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Mindful Killing

Published on 31/10/12
by randy

In search of common values, perhaps the biggest dialogue topic is that which deals with life/death. Whether it’s abortion, capital punishment, war, euthanasia, end of life medical decisions, hunting/fishing, trapping a house mouse, slapping an insect, etc.
Whenever we’re involved in terminating the physical life of a living thing, what values do we bring to the table. It would seem our own fear of surrendering our physical body keeps us from these conversations until it’s too late. I would consider myself ‘pro-life’ in that I’m always for placing great care into making these decisions from love. Within my core belief system, where we are interconnected as one another, action that comes from faith, flexibility, the open mind and empathy seems to work. On the other hand, action that comes from fear, inflexibility, the closed mind and lack of faith in finding the Divine in all seems to result in disharmony. So how do we come to the table on these highly sensitive topics? This is where dialogue comes in.

Willingness to dialogue is willingness to open to something bigger. There’s a humble confidence that may at first appear uncertain, weak and tentative. Yet, it really communicates the deepest of courage to suspend one’s beliefs/fixed thoughts to more deeply explore such a sensitive topic as mindful killing. Often perceived as ‘wishy washy’ and weak, in reality, when we can surrender our notions of certainty to the vast mystery, we all move closer to the Divine. This is the essence of what’s meant by placing ‘full reliance upon divine Providence’. So what does this language of dialogue look like?

If we look at those great leaders who’ve been able to enlist the confidence of humanity, we’ll find the phrases Keller and Brown reference in their book, Monologue to Dialogue:

“I may be wrong but here is the way I see it….”
“It could be…”
“What would you think…”
“I think what I am trying to say…”
“Isn’t there something here …”
“What you say might just be so….”
“I don’t know if…”


Obviously, these would be suicidal words in our polarized political arena where inflexibility and monologue are pushed to our detriment. Yet, in this crucial time of rapid change, deeper understanding and flexibility seem to be exactly what we need. Our consensus push seems to scream the mantra “jobs, jobs, jobs”, when in fact, if we want to save our democracy, it needs to be “communicate, communicate, communicate”. We seem to have become a nation of “agree vs. disagree”, often resulting in societal silence for fear of causing trouble. Yet, we all know challenge and trouble come with the inevitability of change, especially such rapid global change. So why not show our real courage and step into dialogue, especially into the pressing life/death issues that face us today?

The Christian faith places a call to renewed intelligence. In Roman 12.2 we’re directed to “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…that ye may prove what is…the perfect will of God…”. It directs us to continually transform our ways of understanding, of looking at facts, and examining the very process of communicating with one another.

So how do we face the difficult topic of mindful killing in a society that wants to hide from it? We’re directed to step from our ‘fixed’ notions because we’re always in movement. We’re directed to surrender to bigger actions that better meet present day conditions. We’re directed to listen deeply to each other and to the will of God. No spiritual tradition says we can live forever in our physical bodies and most recognize the eventual need for participating in the life/death process. The intention to which we do this is perhaps the most important. Is it directed from kindness or fear? Is it sensitive to all parties? Is there a better way to handle these societal decisions without getting into the inflexibility of legal language? How do we best dialogue with one another about inevitable impermanence and the interconnection of All?

This morning I set a trap for some mice that had entered our house. This torments me and I know I must find better solutions. Yet, at the moment my wife insists we keep them from our house. This morning I meditated in the middle of the lake on my surf board as shots rang out during duck hunting season. This morning I paddled by some ducks, mindlessly disturbing them from their haven as they startled to the sky to be shot down by some hunters nearby. My lack of mindfulness in keeping the mice out without killing is taking lives. My lack of mindfulness in flushing the ducks to the sky resulted in killing. I’m sure many soldiers are tormented by the loss of life to many civilians, often labeled ‘collateral damage’, innocently killed in a military operation. No doubt, we can’t ‘not kill’. However, we can increase our mindfulness to it. What’s our intention? Can we get bigger than our fixed notions of absolute action? Can we live more carefully, more alive to long term effects of our actions than short term pleasure? I suspect there are hunters and fishermen holding some remorse for the lives taken merely to have a trophy on the wall, just as there are many mothers in regret for having an abortion and many mothers in regret for bringing an unwanted child into the world. I’m sure there are those who regret the lack of courage to let a body release when worn out, just as there may be those who question whether a miracle of longer physical life was in the horizon when the plug was pulled.

There are no absolute answers to these questions. There never will be complete agreement. Yet, the degree to which we delude ourselves into ‘thinking’ absolute answers exist, that no more dialogue is needed, is the degree to which we whither as a peoples. Again, we can’t ‘not kill’, but we can aim to follow the will of God in love for one another, even our perceived enemy. We can aim to awareness and mindfulness to the results of our actions, always aiming to what’s best for all with harm to none.

Awareness and mindfulness may be the major motivation to meditation simply because we reduce our likelihood to mindlessly kill. I was told a story about a famous meditation master. He had written several books and was finishing a long workshop when a student asked him what he was most proud of through his prolific life. He had fame, thousands who listened to him, a great history in charity and healing, and so he took the question with deep thought. The audience sat in stillness for almost half an hour before he answered. His reply, “I’m most proud of the fact that I haven’t killed anyone.” It’s my sincere hope that we can all heal from those mindless moments where we cause harm to others, particularly when it involves life/death decisions. My heart says this is why prayer and meditation are food for the soul. Without stillness, we may risk hearing the voice of divine Providence, God’s willful command to love one another and faith’s contempt for the harm that comes from fear.

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