Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > The Heart of Violence

The Heart of Violence

Shams Kairys

From the Editor

Dear readers,

Seven Pillars’ submission guidelines say: “We especially welcome pieces that address issues of the day (environment, terrorism/war/violence,  inequality, religion and tolerance, etc.) from a wisdom perspective.”  The articles and poem included in this update are amongst the grittiest we have yet published, each touching on the anguish at the core of violence with heartbreaking yet uplifting insight and beauty. As my mentor Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan put it:

Yes, the heart is broken, but it is alive! We need a conspiracy of conscience, a collective chivalry where everybody is committed to working together on behalf of the whole. In our dismay at a disturbed world teetering at the edge of disaster (or is it being afflicted by exceedingly hazardous birth pangs?) . . . we are shaken out of complacency and challenged into exploring the core issues at the social scale and in ourselves. Discovering the degree to which the emotions of hate and disregard of suffering erupt mercilessly when people are threatened or frightened is so distressing! War, violence, cruelty, with all its trail of misery, starts in each one of us. Our spiritual values are at stake. Never has the message of the awakening of conscience been so urgently relevant! What if we emboldened ourselves to turn the tables on violence by bestowing pardon and forgiveness?

The excerpt from Pythia Peay’s book, American Icarus: A Memoir of Father and Country,  traces her discoveries about her father’s wartime experience that plunged her into “the blast and might of war,” as well as its enchantment, and the dark effects that rippled through her family’s life. Elijah Imlay’s poem from his book Monsoon Blues depicts in exquisite detail the surprising grief of one soldier trapped in combat. Through the excerpts from Larry Decker’s The Alchemy of Combat,  we are given glimpses into the horror of warfare and its meaning for the soldiers involved, its traumatic impacts, and the path beyond it to growth and healing. And the excerpts from Hathaway Barry’s BOY: A Woman Listening to Men and Boys,  offer both her deepening understanding of the painful heritage of male identity for so many in our culture and the witness of one man sifting through his own story of violence and redemption.

May these writings touch our hearts and minds with deeper understanding at this crucial time in our tumultuous world.


Excerpt from American Icarus: A Memoir of Father and Country
Pythia Peay

The fact that I cannot find a single piece of paper or military memento among my father’s records documenting his stint in the service further deepens the enigma around his wartime experience. . . .

All I have to go on is the collection of cryptic half sentences about what he did during World War II, spoken in the familiar fugue of shame,  puffed-up pride, and goofy words that came down to my family and me from my father. Got sent to Natal, Brazil. Flew cargo planes. Repaired planes and took plane parts back to Africa. It was a staging ground for the invasion of Japan. Had a Brazilian girlfriend, boy was she sweet.  Loved Rio, man it was “beeooouutiful.” There was brief mention of dangerous missions aboard patrol bombers, or PBY’s. And a speck of an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where planes refueled on the way to West Africa.

Sometimes,  I recall, my siblings and I would tease my father about what a “hardship” his military service must have been. “Oh, Brazil,” we’d chortle with the sarcasm of youth, rolling our eyes in mockery. “Must have been tough.” Facing his four accusers, his prowess as a man on the line, Joe would raise his head, wave his Pall Mall in one hand, his can of Budweiser in the other, and yell defensively, “It was dangerous!  Planes crashed in the jungle!” Or, “We were preparing to invade Japan.  We thought we were going to die!”

What I discover––not just about my father, but about Brazil and the story of aviation––is unexpected. As a regular Joe caught up in the colossal forces of history, my father’s wartime experience was,  surprisingly, more eventful than he’d ever let on. Click here to read more…


Poem from Monsoon Blues
Elijah Imlay

I located a close friend, Jim Birdsall, nicknamed “Bird,” 25 years after the end of the war in Vietnam. He had the same nightmare every night until we reconnected. He wrote about them and asked me to turn them into a poem, out of which came healing and forgiveness. Here is the poem:

Bird Grieves for the Man They Killed

We wore the steel bracelets
of Montagnards––money
for that mountain people,
good fortune for us.  I held
my broken glasses together
with safety pins.  I wrote
the 23rd Psalm on my helmet’s
elastic band. John Jim,
our ammo bearer, gave us
each a Navajo necklace….

Click here to read the complete poem.


Excerpts from The Alchemy of Combat
Larry Decker

“All beliefs are simply degrees of clearness of vision.”
– Hazrat Inayat Khan

Our goal, as therapists, is to help veterans expand their belief systems,  through the construction of an ideal self, to integrate the traumatic information of combat and discover new inspiration. Combat changed how veterans perceive the world. As a result of combat, veterans have new information regarding life’s possibilities and actualities. However,  their belief systems often aren’t able to integrate the information. The new knowledge is too big; it won’t fit into their existing ways of understanding.

Jean Piaget, the great French psychologist, asserted that there are two primary ways we organize new information to form new beliefs––assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation occurs when our belief systems are adequate to incorporate the additional knowledge. We simply add the information to the existing beliefs. It is like discovering that our friend likes Chinese food as well as American food. This information does not challenge our concept of our friend. However, assimilation is not possible if belief systems can’t manage the new information. The suddenness of death in a combat assault is shocking. Soldiers are unable to grasp the reality of the sudden loss of a comrade. Click here to read more…


Excerpts from BOY: A Woman Listening to Men and Boys
Hathaway Barry

‘Because it is learned, it can be unlearned.”

Any woman who has given birth to or nursed a boy, or anyone who even just looked, really looked, into the eyes of a newborn knows –– there is no violence there.

So much of “being a man” sounded like a violence to the spirits of the young boys I listened to. Emotional as well as physical. The so-called “ordinary violence” –– the daily violations that interfere with their being who they truly are. When I shared some of what I had been hearing with a friend in his 60s, he listened quietly, nodding in recognition.  Then he leaned closer and spoke softly: “Yeah. And then, you have to be a man.”

I am well aware of the fear and violence that many women live with, but I hadn’t really let in how it is for men. The stories I heard when I asked the question –– What was your first experience of violence? –– changed that. Click here to read more…


Featured Image: “Interconnectedness” (Acrylic, 3’ x 3’) by Beverly Decker. Click here to see more of her work.

Shams Kairys is Seven Pillars’ Wisdom Council Facilitator and Editor of online and print media, with a special emphasis on crafting language for a general audience. Shams is a group facilitator, independent editor, and writer who has worked with innovative organizations and projects dedicated to helping heal the world, including Berkeley Area Interfaith Council, Meeting of the Ways, Creating Our Future, Seva Foundation, Reaching Out Project, EarthSave International and Youth for Environmental Sanity. Shams lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more about Shams Kairys

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21 June 2016

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