not upon our own understanding, it is time to trust in the Higher Power from whom divine love flows for guidance, humble ourselves to shed our egos, forsake all attitudes of pride and shame as well as guilt and blame, and listen within our hearts to the still small voice of wisdom we’ve so rigorously repressed that our consciences barely make themselves heard.  That’s our choice.  I invite us all to join in participating in the radical healing of our nation of all the pain that our various forms of “isms” have inflicted upon us all, more upon some than upon others, but not sparing any of us. May we find within us our innate capacity to forgive ourselves and each other and rise up together — not to seek vengeance one against another but instead to seek victory in which we are all included.

I end now with one last quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  That is the attitude that will save us from all of our less worthy attitudes and beliefs by which we’ve beset ourselves with violence by seeing each other as separate and unforgivably wrong, even as if some form of competitor if not an enemy combatant.  Can we love and forgive our competition and our enemies, both those whom we find within our hearts in residence because they caused us pain in the past and we’ve not yet forgiven them as well as those who remain external to us but also remain unforgiven?  Martin Luther King Jr. shared inspiring words about the power of persistently applied love as the ultimate solution but I’ll leave that quote for you to find.

© Art Nicol 2016