Q: In recent weeks I have been called upon to speak about both Christian non-violence and about the Islamic world in which I have spent time and the Islamic world-view. I have experienced serious hostility from some members of audiences. I work very hard to remain very centered and peaceful and gentle in my responses. But it is costly, costly. Have you ever experienced this in your work? Have you tips on how to manage it? I am wondering if it would be better for me (and for those who are led to respond in anger and hostility) simply to refuse invitations that might lead to the release of further negative energy of this sort. Advice? — Bonnie Thurston, West Virginia
A: This is a difficult and moving question. It seems to me that it is now more necessary than ever for religiously committed people to move forward into the realm of politics so as to promote peace and justice, restraint rather than emotional responses, and understanding rather than prejudice. Doing this, however, as the questioner points out, is very difficult and challenges us to the core. After all, we are used to dealing with peaceful nice people in holy and quiet situations! Not so easy to step into the teeth of controversy. But we have to do it.
You have to make yourself – your body, your mind, your heart – very large and absorbent. You have to be able to feel how you react to criticism and other people’s emotions and you have to train yourself (as much as possible) not to speak and act out of that feeling but simply to feel it, slow down, calm youself, and respond from your center.
What I do at times like this is go much more slowly and carefully with everything, especially speaking. I pay closer attention to my body and breath — to my walking, standing, and all my gestures. I return over and over again to the feeling in my heart of kindness and warmth and to the realization that people are naturally agitated and angry in hard times; they can’t help it. If I am attacked I do not see myself as being attacked. I see wounded people facing me. If I have to defend myself I do so in this spirit. I also realize that I have to defend myself far less than I think I do. I take much more care with my own practice. More prayer and more meditation.
If you want to promote peace you have to be peace.