Transforming the Battle

By Susan Beal

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Afew years ago, the magician David Copperfield made the Washington Monument disappear. The magic trick was broadcast live on TV. I didn’t see it, but I heard it was pretty convincing, and no one could figure out how he did it.

I live in Bennington, Vermont, where we have our own version of the Washington Monument—the Bennington Battle Monument, whose virile silhouette dominates the Bennington horizon and, as it happens, all the views from the north side of our house. For years I have wished that someone could make it disappear, too. To me, the Battle Monument was no more impressive than a smokestack, and just as polluting of the horizon. Before my grandfather died and we moved to Bennington to take over his farm, we would visit Bennington in the summer. Along with patting the cows and playing Chinese Checkers after dinner, my grandmother would invariably take us grandchildren to the Monument. We would nibble on gritty maple sugar candies and walk around the base of the Monument, bored and unimpressed, and then it was on to Ho Jo’s for a root beer float.

Who was I to care about the men who fought over the armory that used to stand there? I could have cared less that the battle was a pivotal moment in the American Revolution. With the simplistic arrogance of youth, I thought that all battles were just a lot of men having a fight and killing each other and it was their own fault if they died. As I matured, my understanding of the complex tragedies of war deepened considerably, but I retained my dislike of Bennington’s insistently phallic edifice. It was, after all, “the largest monument to war in its time.” (In fact, it still mystifies me that we humans love to glorify and memorialize our conflicts but rarely our cooperative achievements).

My father was an architect and loved to admire buildings. Although I shared many artistic sensibilities with my father, I didn’t share his love of architecture. I thought of most large buildings, no matter how lovely, as monuments to human insensitivity toward Nature. The Bennington Monument was just one of the more obviously egotistical buildings.

However, a few weeks ago, a small miracle occurred, in which the Bennington Battle Monument did not disappear, as did the Washington Monument, but underwent an even better transformation. But before I explain that, I should put my initial disdain for it in context.

As a child, I generally disliked the human species. I loved my circle of family and friends, and certainly had great sympathy for individual people whose stories connected with my own life. It was humanity as a whole that I had serious trouble with. I couldn’t make peace with the Sunday school message Jesus seemed to have left us with to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” My “neighbors,” taken as a generic group, didn’t seem altogether lovable. Humans seemed to be at the root of everything wrong with the world: wars, pollution, environmental destruction, over-population. It seemed to me that we stood apart from Nature, manipulating and damaging it with our technology instead of living in harmony with it.

I cried for the horses who went down in the battle scenes of movies, but was unmoved by the deaths of soldiers. I felt more sympathy for the field mice and songbirds tortured by our cats than I felt for the people whose sad stories made up the bulk of nightly news. I even cried over the leftover Christmas trees in the lots after Christmas, who had been cut down for nothing, wasted, their lives as cheapened and meaningless, it seemed, as the little fish and chameleons given as prizes at the state fair.

I dreaded mowing the lawn, seeing terrified bugs and toads and little moths fleeing out from under the blades, the bright dandelion’s heads and the grass itself torn and ripped, all subjected to the horrid destruction and noise and stink of the mower. I regarded most machinery with equal mistrust, and yet, I had a sense of sympathy toward it, too. I felt sad for old, broken things. While I would never lavish the same kind of care on them as I did on the injured little creatures I rescued from the cats, I did feel that ill-used or carelessly discarded machines and other objects were somehow wronged, and deserving of more respect than the junk heap. After all, machines were servants of human desire and therefore as vulnerable to human caprice, in their way, as animals and Nature.

What it boiled down to is that I felt terrible guilt at the effects of humanity’s attempts to make itself at home on planet Earth. I wondered if we belonged here, or if the world might not be better off without us constantly experimenting, tweaking, manipulating, and, so often, getting it wrong. I wondered if Prometheus ever felt guilty for bringing fire to Earth.

The thing is that we are, essentially, creator beings. Our creative capacity—our enormous creative potential—is both our greatest blessing and our greatest curse. We are born with big brains and opposable thumbs.

I must have understood, early on, the discomfort that comes with this power. When I was little, so the family story goes, I scribbled on the living room wallpaper in green crayon. When confronted with it, rather than admit or deny it directly, I said, “The hands did it!” I said it, I suspect, with a mixture of fear and admiration. Depending on the reaction that followed, that moment probably marked the beginning of my over-identification with the down side of the creative impulse.

