Mike is a former heavy metal man. Under his long ponytail is the former head banger who still plays in the occasional band or reunion group, but most of his time he spends caring for his family. With the economy the way it is there isn’t much work, but Mike is honest and works hard, and there is always room on any crew for a man like him.

When I met Mike he was still a little shaken up by the events of the previous night. He had long since gone to bed, and his wife had stayed up to watch some TV in the living room. Mike and his family live in a part of town that is still urban, but borders the rural, and he has few neighbors.

After Mike had drifted off into a deep sleep, he found himself being rousted by his wife in a panic, “Someone is breaking in!!!” Mike jumped to his feet and grabbed the pump action shotgun his father-in-law had willed him and headed toward the living room. Mike’s wife had fallen asleep on a couch that in a sense barricaded an external door to the living room. She was jolted from sleep to see a large man with “Crazy Eyes” and another man outside pushing the door and the couch open in order to gain access.

Mike quickly surveyed the situation and put the barrel of the gun to the man’s head and told him not so subtly to get out. The man wasn’t aware that Mike never loaded the gun, but didn’t seem to care and began pushing even harder to open the door. Mike then began hitting the man in the head with the barrel of the gun. Still this did not dissuade the invader. So Mike began pushing back on the door, but his stocking feet didn’t hold on the hardwood flooring, and it seemed that the men might be making way.

Mike was protecting his own 14-year-old son his 10-year-old daughter, his wife of 18 years, his 21-year-old nephew, and his 23-year-old goddaughter and her 3-year-old child. These men were obviously on some drug, appeared to have no good intentions, and based on how it was going down…not rational.

As it happened, his wife was able to call 911, his son loaded his BB gun and held it on the would-be trespassers, his nephew ran out the front door and chased one of the culprits and caught him for the police, and Mike inflicted as much damage as possible on the intruder. He escaped however when he heard the sirens.

The sheriffs confided in Mike that he would have been well within his legal rights to have killed the guy, and off the record, they would have had it been their home. The man claimed that he was confused and drunk and he thought it was his home. Mike learned that the man lived only blocks from him, and he was released the next day.

Mike is a man of faith, he goes to church and although he doesn’t believe it all, can’t or won’t quote scripture, he believes in “something”. But Mike looked me square in the eyes and asked me what else could he have done? Should I have just let them in, “turned the other cheek” and let them have their way with my wife and young children?

Mike’s situation probably couldn’t have gone any better, and most certainly could have gone far worse. Yet, the question persists, is there a more peaceful solution to situations like this one? Mike said that the worst part about this situation was the fear and the feeling of being helpless. As his socks slipped across the floor, he realized the futility of his actions, and bemoaned the possible outcomes were he to fail in his defense.

My friend Rob and I have had a discussion fermenting for some time. The discourse below details premise of the ideas:

Rob Howard: Naah, (peace) it’s something you put on a T-shirt to show the world that you’re a truly wonderful person. It’s also a good modifier to not really having developed skills…a Peace Dentist my not have been anywhere near the top of his class. Chances are he isn’t even trained. You know that a Peace Artist is not anyone who could make a living as just an artist.

Put Peace n front of any profession and notice how it diminishes it.

Peace Artist: Rob, I agree. “I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state of a small city.” I will never be able to draw like Bouguereau, paint like Rembrandt, or sculpt like Carpeaux. But I believe that I would look more fondly upon a Peace Dentist giving away his meager skills to those less fortunate, than a skilled surgeon works only for profit. If a man was meant to be a servant, he could find worse masters than the “love of his fellow man”.

Rob Howard: I will agree about the importance of gratitude. To my mind, gratitude is not a passive act but, rather, a celebration of the great good luck we have to have been born humans, with all of our capabilities, rather than planaria or chickens.

For me, that gratitude has to translate into taking these inherited gifts (and they are gifts, not rights) and working with them, constantly and with great energy…developing them with an eye toward painting as nicely as Rembrandt or Bouguereau and sculpting as well as Carpeaux.

Part of your gift is having the same number of fingers and eyes, as did those masters. So what separates you from them aside from conceding defeat before you start? That concession is, in my mind, kicking dust in the face of that force to whom you should be grateful… grateful every day and every hour.

Rob Howard: What do you think of the historian, Winston Churchill’s comment…”the history of mankind’s advance from the caves is the history of warfare.”

Whilst the concept of peace is nice, I was hard-pressed to find any peaceable cultures that amounted too much past rudimentary societies…even the Jains. Perhaps you can enlighten me on which peaceable societies ever utilized man’s creative and industrious spirit. I’m sure you’d have a better idea of the existence of one but for the life of me I cannot think of any that were capable of maintaining themselves.

