Shadow River: An Essay on Freedom

In the eloquent book, “The Unconquerable World,” author Jonathan Schell traces the grim and brutal history of warfare. A core notion of the book is that war has become unwinnable in the settling of disputes. Due to the evolution of nuclear weapons and the mutual annihilation inherent in their use, the reliance of politics on violent means throughout the centuries is called into question. While tracking the evolution of violence, Schell reveals a simultaneous force, moving in counterpoint to the martial system; a tradition of non-violence, born of the world’s spiritual traditions.

Like a sort of “shadow” river, flowing beneath the turbulent surface of the historical ocean, this force has been more persistent than we might suppose. Indeed, our United States constitution was created from tributaries that tapped the ancient river of peaceful means. Its principles form a cauldron within which we are scorched in the flames of our mistakes, yet blessed with the freedom to correct ourselves. Most of us sense that violence, as a means to settle our differences, has run its course. We sense, urgently, that in order to supersede global disasters, we must learn to think and act differently.

Enlightened leaders claim that the age-old dream of a more peaceful world begins with individuals. They implore us to look into the mirror–-into our hearts–-and be honest about what we see. They invite us to live in the moment. To stay awake to the notion that, in the deepest strata of life’s mysteries, the others are us and we are them. To engage this awareness in good faith is to empower the ancient river–-to dissolve our mistakes in new choices–to construct new reality from old dreams via hearts and minds.

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