Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Treasures of Darkness: Part II

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, 
than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. 

What is violence?  And what do we do with it?

Dictionary.com's first definition of the word "violence" is "swift and intense force,"  as in "a violent storm."  This kind of violence is natural, and unavoidable.

The second definition is "rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment."  This sounds more like the kind of violence most people agree is inappropriate in most situations.

The American Heritage Dictionary lists as its first definition:  "Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence."  This sounds even more like the kind of violence we want to avoid or overcome.

What is the difference between this kind and the "natural" kind but human intention? 

Is violence just
that wounds?

Blake said, Colors are
the wounds of light.

is wounded, even
light is broken.
This violence is

to the world.
This is beauty.

When my heart is
hard and dull and dry, it wants
to be broken,

a violent grace;
my heart must be
broken open,

because it cannot break
This is beauty.

While I was working on this post, I came across a very interesting chart of the "Levels of Human Development," in the magazine What Is Enlightenment?  According to this chart, the "Integral" phase that humanity is beginning to enter will be defined by "new, higher forms of integral or holistic thinking."  One of the people held up as an "exemplary leader" at this level is Teilhard de Chardin.  The philosophy he may best be known for is that of the Omega Point, the belief that humanity is evolving into union with the divine.

I had already been thinking about him in relation to this discussion, because of his reaction to being involved in World War I. For him, being on the front lines led him into an exalted, mystical experience, reducing life to its essences, and paradoxically inspiring his faith in the spiritual evolution of humanity.

Another strange and wonderful thing that happened while I was contemplating all of this occurred at the library. I was browsing in my favorite section, the 291s, and a book called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, caught my eye. I opened it randomly and read the following, in a section whose heading was “Contradictions as Treasures”:

We need to rediscover contradiction as a creative force within the soul...that disavows mere linear progress in order to awaken all the aggregate energies of an experience. It is the turbulence and conflict of their inner conversation that brings an integrity of transfiguration...There is a secret light and vital energy in contradiction...If you remain faithful to this energy, you will gradually come to participate in a harmony that lies deeper than any contradiction. This will give you new courage to engage the depth, danger, and darkness of your life.
John O'Donohue, the author of this beautiful writing, then goes on to say that we need to reconsider what we judge as negative, that morality is often “the enemy of growth” because of the rigid judgments associated with it, and that we need “a new way of understanding and integrating the negative,” by befriending it.

Author Barbara Kingsolver, in her essay, “Be Careful What You Let In The Front Door,” discusses receiving two letters addressing the violence in her novels in the same week One of these letters was from a woman who had been abused as a child, and couldn't read past a certain point in one of Kingsolver's novels because of the violence done to one of the characters. The other letter was from a nun, praising her for “daring to hold up a mirror of the horrible devastation our country has visited upon Nicaragua” in her novel, Animal Dreams. These letters led Kingsolver into deep contemplation. She comes to no ultimate conclusion, but says, “I don't know whether my convictions about art...that contains violence will ever be allowed to settle into a comfortable position. They have been revising themselves for a long, long time, roaming restlessly over the options, continually exhorted by the ghosts that bless and curse.”

Twelve years later, in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she offers an excellent discussion of actual violence, in the context of killing the animals her family raises to eat on their small farm. She says, “It's not without thought and gratitude that I slaughter my animals, it is a hard thing to do.” And she offers the following quote from Kahlil Gibran:
When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:
By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too shall be consumed.
For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.
Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.
The meaning embodied in this message is what rescues the acceptance of paradox from fence-sitting, integration of the dark side from alignment with it.  Because to have this kind of identification with the object of your violence is to have compassion.  And for me, choosing a position on an issue only has value if it is an expression of compassion.

I hope you'll join me as I explore the relationship between violence and compassion in the third and last post of this series.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Pollinatrix,

    I decided to visit your blog (via Jennifer at OneTrueSelf). I found myself reading and re-reading this post. I will need to read Part I to synch up.

    "What is violence? And what do we do with it?" I'm tempted to say what I believe most people consider a general definition of violence but that would appear too restrained for this discussion. The reality for me it that violence is defined by the extent of my knowledge and experience.

    A warm summer breeze may feel good as I sit on my deck but a 50MPH wind changes my perspective of wind. I think when we evaluate the violence in nature, we understand that it is external to the realm of human control. Human violence is not the Yang to the violence (Yin) in nature.

    It is all perception (to me). A farmer tills the soil, a bulldozer excavates the ground and in both instances the earth is penetrated but we don't think of it as an act of violence. Yet, life exists in that earth that is disrupted with little thought or consideration.

    Our society views violence against humans to be the ultimate act of betrayal and yet some human acts of violence are deemed acceptable.

    I believe that when one sees the outcome of violence, when death is the result of a violent act, you come to grips with mortality and humanity.

    I've said all this and yet I don't feel I've given an intelligent response. Perhaps it is because I have been touched by violence.

    Can there be two sides to this, no right or wrong definition; just one's changing perspective?

    You have posed a most interesting topic for discussion.


  3. Lovely contemplation. As you suggest, violence itself is not always troubling: it depends on the intention and compassion with which the violence was done. Our reflections on intention and compassion can lead us towards a more complete understanding any act of violence. Karma results from intention more than from action.

  4. U - Thanks for stopping by and for your decidedly intelligent comments. It seems you are struggling with the same thing I've been, which is that I feel I can only comment in fragments on this topic without making one big synthesis of the whole topic.

    Dan - I like what you say about intention. What's interesting to me is how little value society often puts on intention, as in: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." More and more I realize that mindful intention is an ACT in itself, and its effects are felt and received.

  5. My word. This is almost too much to absorb all at once. I believe I'm going to pull a Jennifer here (sort of) and reserve my comments for Part III. Then maybe I'll be able to get the wheat sorted from the chaff and say something meaningful. I think you've given us all a FEAST for thought this time.

  6. You must be reading my mind; I was just wondering where you were.

  7. This discussion is not something I can simply answer. I have so many thoughts...fragments of thoughts...questions within myself...questions for humanity...questions for God. I want you to know that already I have been pondering humanity and violence and your work has escalated that for me.

    I have been troubled and despaired concerning inhumane acts against mankind committed by mankind for many weeks now. I am asking God this simple question pertaining to my life and the current state of this world and how I might be a bearer of compassion.

    "God, TEACH ME to REACH YOU."

    As I write this I am so disheartened that human beings are trying to exterminate themselves on so many levels...I somehow believe there is a better way for US.

    The reality of the condition of mankind is piercing for my soul. I ache deeply and yet somehow, someway each day I am hopeful that one by one in a state of gentleness we might change the course of things.

    I apologize for the fragmented form this is coming out, but it is hard for me to capitulate my thoughts in a refined manner.

    I will be reading Part 3 soon...I need time to absorb it all.

    Thank you for your work.

  8. No apology necessary. I feel like this whole post series is fragmented and has resulted in fragmented responses, because that's the nature of the beast. Violence speaks to our fragmentation more than anything else I can think of.

    Thank you for sharing the depth of your feelings and thoughts.



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