Category: Metta Blog

Seeing Nonviolence?

The Metta Center–especially our founder, Michael Nagler– has been interested in the science of nonviolence for several decades. So the other day, I sent this article out to our awesome volunteers to see if it would spark some cool insights about how we understand nonviolence: Hi everyone,  The Metta Team has started exploring questions related to nonviolence every week, and so here is one! What do you think:  Here’s an article from the NYT about the phenomena of perception and expectation.  My question for you all is whether you think that we might be able to extrapolate some insights about how nonviolence works–or what it is–from these (non)observations.  Looking forward to hearing from you!  Stephanie  Here are some responses. After reading, you are warmly invited to add your own insights in the box below. We’d love to hear from you!   LOU:  As a magician and photographer, I am very aware of how misdirection and composition can hide things.  Both of these attributes are operating in the sample images in the article that made me “miss” seeing the big toothbrush, and less so the parking meter. The strongest way this relates to nonviolence for me is how people often don’t “see” nonviolence because we are culturally conditioned to focus on conflict and who’s to blame for it. Like the toothbrush, we’re looking for what we are expecting – someone or something to be wrong.  If we’re more in the habit of seeing the basic human needs being expressed in a conflict then we would see human beings struggling, feel compassion, and maybe our imaginations would be sparked with something new.   Annie: Hi everyone, and thank you, Lou, for your (very clear!) response. I completely agree that our current culture conditions us to see violence, which in turn tends to cause us to be blind to actions — even movements — of nonviolence. Unfortunately, in most mainstream media, unlike in the images of the big toothbrush and parking meter, the stories about nonviolence are simply not there. That said, one aspect I liked about considering parallels between this and the workings of nonviolence is the fact that we seem to be particularly unaware of ‘out of scale’ objects. My hope is that, like the toothbrush and the parking meter, nonviolence is, in fact, enormous in our world, we just need to learn to ’spot’ it. If this is the case, we should try to think about what might trigger our capacity to do this, to see the truth which is in front of us, One way might be to think about the fact that it was easier to identify the parking meter because we’d been alerted to its presence. So perhaps then part of spotting NV is having its presence suggested. This is a pretty…unexciting conclusion and I’m sure there’s more we can draw from this example, but simple awareness raising seems pretty important.   Thuy: Thanks, Stephanie, for bringing forth this interesting article and food for thought for the day. Lou and […]

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Tips for Facing Crisis

Photo Credit: Leslie Mclurg, KQED In crisis situations–whether by human-made violence or nature disasters–we can draw from the tools of nonviolence to help us take care of ourselves and others with sensitivity and awareness. The following list includes activities we can do by ourselves and share with others. Center.Take deep breaths to slow your breathing and to calm your mind. Take 15 seconds and check in with your surroundings: name to yourself or outloud five things you see: a red pillow, a grey chair, a tree, etc. You might also use a mantram, a prayer word that helps to calm the mind and body. Find one in your spiritual tradition, if you wish, such as Jesus Jesus Jesus, Allah Allah Allah, Rama Rama Rama (Gandhi’s mantram, which he called the “staff of his life”), Om mani padme hum, Baruch Atah Adonai, Ave Maria, etc. You can find a great list in The Mantram Handbook by Eknath Easwaran or online at BMCM.ORG/Mantram   Check in with your body. Are you tense? Take 30 seconds, regularly, to stretch your arms, legs, notice your pace (is it unnecessarily fast?), rub your hands together, wiggle your toes, and so forth. Also, drink water. Stress can dehydrate us, fast; and as St. Exupery said in The Little Prince, “sometimes water is good for the heart.”   One-pointed attention. There are a lot of things grabbing for our attention when we are in an emergency situation. Doing several things at once will not only fragment your mind more and make you feel more afraid, it will lead to less getting done. Try to do one thing at a time. Make a list (at least mentally, if you can’t write it down), you may have to “triage” to attend to first things first. Go through it systematically. Each thing you do, give it your full attention until you have finished doing it.   Give people your one-pointed attention. Similarly, we can support the people around us who might be in a state of panic by giving them our one-pointed attention. Even if only for a short while, for whatever amount of time we have, be as present as possible with them.  Plus, practice “deep listening.” When you hear what someone really wants (and they themselves may not be quite aware), it releases a lot of tension.   Be creative, but be sensitive. In a time of crisis, we need each other and the various gifts we bring. Be creative and think of ways of building community based on what you know you can do. Help people to laugh and feel connected. But remember to be sensitive–look at what is happening, and consider what might be missing. People need safety, food, clothing, and shelter. We also need bonding, autonomy, and meaning. Don’t forget that human dignity requires all of these.   Consent. Ask before you help. “Would you like me to help you with x?” Similarly with photographs. Respect people’s dignity and autonomy, always.   Honoring our limits. There’s always something you can do, but […]

