When Thieves Break In and Steal

Honoring the Practice as a Victim of Theft

I’m a strong believer in synchronicity. Groundbreaking psychotherapist Carl Jung defined the phenomenon as “an acausal connecting principle.” We’ve all experienced it: we sit in meditation with a particular issue—generosity, for example—and immediately receive a record number of requests for support from various charities we care about. Or we create and write up a new, healthier diet for ourselves, and the next day receive a call from a sister saying she’s been diagnosed with a medical condition and needs to modify her diet.

That’s synchronicity.

It just happened to me—again! My most recent post was entitled Writing as a Spiritual Practice; in that article, I talked about how we spiritual bloggers “put our souls on paper—or into cyberspace—for the world to see.” The next day, I came across a blog that had reproduced one of my posts without acknowledging its author. I wasn’t overly concerned; such occasional “borrowing” is par for the course when you write for the web. However, going further back on that blog, I discovered that every post I’d written for the past year appeared there! Not only the text—written under my name with copyright information clearly displayed; but the graphics, too—which I had to pay for to use legally.

I’m sure other authors out there who’ve experienced plagiarism will agree with me: it’s almost precisely like coming home to discover your house broken into, and your most cherished possessions stolen. There’s an overwhelming sense of violation; someone has taken the carefully-crafted expressions of your soul and casually duplicated them without notice or acknowledgement. Fortunately, there’s a specific, well-established recourse available for those who are plagiarized on the web. For present purposes, however, I’d like to look specifically at how to honor your spiritual practice if you should find yourself in such a circumstance.

In the immediate aftermath of this disturbing discovery, I found myself reflexively asking, “What would Thich Nhat Hahn do?” In his book Anger: Wisdom for

Cooling the Flames, Nhat Hahn recommends allowing anger to manifest, smiling to it and acknowledging it: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I smile to my anger.” He teaches that by acknowledging and validating any strong emotion, we reduce its power over us.

Another important precept he offers is this: It is extremely dangerous to speak or act when we’re angry. In that state, our brains are flooded with neurochemicals that demand action; our rational powers are temporarily overwhelmed by the primal urgings of the amygdala (also known as the “reptilian brain”). Our heart rates double, our stomachs flip over; our breathing becomes fast and shallow. In this state, we’re not that much different from a wolf whose prey another predator is threatening to steal. Reacting thus may well be something the wolf must do to survive; among human beings in a state of civilization, however, it can be disastrous. We may find ourselves letting fly with horrid statements or acting in ways that undermine and invalidate both our spiritual practice and our health. That’s why the maxim, “Don’t just do something; sit there!” is so important to take to heart, especially when you’re angry.

By sitting with our anger, smiling to it and fully validating it, we use up a lot of the red-hot immediacy of its energy. We’re then free to start transforming it into something more pleasant. We should definitely not fail to honor ourselves with the misguided notion that “spiritual practitioners should ignore all offenses.” To do so is a failure of compassion, both for yourself and for the offending party. You deserve to have your intellectual property respected; by ignoring plagiarism, you dishonor yourself and set up the offending party for more serious karmic consequences in the future.

Here are some ideas on how to honor your practice in this kind of situation:

  • First, spend time in sitting meditation to stabilize yourself.
  • When you’re confident you’re back in balance, send the offender a friendly note acknowledging the plagiarism as a potential oversight, thus giving him the benefit of the doubt. Tell the person you’d be happy to write for him; perhaps you’d even be willing to let him use your existing work if acknowledgment is given.
  • If this overture is ignored for more than 24 hours, continue to smile and breathe mindfully. In a meditative state, write a Cease and Desist letter. Don’t allow anger to resurface unmitigated while you do. Smile and breathe with full awareness while you nonetheless uncompromisingly insist that the plagiarized material be removed. Take special care when you reach the line, “If this notice is ignored, my attorney stands ready to commence legal proceedings.” Since this is a threat, it can easily “hook” our reactive minds and send us into a downward spiral of self-righteous anger.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we may find that (at some level) we actually hope that the individual won’t respond! Let’s face it: anger has its pleasures. Just as we evolved to enjoy sex (to make continuation of the species more likely), Homo sapiens came to find a certain pleasure in the emotion of anger. I believe the purpose of this was to make us more likely to respond with deadly force in a life-or-death confrontation. Our more recent evolution, though, is every bit as important: we’re now involved in learning to control, modify, and transform our primal responses.

  • If your Cease and Desist letter is ignored, write a warning to the web server supporting the offending party, keeping the above concepts in the forefront of your mind. Don’t forget to breathe deeply and smile!

I sincerely hope that you never suffer either a break-in at home or a rip-off of your copyrighted material. The casual theft of highly reflective, personal writing is particularly vexing, resulting in a strong sense of personal violation. If it does happen to you, I encourage you to honor your practice; don’t allow the unscrupulousness of another to invalidate your spirituality! Instead, sit with your anger, breathe mindfully and smile. You can then then use the experience as an opportunity for spiritual growth.


William Ferro

Copyright © 2012 by William K. Ferro. All rights under copyright reserved

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