Back in February or so, my friend Bekey Hewit came to me and said she wanted to do a concert at Musica on Oct. 2nd to celebrate Gandhi's birthday. She asked me if I'd like to be involved, and if I'd like to help. Of course i did! So in our little organizing session, we wondered if we could get the city to declare that day Akron Peace Day. Which then turned into Akron Peace Week as we discussed things we could do.
And then the city loved the idea!
And named Sept 25- Oct 2nd as - officially - Akron Peace Week!
As we began putting the week events together, we decided we wanted to do more than just this to cultivate nonviolence in the community, so we came up the Akron Peace Project.
I've been studying nonviolence for the last 3-4 years quite intensely. Spirituality has always intrigued me, and every religion honestly says the same thing - if you strip it down to the basic levels. It all boils down to 1 thing: Love. Love is the Ultimate. With Love as the Ultimate commandment, we cannot condone violence ever. I was turned onto Tolstoys brilliant writings on the subject of Christianity. His "Gospel in Brief" where he strips the Gospels down to their most basic, and "Confessions and other Religious Writings" both were deeply changing for me. One of the great things about Tolstoy is that he gave away his wealth and estate and lived as a poor farmer - practicing what he preached. Something very hard for anyone to do. From there i jumped deeper into Buddhism, the Gospels, Hinduism, and Native American wisdom. With each, I found that Love is the only goal, and that divisiveness, hate, and violence are unacceptable, and uncondonable.
This is where I came into reading Gandhi. Gandhi was never taught, nor even mentioned my entire school career (including college). So it was like opening up this amazing door of truth. And as I got more ingrained in his life and principles, our society was growing more and more divisive. As I step back and look at adults in this country who harbor secret hatreds, us and them / for-us-or-against us mentalities, absolute right and wrong mentalities, I see this epidemic as inherently needing understanding, needing a new Gandhi to step forth to remind us that together we are brilliant and able to achieve anything, that we are all of us the entire universe, that we are all one.
That no one holds a monopoly on truth.
Each side of a debate holds some aspect of truth.
And I couldn't sit back and do nothing. Yeah, I write happy little songs and sing them to 20 people a night, but i felt sure that there are other ways I could get the community together to celebrate all of us, to champion nonviolence.
Thus, the Peace Project begins.
The first step is to look within. This is an ongoing step. We must constantly challenge our views and opinions. We must constantly work to bring about our own inner peace. If we are violent in thought, then we will be violent in action. It is inevitable. If we can develop compassion in our minds and ourselves, than that is how we will build our relationships, and that will be the world we will build with our words and hands and hearts.
We partnered up with the Art of Living to help people gain some sort of mediation skills. They are a wonderful organization started by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. They are a major force for peace in the world, and also inside us all. Mediation is a deeply powerful state and tool. We all mediate now and again. It has many names, and we often don't realize that we are meditating. Things like singing, dancing, praying, hiking/walking/running are all forms of mediation. The goal of mediation is the simply bring the mind to the present. To fully engage in this very moment. It's not just clearing the mind. That will come with enough practice. But it's about identifying and recognizing your thoughts. And it's infinitely healing and rejuvenating.
We will be helping bring the Art of Living's Yes+ course to Akron on Oct 29-31st. We've partnered with the Center for Conflict Management to do this. You really will want to attend this event. I've done a few small mediations with this group, and they have been dramatic. And they were just small little 15 minutes sessions! (More info will be at www.akronpeaceproject.org)
Love means nonviolence toward anyone. It also means recognizing that animals are sentient beings as well. They have the same nervous systems and pain receptors as we do. They have emotions and social structures. Until Constantine, Christians were vegetarians. It was inseparable from the Gospel of Love. Hindu and Buddhist traditions sanction vegetarianism as the way, since we are supposed to not harm each other. So, to be nonviolent, we must be vegetarian (at least - vegan cuts out all harm to our animal brethren). For it is like having violent thoughts and saying you are nonviolent. This basic level of violence perpetrated everyday cannot be reconciled with nonviolence.
So we tied in a dog walk event to Peace Week. It is a reminder of Gandhis sentiment "You can judge a nation by how it treats it's animals." We are also co-sponsoring a discussion with author Will Tuttle, author of the World Peace Diet, on Oct 28th at Kolbe Hall, Rm 51, in the University of Akron at 7pm. It is free. Once our hearts are opened to compassion they cannot accept the hardness of their previous state.
Most importantly, nonviolence is something we can all practice and spread. It takes a lot of strength, inner and moral strength. Far more so than violence does. But through our own lives and actions, and treatment of others, it spreads. It spreads because it works, and because it is naturally that state of humanity.
So I ask you to be a soldier in our modern satyagraha.