community, ethics, Right Action, Social justice, Uncategorized

The Police Killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis

Wherever you are in the world, you may have seen the recent video from 26 May of police officers standing over an unarmed black man lying on the ground. One of those police officers kneels on the neck of the black man, George Floyd, for at least nine minutes, preventing him from breathing. He dies on the way to hospital.

How to respond? At the least, we can get more informed about these increasing incidents of racial injustice and police brutality. It’s painful, but the escalation of this violence relies on us continuing to turn away, feeling powerless, not wanting to get involved.

Can you find one action to take, no matter how small, to try to mitigate this suffering? Even if it’s just to donate to groups such as the ACLU that are working for social justice. See links below:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/26/george-floyd-killing-minneapolis-protest-police


Reverend Al Sharpton

Get your knee off our necks

Delivering the eulogy at a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Reverend Al Sharpton said: ‘George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks.’ In an emotive speech punctuated by several standing ovations, Sharpton said the sight of diverse crowds of protesters across the world gave him hope that real change would come to the criminal justice system.


Rev William Barber

America must listen to its wounds. They will tell us where to look for hope

Only if the screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation can we hope for a better society on the other side of this


Trevor Noah


Insight Meditation Society guiding teachers’ response

The murder of George Floyd strikes the hearts and minds of so many with feelings of outrage, sadness, and grief, all the more that it was undeniably so overt, as if such actions were somehow acceptable. It is only because of the courage of the young woman who recorded it all, that the truth of the matter is unavoidably and forever there in front of our eyes, removing any illusion that the killing was somehow defensible or due to any action on the part of Mr. Floyd. …

All actions have their genesis in our hearts and minds. The light of awareness is in this moment shining brightly upon the tragic manifestations of hatred, ignorance and delusion that led to the death of George Floyd. Delusion blames others, creates enemies, and fosters disconnection, sustaining the illusion of separateness upon which war, racism, and injustice rest. True lasting change will only come when we awaken that sense of personal and shared responsibility and compassion for all.

For white people in our sanghas, there is a responsibility to educate ourselves about the historic and current expressions of racism and oppression so that we can be a positive force for the good.  We are called upon to see and come close to the magnitude of the suffering before us, and not turn away once again as if these devastating events are singular occurrences. It is not enough to practice loving-kindness and compassion in the solitude of our meditation; we can all strive to have them manifest in our actions, actively seeking ways to address the immediacy of the suffering as well as its many underlying causes.

The same qualities that the Buddha taught as the basis for Awakening can be applied to our service in the world. It is time to bring consistently and persistently mindful awareness, keen discernment, energetic response, intense interest, a foundation of calm and steadiness, and a spaciousness that can hold it all.  In telling the truth and helping others in whatever way we can, we are cultivating all these qualities in ourselves; and by cultivating them in ourselves, we develop the inner resources and resilience to effectively be of help to others.

https://www.dharma.org/the-murder-of-george-floyd-imss-guiding-teachers-respond/

IMS’s diversity resources page here


Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College’s response

Today, I write to you as a Black man and as President of Emerson College. There is no other way to write to you, given recent events. …
Black Americans are invisible to most of white America. We live in the shadows – even those of us, who like me, sit at the table of bounty. Ironically, at our colleges and universities we are hyper-visible in classrooms, work places, social settings, and as we go about our daily lives. …
George Floyd was invisible. And it was his invisibility, a brutal white power structure and Chauvin’s dehumanization of him that killed him. …
Black folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So, I have no words of comfort today because they would be inauthentic. They would absolve so many from coming to terms with their own silent complicity in the world in which we live.
As I wrote to someone today, “This is not a black problem, but a structural issue built on white supremacy and centuries of racism. It’s your problem. And until you understand that, we are doomed to relive this week’s tragic events over and over again. What changes will you make in your own life? Begin with answering that question and maybe, just maybe we will get somewhere.”
The most important question is: What are you going to do?

https://today.emerson.edu/2020/06/01/letter-to-the-emerson-community-may-31-2020/


Thousands in New Zealand protest against George Floyd killing

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the US.

At least four solidarity gatherings were held in the country on Monday afternoon, with massive crowds taking to their knees in the Auckland demonstration.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/01/thousands-in-new-zealand-protest-against-george-floyd-killing?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other


Info from a friend in Minneapolis:

First, here are some facts not reported in some of the national narrative right now (but captured by local MN media sources):

(1) Thousands have marched in MN and police clad in riot gear used rubber bullets and chemical irritants to disperse crowds

(2) The initial police report listed “medical incident while in custody” … this is now changing as “new information” is received.

(3) According to a local MN police training expert “a neck restraint” is currently listed as “a non-deadly force option’ in the Minneapolis Police Department Policy and Procedural Manual.

