Today’s world is filled with a great deal of violence. One can’t turn on the news or read a newspaper without learning about violent acts being perpetrated around the world. Whether it is in conflicts between nations or violence within our own community, the news is instantaneous and graphic in nature. One hundred years ago news was slow in travelling and images came from within our own minds rather than plastered on the front page. In this week’s blog, I thought I would explore the promotion of non-violence in our actions, consumption and thinking.

Our daily activity speaks to the degree of violence or non-violence we let into our lives. For many parts of the world, there is conflict between nations or within nations as civil war. Many years ago, it was violence in former Yugoslavia where religious and sectarian groups wanted to cleanse areas of divergent ethnicity. Today, Syria is in the midst of a civil war that is seeing daily deaths of their own people. It is difficult not to get involved if one lives in these areas and especially if one’s family is under attack. Yet, where does this aggression come from? Violent acts always originate from feelings of anger, hatred and the need to dominate or control. When these feelings are too much for us to handle we release the intensity of these feelings through the eruption of anger, which often leads to violence. For some this violence is a regular occurrence in their homes. Spouses argue and/or fight. Some relationships end up being abusive because individuals are incapable of dealing with the strong emotions surfacing in them. Within the workplace, there can be aggressive interactions between people and or teams. There are times when we feel attacked by our colleagues and rare cases there can be actual violence. A number of months ago I participated in a peace rally in my local community. I wanted to promote peace and compassion through my walking meditation. Yet, when the group began their walk they chanted words of anger and aggression – “what do we want, peace; when do we want it, now.” It seemed counter-productive to be promoting peace but demonstrating anger. Our actions may be more beneficial by taking the teachings of someone like Gandhi who preached and demonstrated non-violence.

What we consume in food, words or sounds determines the degree of violence we are allowing in our lives. The treatment of animals as part of the process of providing nourishment to the masses, speaks to our aggressive nature towards other living beings. The stories of how animals are treated as part of the food chain is disturbing and in some cases cruel. Yet, we continue to consume them despite having alternatives that could also lessen the impact of global warming. Similarly, what we watch on TV or read in the newspaper desensitized us to violent acts. One of the most popular television shows is the CSI series, which is filled with murder scenes, gun shots and violent acts. As we watch these types of shows, we become more comfortable with violence and our tolerance for it increases. Our news broadcasts show graphic pictures of war scenes. We see and hear violent images repeatedly, lessening our reaction to these types of acts. The food we consume and the things we take in through our eyes and ears conditions us to accept some level of violence in the world. I have been a daily news watcher for the past 20 years despite being offended by many of the news stories. A few months ago I decided to stop watching the news, as a result, I am seeing and hearing less violence, I am carefully choosing the things I let into my world. Many of you know I am a 27 year vegetarian, which I began for spiritual reasons but over time has grown to include an intolerance for cruelty towards animals.

Where are the origins of this aggression? It begins in our thoughts and the words we use. We may not think of them as violent acts but many of our thoughts and feelings are acts of aggression. Our actions are acts upon ourselves. We must learn to be non-violent towards ourselves, which leads to non-violence towards others. While on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) this past summer, he spoke about the practice of using the meditation bell. Thay said we do not strike the bell but rather invite it to ring. What interested me was how hitting the bell was considered to be violent. I had never considered before that my approach and thoughts about how I used an inanimate object could be thought of as a violent act. Inviting the bell approached the bell with a mindset of non-violence. There is no hitting or striking involved. We have many thoughts throughout the day, nourishing thoughts of non-violence will help all of us create a world of loving-kindness and compassion, beginning with ourselves.

Throughout your week observe which thoughts are aggressive in nature and which are coming from a place of loving-kindness. Try not to judge yourself either way but simply be aware of what you are creating moment-to-moment. Awareness is the first step to making a change in the world.