This is an article written nearly three decades ago that’s still quite relevant today. Thanks to Mikhail.
Male Spirituality: Die if You Must, But Never Kill
By Brian Willson, July 1, 1991, BrianWillson.com
Though I am certainly no expert on understanding male, as distinct from female, spirituality, I do know that growing up male has very definite meanings. Very definite assumptions, roles, responsibilities, attitudes, character and personality traits, etc., came with birth as a boy without being conscious of most of them.
Becoming aware of these attitudes and patterns provides us with clues for our healing. When we act on this awareness we can begin to express healthy attitudes and behavior based on our inner and interconnectedness as males, contributing to the reclaiming our role as promoters and protectors of human justice and ecological imperatives.
Though from high school age I experienced personal affinity with those identified as “underdogs,” it was expressed from the security of being a physically strong and reasonably popular student and athlete. It was not until working in Vietnam a decade later as a US Air Force security officer, after a number of years studying in college and graduate school, that I discovered consciousness. Seeing the faces of male and female war victims, children as well as adults, I experienced many feelings, including shock, grief and anguish, that literally brought me to tears.
It was as if this dimension of feelings had resided within me all my life. This was my first knowledge of their being liberated. These people, Vietnamese no less, had become my brothers and sisters, their children my children, and I felt this connection at an extraordinarily deep place within. This was a totally new experience of feelings.
Returning to civilian life, I went through a long period of denial in order to stop my new-found consciousness from interfering with my attempt to live within the boundaries of the “American Way Of Life” (AWOL). Though I rhetorically expressed a new politics based on this Vietnam-produced consciousness, I nonetheless wanted to pursue the “good” life I was conditioned to expect.
An internal conflict began to rage within me, however. My newly emerging consciousness was increasingly questioning, and therefore interfering with, pursuit of AWOL. Who was, who is, the real Brian Willson? How many Brian Willsons are there?
Since Vietnam, like so many others, I have been searching in one clumsy way after another to learn what it means to be a human becoming, to be spiritual and political simultaneously, to be a humble warrior seeking justice, and to be a feelings-oriented as well as an intellectually-honest person. In effect, I have become a recovering white EuroAmerican male.
Some of the aspects of this journey in male spirituality are discussed below:
As we become more ecologically conscious in its most comprehensive understanding, we know that everything and everybody is interconnected. We are all one. An injury to one part, one person or organism, in fact some way injures the whole, all of us. “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King used to say. This is a law of the universe, and, as we develop holistic perspectives, of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, history, and philosophy. What have I left out? One could call it the theology of the planet within the context of the universe.
But of course it is not just a matter of intellectual understanding. It must be viscerally experienced, if it is to be fully incorporated as wisdom, felt deeply and noticeably in the stomach, in the chest, in the soul. Thus, it is natural and indispensable that we live in and appreciate community – intentional at the local level, and extended in the global concept. As we begin feeling anguish when others are suffering, and joy when they are laughing, we experience oneness in very real ways. We actually feel it. This passion, and compassion, increasingly motivates us to express in some concrete manner solidarity with the person or organism experiencing the pain or joy.
This for me has been revolutionary. It is the realizing of sacredness. Everything is sacred. I have finally accepted that even I am sacred. What a revelation! What a revolution! Caring and sharing begin to become “natural” as we increasingly open ourselves to this inner/outer Life Force. Gandhi called it soul or truth force. Martin Luther King called it cosmic companionship. I call it an unfolding relationship with and faith in the Great Spirit. The higher self. It matters not what one calls it.
I began realizing interconnectedness in Vietnam as the tears poured down my cheeks as I looked at dead mothers and children. My god, I internally moaned, these are my sisters, my children too.
Fierce But Gentle Nonviolence: Die If You Must, But Never Kill
Using Gandhian language, Satyagraha replaces the methods of violence. Satyagraha, soul or truth force, seeks truth through passionate pursuit of justice. This truth-seeking approaches union with the higher self, the Great Spirit, or god. This effort is distinguished by its strict utilization of the methods and spirit of nonviolence, a concept approaching unconditional love.
Nonviolence is an affirming love that tenaciously resists the wrongdoer with action that just as tenaciously refuses to do harm.
Active nonviolence is a conscious willingness to suffer, even die, if necessary, as a chosen substitute for violence to others, in order to resist evil with a spirit of unconditional (and unsentimental, or agape) love. In so doing, the Satyagrashi seeks to break the cycle of retaliation, hoping to provoke transformation within the soul of, while respecting, the oppressor or adversary.
Simultaneously, the Satyagrahi seeks to understand from the engagement, deepening his or her own consciousness. Central to nonviolence is respect for interconnectedness with the opponent, even while opposing the perceived destructive behavior.
