Author: Stephanie Van Hook

“A great day indeed”–Daily Metta

September 29: “If India can discover a way of sublimating the force of violence…and turning it into constructive, peaceful ways whereby differences of interests can be liquidated, it will be a great day indeed.” –Gandhi (Harijan, August 31, 1947) Gandhi never maintained, even once, that violence was something other than a force that had to be transformed or sublimated. He did not ask anyone to repress or ignore it. On the contrary. He would often say that if a person did not have it in them to do the work of sublimation and transformation of violence, then it was better for them to be violent (of all things) than passive, that is, to accept oppression, insult or injury due to feelings of inferiority or inability to respond adequately. Such statements were never in any way a ‘carte blanche’ for violent activity. Keep in mind: his movement was strictly nonviolent, and he was going for a big vision of what that meant–what he called, “nonviolence of the brave” versus “nonviolence of the weak or passive.” If there were violent actions on the part of the movement, he would call off the action, atone or offer penance, and not resume any actions until nonviolent discipline could be maintained. The point, I think, was that Gandhi never wanted nonviolence to be a form of repression or coercion on those who engaged in it with him; and in order to avoid that there has to be a choice offered them. Those in the movement always had the choice of violence, but they renounced it willingly in order to participate in the larger strategy, to consider themselves a part of what was taking place under Gandhiji’s leadership. It’s unfortunate now that many of those who do homage to Gandhi reduce his vision to a question of morality; i.e.. Gandhi was nonviolent, so you have to be. This kind of simplification was the last thing he wanted; he always wanted us to think for ourselves. It’s a much better strategy, I think, to show people how Gandhi made his decisions and why he did, and let them decide on their own through experiments in their own lives. Offer them this very question “How can we sublimate and transform the force of violence into a constructive force for peace?” and watch, and listen to what takes place. People will begin to understand nonviolence in an entirely different, and more accurate light.   Experiment in Nonviolence: What are some of the strategies you have developed to harness and sublimate violence toward constructive and peaceful ends? Find one of these you can strengthen today.

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“Understanding history”–Daily Metta

June 16: “We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.” –Gandhi (Harijan, August 25, 1940) Distinguished historian J.B. Kripalani had a run-in with the Mahatma that he would always remember. He told Gandhi, “If you think nonviolence can overcome violence, you just don’t know history.” Gandhi was unfazed, perhaps amused, and gracefully — as ever — replied that between the two of them, it appeared that Kripalani was the one who did not understand history. For if he did, Gandhi went on, he would know that just because something has not happened in the past does not mean that it cannot happen in the present. History was not just the story of wars for Gandhi, it was the story of us: our choices and our evolution. If nonviolence does not appear in “history,” it is simply because it has been overlooked and ignored. Experiment in Nonviolence: Make nonviolent history today, or at least, read something about it!   Watch Metta’s latest animation, a New Story of Us for inspiration!    Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.

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“Begin with the mind”–Daily Metta

June 15: “Nonviolence to be a potent force must begin with the mind.” –Gandhi (Young India, April 2, 1931) One day a young man approached Gandhi and told him that someone had humiliated and hit him, and he did not fight back. Wouldn’t “Bapu” (a term used to address Gandhi, meaning father) be proud of him for his nonviolence? Like a good teacher of his subject, Gandhi challenged the young man, “Why were you humiliated?” I like this story because it highlights the difference between passivity and nonviolence. In passivity to violence, we lack a sense of respect for ourselves. In nonviolence, we train the mind to have a strong, healthy sense of who we are and the greatness–and limitations– of our capacities (well… some of them, when we learn how to access them, are infinite, like compassion and love).  We know ourselves–we see ourselves as equal, and our actions are the expression of our awareness of our dignity, knowing that the road of violence will ultimately degrade us.   Experiment in Nonviolence: Have you ever confused passivity for nonviolence? Think of a situation where you were passive, and imagine what you might have done differently had you tried nonviolence?   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.

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“A love story”–Daily Metta

June 14: “True happiness comes from health and true health is impossible without a rigid control of the palate.” –Gandhi (Guide to Health, 1930) Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, were married as children, at 13 years old, in an arranged marriage. In many ways they grew up together, and as Gandhi grew in his understanding of nonviolence, he steadily became a better partner for his wife. One time when Kasturba was very ill, it was put to her that she should refrain from eating salt and pulses ( staple grains in the traditional Indian diet, such as dal and chickpeas) for an entire year. She looked pained by the suggestion and was at first unwilling to go along with it, sick though as she was. She told him that even he could not do something as severe as that! Ever-growing in his fondness toward her while at the same time, developing his understanding of nonviolence, Gandhi took up the challenge: if she would not give them up for the sake of her health, then he would give them up as a vow, out of pure affection for her. It touched her heart. Together, they began their mutual salt and pulse-fast. Gandhi knew that this would strengthen the bond between them, and he documents this experience as a key moment when he realized that his love for his wife was growing.   Experiment in Nonviolence: If you could renounce something to help influence someone you love to make a healthier choice, what would it be? Give it a try!   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.

