I began this new year outlining the new book I plan to write in 2017. Not just thinking about considering…but finding the courage to commit to actually drafting the outline. It’s begun! A Bouncing Back expanded, based on teaching thousands of participants in Bouncing Back workshops, something along the lines of “shift happens: learning to bounce back from disappointment, difficulty, even disaster.”
I’m jazzed. I’m focused. At the same time, I’m also learning from wise friends, wise teachers and mentors, as fast as I can, how to move through this coming year responsive to and effective in navigating the complexities and perhaps catastrophes of our current political and social landscape.
In this post, I’m passing through some of that wisdom, from Jack Kornfield, Eve Siegel, Rick Hanson. Somewhat excerpted. I heartily encourage you to subscribe to their posts yourself; the deepest, clearest guidance I know. Deepening our collective resilience as we go.
Dharma and Politics by Jack Kornfield, posted October 20, 2016
“Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics, they do not know what spirituality really means.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The Dharma-the teachings of generosity, virtue, loving-kindness, and wisdom-are non-partisan. The benefits of dharma teachings can be used by Republicans and Democrats, by Green Party and Libertarians, by Iraqis and Israelis. The Dharma welcomes everyone and encourages all to awaken together.
But how, as dharma practitioners, do we find our own place in a complex political world and find a way towards peace? Our first task is to make our own heart a zone of peace. Instead of becoming entangled in an embattled bitterness or cynicism that exists externally, we need to begin to heal those qualities within ourselves. We have to face our own suffering, our own fear, and transform them into compassion. Only then can we become ready to offer genuine help to the outside world. Albert Camus writes, “We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them in ourselves.”
In this political climate we are bombarded with propaganda from every political point of view that dulls the senses and overpowers our inner value system. Whatever our political perspective, we will encounter troubling images and feel anger, frustration, even outrage and impatience. If we stop and breathe and meditate, we will feel underneath these reactions our fear and under this our connectedness and caring. If our actions come from this deep sense of caring, they will bring greater benefit and greater peace. From a quiet heart, we have the ability to look and see how our society treats its most vulnerable members. How does it treat the poor, the elderly, and children? Is it acting in ways that foster greed, hate, fear, and ignorance? What can we do nationally and internationally to support generosity and respect, to minimize violence, and to end racism and exploitation? What rings true for each of us as followers the Dharma? We need to take an honest look and see what we are doing as a society.
America has sometimes confused power with greatness. But genuine greatness is not a matter of mere power; it is a matter of integrity. When we envision a society of compassion and justice, and as a nation we are called upon to do this, our actions can stem from respect for all beings, and peace is the result.
The Buddha’s teachings of compassion and wisdom are empowering; they encourage us to act. Do not doubt that your good actions will bear fruit, and that change for the better can be born from your life. Gandhi reminds us: “I claim to be no more than an average person with less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have if he or she would simply make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.”
Change-Making at Solstice – How the Light Gets In, by Eve Siegel, posted December 21, 2016
Now, on the shortest day of the year, with even northern California cold enough to wear hats, scarves, and gloves, I’m reflecting on the seeming polarities like light and dark, love and fear, that have swung us back and forth over our political and personal landscapes this past year. For me, the experience has been like standing on rock cliffs that are being battered and splintered by an ongoing series of huge waves under the low-hanging clouds of a storm.
One such wave was the result of the presidential election in the United States. For myself and the majority of the electorate there is now the fear of having a president, a Congress, and a Supreme Court that will actively work against what we hold dear for our society- a healthy environment, health care access for all, up-to-date public education, and fundamental equal rights for all.
At such times, it seems that there are only the polarities of storm or calm, vitriol or caring, hate or love, dark or light. Only when we are able to stand steady in the heart of the storm, grounded in awareness of the connectedness of life, can we bring oppositional forces back into calm and wholeness. And it is in this place of wholeness and connection that positive change can emerge.
Recently, for example, I heard the story about the brilliant poet, songwriter, and singer, Leonard Cohen, who just died this year, and how he quelled a riot at the 1970 Isle of Wight rock concert in England. I was there, too, one of 600,000 in the passionate, free-flowing audience, many of whom were upset about political, economic, and social injustices of that time, including the Vietnam War. However, since the concert went on day and night, I seemed to have slept through Cohen’s 4 AM performance on the last night of the festival that followed a literally blazing Jimi Hendrix set.
This was what I missed. Apparently, on that dark, rainy night, the audience was cold and restive and trashed the stage. Cohen, awoken at 2 AM after Hendrix played, was only bothered because the organizers couldn’t locate a piano and organ for his musicians. “I’ll come out when you find them,” he said, and did, two hours later. As film reviewer Mike Springer wrote, “Perhaps the most moving moment [was] at the beginning, when Cohen [brought] the massive crowd together by asking a favor: ‘Can I ask each of you to light a match, so I can see where you all are?’” In this way, he gathered that huge group of disparate, upset people in a cold, damp, inhospitable place into one whole, lit by their individual lights. In this way, he soothed them into listening with his calm, deeply centered presence.
