I have seen the difficulty in the use of rational arguments to alter the irrational culture of violence. In my book, Love Always Wins, I describe both the evolution of a culture of peace and the addictive nature of “domination disorder,” which is another name for the many forms of the mania for control, violence and the vanity of self-importance. It has become an accelerating pandemic of dysfunction that threatens our very existence.
Today I believe it may be possible for ordinary people to realize that they, with others, have within themselves the natural ability to build a culture of peace, and in fact see that that is the only way that it will be built, from the inside out. My purpose is to assist whoever is willing to move from despair to hope. We can do this.
Our deepest need is to be intimately seen, loved, known and trusted. We all have the same longing to belong. The emptiness that we sometimes feel acutely, sometimes diffusely, is that ocean, that soul, that place of belonging, calling to us. It is more real than the chair upon which we sit, the food that we eat, the cars that we drive.
For example, when I am speaking and an individual or group of people is listening to me with their full attention, not interrupting, and making eye contact with me, I can feel the acceptance. I can feel connected, and can trust that I am OK just the way I am. It’s very difficult to perpetuate my distrust of others when I am constantly exposed to this kind of listening. Listening — not just hearing — real listening is an act of love, and it works for me regardless of whether I am the speaker or listener.
The stuff of intimate, loving relationships is more real, more important, than the physical reality that appears as a result of those relations, and that is the ocean in which we all swim. There is no vacuum of nothingness between you and me, there is a swirling vortex of connection. We can’t measure it, see it or touch it, and yet sometimes we can experience it as more real than our bodies. It’s the feeling of belonging to the ocean, and it can bring tears to our eyes when we realize all the time we’ve wasted in avoiding its terrible beauty, all because someone (many someones) told us we didn’t deserve it.
Our culture shames us. It has told us that we are not lovable just as we are, that we have to earn our sense of belonging, and to top it all off, we will never be good enough. In America, the most violent country on earth, this culture of toxic shame — violence against ourselves — is particularly acute. As an example, the slavery to capital — ownership — is one of those invisible forms of violence that produces the shame of poverty and homelessness. It is a false and substitute strategy for fulfilling the need for acceptance, plain and simple.
The purpose of the work of love is to drastically reduce the effects of the culture of violence within ourselves and restore our experience of connection and belonging. Fighting against the culture of violence will only strengthen it, because that culture is the culture of fighting. The unspoken messages of violence are “Get away from me, I cannot tolerate your presence, I cannot communicate with you, I am not in community with you, you do not belong to me.” It is a message of extreme distrust that justifies any means necessary to control and dominate other people. It is a message of dis-connection.
Violence is a failed attempt to reconnect, to be heard, to be understood, and a protest against victimization, against shame, against the silent lack of validation for who we are. It is the most visible phenomena on the merry-go-round of dramatic anger.
Anger is a normal response to a sudden loss or change in a situation or relationship that was meeting our needs. Uncertainty about getting our needs met leads to fear. Fear that our needs will not get met leads to anger. Anger that our needs have never been or never will be met leads to hate. (Thank you, Yoda.)
Hate directed at someone or something that we expected to meet our needs leads to grasping for control and power, the dark side of competition, domination, violence, war and winner-take-all situations. The dark side of control and power leads to the arrogant certainty that we can meet our own needs.
The certainty of meeting our own needs inevitably leads to uncertainty as loss and change in situations and relationships continue to occur. The anger returns. It is a not-so-merry go-round, powered by our need to be intimately seen, loved, known and trusted, and endlessly battered by shame, distrust and violence.
Stop the world, I want to get off!
The repeated use of violence to resolve conflict is a dis-ease of the spirit, a stuck, depressed state, a compensation for a felt abandonment, a lack of wholeness in which our natural, relaxed, happy and beautiful selves are missing and in need of recovery. To avoid the experience of shame, we become very reluctant to confront and explore the elephant in the living room — our other escape mechanisms, our mood-altering behaviors which include not only anger, violence, controlling and dominating, but also over-working, gambling, shopping, food, chemicals, sex, drugs, media and extreme sports, to cite just a few examples. They are all attempts to produce temporary relief from frustration, grief, fear, or pain quickly without changing the thoughts or behavior that cause these negative feelings.
The use of violence and other escape mechanisms create repeated trauma that is real for everybody, and yes, it gets “embodied” as emotional armor, rationalization and denial so permanently, so chronically, from generation to generation, that it seems inconceivable that there could be any other way to live. Behaviors and beliefs become so ingrained that we can only react (which means to “act again”), repeating formulas for dealing with life in rigid, narrow ranges of action. We become addicted to violent ways of thinking, speaking and acting. We no longer have the flexibility of other responses, the ability to respond — response-ability.