It would be awful to think that Churchill might be right.

Peace Artist: Rob, I think the question that you pose is and will be the cornerstone of an upcoming post I’m processing. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I will wrestle with the question you have posed and another combined, namely “Is the nature of man one of peace and good or war and evil.” Thank you for the posing the question for me to think about.

Rob Howard: I look forward to your findings. They are knotty questions that have occupied many good minds (and even more not-so-good minds) over the years

I’ve found a constructive approach lies in framing the terms as simply as possible. A question such as “Is the nature of man one of peace and good or war and evil” assumes peace is good and war is evil. That would always lead to bad research whereas simplifying it to “Is the nature of man one of peace or war” makes it simpler to view clearly. Asking about peace and good and love and nice music just made analysis more difficult.

I look forward to learning of the civilizations or culture that were built on a foundation of peace and that managed to not only survive, but also thrive, grow and add something of lasting value to mankind. I really want to know if such a thing ever existed, how long it lasted and what they added to the commonwealth. It’s well known the vast number of inventions and advances in science, medicine and technology have come from mankind’s concentration of making and winning wars. I think any such accomplishments on the peace side of the ledger should be made public.

There are many facets and parts to Rob’s questions. Based on who Rob is and his normal line of questioning, he never asks a question that he doesn’t already know the answer to. There are few peaceful societies that one can point to, however they were and are still around. However they do not function as good litmus tests for the state of man. If one Quaker man does a violent act, it is easy to dismiss the religion and culture of the Quakers as not peaceful when the “going gets tough”. Regardless of which societies throughout history were completely peaceful, it is very likely that they have been wiped from the map by groups that weren’t so.

The question however persists. Rob divided my initial question into peace vs. war. For me the bigger question is whether the essential nature of man is good or evil.

I was in a glade one time, a perfect sunny day beautiful…resplendent really. The birds were singing, a warm summer haze of moisture hung over the grass as the dew evaporated. In a tree nearby I watched as a mother bird dutifully fed her chicks. While she was away, I saw a raccoon come and eat all her chicks. The last chick was gulped down just as the mother returned to her nest.

The mother bird began calling an alarm, darting from side to side, and generally lamenting the actions of the raccoon for which she had no ability to stop. The entire glade took notice. All the birds began shouting in agreement and protest. And then, the raccoon was done.

The glade fell silent.

All the animals seemed to take a moment to morn what had happened, and the loss this poor momma bird must have experienced. All felt her pain. The silence was audible. Then a few minutes after it began, the silence abated. 15 minutes on the entire glade had returned to its peace, and life went on. The joy and beauty of the day was remembered again.

Rob’s arguments presume one scale by which to measure. He insinuated that as the peace artist I lack the skills and abilities to “make it” as a REAL artist. For this I have no problem. I’ve never made enough money to support my or any lifestyle. I fail on his scale. Under his scale though, so do Van Gogh, Federico Barroci, Edgar Allan Poe, Schubert, Wordsworth, Charlie Parker, and Rembrandt who at the end of his life couldn’t find work and was bankrupted. Under this same measurement, Gandhi was not a valid lawyer, for he never made enough. In addition, by this same scale Martin Luther King Jr. failed as a minister.

In like stead, the status of mankind’s peace or war like nature depends upon whether any societies have ever existed. Before the Wright brothers flight wasn’t possible, but after it was. If the world has never known a peaceful natured nation, then perhaps the time is now to begin one to prove it is possible. Whether or not global climate change is true or not, what could it hurt to plant more trees, make more green spaces, and walk to work? Whether or not there have been peaceful societies, what would it hurt to be peaceful in the moment you have right now?

I concede that I will never paint like Rembrandt, draw like Bouguereau, or sculpt like Carpeux…but I will draw, paint, and sculpt like the Peace Artist. This is all I can do. And to honor those with whom I do the art for, I will do it to the best of my ability. To honor with gratitude the ability to do the art, and honor even more the person who receives it.

Yesterday, I had the ability to play croquet with my friend, Dave. We play a version of extreme croquet. We set the wickets not on smooth grass with flat surfaces, but rather find the most difficult terrain filled with obstacles, steep grades, and hazards everywhere. It is delicious fun.

Croquet however seems to serve as a beautiful analogy for life. The starting point for all people is the womb; none is more elevated or lowered. Immediately off the post we are told to go through various hoops, and we jump from hoop to hoop. Wickets are status symbols of social respectability, education, wealth, and potty training. As we struggle to pass in a direct line accumulating school, cars, degrees, houses, wealth, and retirement our ardent hope is that we live a long life and die in our sleep.