Fast forward to 2008, to Leonard Cohen’s concert in London at a time of world-wide economic depression. I was very moved by what he said before performing his famous song, “Anthem,” to the people in his audience. Again, he brought them together by speaking to their feelings of fear, anger, and upset with deep lovingkindness– “Thank you so much, friends. We’re so privileged to gather in moments like this when so much of the world is plunged in darkness and chaos.”
And then he sang:
“So ring the bells
that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
To have what we value in our lives, it’s not imperative to seek perfection, but it is vital to embrace our wholeness.
This includes our stormy encounters, as well as the thin band of light we see on the horizon. When we put our attention on this light, we can see it radiating outward, reflected on the waves of the sea, reaching and opening our hearts.
So try this– when you find yourself in a difficult work situation, relationship, or political landscape, focus on whatever you can in the midst of that challenge that is beautiful or inspiring. Find that crack where the light gets in, whether it’s a compassionate glance from a colleague, a memory of a loving moment, or a song that opens your heart. In this way, allow the change you long to make begin from within.
As poet and inspirational speaker, Mark Nepo, wrote in his book, The One Life We’re Given: “When we can keep breaking through what has hardened and keep what is alive soft, the cracks turned into openings fill us with an undying light.”
In this season’s darkest days, may we celebrate the beauty of the light and love within us as we move forward into the challenges and changes of the new year.
Love Your Neighbor by Rick Hanson, posted December 22, 2016
In much of the world, this time of year draws people into generosity and gratitude, the joy of family and friends, and often something sacred.
Unfortunately, also in much of the world, this year is a time of conflict, shocking change, injustice, fear, and despair. While a natural response is to withdraw and be angry at others, I think it is good for both oneself and the world to widen the circle of connection through empathy, respect, and kindness.
This practice might sound extreme or pushy, and I want to tell you what I mean by it.
Everyone has lots of neighbors, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Obviously the people living across the street are neighbors, but in some sense so are the people you live with. Friends, relatives, co-workers, all the people you know are neighbors. So are the people at the market or walking past on the street. Other living things are neighbors as well, such as cats and dogs, birds and bees, ants on the kitchen counter, and plants and trees….
What should we do with our neighbors? Ignore or hate them? Or recognize and love them?
The latter is sure more moral – as well as much wiser in terms of cool clear self-interest. Mess with your neighbors, and they will mess with you. Treat your neighbor with respect and goodwill – in a word, with love – while also standing up for your own fences, needs, and rights . . . and you’re most likely to build a lasting peace with them, with benefits for both of you.
The value of loving our neighbors is true at all scales. As you may know, the longer quotation I’m drawing on comes from Jesus, who said,” Love your neighbor as yourself.” I understand this as both a moral instruction and a clear statement that what we do to our neighbors we do to ourselves.
If you hate or push away parts of yourself, they go underground and get smelly; the mind is like a septic tank, not a flush toilet. If you are a bad neighbor to people you know, you burn bridges and end up alone. In terms of your country and world, as Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” And if humans drive neighboring plant and animal species into extinction, we poison the wellsprings of our own survival.
I’ll focus here on wider circles of neighbors: the other humans in a country and world, and our planet’s other living things.
We begin with compassion. I once asked a teacher of mine what he was focusing on in his personal practice, and he said, “I stop for suffering.” It takes both benevolence and courage to keep your heart open to the pain of another being – especially those who have harmed you or others. Even if you can’t do a single thing, your compassion is still real and still matters.
Next, we recognize injustice. We try to be strong enough to tolerate the alarm, moral disgust, and outrage that’s natural to feel when hearing about hungry children, tsunamis and famines, and bombs falling on refugees to prop up a dictator. And big enough to recognize injustices suffered by our adversaries, whether at home or abroad.
Then we do what we can. That could be political action, such as encouraging more people to vote; for example, about 100 million Americans could have voted in the recent Presidential election but did not do so. Or it could be supporting a cause close to your heart….
We can also take local actions related to global issues. For example, human activity currently produces about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a day – 40 billion tons each year – roughly half of which stays in the air to cause global warming while a quarter sinks into and acidifies the oceans. Among other consequences, this will cause mass extinctions of plant and animal species. It’s easy and eye-opening to calculate the carbon footprint of your own household. In addition to shrinking it, you can “offset” it through organizations that plant trees or build clean energy projects; it costs just $30 or so a month to offset the footprint of a typical American household.
Loving your neighbors – all of them, the great and the small, seen and unseen, liked and disliked – expresses an inner freedom. Watching politicians on the news, sometimes I think to myself, “You can’t stop me from loving you – or from doing what I can to defeat you the next time around.”
Hate in all its forms poisons the heart, while love protects and feeds it – and strengthens us to stand up for others and stand up to others. The more bitter the times and the more divisive the conflicts, the more urgent it is to be neighborly, with clear eyes and a kind heart. Then in a deep sense you’re at home wherever you go.