Saturday, April 25, 2009

Evolutionary Journey

It seemed to have a life and presence of its own - - the ubiquitous wooden spoon, sometimes hanging on its hook on the side of the scarred kitchen cupboard over the sink, sometimes hidden in the narrow, dust laden space between the refrigerator and the wall, sometimes resting with latent threat on the top of the stove. The wooden spoon. It was my mom’s chief implement of order and discipline when we were growing up. The merest mention of “the wooden spoon” could bring about an instant change in behavior. Ever so occasionally, the transformation didn’t come quickly enough and the spoon would flash through space toward the nearest offending bottom – frequently making contact with retreating flesh. It was the kind of thing that stories are made of, stories of its stinging contact, of its threat, of its gradual splintering as it often made contact with a stair railing or a door frame rather than with the mischievous rump for which it was intended.

As we grew up, we found increasingly innovative ways to disguise and hide it, watching and waiting with conspiratorial giggles as we heard my mom muttering “Where is that spoon when I need it?” There were five of us. In her defense, I suppose she needed something and the spoon was fairly innocuous as instruments of discipline go. As years went by, and we grew too old for spankings, the terrible threat was reduced to the simple determination to find the spoon that seemed always to be missing. When we heard “I’m getting the spoon!” we knew we had crossed the line and the spoon never actually materialized.

My own kids used to get a kick out of hearing about their Nan and the wooden spoon. Hard for kids to imagine their own parents ever getting into mischief or needing to be disciplined. Funny how stories work. Early on, I would wave a wooden spoon to get the desired behavioral results. Later on I would count to “3” while the unspoken spoon-word hovered in the air and order was miraculously restored. Eventually, parenting classes that were never available to my own mother began to emerge in the ‘70s. I learned to “take my sails out of their wind” and to let go of my end of the “tug of war” when conflict was brewing. Understanding about the use and misuse of power in family dynamics became a tool in building family cooperation. Respecting a child’s right to make mistakes and experience consequences took the place of continual verbal “spooning.”

Now, I watch my grandkids. I hear their parents tell them to “use your words” as an alternative to lashing out with their hands and feet. Physical reprimands of any kind are not an option anymore. I hear their teachers telling them they have the intelligence to resolve their conflicts without hurting each other. I am learning to trust that they do. The strategy now is to sit them down together on the front porch and tell them they must find a way to solve their problem together. When they are finished we will be able to do something fun together. I leave them to it. Within five minutes they come indoors to report their plan for getting along and we are off to the beach.

I have a lovely, worn collection of wooden spoons and paddles.The most involved they ever get in family dynamics is when they are called upon to mix pancake batter or toss vegetables in a stir fry. They are excellent cooking implements – but not very good disciplinarians. Even wooden spoons can evolve into implements of nonviolent living.

Vicky Hanjian

Disease as Friend

Disease it our friend or enemy?

All of our text books say that disease is our enemy. So we have to fight against it. That means we have to declare a war against it. War? Yes, with anti biotics .......... anti fungals ...... you have to kill your enemy!

But do you have any right to kill? You have to love your enemy. So how can you poison the bacteria and virus? Actually, where is the bacteria? Inside our body. So where should you dump the killer medicine? Just inside .....! Can you kill some germs inside, without killing yourself? Is it possible? Is it religious?

Then what can we do? How can we achieve health? You see,violence cannot improve your health. Only nonviolence represents health. You have to understand "health" in a different manner to understand this. The same is true of "disease."

Disease is not your enemy. It is your friend! It communicates something to save your life. It gives some warnings to correct. It is to correct your mistakes. Suppose you are having a common cold. You may blame bacteria. Your doctor may give anti biotics. But what is it? What happens to your own body when you have it?

Some thing runs out of your nose. OK, that is why you call it a "runny nose!" But don't run behind your runny nose! It is the toxic mucous which is going out, isn't it? Do you want to keep it inside your body? Or do you want it out? "I want it out." Yes, that is what your body tries to do with a common cold. So why did you stop it?

All the mucous may accumulate inside the sinus, lungs, and stomach. It may lead to a migraine head ache, an allergy, or asthma. So disease is not your enemy. It is also the mechanism of your body.

If you would just observe fasting for two days or three, it will disappear after its purpose. Then your inner organs will become pure which may improve to health.

