Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Middle of Nowhere

Today Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq was visited by a young Iraqi man whose family raised more than twenty thousand dollars from contributors worldwide to pay for medicine for the hospitals and clinics at Fallujah. He has asked that CPT accompany the delivery of the supplies into the city. During his visit, he gave us the grim news that four people he knew have died in the last several days. The day before his visit the father of one of his friends became a target for kidnappers. When his friend’s father resisted, the kidnappers opened fire with their weapons, riddling his body with bullets. Our visitor had to help take the body to the morgue.

Later, another young man who is both a college student and a journalist visited us. He told us that a car bomb detonated within several hundred feet of his house. No one in his family was injured, but two people driving near the booby-trapped car were killed. The driver died instantly but the passenger died as the young man and friends tried to get him to a hospital.

Yesterday we met with an Iraqi human rights worker who documents issues of detainee abuse. He gave us information about a 13-year-old boy who is being detained along with information on inhumane living conditions at the Multi-National Force detention camps.

The ability to feel the pain of another human being is central to any kind of peace making work. But this compassion is fraught with peril. A person can experience a feeling of being overwhelmed. Or a feeling of rage and desire for revenge. Or a desire to move away from the pain. Or a sense of numbness that can deaden the ability to feel anything at all.

How do I stay with the pain and suffering and not be overwhelmed? How do I resist the welling up of rage towards the perpetrators of violence? How do I keep from disconnecting from or becoming numb to the pain?

After eight months with CPT, I am no clearer than I when I began. In fact I have to struggle harder and harder each day against my desire to move away or become numb. Simply staying with the pain of others doesn’t seem to create any healing or transformation. Yet there seems to be no other first step into the realm of compassion than to not step away.

“Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the nowhere place then compassion arises spontaneously” (The Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron, pg. 120).

Being in the middle of nowhere really does create a very queasy feeling and yet so many spiritual teachers say it is the only authentic place to be. Not staking out any ground for myself creates the possibility of standing with anyone. The middle of nowhere is the one place where compassion can be discovered. The constant challenge is recognizing that my true country of origin is the middle of nowhere


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