Wednesday, December 31, 2008

PRAYER FOR GAZA: NO MORE VICTIMS

How do we respond to human suffering and devastation? What do we do in the face of hundreds dying in Gaza, and over a thousand injured?

When I encounter suffering, it naturally brings up—mostly unconscious–memories of my own suffering. This is the root of empathy: connecting my pain to yours, and understanding that we bear pain for each other. But how do I respond next?


When I see photos of bombing victims, I may want to retreat to the litany of my own victim stories. I joined a Facebook group which suggests we turn our profile photos black to protest the current assault on Gaza, and I invited all my Facebook friends to participate. Not surprisingly, an acquaintance questioned this group, asking whether they also protest violence against non-Arabs, listing numerous Arab offenses over the years.


She’s completely right to question all forms of violence. But if I give in to the hobgoblin of equivalence when it comes to suffering and violence, I come that much closer to the mindset of tit for tat, eye for an eye. If I engulf myself in my own stories of victimhood, it enables the cycle of violence to continue.


It’s tempting to chant the mantra of victimhood. We have all been traumatized, to different degrees. While some have suffered far more than others, others may carry the legacy of trauma through stories told, retold, or denied and buried by parents and grandparents.
When I bury myself in my own suffering, I close myself off to the suffering of others. I buy into my own victim stories, I invest myself in them, and I seek balance and redress. I justify revenge.

The respective victim stories dominate Israel/Palestine. Over the past few generations, the Palestinians, after living under occupation for decades, now identify with their victimhood to the same degree as the Israelis, which creates desperation, hatred, and hunger for revenge, promoting conditions ripe for suicide bombers and recruitment into militant groups.
Not until we can lay down our own suffering and attend to the suffering of others will violence stop. Compassion and love are big enough to swallow up pain. Compassion for the other needs to outweigh our own victim stories.

Gandhi taught his followers to bear pain, to not run away from it, and above all not to retaliate in the face of pain. I cannot wait for the other to lay down their arms or for the tally to even out; I have to set the precedent. Through the path of nonviolent resistance, I strive to evoke empathy rather than anger.


Will I suffer? Likely. Will I be killed? Maybe. But since January, 2000, when the current Intifada began,
1173 Palestinian children have been killed, as well as 123 Israeli youth. How can we ask children to offer their lives if we’re not willing to offer our own? The path of nonviolence is not painless.

However, in addition to
changing the circumstances that provoke violence–dismantling the settlements, restoring all rights–nonviolence is the only way to create lasting harmony. We continually work for justice, but even if justice is slow to come, we can apply the principles of nonviolence and strive to live them out.

I use my practice of yoga asanas to learn how to relate to pain. Without abdicating awareness, I learn to be dispassionate toward the temporary sensations of muscles stretching and contracting. I learn to be with pain and not fear it, taking homeopathic doses of pain. Through this work, I break down the layers of trauma, personal and ancestral.


What is my victim story anyway? As a victim, I identify with a part of myself which is illusory, temporary, and superficial. I mistake myself for the actor playing me on stage. In reality, I constantly shift, evolve, and transform as iterations and expressions of a universal spirit. I am the Korean American woman in Milwaukee, and I am the Israeli child, the Palestinian child.


Meanwhile, I sit cozily at my desk in my heated room. My belly is full, no bombs land near my riverside bungalow. I send emails and make phone calls to our president and State Department, but I’m not on a plane to Gaza to serve as a human shield or bandage wounds. And what of the suffering in Congo, Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq? Not to mention the homeless in my own city, gun violence and the overwhelming violence of poverty? All I have this moment are these few words, my yoga practice and a constant prayer: open, open open my eyes, open my heart.

3 comments:

Heroine said...

Thank you for sharing this post.
Non-violence is one thing in words, even in well-wished idealisms of unification between beings that are not united. Non-violence is another in action. How we can speak of being non-violent in a way that makes actual, efficacious difference in the lives of those in Gaza is beyond me. Non-violence in relation to this specific case of Gaza terror seems cold and unreal coming from a bungalow. Still, even in words, violence can be done.
"As a victim, I identify with a part of myself which is illusory, temporary, and superficial. I mistake myself for the actor playing me on stage. In reality, I constantly shift, evolve, and transform as iterations and expressions of a universal spirit."

