Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Love and World Transformation

by Miki Kashtan

BayNVC, the organization I co-founded, has as its vision a world where everyone’s needs matter and people have the skills for making peace. I often think about what it would take to get there. Like others, I am essentially clueless, we all are. Still, I have a deep intuitive sense that a certain amount of love is necessary to create the shift. And so I wonder about what is this love, and what we can do to cultivate it.

To make sense of what I am trying to grapple with, it helps me to think about what it takes to transform an individual relationship. It’s clear to me that when both people are committed to honoring both their needs within a relationship, and have the skills for translating their commitment into practical steps, then it takes half the skill and half the love from each of them. I tend to believe that almost all of us are born with sufficient automatic inner resources to participate in this game if everybody else were to participate in it. Almost all of us have enough love and enough skill under such circumstances. By extension, then, I would imagine that almost all of us could care about our own and others’ needs if others did, too.

If, however, only one party to a relationship is committed to the vision of everyone’s needs mattering, it takes double the love and double the skill because they have to compensate for the fact that the other person is not bringing that much love and skill into it. It’s not undoable; it’s just that much harder. You would have to do the loving for both of you. You would have to do the skills for both of you. And that requires more love and more skill than if it were mutual because you would have to bring in additional love to support the other person’s mistrust. Most of us don’t have it.

And that is, in sweeping generalizations, the situation into which almost all of us were born. We came into a world where most people are not framing the conflicts between them as dilemmas they are holding together. In those conditions it takes exceptional skill and capacity and love and resilience to try to live the love and the skill in a world that doesn’t.

This is for me the dilemma of world transformation: can we find and cultivate enough love and skill to do the work, to do the loving towards and on behalf of those who don’t have access to their love? Can a sufficient number of us develop enough capacity and resilience and skills to stand tall in the midst of mistrust, judgment, and even violence from others and maintain our stance of love?

I have faith in that. It’s definitely tough. I still have faith.

I see more and more people drawn to becoming agents of love in the world without any sense of fairness, without any sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, without expectations. Instead, our love can be motivated by a sense of being so privileged and blessed to have been given the gift of consciousness, and by wanting to share the gift with others, to fill in the holes and the voids of love until other people can do it for themselves – and all this without giving up on ourselves.

That last point is key to me. A love that is at the expense of ourselves is not true love. When we open up to a love so big we can be tempted to give up on others. We can think: “This other person can’t hold the love, and this means I’m just going to give them what they want.” We can get into an endless cycle of empathizing with others, hearing them, attending to their needs, and becoming depleted and resentful. I don’t see that as true love. For me true love includes respecting the other person sufficiently to trust that somewhere in them is the capacity to love back, and inviting that love in our direction when the moment is right, no matter how far gone the other person is. Inviting other people to open up, to hear us, to rise to the occasion is every bit as important as hearing them and supporting them. Every time we give up on another person and say they can’t do it we compromise the love because in the loving, I want to love the person into their best being.

I know that I’m making a really tall order. I just don’t want to compromise on the vision of what’s possible. I want us to be completely tender and self-accepting for wherever we are in terms of our own skill and capacity without thereby thinking that nothing can be done more than what I am able to do now. I want to accept myself where I am, and keep my heart and longing open to grow more and more towards taking on more and more of the loving. Until there is enough to turn things around.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Transcending Righteousness

by Miki Kashtan

Imagine you came to a conference about reconciliation. Imagine you are gay, and you discovered that nothing on the agenda explores this dimension of human life. How would you feel, and what would you do? A dear friend just had this experience. I hope you find her story inspiring. I did.

Her first response was isolation and depression. Sensing the group to be fairly conservative, she felt utterly alone, and quite desperate about it, to the point of almost changing her flight and going home early. She kept meditating and praying, and woke up on the third day with an entirely different orientation. She took the microphone, let everyone know that she was gay, and made herself available to talk with people about anything related to the topic that they wanted. I see this as precisely the courage of nonviolence that I have been writing about often. She combined, in this act, radical vulnerability combined with service. Despite her emotional discomfort, she didn’t ask for anything, she didn’t attempt to justify anything, she only made herself available.

