Preparing Myself


by Karen Topakian

When people ask what I do to prepare before I commit an act of nonviolent direct action, here is what I answer.

Before and during an action, I marshal my strength while controlling my mind and emotions, which requires concentration and focus. (If I meditated or practiced yoga more frequently, or ever, controlling would come more easily to me. But I don’t.)

First, I re-ask myself these questions, which I ponder before deciding to participate in the action.

  • Why does this action needed taking?
  • Will my participation matter?
  • Am I ready for the consequences?

I find my strength in these answers.

For example, I need to take this action because I must oppose the government’s plan to test and develop nuclear weapons or I need to take this action to stop funding for the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

My actions will matter to the Native American women and men in North Dakota who risk their lives to protect their water and sacred land.

My actions may give hope to universal feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.

The personal consequences I will endure pale in comparison to the violent, illegal or egregious acts proposed by this government or corporation.

Second, I focus on calming my mind by envisioning myself in beautiful places where I have found joy and happiness. Sometimes I think about the very small, quiet peaceful island on a lake in Maine where Peg and I visit annually with family and friends. We read, swim and relax.

Or I think about the blissful Finca Luna Nueva Eco-Lodge in Costa Rica – full of luscious fruits, tropical birds and indigenous critters all living in a vibrant, thriving eco-system.

These aren’t the only happy times and places I’ve visited but they instantly provide me with joy.

Once I’ve attained a calmer mind, I conjure up images and experiences to inspire me to play my small role in whatever my action entails: opposing war, protecting our planet or resisting the rise of fascism.

I may have seen inspiring images in movies, read about them or experienced them for myself. Sometimes I think about young black women and men trained in nonviolence sitting at lunch counters requesting service while police brutally beat them with night sticks or the women and men who defied the Nazi’s by risking their lives protecting and hiding Jewish people. I think about the courage it took for my two Armenian grandfathers while under the age of 20 to flee Turkey when it started to conscript Christians.

Round and round I move, between my reasons, my joyful happy places and inspiring people and events. Circling through them in a calm quiet manner controls the inevitable fear and anxiety – two feelings that never leave. And I don’t want them to go. They keep me focused, alert and engaged.

Finally, I try to banish all hatred and anger in my heart. I struggle to find ways to act with love in my heart towards everyone I encounter by upholding their humanity – including those who oppose me, arrest me and incarcerate me. This truly becomes the hardest part but serves as the guiding force behind my practice of nonviolence.