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Building a Culture of Peace
The Personal Practice of Nonviolence

Which of the following is the most violent?

  1. Eating an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies.
  2. Berating yourself for eating chocolate chip cookies.
  3. Not allowing yourself to eat any chocolate chip cookies.
Although there's no "correct" answer, most people choose b). That's because our understanding of violence is that it's something overtly hostile; a way of being beaten up. To me, nonviolence is not simply the opposite of hostility (physical or psychological); it's much more than that.

Nonviolence is synonymous with love

Nonviolence is synonymous with love. Like love, it is a powerful force that knows no opposition. Nonviolence is compassion. It is having loving kindness and understanding even for those who appear to have none themselves. Committing to the personal practice of nonviolence today can heal a lifetime of violent choices.

Seven years ago I made a commitment to live nonviolently. I had no idea that this simple decision was a powerful intention that would revolutionize my way of being in the world. I quickly discovered that nonviolence is a practice. Like all spiritual practice, it is a moment-to-moment experience of individual choices.

From the beginning there was a marked shift in my consciousness. I was now part of a movement in consciousness that I have come to think of as a field of energy. It is the Christ Consciousness. I was on a path to self-mastery.

Taking Offense is Choosing Fear

"Nonviolence succeeds only when we have a real living faith in God.
What is faith if it is not translated into action?"

—M.K. Gandhi

The choice was between love and violence, between love and fear

Once I embarked on this path, I was surprised at how quickly the choices I made took on a new component. In many cases I could see that the choice was between love and violence, between love and fear.

In taking offense at others, I was choosing fear. When I took offense I was calling forth a violent energy within myself. Generally I didn't let people know (at least not directly) that they'd offended me and so the violent energy was directed within. Every time I took offense, I was inflicting pain on myself. I got real about how much unresolved anger I had when I saw I was using the excuse of taking offense to vent some of it. I began to look under the anger for the hurt and fear that was its root cause. The most challenging person I met on the path was always (and continues to be) myself.

You have to lose your hate if you wish to find love

According to Ernest Holmes, "When Jesus said you have to lose your life to find it he was saying: You have to lose your hate if you wish to find love … you even have to surrender fear if you wish to discover faith." Mastery is all about making conscious choices. Taking offense was a choice. I didn't have to become offended when someone cut me off in traffic. In fact, as I began to practice choosing not to take offense, I saw that life was easier and more enjoyable. Taking offense had been a major energy drain. I started to feel lighter and naturally more loving and caring. After all, it's absolutely impossible to be loving and offended at the same time.

One of the most profound aspects of my nonviolent practice has been to recognize the amount of violence I created in the form of wanting to be right. At one time, if I disagreed with someone, I approached it like a battle. I used every verbal weapon I had to make them wrong. I needed to be right! Being right made me a better person. (All the winners agreed on that.) Every day I needed proof that I was a better person. It was exhausting.

I am my only adversary

I'm still a strongly opinionated person, but through practicing nonviolence I've given up the need to make other people see my point of view and agree to it. I've learned to dialogue, to express my opinions with an attitude of sharing and wanting to connect. If others don't agree, I'm completely comfortable with us having two different opinions. Even if the other person wants to convince me, I'm able to stay cool and agree to disagree. This change has also given me back the time and energy that I used to spend endlessly replaying arguments in my head. Through my practice I've discovered that I am my only adversary and if I think there's an enemy, I only have to look within to find its source.

As my consciousness expanded, so did my ability to smile easily. For example, one day I found myself walking in my neighborhood and I caught the eye of a man who looked troubled and sad. I had the choice to look away and keep moving, or I could get involved by offering a heartfelt smile. Through my awareness of this simple choice, I saw that I had the opportunity on a daily basis to bring more love into the world. Perhaps I might be the only person in a week or a month who would respond to that man's forlorn look with a warm smile. To keep on walking wouldn't be an act of violence, not exactly, but if I had the opportunity to give love, and I withheld it, then what was I choosing? I began to understand what Gandhi had taught, that my life was my message. My prayers to have a realization of oneness were being answered.

Offering a smile to someone who appears to be troubled, I have seen thousands of faces reveal the same sequence of thoughts from "Why are you smiling at me?" to "Do I know you?" to "Yes, I can see that life is good too." The smile exchange lifts my heart and I feel even more blessed. I have both given something and received something tangible in return. Walking on the streets of Los Angeles, New York and other big cities, I sometimes pass people who look intimidating, people who appear to be without a home and who might be emotionally unstable. I've learned to smile at them too. They smile back often, and when they don't it's fine.

Mahatma Gandhi was a follower of Jesus

Jesus taught nonviolence. Many are surprised when I tell them that Mahatma Gandhi was a follower of Jesus. Gandhi was an ardent student of the Koran, but he said that he also studied the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi considered Jesus to be his master teacher, as did Martin Luther King. Jr. Jesus taught us to forgive those who hurt us and abuse us. He taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and always be willing to give what we have to someone who needed or wanted it. He taught us to go the extra mile.

I've learned to carry a supply of five-dollar bills in my purse and my car. When someone asks for money I can pull one out. They are often so surprised that I'm not offering them some loose change. Some will even hug me. I've had veterans burst into tears, and grown men say with such heartfelt tenderness, "Thank you for being kind to me." If I know what it means to someone asking for money and I withhold, how can I not think of it as an act of violence to pass them by?

Extreme Self-Care

"Let us not forget that we are dealing with our brothers and sisters. That leper, that sick person, that drunk, are all our brothers and sisters. They, too, have been created by a greater love."
—Mother Teresa

Several years ago Oprah Winfrey was talking about "extreme" selfcare. Extreme self-care requires that I listen to myself, that I be kind and caring in my self-talk, and not harboring self-resentments. It's all part of my practice of nonviolence and I've found that it's a wonderful tool for building self-esteem. With extreme self-care, I have to consider how I would feel if someone else was doing to me the things I was doing to myself. Sometimes, for example, I push myself too hard and try to do too much. How would I feel if someone kept giving me too much to do and then yelled at me for not doing it well? Where's the love in that?

