The recent killings in Paris and San Bernardino have left many folks scared for themselves and their families, and at the same time angry in a way that makes some susceptible to the loud anti-Muslim rhetoric we are hearing in the media. And many ponder the question how could anyone wish to start shooting and killing large numbers of innocent, anonymous people in the name of restoring a patriarchal medieval Califate?
From the perspective of our mindfulness practice, I feel it may be helpful not to engage in the why or how or how could this happen, but rather come to the question of what’s in our heart. Only when we settle this question can any meaningful action happen.
In an interview about her poem “Wage Peace”, which she wrote immediately upon receiving the news of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the “stand-up poet” Judith Hill had this to say:
“The day the Towers fell, my daughter called me up at Rockmirth, my mountainside ranch in New Mexico, and told me. My phone began ringing: Beloveds calling…and as the news came in and in, I found myself saying, “It is time to Wage Peace.”
I knew to get off the phone right then: the poem was coming like a freight train!
I had been reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, and was doing the Buddhist practice of Tonglen: using our breath and heart to transform pain, suffering, grief, terror. Instead of the Western concept of Breathe in the Good…Breathe out the Bad (spread that Bad around to someone else!) Tonglen says do the opposite! Use our mind, heart, body & breathe to heal and transform and create good in the world.
This reversal is the heart of that poem, and the heart of my practice in writing poems that Support the Good…I always find the Bad has way enough speakers! And here is the deepest truth: what we name, what we say, what we speak, write, or put out (whether for or against) that is what we create in the world.”
Here is that poem. Many of you may remember if from back in 2011.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the out-breath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don’t wait another minute.
One of the biggest obstacles to this alchemical/ emotional “reversal” at the heart of the poem and at the heart of our mindfulness practice is dealing with anger and confusion we may feel when we view the events of the world and are touched by them.
I will leave you today with this reflection by Thich Nhat Hahn, on how to deal with anger, as it points to the very heart of our mindfulness practice.
The Buddhist attitude is to take care of anger. We don’t suppress it. We don’t run away from it. We just breathe and hold our anger in our arms with utmost tenderness. Becoming angry at your anger only doubles it and makes you suffer more.
The important thing is to bring out the awareness of your anger to protect and sponsor it. Then the anger is no longer alone, it is with your mindfulness. Anger is like a closed flower in the morning. As the bright sun shines on the flower, the flower will bloom because the sunlight penetrates deep into the flower.
Mindfulness is like that. If you keep breathing and sponsoring your anger, mindfulness particles will infiltrate the anger. When sunshine penetrates a flower, the flower cannot resist. It is bound to open itself and reveal its heart to the sun. If you keep breathing on your anger, shining your compassion and understanding on it, your anger will soon crack and you will be able to look into its depths and see its roots.”
May magic mindfulness particles release all hatred and bring deep peace and reconciliation in this crazy world of ours.
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This is exactly what I “try” to do when becoming upset over current events. Often it is quite difficult; albeit, with practice, and the strong desire to be compassionate and loving to all life, it becomes easier. I, too, breathe in all the shit of the world, and breathe out peace and love to all life. This is a lifetime practice. Peace to all! Terry
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