These are guiding principles for the behavior and process of a peace warrior. Nonviolence requires discipline in overcoming fear, and training in the art of suffering, including dying, in order to possess the ability to fiercely pursue justice without causing harm to the dignity and soul of others. Be willing, and trained, to die but never kill for what you believe to be your heart-felt truth.
We are liberated,we are free, to the extent of our willingness to take risks, our preparedness for death, in resisting and noncooperating with evil. As domination by fear subsides, willingness to take risks escalates. As we come to experience the sacredness of all life (including ourselves), and feel the pain and anguish of the suffering of others, i.e., experience our interconnectedness, our community with each other, it becomes easier to overcome fear in the passion and struggle for preserving sacredness. Obsession with our longevity disappears. Transformation is provoked, oneness is experienced.
The peace warrior understands the importance of breaking the historical cycle of retaliation through the courage of his or her example. It is worth emphasizing sincerity in pursuing truth (justice) through love (nonviolence), while respecting by refusing to injure the opponent. Initially it may take courage to experiment with this new paradigm. But as one increasingly feels the sacredness and interconnectedness, choices to pursue justice by interfering with policies and behaviors that destroy dignity, and life itself, become more natural.
Think of the person who rushes into a burning house in an attempt, no matter how futile it might rationally seem at that moment, to rescue loved ones without undue concern for personal safety. This is the result of a passion for life, not a suicide wish.
It might also manifest in an attempt to block the movement of lethal weapons when it is known they will be utilized to terrorize and murder innocent human beings in other countries for selfish political reasons. Or in an effort to be present at the site of testing of nuclear weapons designed to commit omnicide, hoping to interfere with the continuation of an insane policy. Or in a Buddhist type conscious, but perhaps strategic, presence of silence or chanting.
Or in an effort to [blank]. You fill in the blank from your own inner heart-felt truth. We are all connected. An injury, or even the threat of an injury, to one is an injury to all. When this is viscerally felt the peace warrior must respond, no matter the personal dangers involved. Through thoughtful discernment, the way will be shown. The death trains are everywhere to be seen, forces destroying sacredness, community.
Integration–Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Emotional Health
As a recovering white EuroAmerican male it is important to be eternally vigilant of the various conditioned attitudes and behaviors that interfere with inner and interconnectedness, clarity of thinking and feeling, and loving (at all levels). It is a process that enables each of us to be a student (and therefore a teacher) throughout our lives.
Attitudinal and physical violence toward others, arrogance, a sense of superiority, a need to dominate, and insensitivity to other’s needs, are some of the culturally learned traits that severely prevent us from learning about our interconnectedness, about passion and love, and about awareness and consciousness.
A peace warrior must strive to heightened physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional conditioning that enables him/her to emotionally and physically disarm the adversary and engage in a spiritual or verbal dialogue. Literally, a warrior’s motto must ultimately be, “Die if you must, but never kill,” in pursuit of a nonviolent world. And a peace warrior must always be prepared to deepen his or her consciousness.
One’s understanding of truth is always subject to change. Humility, therefore, is very important. This is another reason why in resisting an adversary it is important to never harm him/her. One never possesses absolute truth. When open, one is always learning.
It is obvious that in order to be a justice seeker, good physical, emotional, and spiritual health is necessary. This requires focus, training and discipline.
For me personally I have had to forgive myself, as well as others who have offended me, in order to continue loving myself and others. As I read history, and as I experience it unfolding, I feel anguish about the pain and suffering that has been done, and continues to be, involuntarily imposed on Mother Earth, and her millions of species, and on billions of human becomings, men and women, children and adults.
This has occurred over the centuries, and continues to occur, because of lust for greed and thirst for power. Some of the most egregious destruction to life has occurred in the past 45 years by the policies of the United States promoting the American Way Of Life (AWOL), that most of us fuel with our personal lifestyles. This behavior of violence and aggression has been normally associated with specifically masculine traits. This need not, must not continue.
As most anthropologists and biologists have told us, aggression and violence are not innate. They are not of our nature. They are culturally learned and tend to become entrenched as primary values after centuries of perpetuation.
Cooperation, mutual support and aid, and love are also culturally learned, and there is much evidence that these traits of caring and sharing are much more dominant in the long history of the evolving human condition.
An important component of our process toward integrated health is the need to change our lifestyles. For most of us this is nothing short of revolutionary itself. AWOL consumes between 40% and 60% of the earth’s resources with but 5% of the world’s population. This is immoral, and requires us to be violently assaultive and exploitative as a nation against Mother Earth and the vast majority of the human becomings living on the planet.
They are worth no less than us; we are not worth more. By living the way we do we are painfully complicit in the carnage AWOL imposes on all life. The peace warrior must affirm a life of global justice with his or her simple lifestyle while resisting evil and destructive policies and behaviors. As one disengages from dependence upon a destructive economic system, one experiences the political independence needed to speak truth, to be a peace warrior.