Eventually, our automatic reactions to the trauma of shame that is heaped upon us becomes an exaggerated defense against the feeling of being unlovable or incapable. It expresses itself as either the self-pity of inferiority or the arrogance of superiority. Both contribute to the notion that we are special and separate from the rest of humanity. The possibilities of connection, equality and humility are remote.
However, the permanent longing for connection remains, and it is upon that longing that a new culture is possible to be built. The work of love is to generate the willingness to be honest with ourselves about what we are doing to ourselves, to be patient with both ourselves and others, and above all else to seek connection when there appears to be none.
As far as I know, there is no other way, there is no shortcut, to learning how to connect with our brothers and sisters than letting go of obsolete self-serving fears, hyper-vigilance, and rigid beliefs about other people; letting go of narcissism, letting go of the stuff that forms my ego and vanity of self-centered isolation, competition, opinions and judgments. It has been very helpful for me to not only admit that I carry these self-defeating behaviors as my baggage, but also to awaken my own self-care.
The work of love is to abandon that culture of violence, just let it go on its merry way, and allow — not force — our natural character strengths such as curiosity, respect, courage, patience, acceptance, serenity, honesty and gratitude to slowly emerge. I compare it to a process so soft and gentle it is like the un-balling of a fist, or evaporation of water from a dish. That metaphor has become an acronym for me, where the letters of L.O.V.E. represent Letting Old Vanity Evaporate.
The love process, this letting go, creates both a freedom from, and a painful destruction of, our vanities, and it is to these vanities that we must “die” in order to solve the problem of the culture of violence. The vanity that I need to let go is the limiting belief that I am especially right, strong or important. This belief limits us in two ways: (1) I am separate from others because of my thoughts, words or deed, and (2) I cannot be wrong or mistaken. The act of letting go creates an opening for new information and perceptions, wisdom, mutual support and hope. A whole new range of options open up for us, and we can flow into solutions that were otherwise thought to be impossible. All our relationships win, including our so-called “enemies.” Enemies are seen as friends who disagree with us temporarily.
The victory is in me, first of all, when I am able to see my own goodness, and then it allows me to see love (or the absence of vanity) tangibly reflected in other people, in nature, and the entire universe. This kind of victory over my conflicts with myself and others restores me to a joyful feeling of being fully alive and solidly connected to my social and physical environment. So A.L.I.V.E. has become for me another acronym, for Aware of Love Incarnate Victorious Everywhere.
The work of love, as I am using it, is a process, not a feeling of affection or intimacy, which are the by-products of the process. It takes concentration and discipline in order to closely examine our hyper-vigilant defense mechanisms that have protected us from shame and trauma, and allow them to relax. Once the work begins, we uncover not only our natural capacity for love that has been dormant, we also discover that a tiny drop of forgiveness can be a catalyst for the release of an ever-flowing stream of mercy and compassion for ourselves and others. Working to uncover our personal, hidden capacity for love begins immediately to reduce the violence not only in our own lives but also within our interdependent culture. The complete end of violence is no longer a far-off or impossible dream.
One day at a time, one person at a time, we begin to radiate compassionate action. It is not commonly accepted that such spiritual anarchy would have any effect whatsoever. The cultural belief is that only movements, unions, organizations — i.e. “everybody on the same page” — would have some potency. Yet if we look at nature, Gaia, the Universe, that is not how she works. Fractal diversity and mutations at the periphery are right now raising everyone’s standards of awareness. Even Facebook is helping! Science is affirming that we radiate acceptance non-verbally, without planning or thought, not only into our immediate group of friends and family, but also into the general field of the planet — the noosphere — when we ourselves feel accepted, belonging to something, anything larger than ourselves. For me, that is the “how” to improving everyone’s standards.
A path that is heart-centered, irrational, and destructive of what we thought were true and logical beliefs opens the gradual reward of pain relief that is followed by serenity, joy and service to humanity — service that is not motivated by guilt — service that is a torrent of love. When I relax enough, melt down enough, to feel the acceptance that is already there waiting for me, I am made intuitively aware of a concrete action to take in service to humanity, today.
The trick is to accept the discomfort of being unfinished, incomplete, which sounds very much like self-forgiveness. In my own experience, simply to ask myself for the willingness to “let go” sets the process in motion. I become liberated from my past gradually as long as I keep the question alive, “Am I willing to let go of just one more thing?” Eventually, yes, I get to be able to see retroactively that I was keeping the old story of trauma alive, and letting go becomes more natural, but it’s like learning to ride a bicycle on glare ice if we try to do this solo. It’s very, very important that we do this work together, in groups, tribes, and families.
Applying the Golden Rule — the rule of Love — has been considered optional. However, it is necessary for our survival. We are trapped in this spiral of self-dependence and lack of trust. Real progress will never be made until we reduce this level of fear. Violence is not power, violence is a weakness. It is a tool of cowards and bullies. It does not create control, it releases chaos. The culture of violence needs to be replaced — not overwhelmed, not attacked — but abandoned completely, beginning with ourselves!