We never realize though that the field of play is the reward. We get so fixated on the small little piece of wire through which we must pass that we never survey that we could go any direction and live life as we want. This is it, this is our life, are you only the “stuff” that you have collected?

As Dave and me played our extreme game yesterday, we found as we neared the end our final stick, our “goal”, had been stolen. It was such a powerful metaphor for our constant work to find the “perfect” life only to find it was for nothing at the end. When you get to the end of your life what have you won? It seems that a Buddhist probably invented the game of Croquet to illustrate the repetitive cycle of life.

Despite how many hoops you have jumped through, when you get to the end you just have to repeat the pattern. It is an endless repetition of the “game” until you realize what was really important in the first place. Being out in the grass with a good friend enjoying the sunshine. That is heaven.

There is another lesson however to be learned from the game of Croquet, and that has to do with fear. If in the game your ball comes close to another’s and actually touches, the ball can be blasted from the area of play. As we all scramble to get through our little hoops, we are so afraid that someone might blast us, that when the moment arises, we act preemptively and lash out on our neighbor.

It is our desire to win at all cost, our desire to be free from pain, our desire to not taste death or sickness, our desire to not be alone that motivates our fear. When we believe in scarcity, our needs and the lengths with which we will go to satisfy them are made manifest. We spend our best years trying to assemble a nest in which we can die comfortably in but having never truly lived.

Instead of working to retire, what if we retired to work? What if we had 5 days of vacation and worked for 2 days to everyone’s mutual edification? It is only a paradigm that we uphold that has power over us. How many of us have our life filled so full that the average 2-day weekend is never one of rest? We want to work, but we need time to be helpful to others, compassionate, loving. We need time to help our kids with their homework. When you are kept with your nose to the grindstone you work from fear.

Instead, like in Croquet, each mallet stroke should be a work of art. Every time we move, act, or interchange with others or the environment we could try to make it beautiful. How can I make this moment right now beautiful, make it worth remembering. We do this with kids all the time. At the end of a great game, we go out for ice cream and watch the sunset. These are the days of which memories are made. And yet, those opportunities are available to us all at any moment at anytime.

So instead of avoidance, play the banks and curves of life. Look what can be done in your life if motivated for good. See the “Fare” and “Fair” way of life as a metaphor for how we treat others. Enjoy each other; honor each other’s brilliance. Living like the Amish, we can raise barns together; accomplishing together that we could not do alone. Make everything we do a work of art, leaving our relationships, and our planet more beautiful in the meantime. What if we all made our life’s surroundings like a park? WE could make it heaven on earth. WE could pave our streets with gold for the beauty of all to walk upon.

This however leaves two questions un-answered. Mike’s: “What should I have done in this situation when my family is on the line?” and Rob’s: “Is the nature of man peaceful or warlike?”

I can’t imagine Mike handling the situation any better than he did. He could have loaded that gun, and this story would have a different ending. He could have killed that guy, and his family would have watched it. They could have been picking pieces of that guy’s skull out of their carpet, sofa, and ceiling for weeks. He could have blasted that guy’s head off and scared his son for life. In the process too, he could have gone to jail, and that wouldn’t have been good for anyone. However, he could have allowed the guy to come in and stepped out of the way and allowed them to rape his children and wife.

He could have

He could have

He could have

The way I live my life, I measure all my actions based upon compassion. In Mike’s situation he was being compassionate to his wife and kids…and the guy. Who among us could have done better?

In answering Rob’s question, I must admit I don’t know for anyone but myself. I am peaceful. I’ve found that out. When tested when I was conscious of the choice, I chose others. I really think that that is really it, becoming aware that you have a choice.

Like in the croquet game, you can choose to follow the rules and go through all the wickets, or you can live life free from preconceived notions and conventions. I challenged my buddy Dave to test himself, and as such take one more step toward enlightenment. Thankfully he took me up on the challenge.

Dave doesn’t have much money, in fact any at all. Like most people in Arizona, he is financially hurting. (I asked him by the way if I might use him as an example) Making rent, having food, a phone, electricity, and many other amenities is often a challenge. Dave is “hard headed” by nature, and will often go without food, hot water, or a phone in order to not default on his mortgage. As one can imagine, money plays a big role in his life right now.

I challenged him to break the paradigm of fear and being without. I challenged him to give his last $5 to anyone who asked it of him. He thought about it. But when push came to shove, he did it. He chose to help another more than help himself. That is enlightenment. It isn’t the $5 it is the refusal to be a slave to fear.

Each of us has our own wickets. My mother, father, and my society set mine. But I have chosen to stop looking down at my finite problems, and take a look about me at the freedom I have. I can choose to enjoy this day, this moment, and I can choose to love.

 

 

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