And people started coming. A pastor who wanted to talk with her about how to work with gay people who come out to her as well as with other members of the congregation who are against homosexuality. A woman who worked closely with someone without knowing he was gay until she learned that his partner had died and found out he was a man. She was so confused she didn’t know what to say, and never acknowledged this to anyone, not even her close coworker who had just lost his partner. Over the remaining days she met with a steady stream of people who had no previous context for exploring their feelings and concerns. Instead of trying to get them to agree with her position, as so many of us are wont to do, she connected with the deepest places of caring in both of them, and found communion beyond, or underneath attachment to position or to being right about anything. With some no words were exchanged, only a hug, or a smile.

Towards the end my friend experienced a sense of community with people who for the most part had an entirely different position on the issues. No matter. They were all human. They all cared about reconciliation and human connection. They all wanted to live in integrity with their values, whatever their values, and they all wanted to find ways of engaging with their uncertainty about their positions, to open up just a little more to the complexity of life. There was no need to agree, which had the surprising effect of creating so much more freedom for my friend. As she said, this was reconciliation in action, more powerful than any learning or methodology she could get from the officially scheduled presentations.

When I shared with her how moved and touched I was by her story, she added that she didn’t have a sense of having done something, more that it happened to her through grace. Knowing how easily we don’t give ourselves credit, I embarked with her on an exploration of grace and volition. I imagine we all know, intuitively, that we cannot bring grace to us through intention. And yet my friend easily conceded that any one of us could, and she did, make ourselves ready for grace. What does it take? Inner clarity, release of attachment to outcome or to knowing, a kind of ultimate surrender, without resistance, without agenda. Nothing guarantees that grace would then come to us, of course. It only prepares us for receiving. In addition, when grace arrives, as it did for this friend, we still accept or refuse the invitation. My friend did, with astonishing results. I hope when called to do so I will, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Finding Unexpected Humanity

by Miki Kashtan

When Rose (fictitious name) was eight she experienced unwanted sexual touch at the hands of a carpenter that did some work on her parents’ house. Yesterday I had the privilege of accompanying her on a journey of healing from the effects of this experience.

As I learned from Marshall Rosenberg, originator of Nonviolent Communication, I set up a healing role play. My task – to become the carpenter, and to dig as deep as I could into what it could be like to be him, so I could support Rose in claiming more of herself back.

Rose carried this pain, alone, for years. She needed to be heard, to know that she was gotten, in order to experience relief. So I sat in front of her, imagining being the carpenter, imagining Rose at eight. Looking at her eyes, I took in her pain and allowed my heart to absorb her loss of trust in herself, her pull to contract from showing her full self, her habit of hiding her vulnerability. I listened, as the carpenter, and I reflected until Rose felt fully heard, and was calmer and lighter.

Being heard is not enough. Rose also needed to know that she mattered. As I sat with Rose I overcame my reluctance, as the carpenter, to face what happened, and expanded my heart to allow my body and spirit to touch the horror of knowing that what I had done directly affected Rose’s life to this degree. I shared my grief and let Rose know how much I wanted her to reclaim her full self and be, again, a free spirit. As I shared, Rose could see that her suffering was meaningful, not random. She then remembered and shared additional aspects of her loss, which I took in and integrated. We were moving closer towards connection and healing.

The third level of hurt is endlessly subtle, and often invisible. When we are harmed, it’s tempting to explain the horror to ourselves by perceiving the person whose actions harmed us as less than fully human. This protection comes at the cost of separation. We lose some of our own humanity, too. To heal in full, I have come to believe, requires us to come back to seeing the humanity of the person whose actions so harmed us. That was the gift I was next called to give Rose.

As usual, I didn’t know at the beginning how it would unfold, how I would find the heart of this carpenter in me. I was tasked with loving life, people, Rose, and the carpenter enough to find his humanity underneath his actions. Being and understanding from within the carpenter who had harmed a trusting girl also required abundant faith and total surrender. Faith to throw myself into the experience and to trust that life would provide me the visceral solution to the emotional equation my body was trying to solve in being this man. Surrender to let go sufficiently of figuring it out so that I could recognize the emotional truth when it arose.