What then is a victim? It there no such thing in reality (it is only an imagined state or classification, only a sort of inverted ideal?)
It seems the problem is in compartmentalization--which in this case echoes with the methods of science. you refer to this victimhood as being a "part of self." how can we break ourselves down into fragments? how does one know that we are particular pieces and know that "i" have overcome those which are illusions? does change signify a sort of revolutionary ethic of transformation that cuts off all tradition and all that has come previously? can one who has fallen victim at some point be so sure that that wound can "evolve" (ie. get better)? is it not always present, for all time--in the sense that, even when the state of "victimhood" leaves, the wound remains?
"in reality i constantly shift, evolve, and transform. I am the Korean American woman in Milwaukee, and I am the Israeli child, the Palestinian child."
This seems both ego-centric and idealistic to the point that the Palestinian child has been violated--undermined, diminished by the projected will-to-power yearning to identify, to relate.


"Meanwhile, I sit cozily at my desk in my heated room. My belly is full, no bombs land near my riverside bungalow. I send emails and make phone calls to our president and State Department, but I’m not on a plane to Gaza to serve as a human shield or bandage wounds. And what of the suffering in Congo, Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq? Not to mention the homeless in my own city, gun violence and the overwhelming violence of poverty? All I have this moment are these few words, my yoga practice and a constant prayer: open, open open my eyes, open my heart."
But this is not all we have.
In Dostoevsky's novel "The Brothers Karamazov," in the chapter, "The Grand Inquisitor," Ivan Karamazov protests against all calling him to worship God because he cannot tolerate the horrendous suffering of children that he reads about in the Russian newspapers. Upon a closer read, however, one sees that this objection is founded on troubling premises. He says he cannot believe in God because he loves humanity--that abstract collection of images and articles he reads of--while he cannot show compassion or love to his own father, who is right next to him.
It seems that non-violence, which is negative in its essence (it is "non") is not as effective as embodying and asking for the revelation of "love." This WE, or I cannot accomplish. I am all too violent myself to expect that I alone could embody an authentic non-capable of confronting the violence of others. However, if I am infused with Christ, I might be an instrument of a love that is so much more efficacious than anything I might conjure or create on my own

peggy hong said...

wow
thanks for your extensive thoughts

"As a victim, I identify with a part of myself which is illusory, temporary, and superficial..."

i'm referring here to the yogic definition of consciousness, comprised of manas (perceiving, sensory mind)
buddhi (discriminating, analytical mind)
and ahamkara (ego, i-shape)

when i identify with ahamkara
i identify with the fleeting physical world more than the eternal within, untouched by circumstances

the abused child may be the girl with the scars, bruised etc
but are we not training her to also be powerful, in charge, confident, outspoken, an agent of god

that is we cannot always change our circumstances but we can always change how we interpret our circumstances and how we respond to them

otherwise we would have no examples of healing and recovery

not to say it is easy

we are complex beings
prisms
we can choose from a myriad of perspectives

i am not advocating passivity on the part of palestinians
i am a fierce advocate of the palestinians
but to recognize that just as israel cannot protect itself thru violence
neither can palestine

nonviolence is love
nv itself a frustrating term
satyagraha is the best word i know
truth force
satyagraha is the embodiment of love in political life
appealing to the highest in each person

coincidentally i just finished reading bros karamazov

Michigosling said...

Peggy, I wasn't advocating "equivalence." I was questioning why this group was seemingly silent about the instigation of the violence against civilian targets and why they have only protested Israel's efforts to disarm its attackers. If these people want us to recognize them as peaceful people, they must be able to recognize not only themselves but also others as victims. And they cannot condone violence on any single group's behalf, not even their own.


I think we agree on the most important issue here. History has shown us time and time again that massive military responses to hostilities only incite more hostility. Indeed, I have seen an alarming rise in anti-Israel propaganda in recent days, even from people I have long considered my friends.


I fear that people are using you to advance a dangerous agenda here. Whatever one good-hearted wishful-thinking Korean-American woman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin may believe, I wish I knew that the people for whom you speak are themselves lovers of peace and not simply haters of Zionism.


In the past year, for all its problems, we have seen tremendous hope and the building of almost miraculous bridges. We have brought ourselves to the brink of a new age of intoxicating promise. Most of the people in this country have just finished celebrating a holiday that’s supposed to be all about peace. Isn’t it tragic how quickly people want to revert to blowing up bridges, calling names, and pointing fingers again?