Jacob Vadakancherry

Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth Day

April 22nd was Earth day. It was the leading subject all through the news media. Ecological integrity and responsibility was discussed in churches across the country. Schools shared information as the new generation is faced with having to care for an Earth that has been overused in many many ways. Earth day/week is an especially poignant time for me as it reminds me of the walks I used to have with my father whom I have not seen for over 17 years (another story for another day) and it reminds me of how much he taught me about the relationship between humanity and nature.

We lived way up in the mountains of Colorado in a small house with a river running by. I played by the river often with my dolls, creating worlds of beauty that only I shared. I loved that river and I loved the large flat rocks that hung over parts of the river that I used as the foundation of my dollhouse. Dad and I would take walks most often during the Springtime when the snow had melted and new life was blooming all around. One of our favorite walks was in this large meadow at the base of some mountains. We would walk side by side while he talked about the things we saw, and at times, I would question him. Sometimes these talks went many different directions and as I think back, I wish that I would have written down the things we talked about…who knows what wisdom was there that I do not remember some 30 years later.

One day in particular, I do remember the wisdom shared. We were walking side by side when my dad saw a couple of deer. Dad softly reached out and touched my arm, because he saw them way before I did. I knew to stop talking as I looked and he pointed. We stopped walking. The deer looked up directly at us. Dad motioned for me to remain silent and the four of us, myself, my dad, and the two deer, remained in blessed silence for quite some time. As the deer became comfortable with our presence, they continued to eat ever graceful and beautiful.

I learned a lot about being peaceful that day. How important it is at times to remain still. It has become harder in life to find that stillness as news media shares the effects of our lack of concern for the creation; as materialism continues to encourage us to pull more and more from the earth without replacing what she needs back; as technology seems to be our greatest teacher rather than two deer in a beautiful meadow at the base of some mountains in Colorado.

Maybe, though, we have finally reached a point where we will begin taking more walks with our children.

Kristi McLaughlin

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sharing the Pipe

Sharing the Pipe of Peace with the Brothers in the South Dakota Penitentiary
By Richard Iron Cloud

"We invite you to come and hear some of our concerns". My trip to the prison in Sioux Falls, SD was prompted by an invitation from Philip Yellow Bird Steele, Chairman of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Spiritual Group at the Penitentiary. I visited the penitentiary on Friday, March 13, 2009, along with several other activists. We met with Mary Montoya, the volunteer coordinator for Native American prisoners. She greeted us with a warm smile as we went through the security gates. We met in the chapel in the Prison on the Hill. As the prisoners came in, they all came by and gave us a hand shake or a hug for a familiar face One of the Prisoners gave us gifts; beaded roses for the ladies, a beaded necklace for me.

We started with a prayer by the Pipe Keeper, then moved to introductions and started the meeting. A number of the prisoners talked about the blatant disregard and disrespect for Lakota Spirituality in comparison to other religions. They spoke about how they make grievances that go all the way up the chain of command to the Head of the SD Department of Corrections, and nothing seems to come of them. They asked with frustration: "How do we get our voices heard?" The drum keeper said that most of the time they have to keep their opinions to themselves. He once voiced his opinion and was sent to "the hole" (solitary confinement). One Lakota prisoner, who had been in prison since the 1980s, said the senior guards seem to disregard policy and make their own rules, which sets a bad example for the new guards that are just coming in, and they are not held accountable. The prisoners said that they started a legal committee in the prison. Two people are designated to keep track of the complaints that go to the officials. That way they have a copy of all the complaints. The prisoners said that when outside guests come the prison officials seem to straighten up and follow policy, but when the outside guests stop coming the officials go back to their old ways. They expressed their appreciation for us coming to visit them and we closed with a prayer.

After lunch we went to the Jamison Annex, the Maximum Security Prison, and met with the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Spiritual group there. One of the first statements by the prisoners was "the guards do not see the reverence that we have for the pipe and that we have our hearts into what we are doing. The guards just see us smoking the pipe and see us as a cult". Some of the prisoners said that the ceremonies have taught them tolerance for the guards and for a brief time they are no longer in prison. Some of the prisoners who are serving life for manslaughter are frustrated because they see the white people serving brief sentences like seven to eight years for first degree manslaughter compared to their life sentences. One prisoner expressed frustration with the Board of Pardons and Parole because a white prisoner with several write ups is given parole, while the Lakota prisoner with no write ups is turned down. One prisoner complained about the health care. He said if you are sick you have to let them know at 6:00 AM. Otherwise, if you get sick during the day, they will not help you. From health issues the conversation turned to finances.

