What Is Shanti Sena ?

> Now tell me this: What's a town Shanti Sena?

It's not an "a." I've never seen Shanti Sena as being a noun ("person, place, or thing"). To me, it's a process.

In Sanskrit, Shanti Sena means either (depending on who you ask; since I don't speak Sanskrit, I list all three) Peace Center, Peace Army, or Peace Scene.

As applied to rainbow, it simply means "keeping the peace." That can mean lots of things, not just about being mellow and respectful our own selves. It extends out to doing whatever service to the community is needed that has anything to do with safety. Finding lost kids, mellowing out a tense situation, networking with other folks to solve neighborhood problems, helping with medical emergencies, dealing with agro folks, being in a hotspot like Welcome Home or the parking lot or out at the front gate to help with any difficulties that might come up, or being in town to interface with the folks flowing through and the local folks, sort of like being a social lubricant.

People are talking about town Shanti Sena as if it is a new concept. It is not. In earlier years, a focus was kept on folks being in town specifically for this purpose. Sometimes they would go for the day, sometimes for a couple of days, sleeping in one of the local parks, which was still possible back then. The idea was that no one should have to be there more than a day or three. Mostly, people didn't really want to go to town at all; they would rather have stayed at the gathering, but the need was recognized as being real, so folks would go do it.

And yes, sometimes the Magic Hat even helped with this. "Rainbow Welfare" was not an issue. Everyone knew there were folks who would quit their jobs right before the gathering, take their last pay check, income tax return or whatever; go do scouting and set-up camp, put hundreds or even thousands of dollars into supporting the start-up efforts of the gathering, and be totally broke by the time the gathering started. A few bucks so they could feed themselves while in town was not begrudged.

Sometimes, folks were even sent to town to get our folks out of the bars after a three-day run. (That's why we didn't have an A-Camp back then. They all went to town for the heavy drinking.) Got to go to a bar to bring someone home? Well, if the few bucks given by the Hat to go get Tony Angel and bring him back to camp was spent on a couple of drinks (a specific form of social lubrication) and a few gallons of gas for the getter (remember, we were all pretty poor back then), no one back at the site thought there needed to be an accounting. Whatever it took to keep the scene mellow in town, was whatever it took.

Attitudes towards the old outlaws have changed within the family, and we have more prosperity now. And with increasing diversity, there is not the same understanding that we all take care of each other. So for many years, expenses from the hat for this purpose have not been deemed appropriate or necessary.

Expense aside, it takes lots of willing people to cover all these bases. For a long time, there were enough people actively involved in doing Shanti Sena service (this was before the radios came along, giving the false impression that there was *a* Shanti Sena, separate from the rest of the gatherers) that the points such as the road, trail head, parking lots, welcome home, bus village and town, usually had enough focus to deal with most needs that came up.

Over the years, though, attrition has happened, and it's been a slow process bringing new folks into the head-space that every single person at the gathering is responsible for every single thing that comes into their awareness. The acceptance of the guiding principle of "responsibility to act" is certainly wide-spread throughout the gathering on other levels: kitchens, latrines, info, vibes, aesthetics, sweet little touches of art and music, etc. but on the Shanti Sena level, folks seem to think that you have to have some sort of training, authorization, or acceptance before they can participate.

And folks, I'm here to tell you that participation is all that it takes, and each and every one of you does it at every single gathering, whether you realize it or not. Every time you hug someone who's having a hard time, or re-direct energy when it looks as though an intense argument is brewing, every time you check in with a child to make sure there is a parent close by, every time you go up to Welcome Home or Parking Lot to help out, every time you go to town and smile at the clerks and say "Thank you" and engage in a moment of chit-chat -- You are doing Shanti Sena.

Shanti Sena can be done in many ways. Often, just the presence of someone calm and focused can make a difference. Consider a possible front-gate scenario. Folks greet someone in a car and direct them to the parking lot. They want to go to Bus Village because it's closer to the trailhead. Space in Bus Village is limited, and if a bunch of cars park there, it's going to make it difficult. The person directing traffic has been doing it for three days straight, the person in the car has been on the road for four days straight and it's been a rough four days. Both of them are a bit frayed around the edges, and neither one of them is listening to reason. Both of them are guys, and the testosterone is kicking in.

