Zen Under Fire: Finding Peace in the Midst of War by Marianne Elliot, is beautiful.
Zen Under Fire is a memoir that tells the story of Elliott’s time in Afghanistan as a human rights lawyer for the United Nations.
Elliott writes of bomb shelters, women who are beaten, and children who witness their fathers killed before their eyes.
She writes of boyfriends and loneliness and the pain of a broken heart.
Zen Under Fire is Elliott’s story of finding the strength, through yoga and meditation, to express her creativity in the face of doubt, uncertainty, and near-crippling fear. It is the story of how one woman found peace in the belly of war.
Monday ends and I decide I need to start the next day with some yoga. In Kabul I had found a group who practiced yoga together twice a week, and it became a lifeline for me. There is something about yoga that helped me find a place of calmness and stability even in the midst of the chaos of my life in Afghanistan.
It’s easy to think we don’t need to draw on the same courage or find the same calm. But we do. Our fear and doubts, while likely not rooted in violent outbursts and possible death, nonetheless prevent us from making our own mark in our own way.
I meditate every work day.
I meditate because I need something to quiet the stories in my head that tell me I don’t know what I’m doing. That I’m not adding value. That I’m wasting my time.
The same struggles. The same fears. The same doubts.
My self-doubt rushes to the surface again and one night I leave work consumed by doubts about the worthiness of anything I have ever done. My mind seems to be stuck in a wretched cycle, feeding my own worst fears.”
I meditate in order to come back to my body where there is peace and a much kinder knowing. I meditate so I can stay found. Because it’s the the tools we regularly employ that let us be okay with all of it, that allow us to find the normalcy in the craziness and the self-love inside everything else. That keep us doing this work. Whatever work that is.
Meditation takes us just as we are, with all our confusion. It is not a process of self-improvement…but a process of self-acceptance… Sitting with myself exactly as I am—tears and confusion—is revolutionary.”
I went to Zen Center when I was 26. I told myself I was going because there was a six-month farm apprenticeship and I love farming. I told myself I was going for community because I value friendship. I told myself that I didn’t suffer but that it would be good to learn how to help others who did.
I do love to farm and I did need community and I was also suffering.
I went to Zen Center because I needed to learn how to find the peace and the calm and the self-love that comes from stillness and breath.
Not so I could live in war-torn countries and fight for justice but so that I could, one day, raise a family and write and share what I care about.
Zen Under Fire showed me a world I hope never to see up close. And it reminded me that even the strongest of women must come back to themselves, to the stillness, the quiet, the body and the heart, to know what is true and to do what takes courage.
We don’t read this book to feel bad about our “privileged” lives or the “smallness” of our battles. We read this book to remember that every one stands in the same arena. Every one wrangles with the same stuff. And to be grateful: for the struggle, for the courage, and for the work we are here to do.
Fahim, an Afghani co-worker of Elliot’s, says this:
There is nothing wrong with you being able to walk freely through the streets of New Zealand. There is nothing wrong with being able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. What is wrong is that we can’t do the same. No one should feel guilty for doing what everyone should be able to do,” he insisted. “Just be grateful. Always be grateful. And… Just keep doing what you’ve always done.
Be grateful. And keep doing the work.