Sunday, February 25, 2007

Breathe

The most important thing I've ever learned is how to breathe. Like everybody else, I learned subconscious breath at birth. Then I had the advantage of spending most of my developing years between five and ten thousand feet, which imparted upon me relatively large lungs. Many of the adults I spent time around were slow breathing people and as a teenager, I began to study yoga and meditation. Somewhere I picked up the ability to consciously breathe very slowly. I regularly breathe at one tenth of the rate of a normal relaxed person. And I regularly meet others who could benefit from developing this simple basic skill.

It is a challenge for me to empathize with people who grew up in violent surroundings. Oh, I wrestled with my friends and argued with my siblings, but all my life I've been surrounded by unconditional love. Never have I had to worry that I might not be loved or that a family member might injure me. I'm eternally grateful for this fortunate life, but I don't really understand the pressures experienced by those who are not so fortunate. It makes it hard for me to know how to react when they act out that tension.

Of course, like every other American family, mine has struggled to transition from the age of competition and hierarchy toward the age of collaborative networks. I've learned that I don't want anybody to do anything for me that doesn't make their life more wonderful. I know that my deepest joy comes from serving the needs of others and it is delightful when others find joy from serving my needs. It is rewarding to believe that I've influenced another in a positive direction, but that reaction cannot be won through force. Coercion, manipulation, and authoritarian behavior have proven to be completely ineffective. This understanding makes it still harder to empathize with those who feel driven to control the behavior of others.

We cannot expect the victims of violence to be the only ones who deal with the unmet needs of the perpetrators. They need to be heard, empathized with, forgiven and given room to heal. We don't want to allow them to continue to damage others, especially their own children. Violence has been passed down through enough generations. The cycle must stop here. We must heal the victims least they become the perpetrators in the next iteration. We must teach effective nonviolent tools.

So how do I react when I witness somebody trying to force somebody else? Well, if necessary to protect a weaker person, I will intervene and risk violence to myself. If I can maintain a calm and nonthreatening manner, it is easier to deescalate a tense situation. So I breathe very slowly. If all else fails, I can always focus on my breath.

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