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On War and Peace

By Alex Stark. Copyright and all rights reserved.

The issue of war as seen from the indigenous perspective takes us into the realm of Spirit almost immediately. Indigenous peoples around the planet agree that ordinary reality is a reflection of a larger complex of energy and movement that derives its power from the balance of opposite forces: Heaven & Earth, Space & Time, and most importantly in this context, Love & Power.

Peace is a manifestation of Love, and because Love in the physical realm is derived from our relationship to the earth, it also includes other earth-based energies such as community, relationships and nurture. War destroys these manifestations of the human spirit, and replaces them with ideologies and dogma. Indigenous peoples agree that war, particularly the kind of war that is waged against the laws of nature, is a manifestation of a lack of Power, a disconnect from true self, true belonging. Unlike western ideologies, which equate power with force, indigenous peoples have realized that power is not to be confused with the imposition of one’s will over others. On the contrary, true power is the quality, induced in us by Spirit and nurtured into existence by Nature and the earth, to create good for the benefit of the community. Furthermore, power is not considered to be in the realm of action, but rather in that of existence, as personal power is often referred to as the ability to achieve without acting, or, as is often said in Zen, of “arriving without going”.

Understanding of this paradigm can be found by considering a similar confusion which exists in the western mind between Will and Intention. Whereas the west considers human will to be the causal agent of change, particularly in terms of what is often referred to as “progress”‚ in the indigenous mode, it is intention which is the human component of creation. It acts in concert with Spirit and Nature and never in isolation. Human will, on the other hand, is manifested most obviously as a force which molds reality to its wishes. Intent seeks change through alliances with the natural powers of the Cosmos, and leaves the actual outcome to Spirit itself. Goal-oriented behavior, such as the one we are seeing in the war waged against Iraq, is considered highly inefficient by traditional elders because it is not in alignment with what Nature wants. And what does nature want? It wants something very simple: It wants life and beauty, it wants to share itself, its fruits, and the knowledge which it provides, among all its creations. It wants to make itself manifest through the energies of Love and Power, twin manifestations of the same cosmic breath.

So meditations on Peace are therefore by necessity meditations on both Love and Power. Love, as the energy which relates and connects, is earth based. Power, as the energy that brings Love into physical form, is sky-based. Traditional peoples always seek balance between these two poles. Conflict arises when this dance of power and love is interrupted. The inability to dance is often equated, even in western psychotherapy, with disconnection with the earth mother, our primary reference to our physical reality. This leads to feelings of alienation and lack of love. Individuals who wage war are invariably those who have suffered the wound of the unloved. Whole societies can exhibit this symptom, as was the case in Germany during World War II.

Release from the despair of being unloved can only be found in the body, and this is primarily regulated by our connection and understanding of our relationship with the earth itself. Among traditional peoples, love for the earth is often placed above love for self, family, and community, because they understand that the Earth is the first principle through which we find our own material existence. And because this principle manifests for us through our lineage, our ancestors turn out to be the mediators of this relationship. Peoples who are disconnected from the earth and from their ancestors, or whose ancestors are lacking in the fundamental understanding of these simple laws of nature are like children, lost in the wilderness and feeling small, vulnerable and afraid.

Malidoma Some, a healer from Burkina Faso, has correlated violence in western society with a lack of initiation. Youths who are not initiated are incapable of facing their responsibilities as adult members of the human race. They are by definition afraid, because it is only through initiatory processes that we can mature. In our society these often take the form of more violence, as is the case with gangs and fraternities. So it is not surprising that such fearful peoples would resort to any measures to reestablish a sense of equilibrium, including the destruction of other human beings who are perceived to be a threat. In this sense, the disconnection with the earth-based aspect of the self represents the foundation for the alienation which leads to war.

But this is not the only reason why the earth needs to be factored into our meditations on peace. We often ignore the fact that war damages much more than our societies. It also causes huge trauma to the Earth and its fragile energetic web. Repairing the damages induced by a single bomb can take years. War places individual at risk not only while the bombs are falling, but for many years later, even for generations, as is so obvious when families try to settle over old battle grounds or on desecrated graves. Traditional peoples also waged war, but it was always considered to be a last resort and only to be done in defense of community or in defense of the earth itself. The idea of waging war preemptively is in direct contradiction with traditional thinking because it places human will above the wisdom of Nature and in contradiction with Spirit, which mediates all events.

Many traditional peoples have prophesized about these times. Invariably these prophesies have been framed around the idea of desecration of the natural order by human technologies. The Hopi, the Dagara, the Cobi, the Quechua, have all spoken of a time of great turmoil, of rapid and often catastrophic events. Warnings have been made not to tamper with the web of nature, and this includes not only chemical toxification and biodegradation, but also war. In all of these prophesies there is one universal sign of optimism: the idea that resolution of these problems lies in our selves. That is why indigenous wisdom is so important today, because it points the way to a manner of being which is both loving and powerful, and which derives its love and its power from our relationship to the earth and to the sky, in a relationship which is not defined by will or ideology, but through energetic movement. Power and love are internal qualities, and in that sense a war fought in the battlefield is also a war to be fought in our hearts.

No better example of this exists to my mind than the story of Rainmaker. Unlike the Hollywood version of this story, Rainmaker succeeds in making rain for the drought-struck villages not through action but through non-action of a very special kind. For four days and nights rainmaker had remained in seclusion in a hut, without as much as shaking a rattle or uttering a prayer, as other medicine men had done. Later, the elders, eager to benefit from his knowledge, asked him for the formula for his success. Rainmaker replied:

“When I arrived in the village I saw that the villagers were out of harmony with Heaven and Earth. So I proceeded to place myself in alignment with Heaven and Earth. After 4 days, at the precise moment when I succeeded, the rains came.”

This deceptively simple story illustrates some basic principles of indigenous wisdom:

1. The resolution of conflict lies not in the external world, but in our own hearts and in our meditations.

2. Stillness, not action, is the correct mode of being.

3. Harmony with the environment is the primary prerequisite for a successful outcome. The 4 days refer to the number of directions in the horizon, elements in the world (earth, water, fire, wind), and heavenly bodies (earth, sun, moon, planets).

4. Heaven and Earth are the dynamic poles which mediate this harmony.

5. Meditations of this kind are effective ways of resolving serious conflict.

6. Dramatic displays are not only not necessary, but can be counterproductive.

7. Results are not dependent on our effort, only on our concentration and discipline.

8. To be successful, we need to be detached from the outcome of our efforts.

Thus, by invoking the twin energies of love and power, of caring and being, of connection and belonging, community and self, all is possible.