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“I am because you are”–Daily Metta

June 10: “I believe in the essential unity of humanity, and for that matter, all that lives.” –Gandhi (Young India, September 3, 1925) In order to make nonviolent institutions possible, they have to be built on a solid cultural foundation that embodies respect and even reverence for the human experience. Not a reverence with our mouths only, but a deep awareness of our true dignity and relationship to all of life. We need to lift up the best parts of ourselves and let them guide us. So, being human: Does that mean being a consumer, destined to war at all levels, an automaton in front of a screen, “entertaining ourselves to death”? Or can we find and agree on a more inspiring, more realistic conception? The Nguni Bantu linguistic family, in the region of South Africa, has a very workable term for this concept: ubuntu (sounds like “oo-boon-too”). It’s literal translation is most closely related to terms such as “human-ness” and “human-kindness,” though as it has become popularized, mainly by South African peacemaker Desmond Tutu, it has come to mean that we only express our humanness through other human beings, or in short, “I am because you are.” My dignity comes from the dignity of others, and my recognition of their dignity. My well-being is caught up in the web of life all around me. Conversely, when I dehumanize another, I dehumanize myself. By my very nature of being human, I cannot escape this interconnection. I can only learn how to recognize it faster, at ever-deepening levels, and harness it to guide me into “right action” to use a Buddhist term. But is that recognition, whether on an individual or massive scale, not one of the greatest victories possible for us?   Experiment in Nonviolence: Reflect on the concept of ubuntu and find one way to express it consciously in your actions today.   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.

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“Walk Alone”–Daily Metta

June 9 “There are moments in your life when you must act, even though you cannot carry your best friends with you.” –Gandhi (The Monthly Review, Calcutta, October, 1941) One of Gandhi’s favorite songs was Ekla Chalo Re, a Bengali hymn translated as “Walk Alone.” Written by the famous Rabindranath Tagore, the lyrics are as follows, translated by Tagore himself from Bengali: If they answer not to your call walk alone If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall, O thou unlucky one, open your mind and speak out alone. If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness, O thou unlucky one, trample the thorns under thy tread, and along the blood-lined track travel alone. If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm, O thou unlucky one, with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart, and let it burn alone. Gandhi is known to have drawn from the power within this song, singing it as he traveled alone into violence-rife villages toward the end of his life, in an effort to get the bloodshed  between Hindus and Muslims to cease.   Experiment in Nonviolence: Learn the words of Ekla Chalo Re by heart, as Gandhi did; or at least let’s take them to heart.     Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.

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“Everyone is a Peacekeeper”–Daily Metta

March 2:  “Democracy and dependence on the military and police are incompatible.” -Gandhi (Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 347) Inspired by Gandhi’s vision of personal empowerment, in the pre-school classroom where I work with three to six year olds, we do not designate only one or two people to act as “peacekeeper” for a day. Instead, we discuss together how everyone is a peacekeeper at all times, and we work individually on our skills to become more effective at it day by day. To this extent, we are creating the microcosm of a truly democratic society. What does this look like outside of our school and in the “real” world? It begins with individuals becoming trained in the tools of nonviolent conflict de-escalation: mediation, restorative justice, compassionate communication and listening, empathy, and other nonviolent skills necessary to work out our conflicts without relying on someone else to do it for us. The moment we give away our capacity to handle conflict creatively and constructively, we invite in power abuse and violence in those who take up the job for us. It is too precious a capacity, and too instrumental to true democracy, to give away.   Experiment in Nonviolence: What skills do you feel you need to work on in order to feel more confident in handling a conflict in your life? Find a resource today that is meant to help you strengthen that capacity nonviolently.   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.  

