While at Findhorn Community in Scotland last month, I realized that my strategy for experiencing inner peace was flawed. My erroneous strategy had been: "be quiet, don’t muddy the water, don’t rock the boat. Imagine what's up for the other to have them believe that, say that, do that. Then let it go; accept them without judgment. And, if the silence is deafening, make some innocuous comment that doesn’t challenge or let them know we are not in agreement."
I liked it that way. It felt warm, easy and safe. The most extreme example of my using this strategy was when, as a child, I hid in the corner of a closet and pulled clothes all around me and kept myself not only from being heard, but also from being seen, for hours. It was peaceful.
The light-bulb moment took place the second evening of our seven-day nonviolence program. Thirty-five people sat in a big circle and in the middle was a cloth slightly larger than a square yard. Each corner held something; on one some dried leaves, on another an empty bowl, on the third a big stick and the fourth a stone. Every gathering the entire week was voluntary, so it was always our choice whether to show up and to participate or not. That evening we were invited to express things not usually expressed publicly.
One at a time we came to the center, picked up an object and talked about how it was to feel what that object symbolized. The dry leaves symbolized grief, the bowl emptiness, the stick anger and the stone fear. How acute was our desire to be heard! Some wanted their grief and anger to be heard. Others lifted up their fears and emptiness.
My emptiness was about the Central American children, their long journey on foot, their hunger and fear and confusion. It was about their future, and about their parents. I cried. When I had no more tears and no more to say, I went back to my place as the others all said, “We hear you.”
Everyone wanted to be heard. An hour and a half beyond our quitting time, still we were not finished. We are affected by occurrences, but our culture seems to not have space for this kind of speaking and hearing. I got clear about the chasm between speaking and not speaking, and sensed the peace that comes when my words matter to others.
I realized my earlier strategy was actually violent; you see, I might as well not have existed. In my speaking, I became someone, part of community, my voice joined with those of the others. Nonviolence desires the spoken truths of each one of us. (Joanna Macy created this exercise in the ’80s, and there is even more to it.)
All week we were to speak our truth and discern ways we like being heard and hear others. We were also invited to speak the unspeakable, that which had never been said nor heard before. And, when we heard another’s "unspeakable story," we were to find the place in ourselves where that could have been true for us, too.
Speaking truth engendered inner peace for us — far more comfortable than hiding in the closet or retreating into the emptiness of not speaking.
Dominic Barter and Kit Miller, who guided us at Findhorn, will host an exploration called "A Lived Practice of Nonviolence." It will certainly be a different experience from the one I had at Findhorn, because it will serve those who come, which will be a much larger group with two days together rather than seven.
Please join us to align our inner compasses with the world our hearts know is possible from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 9 and 10 at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. The gentleness and fearless honesty brought to us by Kit and Dominic may well lead you to inner peace and its accompanying comfort.
Joanna Niemann hosts Restorative Circles and is an artist. Contact her at email@example.com or 541-482-5940.