The nature connection movement materials I've read trade in a concept of "hunting intent." One thing the author mentioned was a story he repeated about nature photographers who saw a beautiful animal scene / photograph, got excited and got their cameras, and wouldn't you know it, the scene immediately went away. His response was, "Yup, because of your hunting intent." Prey animals avoid predators most when the predators exhibit hunting intent, and it is part of our nature that if we get excited and want to capture something on film, we human hunter-gatherer predators are exhibiting hunting intent. Even if we have no intent to kill or eat.
The one point where I most clearly saw the power and nature of hunting intent was during the time I was caring for a flock of ducks. The ducks avoided letting me get too close, a point that I used in corralling them, but seemed not to have a "red alert" in their avoidance. When I corralled them, there were often one or two ducks that didn't go into their bedtime area immediately, and I would have to separately corral them after the others were in the fold. One time, the duck I was trying to corral went into a narrow and confined space, and I thought, "Aha! I can grab this duck and put it away for the night!" The duck moved out ASAP and flew a good forty feet away, and I had to go and corral it in. What I learned from that experience was that pretty much all the time before I had been corralling the ducks and occasionally making remarks about the bird brains of a straggler, but I had never shown hunting intent, an "Aha!" that found an opportunity to pounce. When I had exhibited hunting intent, the ducks got the lead out completely and fled me as an active predator. Having learned that lesson, I avoided subsequent hunting intent in managing the ducks.
Animals calling my bluff
In various dealings, you can't really lie to animals; they will call your bluff if you are bluffing.
There was one time where I saw several opossums, and I had a weapon in my hand and was waiting for them to flee. They held their ground, a point that filled me with fear. I may have had a weapon, but I had no real intent to attack. Another time, there was a bird of prey atop my brother's fence post, and I got to a few feet away from it, but I did not intend to attack, and stood its ground. I was nervous.
I might comment briefly that animals may not understand or recognize what a weapon is, but they know when you know you can kill them. One man talked about how he had a nuisance bird on his roof, and when he came out with a BB gun, the bird fled for the time, but when he came out unarmed and unable to injure, the bird stood its ground. Another person found that when he did not have a gun, dogs nipped at his heels as he was on a bicycle. He tried carrying a gun, and the dogs left him alone whenever he had a gun. However, they resumed nipping at his heels whenever he did not have a gun.
The same can be true with people. There was one point where I was talking with my brother and some mention was made of "watering the cat." I said, "Water the cat? Yes, I'll be glad to water the cat," and got up to try to find a watering can. My brother quickly told me "no" and to sit down. Not terribly long later, he was going to leave and asked me to "feed and water the cat." I said again, "Water the cat? Yes, I'll be glad to water the cat," and stood up, but my brother just sat and smiled, calling my bluff. I kept the cat's water dish full but did not approach the cat with a watering can.
There is also a story I heard of of a police "dog-whisperer." The whisperer walked between two barking guard dogs at a criminal's place, and they completely let him pass because he was completely and entirely calm. When another police officer tried to follow him, the dogs started barking and defending their turf.
There was one time more recently when I was dealing with a mouthy German shepherd belonging to another person at the monastery. She never bit me for real (she would have cut me to the bone if she were really trying), but she kept on trying to annoyingly put her mouth on me. At one point when she was out and was lunging at me, I started putting my foot out for her to run into, and she stopped mostly lunging into my kick. That curbed the lunging at me, but when I went out carrying a clumsy armload of trash and recyclables, she lunged at me, having picked up instantly that I was shooting blanks.
At one point inside, I grabbed a magazine, rolled it up, and made every intent to clobber the top of her snout if she came and mouthed on me. She remained at the other side of the room and cringed. However, I did not like the experience I was giving myself to get her to leave me alone. The cure of an intent that would get her to leave me alone instead of trying to mouth on me was to me worse than the disease.
Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives
Elder Thaddeus's Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives has two major points that I would like to draw out:
First is what I call a "Little Law of Attraction." The Little Law of Attraction does not mean that if you think about getting money, money, money, then a huge windfall will fall across your lap. It only means something that seems far less useful: thoughts of peace will bring more and bigger thoughts of peace, while thoughts of anger will bring more and bigger thoughts off anger, and interpersonal conflict with them.
Second is that we all have a highly sensitive "radio receiver" that can match in us the feelings of others. If another person is calm, that calm will be contagious; if another person is angry, that anger will be contagious, and we have an opportunity for an escalating cycle of anger.
Now I would like to contrast Elder Thaddeus's Little Law of Attraction with the New Age / Oprah version and explain why something so innocuously smaller is actually even better.
What The Secret offers as an approach is that you think of what great acquirement of things will make you happy, and then attract those things and make yourself happy by doing so. So you decide that you want a stretch limousine made from a Porsche SUV, a medieval palace to live in, a husband who has every conceivable perfection (including, apparently, being completely satisfied with a very imperfect wife), everybody to like you and give you unending compliments, the ability to eat anything you want and still have a figure that would make a supermodel jealous ("now I maintain my perfect weight of 116 pounds and I can eat whatever I want"—The Secret, page 62), and so on and so forth, and then make it the universe's job to make all these things fall into your hand.
Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives looks pretty lackluster in comparison. It does not really let you delegate childish wishes to the universe. It does not, in the main, really offer a way to get a nice SUV or a dream job, nor does it have pretensions to do such. What it does offer—and how insignificant this seems in comparison— is the ability to unplug your contribution to cycles of conflict, and be at peace with yourself (my abbot's leitmotif of "Never react. Never resent. Keep inner peace." is part of what the Little Law of Attraction can deliver and it fits quite naturally with Elder Thaddeus's points) and at peace with others, and be truly happy along the way. And by that route it delivers the happiness, contentment, and inner peace, that Oprah's Law of Attraction falsely seeks in circumstances that fall to few.
(And if I may make an aside, getting a limousine made from a Porsche SUV and every other whim you want won't make you happy. My abbot talked about how he was dealing with land developers who were making more money than they knew what to do with and buying Rolls-Royces, but were absolutely miserable with it. In my own experience, when I got my last six figure job and purchased anything I wanted, I got my way, and it seemed like Hell.)
What Elder Thaddeus offers in the end, is inner peace, calm, contentment, happiness, and eventually loving and harmonious relationships with others even if one starts with conflicted relationships. This is essentially what appears to provide a means to in the end: discontent with what you have now and grasping for a really nice car and house is an attempt to reach a place where you will be content with what you have. What Elder Thaddeus and his Little Law of Attraction offer is essentially to dispense with distractions, cut to the chase, and quietly, humbly offer what more concrete wishes people seek from the New Age's Law of Attraction. And it offers something The Secret does not, being brought into a larger world and dancing the great dance where The Secret offers so many resources to enclose yourself in the Hell of self.
The Little Law of Attraction may seem like a paltry consolation prize next to the New Age version. It is not, and it is an instance of "There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy."
Lessons from a cageless, no-kill cat shelter
One of the things I was told serving as a "socializer" (someone responsible for keeping cats company and treating them well as pets so they will be well-socialized when someone comes to adopt), that cats will pick up emotions and sometimes when parents bring their children to see their new pets the children are super-excited and their excitement terrifies the pets. I was never in the strict sense excited on visiting the shelter, i.e. I don't believe my pulse ever rapidly increased. I was deeply calm and happy, then, and what I was giving the cats by being calm and keeping up a gentle patter was described as, "The cats like it when you come over."
Part of the picture is that I avoided visits when I was feeling something I didn't want to share with the cats. Once or twice I even turned around from the parking lot and abandoned the visit I had intended, because I was feeling contagiously bad.
Something like that is active in people, too. Our anger or calm is contagious, and anger can make a feedback loop and a downward spiral. And there was one time at a job where I insensitively told a joke that I had previously told with great success to young and dazzlingly beautiful women, and was not mindful that this time the person I was speaking with was not exactly young or dazzlingly beautiful. And I deserved a verbal reprimand from HR on that. Instead, she gave me a long and intense chewing out that ended with her sobbingly telling me that I had destroyed a benefit for the whole company (of four days' paid "volunteer time" per year). I talked to my boss in puzzlement, and he assured me that the decision had nothing to do with me whatever; no one knew where the benefit had come from, he said, and he pointed out that he was wearing a volunteering T-shirt but did not see the importance of paid volunteering. Then I stated that I believed harassment against me had occurred, and I could see his demeanor changing by the split second. He slashed my annual bonus to a fraction of what he said, and I was and stayed for a while angry, which he did in tern. Then he started giving me really big assignments that had to be done overnight and was profoundly upset when I pulled off the assignments, and then shut down an essential, mission critical system in such a way that people thought I had shut it off on my own authority, and when I incredulously asked why, he said one of the error messages was not professional enough, and he was furious when I improved the error message and restored functionality to the system (he asked me how I had decided to do it that way, and was upset when I said I'd asked a colleague and followed his suggestion). After that, he said I hadn't improved on not testing my code enough, and "I have to let you go."
I am not interested here in whether I qualify as a victim; I had started the whole process without malice but with reprehensible insensitivity. After that, I joined the circle of escalations, and I believe I would have remained at the company if I had not contributed to my part of the downward spiral. Whether I was a victim or not, I had a say in what happened, and if I had not responded in anger, I don't believe I would have come to termination, at least not around that time and perhaps not ever at all.
The interlocking dance of anger has opportunities to get off the un-merry merry-go-round, and the way to do so is by choosing to be calm when met with anger. You have a choice, and as alcoholics are told, "You have more power than you think." As to exactly how, I refer the reader to Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives for one resource, and more broadly to the Orthodox praxis of "nipsis" or watchfulness.
Stranger in a Strange Land
In Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the hero and Messiah Michael Valentine Smith is biologically a man but raised and culturally identified with Mars, which included a refined culture and the discipline to have psychic powers. At one point, amidst other shambles he created, we read,
Jubal was surprised at how little shambles Mike created as "private Jones" and how long he lasted—almost three weeks. Mike crowned his military career by grabbing the question period following a lecture to preach the uselessness of force (with comments on the desirability of reducing surplus population through cannibalism, then offered himself as a test animal for any weapon of any nature to prove that force was not only unnecessary but impossible when attempted against a self-disciplined person.