Then along comes a sweet, cheerful sister, fresh as a daisy after a couple of days' partying, then a couple more days' blissing, with glitter all over her body and love in her heart for everyone. She walks up to the car and says, "Welcome Home." All of a sudden everyone mellows out. And she hasn't done a thing but just be there! The driver decides he'll be considerate, help out the effort to maintain a semblance of order, and takes his car to the parking lot. I've seen it happen.

Or a brother who's been doing a small kitchen for road-weary people just coming home hears voices rising, comes over to the car in question, welcomes the brother home, and asks him if he'd like to pull over for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee or a bowl of rice. He says yes. Everyone sits down together and someone pulls out a guitar. He pulls out his fiddle, and the jam is on. Some of the best Shanti Sena interventions I have seen have involved music, singing, or om-ing.

So the guy ends up camping at the front gate, and he's an excellent musician. Between the music, the vibes and the food, the scene at the gate stays upbeat and welcoming, It brings more people in, and the poor, fried guy directing traffic who hasn't slept in two days gets to go in to the gathering and relax.

All these folks were doing Shanti Sena. (Sometimes you have to Shanti Sena the Shanti Sena.) Maybe they knew they were doing it, and intended to do just that; maybe they didn't realize it, and were just being themselves. Either way, it doesn't much matter. The only difference is that some folks make it their primary area of service at a gathering, grow in experience over the years, take care to learn new skills whenever they can, and often go out of their way to find opportunities to practice them. Sometimes they even go out and buy radios so they can be in touch others around camp to respond to needs as they arise.

Town Shanti Sena is about the same. It's about being available to anyone and everyone who has a problem, even connecting with local law enforcement to minimize friction and misunderstanding. Sometimes it looks like the folks in town are just hanging out, enjoying. Occassionally they may even be seen in a bar, drinking with the local good old boys. If anyone thinks this isn't Shanti Sena, they've never experieced the deep bonds that can be forged over a glass of cold beer.

I myself - ordinarily I don't drink - have been known to drink a bit of moonshine at a gathering to make connections with the locals who bring it in with pride and in the spirit of brotherhood. Okay, so I'm a sister, but the point remains.

For many years there was also a time-honored tradition of responding to a call in the parking lot of "alcohol dispersal." When this call was heard, it meant that hard liquor or a keg had made its way into camp, and needed to be consumed without anyone having the chance to get drunk. I've always been pretty good at helping out with that effort, especially because I tend to be clumsy and spill a lot on the ground while I am drinking.

One year when someone brought one of those wine skin thingies to the shuttle gate and refused to take it to his own camp and drink in private, I just happened to have my mini-Swiss Army knife out, and it just happened to poke a hole in the bag while I was taking a drink. Unfortunately, it kept sealing over, so I had to do it again and got caught. Oh, well. I had a patch over my eye, so the guy didn't hit me. He was pretty pissed, though. It was worth it, to keep the gate crew from getting hammered, or from attracting anyone within a half-mile radius who was looking to get hammered.

Generally, I tend to keep Snarla under wraps and not let her get so uppity as to do those things, but every old outlaw has to be let out of her cage on occassion. Hopefully the results are usually an "Outlaw Shanti Sena" action at its controversial best. Not exactly condoned, but practiced occassionally --similar to smearing toothpaste on the lenses of cameras operated by voyeurs and other people with exploitive or disrespectful practices.

Those of us who consider Shanti Sena as a way of life try to behave in a way that is ethical, respectful, and compassionate. But we are human, and we are far from perfect. On occassion, our past mistakes and excesses tend to come back to haunt us. Live and learn. Mostly, though, the practice of Shanti Sena response is done appropriately and with great skill. It is what keeps us safe, and it is what the gathering is all about: individuals taking personal responsibility to keep the peace around them, and to help maintain a safe, free, and loving space.

So, Kirk, there you have Carla's version of Shanti Sena, town and otherwise. I hope it has been instructive.

In love and service,