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A Really Inconvenient Truth

Climate change is real. It is also essential. “I like storms.”  -M.K. Gandhi   Eleven days without violence. This was the stunning result after the California Institute for Women (CIW) joined in Compassion Games, a worldwide experiment in social uplift drawing from Karen Armstrong’s work with the Charter for Compassion. The CIW is not a privileged feminist utopia– it’s a 120-acre prison in Chino, California. Violent institutions rarely, if ever, promote the true well-being of those within its walls, and prisons are a prime example. Dehumanized people will treat each other with cruelty and violence, and CIW was no exception. So when a volunteer chaplain brought the games to the inmates, no one was certain how or if the experiment would work. But the women rose to the challenge–strategizing, resolving tensions, and taking care of one another in a way that affirmed the humanity of their sisters and themselves in the process. Simple acts like taking food trays to harder ones like holding back a fist ready to hit. Maybe they’d try it again next year? No. They wanted to try again in three months. Every three months, in fact. The climate in the prison, for those eleven days, changed. Prisoners became self-labeled “compassionistas.” These are the kinds of stories I seek out when I turn to the media. Except what I find usually is very different. A gunman on the loose in Las Vegas. Booing at athletes for kneeling during our National Anthem. Stock prices rise in munitions. Flight costs out of Puerto Rico rising to $3,000 during a State of Emergency. Neighbor undermining neighbor. Violence is our national spectator sport, and guess who are the losers. Our inability to act on and transform the violence we witness daily in the United States isn’t so much because we don’t want to support the myriad solutions that are available. It’s because we lack the will to put those solutions into practice. And we lack the will because we lack the awareness of what we’re really up against. It’s not a person. It’s not a law. It’s not even a system, (even if all of these contribute to the problem). It’s ourselves. We don’t know what we’re really made of. According to the greatest experiments in human consciousness throughout the ages, the human being has various drives – all of us. Three in particular can lead to havoc if they are not harnessed and transformed: fear, greed, and anger. One angry man unleashes his anger and fear onto a terrified crowd, and gun sales soar. Over and over, the ‘perfect storm’ of unharnessed fear, greed, and anger explodes, wrecking our security and our life. At the root, however, these forces are not inherently destructive. They’re a bit like fire: out of control it can burn down a city; harnessed, we can use it to light a candle, read a book. Remember Martin Luther King: “We did not cause outbursts of anger, we harnessed anger under discipline for maximum effect.” This is, after […]

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Join a Peace Team in Palestine

Meta Peace Team seeks potential members for its upcoming Peace Team work in Palestine. Meta Peace Team (MPT) has been creating nonviolent alternatives to militarism and violence through empowered peacemaking since 1993. As part of their practice, they have been placing peace teams in places such as Iraq, Haiti, Bosnia, Egypt, Panama, Mexico, Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and within the US. MPT’s peace teams act to reduce and prevent violence, utilizing a practice known as third-party nonviolent intervention, which includes tools like protective accompaniment; human rights monitoring/reporting; a peaceful presence; and interpositioning (getting in between conflicting parties to deter them from using violence against one another). The Palestine Peace Team will depart for the West Bank on January 21, 2018, and the program will run 4 – 6 weeks. Team members must have completed MPT’s basic 8-hour Nonviolence Training and the preparation process (includes a 5-day intensive training November 9 – 13, 2017, in Michigan). Estimated cost per person is $3,800 for 4 weeks, $4,600 for 6 weeks. Fundraising is done as a team. Apply by October 11, 2017. Learn more on the MPT website and in the program flyer. Download an application.