Many of the inmates complained about missing money from their accounts. One young Lakota prisoner gets a large sum of money for land lease; he is only given a fraction of this amount for the privilege of having a television. The young prisoner does not complain because he is afraid to lose his television privilege.

The time seemed to pass quickly. Before we knew it the two hours were up. I was invited back that evening for a pipe ceremony. We all sat in a large circle in the chapel. I sat beside a young Lakota who was filling his pipe. He presented his pipe to me and I smoked it and he passed it on to his fellow prisoners. The leader asked the Pipe keeper to start with a prayer and afterward he asked me and another guest to say a few words. After we spoke, a young Lakota started singing prayer songs. We passed several pipes and I prayed with each pipe as it passed. After we had completed all the pipes, we sang the closing songs and completed the ceremony. Afterward I stood around and visited with the prisoners. Many of the prisoners expressed an interest in continuing with these spiritual ways when they returned to the outside world. I encouraged them to do so.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Waging the Peace While There's Breath

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition of creating sand paintings to ritually heal the world symbolizes just how painstaking, perpetual and precious is the work of upholding the worth and dignity of every human being. Some of the sand mandalas in this music video were created by monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery and from Gyoto Tantric University. Also included are mandala paintings by lay artists inspired by the monks' tradition.

This video (approximately eight minutes long) was created and the music composed and performed by blog contributor Phyllis Cole-Dai,

Note: If you're receiving this post by email subscription, you may need to click the video title in order to view it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fear and Freedom

The military industrial complex is an abstract entity for most people. Perhaps one remembers President Eisenhower warning us about it. Or perhaps one has seen a specific instance of it at work. I remember my first experience of the military industrial complex, as it was also my first arrest.

During the Vietnam war years, a group of peace minded people in Worcester, MA got a taste of the complex by attending the annual dinner put on by the city's industrial elite. It was billed as a Military-Industry dinner. It was open to the public for the cost of the meal. The featured speaker for the evening was top brass from the Pentagon.

When we discussed how we might respond to this event, one of the ideas we considered came out of the experience of Saul Alinsky and his community organizing in Chicago. One of the neighborhood organizations was unhappy with an upcoming dinner, where the urban elite of Chicago would collaborate in further exploitation of the poor. So they let it be known that they would be coming to the dinner, in large numbers, having eaten ahead of time. Their menu would be beans, beans and more beans. You can imagine the concern this must have created among the barons of commerce and industry. It gave the neighborhood organization power to impact the event before it even happened.

In Worcester, we ultimately rejected this idea as we were few in number, the room for the dinner was enormous and hundreds of business and industry leaders were expected. We thought our contributions would be too isolated and modest to elicit much response. Instead, we decided to stand when the featured speaker stood, and begin giving our speech as he gave his. Scattered throughout the audience, we had a half dozen speeches going at the same time. It only took a few minutes for us to be escorted out and placed under arrest for "disturbing the peace." Ironic!

I've always approached civil disobedience (or religious obedience) with a mixture of fear and trembling. It was certainly the case on this, my first arrest. The surprise for me was, I never felt so free in all of my life. Because I had walked through my fear of arrest and jail, and come out on the other side, there was no longer anything to fear. I felt an enormous sense of freedom.

I've been told that the true satyagrahi is fearless. When one follows Truth, there's nothing to fear. It's when one succumbs to lies and deception, manipulation and coercion, that one becomes fearful. The Truth sets one free.

Carl Kline

Friday, April 10, 2009

Peace Pilgrim

The other day, as I was searching the bookshelves for a resource for a class, I came across a volume about Peace Pilgrim. I hadn't thought too much about her since her death on a highway in Indiana in July of 1981. She was struck by a passing car on her seventh cross country walk.

It's estimated that Peace Pilgrim walked more than 25,000 miles in her three decades of crossing the country. She carried no money or material possessions, only the clothes on her back, a toothbrush in her pocket, and a message about peace in her heart. She took pride in the fact she wouldn't eat unless offered a meal, wouldn't sleep unless offered shelter. She depended on the hospitality of others and as her friendships across the country increased, more and more homes were thrown open to her.

We met Peace Pilgrim because a friend in Massachusetts called to say she would be in our neighborhood in South Dakota. Could we host her? We said yes, not really knowing anything about her, but gradually discovering this network of peace people who helped schedule her food and shelter all across the continent.

Her message was simple: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, hatred with love. She talked a lot about inner peace.