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“Penance not Punishment”–Daily Metta

March 1: “Experience gained in two schools under my control has taught me that punishment does not purify; if anything, it hardens children.” –Gandhi (Mahatma, vol. 2, p. 218) (Pictured: Gandhi’s wife Kasturba, and their four children)   One day, Gandhi’s grandson Arun was in Johannesburg with his father, Manilal, getting their car fixed. While his father went to an appointment, Arun was to wait for the car and pick him up when it was ready. However, he decided to go into the theatre and watch some John Wayne films. He watched a double feature, and suddenly realized that it was way past the time to pick up his father.  He decided to make up a story about the car not being ready earlier, to avoid getting in trouble. To his surprise, when he told his father what “happened,” Manilal told him that he had already called the garage, and knew that the story was not true. Disappointed that his son would choose to lie to him, he decided he would walk home to the ashram, over 18 miles away! Arun drove behind him, at a snail’s pace, for hours.  The result was that Arun learned a very important lesson no punishment could have conveyed: in his words, “That made me decide never to tell a lie. If he had punished me, I would have taken the punishment and decided not to get caught the next time.”   Experiment in Nonviolence: Instead of punishing someone close to you, consider taking some act of penance (not as extreme as walking eighteen miles!).   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.  

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“Nonviolence as an Evolutionary Force”–Daily Metta

January 12 “Non-cooperation is a process of evolution: it has most aptly been described as Evolutionary Revolution.” –Gandhi (Young India, February 23, 1921) Gandhi understood that nonviolent non-cooperation against a State, aka civil resistance, meant a closer form of cooperation among people. Assured that such actions would not lead to disorder or chaos, he put his faith securely in the hearts of people as well as in the principles of nonviolence itself. It is revolutionary. Violent non-cooperation, by contrast, most often lacks vision, unity and strategic thinking about “what next,” not to mention that it denies people’s desire for peace which goes much deeper than their desire for vengeance and retaliation, however intense those may feel. So what does it have to do with evolution? Whenever we non-cooperate with individuals and systems in the spirit of nonviolence, we show with our lives not only that another world is truly possible, but that we desire that world and are willing to withdraw our support from what is no longer working. And we become empowered in the process: the more we become aware of our underlying unity that is so foundational in nonviolent action, the more we realize that we are not required to obey when misguided leaders, ideologies and institutions try to run the show. It’s an intentional shift from unconscious passivity to conscious action. This is why Gandhi maintains that nonviolent non-cooperation can become a force of evolution; instead keeping us locked into the destructive cycle of violence, it releases us and enables us to moves forward toward unexplored frontiers of the human mind, body and spirit.   Experiment in Nonviolence: If you were to non-cooperate with one violent institution, which one would it be? What would replace that institution? Research one new nonviolent institution, such as unarmed civilian peacekeeping.   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher. Sign up to receive Daily Metta in your inbox!

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Humility and Nonviolence–Daily Metta

January 11 “The spirit of nonviolence necessarily leads to humility.” -Gandhi (Young India, January 12, 1921)  Humility is one of those delicate virtues that disappears the moment we think that we have attained it. If Gandhi was a humble man, it was not because he lived frugally or because he wore only home-spun khadi, or cotton cloth. Even if he chose to walk barefoot instead of on home-made sandals, that would not be the source of his humility. Humility is a state of heart–a willingness to see oneself as one relates to the whole, instead of using personal changes to draw attention to oneself.  His goal in life, as he clearly states time and again, was “to make himself (and his ego) zero.” Few of us can say we have done this.  But it’s open to us to try.  This is a matter of degree, there being a long stretch between where we presently are (present writer included) and zero. If nonviolence is the path that makes us humble, it is because it turns our world upside down. Instead of working for one’s own gain, or even the utilitarian notion of the “greatest good for the greatest number,” the nonviolent spirit seeks to find the solution that works for everyone, win-win, or what Gandhi calls sarvodaya, the uplift of all. Instead of believing that we have the whole truth–and nothing but the truth–nonviolence requires of us to admit that we can only see part the picture. Every individual holds one part of the truth. Instead of changing others first, we realize we have to examine our own motives, and change those where needed. Instead of thinking that we can go at it alone, in nonviolence, we glimpse at how small we really are, and with detachment, we see a power moving through us, and it affects us deeply–we are not the “doers,” as Gandhi might say.  This allowed him — and could allow us — to enjoy what’s sometimes called the “proud humility” of realizing that while we are nothing by ourselves, we’re not by ourselves. So the next time someone offers you a book on Humility and How I Got It, (the humorous title proposed by our friend Richard Deats) tell them that you don’t need it: You’re practicing nonviolence every day. Well, on the other hand…you might go ahead and take the book, thinking to yourself, “maybe there is something I can learn from even this.” And, more to the point, you don’t want to humiliate your friend…   Experiment in Nonviolence: The next time you catch yourself thinking ‘I did this great thing’ — or, for that matter, ‘what a colossal failure I am’ remind yourself that strictly speaking it’s circumstances, and the support of others, that act through us or at least give us possibilities to act.   Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in […]

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