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Metta Center in the New York Times

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an op-ed about—get this—nonviolence. Published in the wake of the horrible expressions of white “supremacy” in Charlottesville, VA, the piece extols the effectiveness of humor and nonviolence principles/strategies to dispel displays of racist hatred. The op-ed, written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, quotes two members of our Metta Center staff. Here’s the snippet featuring Michael Nagler, our founder and president: Violence directed at white nationalists only fuels their narrative of victimhood—of a hounded, soon-to-be-minority who can’t exercise their rights to free speech without getting pummeled. It also probably helps them recruit. And more broadly, if violence against minorities is what you find repugnant in neo-Nazi rhetoric, then “you are using the very force you’re trying to overcome,” Michael Nagler, the founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, told me. The piece also picks up points from Stephanie Van Hook, our executive director. It references the noted scholars Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth as well. Check out yesterday’s op-ed and let us know what you think. Feel called to share it? Please do!

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Should I go to the Neo-Nazi Rally to Fight Back?

(Image: members of white-supremacist groups are met by counter-protestors in C’ville) When we hear that the Neo-Nazi movement is coming to our town, most of us naturally feel called—or pushed– to some kind of action. But not every action is going to be effective, especially if we are walking into a situation where the level of dehumanization is extreme—where people are prepared to harm or kill others. How then can we draw from the power of nonviolence in a situation of escalating violence? First, we have to understand that nonviolence is strategic, principled, and revolutionary. It answers to the violence around us by offering, in a disciplined manner, its opposite. Nonviolence is by no means passivity. It is not inaction. And, we would include, it should not be shortsighted, reactive action.  When using this power we should know what we are taking on and be prepared for encountering hatred without the fear of being overcome by it.  Remember, the power of nonviolence comes from not opposing the real well being of anyone, even – or especially – when we have to oppose their actions. When we choose to go against our “fight or flight” response, we can find creative, nonviolent ways for responding to “Unite the Right” rallies that do not escalate violent tensions with more violence–whether defensive or offensive.  The real answer to violence is not counter-violence, however strongly we’ve been conditioned to believe that, but the demonstration of a counter-force.  Human nature is such that even though we may not see the effects of such a demonstration in the short term, it always works under the surface to change the hearts and minds of our opponents – even those deeply conditioned by hate (and feeling deeply inadequate, though they themselves may not be conscious of it). Here, then, are some of the things we can do. When a hate group is coming to town, instead of directly confronting them and falling into the trap of chaos they want to create, instead of providing them the publicity that blows their importance out of proportion, we can engage in other activities and get the media pointed at those, such as a pro-peace concert or dance contest at the same time as their meeting.  Or failing such an alternative, just plain ignore them – the way the good people of Montgomery just ignored a normally terrifying Klan ride in 1958. It shows that we are reclaiming our spaces with humanity and safety while acting together as a mature, loving community.   Another creative solution that can deflate the vehemence of a hate rally is to gather the community to donate money to a group like the Southern Poverty Law Center for every square foot covered by the hate group. Turn their gatherings turn into nonviolent, anti-fascist, pro-peace fundraisers.   In all this, though, it’s important to not unthinkingly imitate past sensational nonviolent actions or tactics. Each situation is different, and we need to explore what is at stake and plan for […]

