After the events of this week when our democracy has been threatened by riots at our Capitol building, many of us are wondering how to get past the fear and anger we are feeling. It’s easy to get stuck in this place of reaction but it isn’t where we want to stay if we want to make changes and move our country out of this dangerous place. Here’s some ideas I have for working with that anger and fear.
Roshi Joan Halifax, the abbot of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, shares in her book Standing at the Edge, her powerful insights about this place that we find ourselves, this edge of wanting to take action but wanting it to be compassionate action. How do we find what is the appropriate thing to do to make a difference personally and as a citizen of this great country we live in? She says that fear and outrage can be misleading because these emotions drain us so much that we cannot respond in healthy ways to suffering, and we may actually create more harm.
1) We have to get in touch with our own suffering, in order to know how to take a compassionate step outward.
Roshi Halifax studied with Thich Nhat Hahn at the Plum Village in France where he moved after the Vietnam war, where he developed what is now known as “engaged buddhism” or a practice that he felt came out of his people’s suffering in the Vietnam war. He was a friend and contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King. They lived the same legacy coming from deep personal suffering and spiritual practices—We are all connected and therefore, we must practice peace with each other. “The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love and understanding.”
In his book, Creating True Peace: Ending Violence with Yourself, Your Community and the World he shares this engaged buddhist path that is so close to King’s non-violent path. In a word he says: Practice mindfulness. He says, “Violence is never far. It is possible to identify the seeds of violence in our everyday thoughts, speech, and actions. Thinking itself can be violent, and violent thoughts can lead us to speak and act violently. In this way, the violence in our minds manifests in the world.” (p II)
2) Practicing non-violence within ourselves prepares us for everything going forward
Here’s Martin Luther King’s Six Principles of Non-Violence:
1) Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
2) Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3) Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
4) Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5) Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate
6) Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
In order to take personal steps towards peace, to generate a deep compassionate way of responding to hate, we must go inside ourselves first and practice inner transformation. TNH calls this “Turning arrows into flowers”. We must witness and acknowledge our own suffering so that we can begin to offer care to others who are suffering. This is compassionate action – action coming from an open heart awakened and cleared out so that we are balanced and able to respond fully. His practices are Mindful Breathing, Mindful Walking, Compassionate Listening, Transforming Negative Emotions. These are self-compassion practices that generate a deeper capacity within you to feel your own pain and bring comfort to yourself. As we generate this peace within ourselves, we are ready to start generating peace in our families, our communities, our world.
These practices will be ones I will be offering at my Wise Woman Practice Groups and at my Retreats. In addition, we will be learning’ about the Earth’s ability to help us find this inner balance or equanimity and nature practices that bring us in touch with this goodness always ready for us, when we are ready to take it in.