Saturday, March 5, 2016

You can't fool reality

Pancho Ramos Stierle runs a peace house on the border between two gang territories in what is considered one of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, California. People tell me that more than once, local individuals have entered the house with the intention to rob or kill, only to be converted into peace workers instead.  
Years ago, Pancho was involved in a protest at UC Berkeley, where he was a PhD student in astrophysics. He was one of a group of students publicly fasting to protest the university’s involvement with nuclear weapons development. After nine days, the university got tired of it and had the police come and make an example of the group of hunger strikers. Police officers broke the human chain the protesters had made by interlocking their arms, and one officer lifted the slight Pancho into the air, slammed him onto the concrete, and brutally handcuffed him. 
At this point, most of us would probably fall into the story and the habits of separation. We might respond with hatred, sarcasm, judgment. Lacking the physical force to overcome the police, we might try to publicly humiliate them instead. If it were me, I imagine, my lifelong indignation at the injustices of this world would be projected onto the person of this police officer. Finally, someone to blame and to hate. The worse his persecution of me, the more gratified I would feel, the more a martyr, innocent, blameless. It feels kind of good, doesn’t it, to have someone inhuman to hate without qualification. One feels absolved. And, by personifying evil, the problems of the world appear much simpler— just get rid of those awful people. 
Pancho responded differently. 1 He looked the officer in the eye and said, with love and with no attempt to make him feel guilty, “Brother, I forgive you. I am not doing this for me, I am not doing this for you. I am doing it for your children and the children of your children.” The officer was momentarily befuddled. Then Pancho asked his first name and said, “Brother, let me guess, you must like Mexican food.” [Awkward pause.] “Yes.” “Well, I know this place in San Francisco that has the best carnitas and fajitas and quesadillas, and I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?” 
Amazingly, the officer accepted the invitation. 2 How could he not? He loosened Pancho’s handcuffs and those of the other protesters. The power of Pancho’s action came because he was standing in a different story, and standing there so firmly that he held the space of that story for other people such as the policeman to step into as well. 
The Tao Te Ching says: “There is no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy. Underestimating your enemy means thinking that he is evil. Thus you destroy your three treasures and become an enemy yourself” (verse 69, Mitchell translation). The stories of Pancho and my son illustrate this. I shudder to think of the misfortune that could have resulted from “underestimating” the enemy. 3 Even if the policeman had been humiliated or punished, even if the thief had been crushed, the real “enemy” would have flourished. The level of hate would not have diminished in this world.  
I want to be absolutely clear that for words like Pancho’s to work, they must be absolutely authentic. If you say them and don’t mean them, if you are actually saying them with the goal of showing your persecutor up as all the more villainous for having spurned your nonviolent loving-kindness, then he will probably oblige by enacting that villainy. People, especially police officers, know when they are being manipulated, and they don’t like it. The purpose of responding nonviolently isn’t to show what a good person you are. It isn’t even to be a good person. It comes, rather, from a simple understanding of the truth. Pancho meant what he said. He knew that the police officer didn’t really want to do this. He looked at him with the unshakable knowledge, “This isn’t who you really are. Your soul is too beautiful to be doing this.”

What's the mechanism by which this works? What is the mechanism by which the officer could detect his sincerity or lack thereof? The obvious answer is that all relevant information had to be communicated via light and sound waves, themselves generated by facial and vocal muscles.

In that case, there's presumably a way to have impure intention and still fool another person. Maybe you can really get away with this.

But what if you can't?

At least, not forever. What if, one way or another, intention "leaks" into the physical world?

And more: what if you can't fool yourself either? What if I'm constantly creating cover stories: maybe I can not give up my seat, and still have plausible deniability, both to the world and to myself, that I'm still a good person. Maybe we all do this, until bit by bit, we discover that it doesn't work. Somehow, it cannot work. And all the troubles of the world will continue until we confront this within ourselves. All the rest is just cover stories.

Of course, there's no way to convince anyone (including myself) of this possibility. It's just too strange.

Then again, why try to convince anyone? What if I simply opened up to the possibility that something deeply "in here" has im-mediate (i.e., unmediated; direct) action "out there?" What am I afraid of losing?

On the other hand, what if there is real magic to be found in the world -- and all it takes is the simple willingness to discover it?

Maybe that invitation has been standing for quite some time.

Maybe all I have to do is look.

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