They did not take his offer; they kicked him out.
In that story discipline included psychic powers, but I remember thinking about what I might do if challenged by a martial artist. My brief thought was that I might say, "Let's meet at such and such place in a week. You can bring any weapon you want; I will be unarmed," spend the week praying, and be calm, or try to be calm, without flinching or defending myself. The martial artist might be bothered by my not following protocol, but possibly I might emerge unharmed.
In fact something like this already happened. At a food pantry, I nicked the bumper of a fellow client, a first-generation Indian immigrant. In India, Gandhian nonviolence notwithstanding, it is common practice to get out and fight after a car collision, and some Indians have been awed at Americans who calmly exchange driver information after an accident. In this case, the immigrant put up his dukes, moved back and forth, and kept saying, "That's not right [what you did]" and "You'll pay for this!"
For my part, I stood still, calmly, with my arms down, not answering his hostility, and not preparing to defend myself.
He remained angry with me, but he never touched me.
There was a nun (and iconographer) whom I chauffered for a while, including taking her to a shop I vaguely remember being called "Modern Woods" where she was getting boards to use for icons.
During the time, I saw what looked like a small bear ambling towards me, and I immediately looked at the employees for a cue about whether I should be afraid.
The people at the shop were completely at peace without a hint of flinching that the animal was moving towards me, and I chose to be calm.
The bearlike animal was a very big and very sweet dog, and before the nun completed her business, I made friends with the dog.
We have a say about whether we are afraid or angry. We may not be aware of how, but it is possible, and the whole Orthodox tradition of spiritual watchfulness enables such freedom in not choosing to be dominated by fear or anger.
The Sermon on the Mount and not following protocol
It is standard protocol to be nervous when someone has a gun pointed at you, and at least one martial artist has told me that by being calm and not following protocol, you make the person who has the gun uncomfortable. When I asked him, he explained that he could take the gun away, something he had practiced thousands of times. But the focus of his suggestion was just that by not following protocol you get people out of a particular destructive groove.
The Sermon on the Mount talks about not following protocol in a hostile situation. The three specific examples are going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, and handing over cloak and tunic, but the cultural context is not obvious to a casual reader today.
(I would preface the cultural notes by saying that even without familiarity with cultural details, the text does not say "Do not respond to evil;" it says, "Do not resist evil," and this observation is not a nitpick. Each time Christ mentions hostility expressed against us, he offers a response, and it is specifically not an obvious response and certainly not leaving evil without any response.)
In the Roman Empire, there were roads with mile markers, and a soldier could legally conscript someone to carry his pack for a mile, but there were stiff penalties against soldiers who required more than this. The standard protocol behavior would be to set down the pack immediately on reaching the next mile marker. A "not following protocol" response would be to carry a pack for a while, and then try to keep on going instead of putting it down the instant you have gone a mile. One can imagine surprised behavior between a Roman soldier who could conscript only a while at a Christian's insistence on keeping on carrying the pack for another mile. The "not following protocol" would be a powerful response regardless of whether a person was in a position to resist being conscripted to carry a pack for a mile.
The reference to "turning the other cheek" is more specifically to turn the left cheek to someone who has slapped the right cheek. That means turning the other cheek would be in response to being slapped with the left hand, and there was a big difference between slapping with the right hand versus the left. The penalty for slapping an equal with the left hand was a hundred times the penalty for slapping an equal with the right hand, and the penalty for slapping a superior with the left hand was capital punishment while the penalty for slapping a superior with the right hand was only monetary. To the downtrodden, Christ's advice to turn the other cheek was to "not follow protocol" and give a choice between slapping again, but this time, a slap with the right hand that would treat the inferior as an equal, or not slapping again, thereby effectively rescinding the previous slap.
As far as being sued for clothing, clothing was harder to come by than here and may be one of few possessions a person had. Christ tells people who are suing them for one of their garments to give both the outer and inner garment and walk out of the courtroom effectively naked. Now public nudity was forbidden, but the onus was not on the person who was naked, but the person who caused or beheld the nakedness. Thus the advice is to not follow protocol in ways that would leave the plaintiff holding the bag.
It was by the Sermon on the Mount not following protocol that an Orthodox elder responded to a subordinate who had let loose a torrent of toxic words against him by giving him a small gift and saying, "Always talk to me that way!"
And by the way, when I was an undergraduate, there was one friend who was beautiful and whom I was attracted to. In one conversation, her boyfriend asked her why she didn't follow what I suggested and start to disrobe. I suddenly found myself uncomfortable and hoping she would not begin to lift her shirt.
Negotiation of intent, such as I have outlined, and being able to creatively not follow usual fighting protocol, may be more central in importance than the ability to land or block a punch. Blackbelts may be some of the last people you'd expect to find in a fight, but I know my first martial arts instructor, at a third degree blackbelt, had managed to get through his practice, including some unnervingly close calls, without going in hands on. However, what it is that keeps a martial artist from fighting live is, I believe, available without extensive practice of physical combat, and all that we really needed to know, we learned in the Sermon on the Mount.
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