My favorite annual gathering of community in Minneapolis is without question the May Day parade and festival put on by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater. In my early 20s, I basically 'lived' at this theater - being very involved with May Day and their other theatrical productions. Then I moved far, far away to the land down under. But now, two decades later, my daughter and I returned together to work on the parade. We went to the free art workshops that lead up to May Day, made ourselves some super cute bee costumes - and marched in the parade as 'Bee Love' and her partner in pollination 'Honey Girl.'
This was an awesome experience, and all about playfully connecting and celebrating with so many people in the community. It was also profoundly moving for me to return to this place, this event, this group of people, and this way of expression that had once held so much meaning for me, only to find that it still did, as much as ever. At the same time, I had changed and my understanding of what the messages of the day can really mean for us as a one people on this planet had evolved.
In particular I was struck by one of the constant themes of May Day - a call for an end to violence - and how after all these years of crying out for peace, there is just as much, if not more, violence in our community and on our planet. Every year, when the parade reaches its destination of Powderhorn Park, there is a pageant that traditionally concludes with thousands of wonderful, inconceivably beautiful people singing this song:
"I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, ain't gonna study war no more."
So what is missing? Why is it, despite all the massive amounts of energy that go into events like May Day and the other innumerable movements and activities planet-wide that aim to try to sincerely support and create lasting peace in our world, that it continues to be so elusive? Is it possible that one reason is that our focus on 'laying down our sword and shield' is far too directed on the external? We create laws, organize community, make art, write songs, make movies, give speeches, create slogans and march down the street to try to end violence, and these things are no doubt important. But when we don't begin first by laying down the sword we direct at ourselves how can we be a true reflection of what that feels like and looks like to the outside world? How many of us try to be kind to others, but are wickedly cruel to ourselves? Many of us are not even aware of the extent of the self-deprecating, self-critical and harmful ways of our daily thoughts, actions and choices. We may have a sense of some of our harmful patterns when they are more obvious, like when we say "I am so stupid" or when we wake up the morning feeling the effects of abusing our bodies with excesses in food, drink or drug. Starting to be honest about these more obvious ways we plunge the sword in our own belly helps us become aware of the far more subtle - such as how we methodically wash our hands devoid of any tenderness, or how we absently cook and eat our food devoid of a loving touch. Is it possible that it is through choosing to become the reflection of a truly internally and externally loving way of living, that we can remind those around us, even those we deem the most violent, of the possibility of living this way also?
So, if it is possible that the sword directed inward is part of what thwarts our efforts to end violence, what about the shield? When soldiers face each other, does their shield not allow them to more readily attack? We may not carry physical shields, but energetically we most certainly do. There are the more obvious ways one can put up a shield between themselves and others, such as through racist, sexist or political ideas or beliefs. But do we not often put up our guard between us and those whom we call our 'nearest and dearest?' Could it be that when we deeply feel the extent of the shield we put up between us and our fellow brothers and sisters we may sense how vain our attempts are to protect ourselves from harm in this way? Is this not trying to prevent hurt by choosing the original cause of hurt - separation from others? It feels horrible in the body to shut down and contract into hardness and guarding. When we choose to numb out in this way and harm our own body by carrying such a shield, does this possibly make us, like the soldier with his metal shield, more capable of harming another?
This is what the work I offer is all about - finding the way back to well-being. It is developing a deeply self-loving way of living that is based on the experience of actually feeling how truly beautiful we are and connecting to that universal energy that we all come from. Once we find this again within ourself, we can feel that exquisiteness in everyone - and I mean everyone. Developing self-love and worth is an amazingly strong foundation from which to then make practical, healthy, lasting changes in our day to day lifestyle choices.
When we are connected to the river of our being, then we start to explore the place in us that can not be harmed. This is a way of being that is naturally 'protected' and from which there is no way that we would choose to be violent, inwardly or outwardly. This is how we can lay down our sword and shield. Lay it down on the riverside and dive into the harmonious way of living from love.
(This was originally published on 5/14/2013 on my old website. Republishing here with a few updates, as it is so relevant today.)