This right livelihood can only function in community, as the alternative constructive program concretely experiments with cooperation, mutual aid and support, and sharing lifestyles that discover the joy and liberation of reduced consumption through local reliance. Less becomes more. Slow becomes beautiful as well.
Theology Of Transformation (or Liberation Psychology)
Liberation Theology describes, from a Christian perspective, the call of God with and through the community of faithful believers, to engage in the struggle for justice now. It is a theology of struggle for people who understand their oppression by oppressors. Closely related, from an eclectic and ecumenical perspective, is what I term the Theology of Transformation.
Our higher self, the Great Spirit, or God, calls to us to endure the painful but liberating, and therefore joyous, process of radical transformation from homo hostilis to homo amicus (literally, from hostile man to friendly man). I believe this is critically important for psychological health; thus I refer to this as Liberation Psychology.
To become healthy we need to be liberated from the extraordinary limitations, many subconscious, that we have accepted from the teachings of our culture and its political and religious values and structures which severely prevent us from becoming fully human. Thus, like Liberation Theology in the “Third” World, the Theology of Transformation is revolutionary, and a threat to the continuance of “First” World nation-state systems, and their oligarchic counterparts that oppress the poor in the “Third” World. This perhaps might be considered a “First World” counterpart of Liberation Theology.
As I have often discovered, in a most painful way, being an oppressor, even if unconsciously, as a male in the United States’ culture, is extraordinarily unhealthy and pathological for me as well. It deceitfully but egregiously robs me of my own humanity. I lose. Extrication from complicity with the values and living patterns of our arrogant, all consuming culture is absolutely indispensable for this personal and cultural transformation to occur.
Herein, I briefly summarize the essence of the Theology of Transformation:
First: It is fundamental to become aware of our interconnectedness, as I have already discussed. This is discovered as profound wisdom when we connect with our feelings–dimension, which I believe already resides within each of us, and then synthesize these feelings with our intellectual understandings. Some might call this our heartfelt, more intuitive sense of truth. I believe that for most men our feelings-dimension has been buried by layers and layers of denial, learned (conditioned) over the centuries, severely retarding our becoming human.
Denial generally manifests in numerous forms of addictions that enable us to remain numb-like. It goes without saying that it is absolutely imperative that we recover from these addictions in order to experience our multitudes of feelings. Then, and only then, can we begin to integrate and heal. These feelings, this heartfelt dimension, provides the source of our love, our sense of interconnectedness, our passion and compassion. When integrated with the mind, a new life force of our humanity is unleashed–with gusto.
Second: As we become aware of our interconnectedness, we become aware of the pain and suffering that our culture, that our own personal attitudes and behavior, directly and indirectly, have inflicted on Mother Earth and other human becomings. We might at first feel depressed, or betrayed. Then we begin feeling pain, and anguish, as we understand that our behavior, both collective and/or individual, has caused so much suffering. Then we can grieve, weep, and moan.
This grieving is not just for others. It is for oneself. We come to know of a personal loss we are experiencing. We know how sick we are, how disconnected within ourself we have been. We know that others have suffered due to our blindness, our inner deprivations, our insensitivities. We are all one, all connected. We are all sacred. Even I am sacred. What a relief. What joy.
Third: As we understand how our various attitudes and behaviors have been complicit with the causing of destruction, pain and suffering, and have emotionally owned our relationship to and complicity with the pain through our grieving, we then must learn about forgiveness. We must be able to forgive ourselves as we ask others to forgive us. In this way we acknowledge our inner and interconnectedness, and that we are imperfect, fragile, and very human.
We learn again how important it is to be humble. We understand at an even deeper level than before how sacred each of us Is. We feel relief. The injured, and the injurer, have released each other to deepen their interconnectedness, their sacredness. They learn from each other.
Fourth: The act of forgiveness must be concretized through manifestations of changed attitudes and behavior. I call this the process of atonement, or at-one-ment. The injurer changes his or her behavior by discontinuing the harmful behavior, but also by attempting to make whole the wrong done, even if it cannot literally be accomplished. This might be called reparations. It renders justice to the injured.
As the injurer changes his or her behavior in making specific amends, deeper transformation and empowerment are experienced. The sense of inner and interconnectedness is more profound than ever. Healing is experienced. New life-force is unleashed. Atonement leads to a fifth, and very closely related concept of reconciliation, where new harmony and peace are experienced. More relief. More energy, more inspiration for being a peace warrior. And more learning.
The planet and the people of the earth, are desperately awaiting the fierce but gentle love, the fierce but gentle nonviolence of the heretofore missing male energy. I again make a commitment to continuing on the path of learning to be a peace warrior, to being a recovering white Euro-American male. But I need help. I conclude with this proposal: I’ll help you. But I hope you help me too. If you see me fallen down on the trail, please help me up. When I see you down I will help you up, of course. I hope we see each other. It is extraordinarily important. Our future is at stake.