In cultivating the container for our practice and our lives, we focus on creating conditions, setting intentions and minding our attention. None of these are focused on the outcome of what arises, but rather on cultivating conditions for things we wish to arise. Like creating a quiet space for meditation so the settling of the mind can arise. This is much different than expectation, and when we understand this, our life unfolds much more harmoniously, resulting in greater fulfillment
I awoke from a dream this morning with all the hope of the world that there is a way to find ourselves out of this mess we find ourselves in--this mess we've created. The dream was set at a large street event of which I was somehow one of the facilitators. In the midst of all the activity, I had come to a profound realization that things began going wrong for us humans when we stopped looking each other in the eyes.
Whether it was because we were concealing something or had to move faster and faster as a result of our belief that we needed to work faster and harder to support ourselves, or that we had an "enemy" to defeat and we had to dehumanize them before conquering them, we've somehow shifted away from this simple, but deeply meaningful exchange with another.
In the dream, I took to a loud speaker and began sharing this revelation with the other attendees in the street. I envisioned and invited us all to return the next morning for a "face off." We would all line up down the street in two rows facing each other and just taking time to gaze in each others' eyes. (If you haven't tried eye-gazing with another, do try it with someone you trust--it can be an astoundingly revelatory experience!)
Someone had once told me that animals won't meet your gaze because to the animal, it is a form of dominance. I wonder. But, not looking animals in the eyes--especially before taking their lives--might explain how our food system has gotten so sickly distorted with industrialized animal farming and dehumanized slaughter techniques. Having seen with my own eyes the images of our food production in the movie Samsara and recently released footage of pigs being processed into some food form, my intake of animal as food has declined dramatically. I certainly couldn't look them in the eye and then torture them as they are being tortured to provide me food.
But, I think the event that triggered the dream last night was having an exchange with a youth that seemed to be having an emotional meltdown for some reason and was being disruptive and disrespectful to himself. When I was explaining my expectation within the classroom, he couldn't look me in the eye. I can remember clearly as a kid not wanting to engage by eye the adults that were either lecturing to me, or from whom I was hiding something. In not doing so, I was able to hide the truth--or so I thought. It's most obvious now, as an adult, how much that does tell about the person unable to meet my gaze.
The dream ended before the big event took place, but this has left me wondering--could we stage an eye-gazing flash mob somewhere? If so, would YOU want to be involved?
If not, I invite you just take notice of how much you actually meet the gaze of another in your day-to-day life. Are you too busy? Too isolated? Too in shame? In any case, the next invitation is to take the time to eye-gaze with yourself--in the mirror, alone. I sometimes forget that I'm this human body having this human experience and when I catch a glimpse in the mirror and really engage with my eyes, there is a deeper connection and remembrance of what it means to be human. I'm curious, what do you experience when you eye gaze with yourself or with another? Please, share it here and shed some light on this for us.
After being invited by Patty Lanier and Lisa Kaplan to lead a meditation for the local One Billion Rising awareness event in Middletown on February 14, 2014 , I did some personal reflection on my history with domestic violence. I wanted to bring my story to the group in a way that could maybe be helpful to others who have experienced violence--sexual or non-sexual. What arose surprised me because I hadn't really reflected on it since my days co-chairing the Domestic Violence Prevention Council in Lake County in 2005.
What I appreciated learning during that tenure as co-chair was that there was absolutely nothing that I can do to elicit an acceptable violent reaction--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Regardless of how I dress, what words I use, who I choose to see, where I choose to live--none of these choices absolves the perpetrator of violence against me. Period.
I didn't understand this growing up. I was taught that I could dress in a way that would elicit acceptable force against me. Or, I could say something that would justify a smack across the face or a belt to my bottom. What this taught me was how to hold the victim of violence responsible for the violence, when, in fact, it was the perpetrator of the violence that was responsible.
In my family of origin this meant that I held my mom responsible for my dad's abuse of her and us kids. What did she do and why didn't she stop doing it so my dad would stop hurting her? Why didn't she rescue us kids permanently from my dad's drunken outrages? (She ran away--sometimes with us kids--more times than I can count!)
My mom is long gone now. She died way before I became enlightened about the truth of alcoholism in the family and domestic violence. (They don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, by the way.) And so for all her living days, I held an opinion and perspective of holding her responsible for the violent horror that was my childhood. I never got the chance to apologize to her for my misunderstanding--granted our culture itself supports and perpetuates these erroneous beliefs about domestic violence, and I think we all grew up believing these, but I now know better. Can we be held responsible for beliefs we undertake from within the culture? As my friend and colleague Hileri Shand used to say, "When we know better, we have to do better."
In twelve-step recovery circles they talk about making amends for those things you did wrong. Ideally the intention would be to make the amends directly to the person you harmed. But, in those cases where you can't make direct amends, either because they are no longer around, or you may harm them or someone else by doing so (think affairs, etc.), they invite you to make a "living amends." A living amends can take many different forms, but one is to do something in the area of your error that helps others that may have received the same harm by someone else.
As I pulled my thoughts together for the meditation, I empowered them with the intention for it to be a living amends to my mother. To apologize for all those mis-held beliefs about her role as a victim of domestic violence. When I shared this story at the event and then led the group through the loving kindness meditation that included a portion on forgiveness, I realized the significance of this small act in my own healing journey with my mother and my past as tears welled up.
One other thing became clearly renewed in my thinking as well--silence perpetuates the violence. One of the powerful things I learned when working with Adult Children of Alcoholic issues was how the silence helped keep the dysfunction intact. We filed it under "don't air your dirty laundry," but it was so much deeper than that--and it really supported the perpetuation!
Since becoming a public figure, I constantly weigh the impact of my sharing the truth of our family history on the remaining members of my family. While I only have siblings and one aunt left, their experiences in the family may have been quite different than mine. At the same time, there are indisputable facts about events that occurred--the scars that are left, or not, are what remain for opinions, I guess.
I was uplifted to hear a report today on NPR about a new approach in schools called 'restorative justice.' The idea is that rather than have a 'no tolerance' rule on violence, where the students are suspended and the event is never addressed, they now have talking circles with the students involved and the parents of those students--instead of suspensions. The intent is to be open and honest about the incident immediately and restore communication and healing effectively.
This sounds like a great leap forward in our awareness of how to resolve conflicts without violence. As the facilitator of the program said, though, coming from a culture that embraces violent solutions, rather than peace and harmony, it's a difficult task to tow. The good news is that the process is shifting. People are talking, and, as the One Billion Rising campaign insists--no more silence around the violence!
JoAnn Saccato, MA is an author, mindfulness teacher, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She helps her clients and community discover many ways to create the conditions and apply simple tools to companion themselves on a sacred journey, bringing more groundedness, acceptance, clarity, joy, authenticity and values-based responses to life.