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The Community in the Forest

I spent last week visiting friends who live on a mountain in Northern California. Two years ago a massive forest fire tore through the community, burning 9 out of 10 homes. While the black skeletons of singed trees still dot the landscape, the forest’s regenerative energy fills every niche.  What I have seen is not a collection of individual trees and shrubs struggling to claim their spot in a barren land, but a forest community in regeneration. This intense regenerative energy has been so pervasive, that the garden, planted just 7 weeks ago, has exploded into magnanimous proportions I’ve never seen before. Already, gourds hang like ornaments from the fence, tomato plants reach five feet, and the prolific zucchinis are being shared with friends. Mullein, a “weed” my friends have never seen on their land – whose seeds can lie dormant in the soil for over 100 years – has become a common sight. The plant breaks up the dry, exposed soil, its large taproot mining deep for minerals and nutrients to feed the carpet of orphaned baby trees at the surface. Mullein’s tall seed heads, which protrude 2 to 8 feet into the air (above any snowpack) and produce 100,000-180,000 seeds, sustain wintering birds who have lost their sources of the pine nuts and other avian fare. After 2 years this biennial dies, leaving a pathway full of mineral rich, organic matter within the soil, and its large decomposing leaves create a layer of rich mulch at the surface. As an “early succession” plant, once Mullein’s job is done and the soil improved, it leaves. Mullein’s medicinal gift to humans and other animals? It repairs and cleans the lungs, useful for damage after a fire. It helps us breathe. As the forest community regenerates, Mullein has taken its rightful place as a working part of the infinite diversity that creates the abundance of nature. Nonviolence, what Gandhi has called the “supreme law for human beings,” is about knowing what our purpose is and about working with the laws of Nature; taking our rightful places and becoming our true selves. *** Imagine if all our human systems –economics, education, politics, agriculture, etc.- were as regenerative and life-giving as a forest? That would be the ultimate biomimicry! Last Friday, on Nonviolence Radio, Stephanie and Michael spoke with permaculturist Matt Powers, discussing how we can move in this direction in their discussion on Permaculture and Nonviolence. Check it out here! 

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Why Wednesday was Awesome

Training with Meta Peace Team’s Mary Hanna at the Metta Center…   Lou leans into the kitchen, “If we need more room, we can do this training at my house.” “We’ll be fine,” I reply with a grin. Walking back into our office, I see that all the chairs have been filled, and some people have moved to the floor. About 16 people, and one or two people spilling out of the door. We’ve all gathered in about a week’s notice to spend four hours with Mary Hanna of the Meta Peace Team who kindly offered to train us in skills related to unarmed peacekeeping (the work of MPT) as well as bystander intervention while on an important visit to our headquarters in Petaluma. Only an hour earlier, Mary was rushing about, organizing her material, plugging in her flash-drive, looking for her papers, and other preparations. I accidentally kicked over her coffee mug she set on the ground. She’s used to 8-hour sessions, and I’ve halved the time. I wanted people to have an intro to the work, but not necessarily a full day commitment at first go. Leave us wanting a little more. . . We start the training with centering. I smile at the room full of expectant faces, “Mary usually gets five minutes for centering exercises, but we’re at the Metta Center–we’ll do thirty.” At which point our training began–with half an hour meditation, or quiet walking, or sitting in nature. The main rule: turn off the devices. Centering, she said, is essential when you are on a peace team, and it requires daily practice. She compared it to walking through a forest. You do it day in and day out, so that one night, there’s an emergency and you need to dash through down the path in thick darkness. You don’t need to see because your feet know the path; your hands know where you are. On a peace team, she said, we need that path inward–to our calm center– at our fingertips. Throughout the morning, Mary came to life–sharing the amazing stories of the work of Meta Peace Team, and her practical idealism about how everyday people like ourselves can work together to strengthen our human bonds and reduce the violence we encounter and experience in our daily lives.  Their most recent interventions took during the anti-sharia “rallies” in Lansing, MI, where a neighborhood of immigrants and refugees was a target for violence. They patrolled the neighborhood, provided protective accompaniment, stationed themselves at potential “flash points” for violent confrontation, and managed to report that no incidents of the day were able to escalate into violence against the neighborhood.  “Did this make the media?” someone asked. “Since there was no violence,” she said, “the media wouldn’t pick up that there was even a story there to tell.” In the course of the training, Mary shared tool after tool to help us de-escalate violent situations with nonviolence. We practiced working in conflict situations related to our families, our […]

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Global Spirit and Nonviolence