One piece of advice she offered has remained in my memory for some thirty years. We were talking about family conflicts, especially between husbands and wives. Peace Pilgrim said her advice for partners in conflict was for both husband and wife to leave the house, by the same door, walking in different directions, around the block. "Just keep walking," she said. "Keep walking until in passing the other, you realize you want to walk in the same direction."

Walking, as Peace Pilgrim demonstrated, can clear the head, open the heart, extend the hand.

Carl Kline

Friday, April 3, 2009


It’s Friday morning. I awake early. The pattern for the day is in front of me. Strip the beds. Dust the furniture. Vacuum the rugs. Clean the window blinds. Wash the kitchen floor. Launder the bed linens. Air the house if the weather is warm enough. Put it all back together again and STOP.

It used to be that this routine was kind of haphazard and in its haphazard-ness, I could spend large amounts of everyday polishing, fixing, re-arranging, cleaning, scrubbing, sorting, re-cycling and putting away an inordinate amount of STUFF.

It was a self-inflicted tyranny of sorts, this need to maintain order, to create organized space, to satisfy myself that I had at least fulfilled some reason for being on the planet on any particular day – after all, at day’s end if I hadn’t done anything else of worth at least there was a clean stack of towels in the bathroom. And isn’t hard work salvific?? A tyranny of sorts – against myself and those I love - - because I tend to get angry at the people who mess up my order!

Enter the Shabbat Queen. Some five years ago now, I began to celebrate Shabbat, learning, little by little, how to rest without the inner tyrant threatening to undo me. Imagine learning that rest is a divine thing to do! I am a non-Jew so there is a lot for me to learn. My rabbi is patient. “Don’t take on the whole thing at once” she says. “Start with something manageable. Find just one thing you want to change.”

Well, five years later, I still relieve a lot of tension by cleaning the house. But now it amounts to whatever I can do on Friday morning as though I were preparing for an honored guest. And then it stops – and I spend time after school with my granddaughter. I take a nice hot shower and leave the house in plenty of time to be in the sanctuary well before Shabbat evening services begin. The evening quiet is broken by soft wishes of “Shabbat shalom.” The candles offer their silent light and we welcome Shabbat together. My breath slows down, my shoulders relax. I am welcomed into a space in time where non-doing is everything. Sometimes I weep with sheer joy and relaxation at the blessed freedom Shabbat brings.

It is taking a long time for me to relinquish the less than compassionate attitudes I carry with me from a long tradition of “idle hands make mischief” and “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I learn from Abraham Joshua Heschel: To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have so easily been turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence from external obligations, a day when we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow man and the forces of nature – is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?

I need this weekly re-setting of my internal value system. It helps me to look upon the world with softer eyes.

Vicki Hanjian


I could smell it right away! The air was wonderful when I walked outside in the sunshine after the four inches of torrential rain and the wind that rattled the rafters. Gone was the pollution, the dirt of winter, the staleness of a population caught in the closeness of winter’s grip, the atmospheric sameness. The air smelled so fresh, crisp, invigorating. The trees celebrated their cleansing by emitting a clean evergreen fragrance, and the dirt—oh that wonderful dirt smelled like promise of flowers, fresh garden vegetables, and bountiful crops. The smell that farmers all over the world, when they reach down to the earth, ball up a handful of that promise, sniff deeply and smile.

This makes me want to cleanse my inside world—clean my closets, scrub and paint, lay new flooring in the kitchen. When a spring snowstorm whistles by, cloudy, rainy, muddy, cold days keep me indoors, I clean. I renew.

Also there are days when I reflect. Can/should we cleanse the spirit within us on a seasonal basis? The process of soul-searching is defined as “a close and penetrating analysis of oneself, to determine one’s true motives and sentiments”. Oh yes, who among us could be helped by that process? Certainly, me. There must be ways to heal family rifts. Show more appreciation to friends and family that stand by me through life’s winter storms and summer rainbows, and even the ones that don’t. Leave the past where it belongs—in the past. Throw out the old and moldy tatters of by-gone sadness, anger and frustrations. Live like I may die tomorrow, or 40 years from now.

Can we all aspire to teach nonviolence, appreciate the good things in our lives, AND the bad things because from that we learn to appreciate what we have. May we see both the trees and the forest thus to see the beauty of the individual and the whole nation, alone or together.

Spring is a season to make a difference—within ourselves, in our own home, in our communities, and mankind.          Cleanse.           Renew.
LA Andersen