This is the point when I get tested, again and again, each time I sit with someone to offer healing. Everything in my practice gets tested: my love, my authenticity, my imagination, my care for everyone, and my willingness to trust what arises. Submitting to life, tiny and significant clues appear along the way to decipher the emotional logic of the action.

I discovered that in my imaginary existence as the carpenter I had formed a bond of exquisite tenderness and special connection with Rose. She was so mature, clear, alive, and real, that she didn’t appear to me as eight. I was shocked to understand that the beauty of our friendship was so magical that at some point I lost track of her age. I deluded myself into imagining us to be equal. And then I couldn’t see a reason not to engage in sexual touch with her, as a celebration of the connection.

This was so unfamiliar, so unbelievable, that trusting the gut sense of truth and offering it to Rose was the ultimate surrender and required inner strength and exacting vulnerability. Even more shocking was the effect on Rose. She had been trying for years to find a human way of making sense of the carpenter’s actions. My story provided an answer that felt resonant for her. As we looked in each other’s eyes, both of us in tears, I knew the connection had been made. My heart, in real life, grew to include one more human experience, and some part of Rose would now be freer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Being with Suffering

by Miki Kashtan

Confession: I belong to the tribe affectionately known as “general managers of the universe.” If you don’t know what I mean, let me illustrate. I regularly straighten out books in a library or feel concern when a phone rings in a store I am visiting and no one responds. As if that were not enough, I also blessed, and cursed, with a very large vision for the world, for my life, for my work. The combination of vision and responsibility lands me, more often than not, with more to handle than I possibly can, even when I get better and better at saying no. Resources at BayNVC, the organization I co-founded, are not sufficient to hire as much support as I imagine it would take to provide me with manageability.

Add to this health challenges in my family, and significant transitions at BayNVC, and you might see why many of my days are difficult. Writing about it is no simple task, because hard times are a sort of a taboo topic. I overcome this challenge, because I’ve been stretching into vulnerability for many years now, and my practice is strong. The discomfort is smaller, and no longer stops me, even though I still notice that some of my attention, even while writing, is pulled towards the inevitable “what will people think.”

This past weekend I expressed some anguish about not having enough support to someone I care about, and who I know cares about me. She responded, as she has done in the past, by suggesting that my challenge, my stress, is about how I do my work, not about getting enough support. Reflecting on how to respond, I became acutely aware of wanting to be seen, understood. I couldn’t fully resist the temptation to explain the situation. In response, my friend said: “I get it, on one level.” Suddenly I felt the gulf, the distance created by analysis, by what I experienced as a subtle judgment, however loving.

For over 24 hours I was haunted by the question of why we distance ourselves from the suffering of others. I kept remembering the book of Job. The narrator tells us he is an exemplary human being. All manner of calamities befall him. His friends, unable to bear witness to his agony, insist on convincing him that his suffering is caused by some unknown sin of his. In the end, Job is vindicated. There really was no reason. It just happened. Suffering does.

In Biblical times suffering was God’s response to sin. Today’s versions call on bad choices, mental diagnoses, or negative thinking instead of a punitive God. Does explaining someone’s suffering, finding some cause or reason, make it easier to bear? Does the distance protect us from the pain of another’s pain?

I wonder if this is part of why it’s so uncommon for people to talk about their suffering – except, maybe, to their closest. Why create such discomfort for others?

With this heavy heart I found unexpected solace in Tattoos on My Heart, by Greg Boyle. Greg is unafraid to look suffering in the eye. He lets his heart be pierced, again and again and again and again, by the unimaginable hardship of life in the barrios of LA. If you want to be inspired, read the book, and visit the website – homeboy-industries.org. He created an award-winning program that offers jobs and training to gang members and ex-cons. They work alongside rival gang members. Unbelievably inspiring.

And still, it’s his love that got me. The unprotected presence, ready for all that’s there, finding the beauty, the heart, in whoever is in front of him, the downtrodden, the rough. Even after burying many dozens of young ones. Present and loving without blinking away, without explaining, without separating. A blueprint for how we can recover hope, and faith, and a sense of community with our fellow humans. All of them. All of us.