As we mature, most of us come up with more sophisticated strategies for how to deal with the uncomfortable bind between denial of our power and guilt at what we have wrought. The easiest way to cope with the more monstrous examples of human inventiveness is to formulate a world view that assigns blame to some subset of humanity other than yours, a sort of socio-political version of the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome. The groups can be based on race, ethnicity, gender, economics, religion, dental hygiene, or almost any other quality that you can point at and say “It’s their fault. They did it!”

The problem is that denial and blame simply reinforce the difficulty in wielding this double-edged sword of creativity. Unless our actions are guided by wisdom and love, a lot of innocent bystanders will get hurt, if not killed.

In the many years since I scribbled on the wall, I have come to regard my own kind with far more compassion and acceptance than I used to. Although I was rather curmudgeonly as a kid, I am no longer. I have been the witness and recipient (and, hopefully, a source) of far too much human beauty and goodness to stay mad for long.

Now, back to the Bennington Monument. I couldn’t stay mad at it, either.

The transformation occurred at a workshop on earth healing that Planet Vermont Quarterly sponsored. We had come together to learn about the relationship between toxic human emotion and environmental stress. Most people know by now that our thoughts and feelings have a big impact on our physical health, so it should be no surprise the health of our environment is affected by our emotional output, too. Using a combination of dowsing, meditation, energy work and Findhorn-like communication with angels and nature spirits, we set about to “heal” any imbalances or stresses that we might find around Bennington. we started with the Monument.

The whole idea of this approach is that is assumes recognition of a full partnership between Humanity and Nature. It also assumes a willingness not only to take responsibility for our mistakes, but for fulfilling our potential as creative beings. It does not work if you think that people are the bad guys and Nature, angels, animals, fairies, etc. are the good guys. Nor does it work if you think that humans should devolve back into creatures without opposable thumbs and keep their hands off of everything. That would not be a partnership. In other words, it assumes you have worked through your issues over whether or not it is okay to move beyond the parent/child or victim/oppressor dynamic.

We gathered on Earth Day, as it happened, in a circle at the foot of the Monument, to begin the healing process. We called upon various angelic and spiritual beings to help us in our work. Each one of us present was awed by the sense of love and gratitude that seemed to envelope us we as offered up prayers and blessings to the spirit of the Monument, asking it to help us release any stagnant or inharmonious energy that it had held. We could feel the benevolent presence of the mountains around us, as if they were paying close attention to what we were up to. It seemed as if the wind was listening, too, for it swirled and gusted with incredible force in synchrony with our ceremony.

As we moved through the process, I felt my heart expand. I found myself reevaluating assumptions I had always made about the Monument and what I associated with it—vanity, conceit, aggression, the urge to dominate, to control, to manipulate. Or even just the urge to leave one’s mark. I realized that my feelings about the Monument simply betrayed my discomfiture over the power humans have to create and destroy.

Now when I see the Monument, I am reminded of the joy and goodwill we generated that day. It has become, for me, a symbol of the awe-inspiring power for good that happens when we heal the rift we imagine exists between us and the rest of Creation. It is a beacon of partnership rather than battle. Obviously my attitudinal shift didn’t happen all at once because of the workshop. Monumental (yes, pun intended) shifts like this are usually the result of minute, cumulative shifts in perception, tentative movements in a new direction. But sometimes the shift crystallizes around a certain particular event, and, in this case, the event was the healing ceremony at the base of the Monument.

It is true we have inflicted Nature, including ourselves, with wounds. In learning how to swing that double-edged sword I mentioned earlier, it is inevitable that we will draw blood. We are going to make mistakes, but that is no reason to be overly impressed with or dismayed by our power. It is a good reason to accept the help that seems to be waiting in the wings, so to speak.

The Archangel Michael is often depicted with a blazing sword of blue light, with which he slashes away illusion. For me, the illusion that was dispelled at the base of the Monument was that we have fallen from grace for our errors. The free will that allows us to err in the first place is what distinguishes us from the angels, after all. Sure, we might envy angels their perfection. But how do we know that they don’t admire us for our creative freedom?

Susan Beal is the editor of Planet Vermont Quarterly.

For information about the earth healing processes taught in the workshop, you can contact the facilitators: Jennifer Vyhnak, 8 Mountain Street, Bristol, VT 05443, (802) 453-6411, or Rich Dube, 65 Terrien Road, Huntington, VT 05462, (802) 434-4834, or visit

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