Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rolling the Ants

I consider myself to be a non-violent person. I don't believe in settling disagreements and conflict with violence: not on a personal level and not on collective level.

I have taken many trips to Bali. I have a good friend there who has taught me a lot about Balinese culture and the unique version of Hinduism practiced on Bali. We have had many discussions about various religions, and their teachings on peace, treating people with respect, and how to handle situations the way God would want us to.

On a past trip to Bali, I was sitting with this friend eating breakfast. We were having one of our philosophical, religious discussions about life. As I was eating my food, I noticed that there was a line of tiny ants crawling across the table towards my plate and the sugar bowl. I watched them on their path and finally decided I really didn't want ants in my food! I tried to brush them away and off the table. I did this sweeping motion a couple of times and my friend said, "So... I thought you were non-violent." I said that I considered myself to be.

He said, "Then why did you crush the ant bodies?"

I said, "I just didn't want them in my food."

He said, "But you rolled and crushed their little bodies, because they were looking for food."

It was a moment for me. I didn't consider what I did to the ants to be violent. It seemed 'different' to me, but to my friend, who looks through another lens of perspective, I had handled the situation with violence.

It caused me to reflect on the nature of violence. It doesn't always have to be a physical attack on another person. It can be something as simple as physically brushing away a pest (and causing them some sort of harm in the process).

It can also be as simple as the thoughts we have in our minds. One of my teachers, Jack Boland, used to invite us to ask ourselves the following question: "Are there people who aren't safe walking down the streets of your mind?" It's a very good question. We can be violent to people by the thoughts that we think about them inside ourselves.

When we commit to a path of non-violence, we have to tend to all these areas. Our physical actions with people are one consideration. Our treatment of creatures of the earth is another area. Also our thoughts and how we treat people internally needs to be tended to. It's all part of the path of non-violence.

It's too easy to think we are non-violent if we don't resort to hitting people when we need to resolve something. Dig deeper... and clean out the corners. I'm finding all sort of interesting things lurking in there!

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