In his article, “Why We Love War” published in the Utne Reader, January-February, 2003, Lawrence LeShan discusses mysticism and war as two primary ways humans resolve the fundamental tension between experience as an individual and as a member of the larger group. He writes, “On the one hand is the drive to be more and more unique and individual, to heighten one’s experience and being. On the other hand is the drive to be a part of something larger, a full-fledged member of the tribe.”
As we go to war, we are faced with our individual weakness, but also our significance as a part of the greater whole. War creates a sense of focus, emotional engagement and awareness of the vital significance to life. Not just the soldiers, but also the population at home enters an alternate level of consciousness that is compelling, invigorating and sometimes hypnotic.
Marchers for peace engage the same type of phenomenon as they join en mass to voice their opposition, even when they may believe their government will ignore them. The point is not just to register a vote against war, but also to join with likeminded individuals to experience solidarity, to be present and witness the collective will of the group. The march through downtown is a dance representing the dynamic interplay between individual experience and the overriding significance of the cause. Individuals expressing opposition to government action may become acutely aware of themselves as persons who have stepped over a social line in the sand, and yet may experience a type of self-transcendence as they put themselves at some personal risk to express their convictions.
War and the opposition of it each help resolve a basic human dilemma and LeShan points out that mysticism and meditation do too. Throughout human history, we have had war and we have had mysticism. When one meditates, it is possible to experience one’s own phenomenal world in sharper relief than is common in normal consciousness. Senses are heightened, and we may have a better sense of who we really are. At the same time we may have a perception of ourselves as intrinsically part of the greater whole. We may come to better know our own being and simultaneously sense that we are at one with all that is.
We can no longer afford to serve the god of war, whether through making war or opposing war with hate in our hearts. We must cultivate compassion and do what is right without allowing fear to carry us away. As war flares, let us redouble our efforts to work on our own consciousness. Let us dedicate our meditation practice and practice as if the world depends upon it. We can’t build peace through hate. We won’t realize our true nature by being distracted. If we want peace, we must build it in our hearts.
© 2003 Tom Barrett