Separation and Violence
How might violence start with separation?
In her article Choosing Peace, Pema Chodron suggests that there’s a subtle split or separation that lies at the root of our warmaking and violence: what begins as a whole experience in the present moment gets snagged by a “hook” (shenpa), and next thing we know we’ve split into self and other, become self-absorbed, and are carried away by our emotional reactivity.
I want to step away from Pema Chodron’s teaching for a moment and dissect one of the more violent fantasies that has arisen in my mindstream on more than one occasion in the past year. This dark imagining generally arises in response to witnessing or thinking about one of the high-ranking members of the Trump administration who all happen to be old, white, male, overweight, and smug with a veneer of Evangelical Christianity whitewashing their machinations. (Funny, that describes my dad perfectly.) In the fantasy I have them tied up and gagged in a chair in the middle of a dimly lit room. At last, they have no choice but to stop, listen to me and reflect. Finally they feel the fear and helplessness that their power has previously insulated them from. I tell them what a sham their religiosity is. I shine a bright light on their hypocrisy. I let them know that I see their rot. I wonder out loud if they are just straight up evil and manipulative, or if they truly believe the lies they spout? Which is worse? And so on.
Ugh. When it comes up, it’s not long before I catch it, feel the toxicity in the whole thing, and consciously release it with an out breath. Maybe two or three exhalations to flush it, release the weight into the earth, make a prayer of blessing to counteract the black magic I just worked. And then I ask, where did that come from?
The similarity of these targets of my wrath to my dad is too obvious to miss, so I start there. Am I still pissed at him after all these years? Disappointed that I didn’t get the dad I wanted? Traumatized by his outbursts and by his absence? Disgusted by his chauvinism and emotional immaturity? Appalled that I am his child and quite definitely have some of his characteristics? Sadly, he represents so many of the things I hate. “Hate” is a strong word, but the shoe fits.
And what is hate except a very forceful expression of separation? That is not me! That thing revolts me. I want that thing out of my space. I want it out of existence.
Interesting that I also use the word to describe my feeling about eating eggs. I hate them. I gag at the thought of the taste. I don’t want to smell them. I don’t want to engage with them in any way.
So I suppose that’s the key feature: a refusal to engage. There’s no curiosity, no openness, no willingness to stay in an uncomfortable or distasteful situation and be with it, just experience it, see if there’s something more. I already know what it is, and I’m not really open to any new information concerning it. I just want to tell it how badly it sucks before I snuff it out.
With eggs and with my dad, it’s possible to create some physical space between them and my sensory apparatus, and effectively banish them, relieving me of any further likelihood of tasting that thing. Except in my mind, in that recurring dark fantasy. Perhaps when we say “Atha”, we are resolving to stay put (maybe starting by getting into an asana), and to witness whatever may present itself. Oh, there’s that thing I hate, the thing that makes me uncomfortable, the thing that I really didn’t want. Not out there, but right in my own mindstream, in my feelings, in the medium of my body somewhere. Ironic, that the more we hate something, the more of a hook we have to it.
Circling back to Pema Chodron now. That fantasy will likely float back up from the depths at some point, or my dad may call. What then?
I think of a story about the saint Milarepa. As a magician, he was quite expert at the art of binding spirits and charging them to do his bidding He knew how to subjugate demons. But at some point, he realizes that to do so is misguided. When the demons next appear in his meditation cave (I appreciate that he is an accomplished yogi and still has demons appearing), he invites them to tea.
Perhaps the beginning of the end of violence, of the practice of ahimsa, is to invite it all to tea. I like the image of the quiet preparation, the sitting, the serving, the sipping, sitting some more, maybe exchanging an open gaze or a few gentle words. To invite it in. Whatever that object of repulsion might be.
To do this, it’s evident that we have to suspend judgment. That’s another kicker. Separation is inherent in judgment: separating the good from the bad, the worthy from the unworthy, the righteous from the wicked. I feel tired even thinking about it. What a relief it might be to lay the judgment down.
To sit, to invite whatever shows up, to not judge, then to gaze steadily. Warmly, steadily, releasing every story about what we’re witnessing when we become aware we’ve begun to tell a story, and returning to the warm, steady gaze on that thing as it is in the moment.
There, I made a beginning meditation instruction.
May the practice of yoga gradually soothe and dissolve the sense of separation, and awaken us to the awareness that we are One.