Loss and Liberation

I used to think that healing meant to recover from an illness, a trauma, a death, or a searing disappointment. Over time I learned to seek the threads of the larger story within which a healing crisis appears, in order to understand the story in its own right, on its own terms. But lately, in these dire times, I have realized that healing must include reversing, behaviorally, the harm we humans have done, and amending (as with soil) the damaged relationships at the heart of the calamitous undoing we have unleashed. Like illness, like suffering, broken relationships are holograms. There is no such thing as individual illness, or individual healing. There never has been. 

Like illness, like suffering, our deranged relationships are multi-dimensional symptoms of what is unfolding in Nature, and Nature will show us the means of repair. The Occupied Territories, Trump’s border wall, dams on rivers, garbage dumps, toxic spills, mines, oil wells, clear cut forests - all must be dismantled and put right. Everything that we’ve had a hand in ruining must be repaired. Even the things we didn’t know about. Even when we meant no harm. The natural world is our map. It wastes no time in blaming, but focuses instead on adaptation and repair, as it is designed to do.

So many people in the world have experienced loss beyond our imagining. So many more live with constant disappointment and uncertainty. Of these, some emerge with a remarkable resilience. I have heard many Africans say, “Well, it has happened.”  Just that, after unutterable devastation. This isn’t meekness or defeat. It is an elegant form of acceptance that has the paradoxical effect of sustaining forward movement. There is deep power in genuine acceptance because it allows us to let go, freeing the energy we need in order to perceive a more comprehensive, comprehending perspective. 

Many of us in the West tend to get stuck in recrimination, blame and self-pity. The partisan sniping going on in the US is wearying. It dulls our minds and closes our hearts. I cannot find a narrative in the media, anywhere on the political spectrum, that is willing to step away from partisan disappointment or gloating. 

In the Middle East, peace is rising, in spite of the unchanging headlines. Sometimes the story – or our ability to recognize it - takes time to catch up. For example, Women Wage Peace is a national nonviolent peace movement founded four years ago by Israeli Jewish women. It is modeled after the Women In Peace Network (WIPNET) of the Liberian women who brought an end to the civil war there through inclusive, decentralized, grassroots nonviolent vigils and demonstrations lead by women. Both groups seek participants from all walks of life, all religions and all ethnicities. And, like the Liberian women, the Israelis are finding guidance in the dream world.

In Liberia, before the war, women dreamed the streets would run with blood. Later, they dreamed that a light-skinned man would be in power for thirteen disastrous years shaped by brutality and greed. (This is understood to be former president Charles Taylor, who is now in prison in the Hague for crimes against humanity). The women in WWP have dreamt masses of people marching for peace in the desert. One woman dreamed that a popular music star was singing ‘A prayer for the mother.’ This became the theme song for the movement. Remarkably, WWP intends to become obsolete by the end of 2018, and fully expects to achieve their goal of shifting the political stalemate not only by becoming a visible, insistent, inclusive, unified voice for peace, but by shifting the way the conflict is languaged. 

“There is no they,” is their guiding philosophy. They will tell you, “We don’t provide answers, only questions” that will inspire people to talk about how to achieve peace. They ‘promote hope.’ They don’t criticize - the government, the army, the settlers, the Palestinians or each other. They conduct polls that track shifts in opinion. They seek thought leaders from diverse populations. They encourage innovation and invite feedback.  

These are the qualities of a healthy natural system. And, like natural systems, peacemaking consists of innumerable, tiny, cumulative, often-invisible interactions: kind gestures, patience, alliances, dreams, insights, and dialogue. 

Recently, researchers have found that, in forests, intertwined roots of all the trees together are what keep individual trees upright. Vast networks of microbes, bacteria, fungi, and root systems communicate, share nutrients, and make room for each other so that young saplings receive enough sunlight. And, within the forest there are ‘Mother Trees’ that share nutrients and information with the trees in their community. As one researcher explained, “Even when dying, these trees have a huge role to play.”  

We have only to observe the responsive functioning of Nature. Birds, migrating herds, water, weather, soil, bees, all have had to adapt to human violence, to encroachment, lack of appreciation, and relentless disrespect. All around us, Nature shows us how to come together on behalf of all Life. Humans can and must, do the same. As a Navajo colleague recently explained, “We are working to change the mentality of Native America to be ahead of the curve instead of reactive.” 

In the West Bank, I recently met a young man of 26 who had spent two years in an Israeli jail as a teenager, for throwing rocks, and another two years just recently, jailed on false charges. During part of that time he and his fellow inmates went on a hunger strike. He is tranquil yet fierce, saying only, “The Occupation will end when we stop occupying ourselves,” and, “The way I get through check points now is by smiling on the inside.” 

In the words of South African peacebuilder Anne Adelson: “We use in our work the metaphor of an earthworm… It transforms rotting vegetation into something useful. It’s the sort of work that we can all do all over the world, in all different kinds of soils. We’re preparing the ground until the time is right, till the seeds can grow… King Solomon had the legend of the earthworms that helped break up the stones for the first temple. And the Cuban revolution used the metaphor of gusanos de conciencia – the worms that burrowed through the conscience, pulling out what’s ethically pure… Our work might be hard, it might be groundbreaking, it might be difficult, we might not see where we’re going, but together we’re all creating this culture… Collectively we are the transformers of the world.”