Usually I prefer not to work on Sunday evenings. It’s my one chance for a day to myself, to work on my weaving or sewing projects or even get more involved in a book that I’ve been salivating to read all week long. (Currently on my table is Kamala Subramaniam’s version of The Ramayana.) There are some occasions that warrant a slight change in routine, however. Last Sunday was one of them. Michael Nagler and I were invited to represent the Metta Center for Nonviolence at a small gathering—about 25 people mostly representing rather effective large-scale organizations (think Pachamama Alliance, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Attitudinal Healing International, etc)—on a houseboat in Sausalito, California (it was much more house than boat). It was for strategy meeting for the PBS/Link TV Series, Global Spirit, to help them brainstorm for their third season. We were broken into three groups to have small circle discussions about what topic might be particularly relevant for the times we are in, while holding fast to their vision that timeless wisdom and a higher image of who we are must underlie the subject matter. Up our ally, alright! Michael and I joined the breakout group hosted by Jean Bolen on how we understand the “Other,” questions of fear of the “other,” and overcoming “otherness”—where we made the case for the show engaging a dialogue around restorative justice. It’s practical; it’s happening around the world; and it’s based in indigenous culture/tradition. There was general interest. Michael also contributed by sharing the Wheeler and Fisk study from Princeton about smooth or crunchy peanut butter, which explains that we can interrupt our amygdala’s fight or flight response by taking people out of a class or category and imagining them as full individuals. People thought that the next season could simply be called “smooth or crunchy,” which gave us all a good laugh. I was very moved by the efforts of the Global Spirit program. The host Phil Cousineau is not only a humble, thoughtful writer from North Beach whose mentors include Joseph Campbell and Houston Smith, he takes people on pilgrimages around the world. His film partner Stephen Ollsen is a Bay Area documentarian as well as a bit of a media activist convinced, as he is, of the power of the media to impact the way that people see each other and the world. Check out Global Spirit when you get some time. I recommend this episode on Earth Wisdom and Standing Rock. Look forward to Season Three—even more nonviolence will be in the lineup.          

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Press Release: Metta Center at the UN

Metta Center Named a Special Consult to the United Nations Petaluma nonprofit granted status with the world body PETALUMA, CA, May 10, 2017 – The late peace researcher Kenneth Boulding once articulated a tongue-in-cheek theory called “Boulding’s First Law.” It states that if something can happen anywhere, then it is possible everywhere. As far as the Metta Center for Nonviolence is concerned, the most urgent and possible “something” needed today is nonviolence. The United Nations seems to agree: it has granted the Petaluma-based Metta Center special consultative status with its Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Consultative status permits the Metta Center to engage with ECOSOC, along with the United Nations Secretariat. The nonprofit may also participate in UN events and attend meetings at the General Assembly, Human Rights Council and other decision-making bodies. One task high on the nonprofit’s consultative priorities is linking with organizations striving for similar aims at ECOSOC. For example, the Metta Center plans to support the international NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce in advancing unarmed civilian protection, a peacekeeping strategy that has shown to prevent, reduce and altogether stop violence in conflict zones. Another top priority will be promoting a higher image of humankind, an image that values the true potential of every human being and realigns our social systems to work in harmony with the earth. “It’s not about putting the right person in power but about awakening the right power in people,” as Michael N. Nagler, the Metta Center’s founder and president, is noted for saying. Even with its new role on the global stage, the Metta Center remains committed to collaborating with area organizations and individuals on making nonviolence a reality at the local level. To make deeper inroads locally, the organization recently moved from a rural Bodega Avenue location to a downtown office on Keller Street (205, Suite 202D). “Petaluma, a town centered in family and agriculture, has everything it needs to build a nonviolent model for our schools, businesses, local politics and, most importantly, our interpersonal relationships,” said Stephanie Van Hook, the organization’s executive director. “Local economies and relationships of trust are grist for the mill of the nonviolence movement worldwide.” Area residents are encouraged to participate in the Metta Center’s community-building initiatives, from its monthly Family Program to its weekly meditation group. The nonprofit also organizes a monthly Hope Tank, a creative antidote to the think-tank model. To help promote its mission, the Metta Center produces its own media, the biweekly Nonviolence Radio show that airs on KWMR and the biannual print magazine Nonviolence. ### For questions about the Metta Center’s special consultative status at the United Nations, please contact our executive director, Stephanie Van Hook: stephanie@mettacenter.org.

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