Nonviolence is about caring

I've come to see that only the choices that bring more love are the nonviolent ones. Nonviolence is about caring. My practice is not just for others. It absolutely must begin with me. My daily nonviolent choices mean that I get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and avoid sugar and unhealthy foods. (That doesn't mean that I don't get to have the occasional chocolate chip cookie -- it's my treat and it's part of my caring for myself.)

The Choice to Love

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Years ago the nonviolent choice would have been unthinkable. Only a wimp would let someone cut them off in traffic and not blow their horn. How will those people learn if I let them get away with it? If the service in a restaurant is bad and I don't make a big fuss, how will they ever be motivated to change? If I forgive my brother for what he said and did to me, then I'm not protecting myself. If I sit down and make myself sick eating a big bag of chips, then the way to prevent it from happening again is to berate myself until I feel ashamed. As a child I was punished if I did something wrong, that way I'd remember the hurt and not do it again.

I've been taught to perpetuate the violence

There are so many ways that I've been taught to perpetuate the violence. Yet there is always the choice to love, and I can honestly say it is so much easier than the violent choice. Instead of blowing my horn in traffic, I breathe deeply and enjoy the peace. Instead of making a fuss in a restaurant, I put the waitress at ease with a joke and we both can have a laugh. I really don't want to eat a whole bag of chips anymore. I love myself and that much salt makes my body feel poorly.

Many of us pray to have peace, the spiritual peace that is not based on circumstance. When someone is provoking me they are giving me the opportunity to strengthen my practice. In that moment is my answered prayer.

I've learned to call forth love in the midst of any form of violence

The great lesson for me has been that when I fall short of my vision for myself I have an immediate opportunity to love myself back on track. Through my practice of nonviolence I've learned to call forth love in the midst of any form of violence I experience. Love not only heals the "mistake" it generates a healing energy that applies to every mistake I've ever made. Because of the oneness of all life, the healing benefits everyone everywhere. The opportunity to call forth more love is what my life is about. It's my purpose and my mission. So, now, when I misstep, I immediately give thanks for the opportunity to call forth the presence of love and let it lift us all. Traveling this road daily has made all the difference.

My personal practice of nonviolence reaches into every nook and cranny of my consciousness and my life. We all know the power of love, but how many of us are committed to loving as our daily practice of nonviolence. How many of us love as our mode of being in the world? If we're not committed to love, what then are we committed to? Every step that we take in love lifts everyone everywhere.

The Nonviolent Life

"Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that."
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've learned to be grateful for everything

One of the most beneficial aspects of my practice is that I've learned to be grateful for everything. I'm even grateful when things don't go my way and I can't understand why. I'm grateful because I know that God is all there is, and that God is a loving, intelligent organizing power that will never punish or hurt me. So, even if I'm feeling miserable about not having my way, even when I'm certain my way is the best, if it isn't happening my way, I know that someday I'll see the benefit and I'll be grateful then, so I might as well be grateful now. I can be grateful because although it isn't all fun, and doesn't all feel good, I know that it absolutely is all good. In this way, my practice of nonviolence builds my faith.

Jesus taught us to love our enemy. I'm grateful for the direct benefits I enjoy because Dr. King loved those who appeared to be his enemy. Dr. King taught me that there will always come a time when my enemy, the one who has hurt me, needs my help. Maybe he'll need my prayers, a good reference for a job, money, or a kind word. The day will surely come when I have the opportunity to defeat my enemy, to embarrass, hurt or expose him. This is when I absolutely must find the love in my heart.

Dr. King didn't teach about the oneness of all life the way that Ernest Holmes taught about it in The Science of Mind. But he lived it and understood it. Dr. King knew that any act of hatred was an act of self-hatred. He knew that any act of violence against another would only lay him low. And so he offered the other cheek. He offered himself in a new way. He met every act against him with love – not with tolerance, not with submission, but with a powerful force of love. A love we still feel today.

Living a nonviolent life costs me nothing

The most amazing part of my journey towards living a nonviolent life is that it costs me nothing. Everything I've given up (except maybe pastrami) has been easy and has made my life more vibrant, more fulfilling, and measurably more enjoyable. Why wouldn't I want to live a nonviolent life? Why wouldn't I want to be aligned body and soul with a consciousness of love? If only someone had shown me the choice sooner.

Miss Jennifer Hadley is a writer and a Religious Science practitioner. In addition, she is a ministerial student at the Agape International Spiritual Center. This is a reprint of Ms. Hadley's article as it was published in the Science of Mind magazine dated February 2004.


Brotherhood
BUDDHISM
A friend is a great treasure and should be cherished as a brother. One should make good men his closest friends, his brothers.
CHRISTIANITY
All men are brothers. If one has anything against a brother, he should make peace with him before attending to other religious duties. As one treats a brother, so he treats God. To hate one's brother is evil. Brotherly love should rule the world.
HINDUISM
The good man makes no distinction between friend and foe, brother or stranger, but regards them all with impartiality. A true friend will be sympathetic with you at all times.
JUDAISM
God has made all men brothers and they should live together as brothers at all times. It is good for men to act in unity as brothers. Such action will be blessed by God and will prosper.
MOHAMMEDANISM
All mankind is one family, one people. All men are brothers and should live as such. The Lord loves those who so live.

Source: Topical Index, The Sacred Writings of the World's Great Religions, edited by S. E. Frost, Jr., McGraw-Hill Paperback Edition, 1972.



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