An Unrecognized Act of Violence

A great act of non-violence

A great act of non-violence

I woke early for a Saturday morning (6 a.m.) and though I longed to stay in bed, I got up and went right to work on the things I had left undone last night. I folded laundry, started a new load, did some dishes and organized a soccer uniform before I poured my first cup of coffee and sat down to read and meditate. I opened my daily tome, The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, came across this passage and almost choked on my coffee.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.” Thomas Merton

Nepe continues:

Merton wisely challenges us not just to slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations. We are at best filled with the divine, but we have only two hands and one heart. In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.

I have done this many times: not wanting to say no, not wanting to miss an opportunity, not wanting to be seen as anything less than totally compassionate (and I would add capable and competent). But whenever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there. It is like offering to bring too many cups of coffee through a crowd. I always spill something hot on some innocent along the way.

It seems an old adage is a good place to start: Do one thing and do it well. Though I would offer it as: Do one thing at a time and do it entirely, and it will lead you to the next moment of love.

While I am not the peace activist Merton was referring to, I read this and thought of my actions and the many things I have scheduled for today, the way I already have my next eight hours plotted out in half hour increments, knowing where I must be and what I must be doing and who and what I am responsible for. I thought of tomorrow and the eight more things that are on my list of things to do. I thought of how any disruption of my plans could lead to violent thoughts: annoyance, disappointment, frustration. Though they may not lead to violent acts, those emotions certainly don’t promote peace in my heart, my life, or anywhere on the planet I can think of.

I had coffee with my friend T yesterday. She is one of the busiest women I know, on-the-go from 5 a.m. until I don’t know what time and up and at it again the next day. I asked her what her secret was, how she can seem to go non-stop without growing weary and she echoed Nepo’s words. She said, “I stay in the present moment. I don’t think about the past. I can’t worry about the future. If I just stay right where I am, I have enough. I am enough.”

One of my favorite things about her is that when I am with her, I never feel like I am  getting splashed with hot coffee. I love to spend time with people like that, people who know how to say, “Yes,” to just one thing at a time. I am pretty decent at it myself, except with my kids and Tim and you know, the people who actually matter the most. They see me too rarely face-to-face and eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand and heart-to- heart. They see me in profile, driving the car, doing the dishes, typing into the computer, reading a book, taking care of business. I am there, but my ego is in charge and my heart is dormant.

As I race to get these thoughts written down in the midst of making breakfast, finding shin guards and packing for a 24-hour trip out of town, I consider the thought that all this multi-tasking might just be the most common and unrecognized act of violence of all.

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5 thoughts on “An Unrecognized Act of Violence

  1. You nailed it LIFE….you have such a way to say it. It resonates here, and I feel like you are following me around I feel like I have poured coffee all over MY OFFICE and life doing to much. Thank you for making me remember to BREATHE and do one thing at a time and do it the BEST.

  2. Words cannot express how deeply this touched me. It is as if you wrote this specifically for me! Thank you for opening my eyes to the turmoil I inflict upon myself…and here’s hope I change my ways!

  3. Thank you for such an important perspective! I find that the challenge is to not only change the behavior, but to change without guilt. You are so inspirational!

  4. Ali, I too start my mornings with Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. I’ve read and re-read this entry since it jarred me in the way it seems to have jarred you. It so makes me want to slow down enough to actually enjoy what is before me. Also calls to me to reflect on my relationship with time…learning to notice when my breathing is shallow from feeling pressed with too much to do. Slowing down is trusting that all will be well. Remembering that I am enough just the way I am. Much gratitude for your beautiful reflection. Sandy T.

  5. As a not very evolved “3” on the Enneagram, you know me well enough, and have seen me in action all of your life. I do convince myself, generally pretty well, that I am only doing good. While it may be good for me or for someone else, it is definitely violating someone else! And then there is that BIG EGO- I can do it all, I can be it all (or most of it). Thanks for the great reminder to slow down and be in the moment!

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