(4) George Floyd worked as a bouncer at a restaurant 10 minutes from my home and his employers, landlord, and co-workers talk about a man completely different from the official narrative of “resisting arrest”

Second, if you haven’t been following the process of police militarization and the euphemisms of “police reforms” and “police re-training” then please take five minutes to look at the below sources:

– Beyond Repair by Ricardo Levins Morales

– Chart of concrete steps to “power down policing” from criticalresistance.org 

Providing additional info and emerging action at the local level:

– Here in MN, we are almost at the 4 year anniversary of the killing of Philando Castile.

https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/two-years-after-police-killing-philando-castile-justice-continues-be-denied

– While Mayor Frey quickly responded publicly to this event, he has consistently advocated for increasing police budgets while opposing past city council measures which would split executive control of the police force between the council and the mayor.

– Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will make the election to bring charges against Derek Chauvin and the other officers. Local MN news sources have reported on Chauvin’s past history of use of force and that he has complaints filed against him during his time on the force.

– Minneapolis city council will be reviewing the police union contract this year, and local communities are demanding radical changes in mechanisms for accountability.

-Mobilizing efforts underway contacting Frey, Hennepin County Attorney and city council and more.

– Learn and donate. Below are two local organizations working now to power down policing and empower our neighbors and community members:

MPD150

MN ACLU


This is not just a USA issue

432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991
Aboriginal people whose family members have died in custody express solidarity with people on the streets of US cities protesting against the death of George Floyd

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/01/deaths-in-our-backyard-432-indigenous-australians-have-died-in-custody-since-2008

anxiety, community, compassion - karuna, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Karuna-virus

Kuan Yin sunbeam

In the Buddha’s teachings, karuna is a Pali word that means compassion. There’s a lot going on around the world right now, and due to coronavirus, many people are navigating intense suffering on multiple levels simultaneously: The suffering of health challenges, food insecurity, financial distress, longer-term economic uncertainty, separation from friends and family – or having to be with friends and family in ways that are stressful!

Given that social contagion works not only in relation to anxiety, but to positive mind-states too, I hope that in whatever ways we can, this coronavirus situation can be used to spread karuna-compassion to all who need it, including ourselves.

Personally, I have just landed in the UK a couple of days ago and am in social isolation and lockdown in Birmingham. I’m still getting myself set up here, but I wanted to at least offer a few resources for helping reduce the stress and anxiety that so many people are dealing with right now. I’ll keep adding more resources as I find them, and please send me links to any that you might have found helpful.

If anyone would like an individual meeting online to talk about your meditation practice in these challenging times, you can make a booking on my booking calendar now. As usual, these meetings are on a dana basis, but if money is an issue at the moment it’s fine to still meet with me.

I will also be converting some of my planned retreats into online offerings, so please check my revised teaching schedule on this page.

A few selected resources to support karuna-compassion

Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

Among my academic colleagues and friends, I have observed a common response to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. They are fighting valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to move courses online, maintaining strict writing schedules, creating Montessori schools at their kitchen tables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until things get back to normal. I wish anyone who pursues that path the very best of luck and health.
Yet as someone who has experience with crises around the world, what I see behind this scramble for productivity is a perilous assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.
Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.


Judson Brewer – US Neuroscientist and Addiction Psychiatrist

A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle
Uncertainty about coronavirus spreads anxiety through social contagion. This New York Times article offers some ways to minimize that.


IMS teachers including Sharon Salzberg, offering daily metta/kindness meditation

https://www.youtube.com/user/InsightMeditation


Zohar Lavie – UK meditation teacher

2020-03-14 Coronavirus and the support of the Dharma – Part 1 31:38
We are living through an unusual period. As coronavirus spreads, much of what we take for granted is being shaken. There is uncertainty and fear around us, and also within us. How can Dharma teachings and practices support us? How can we deepen understanding and compassion in the midst of it all? This talk offers reflections on possibilities that are available to us, including practices that we can engage with, lean into, and cultivate.


Tara Brach – US meditation teacher

2020-03-18 Facing Pandemic Fears with an Awake Heart 59:14
While it’s natural to feel fear during times of great collective crisis, our challenge is that fear easily takes over our lives. This talk explores how the mindfulness and compassion of the RAIN meditation can help us find an inner refuge in the face of fear, and deepen our loving connection with each other.


Jill Shepherd

2020-03-26 Guided meditation: orienting to compassion 26:18
A guided meditation orienting to compassion, in response to coronavirus

2020-03-26 Short talk: some responses to the coronavirus/karuna-virus situation 15:37
A few reflections on the coronavirus situation, and the possibility of cultivating karuna/compassion as a resource for ourselves and others

More talks on cultivating resilience in challenging times here


A beautiful video – Letter from the Virus

Stop, just stop
Halt … stop … don’t move
It’s not a request any more, it’s an obligation
I’m here to help you
This supersonic rollercoaster has run off its rails and can’t go on any further
Stop the planes, trains, schools, shopping malls, gatherings
We broke the frenetic vortex of illusions and obligations that stopped you from looking at the sky
Look at the stars, listen to the sea
Let yourself be rocked by the chirping of birds
Roll in the grass
Pick an apple from a tree
Smile to an animal in the woods
Breathe the mountains
Listen to your common sense
We had to break it
You can’t play God
Our obligations are mutual, like they’ve always been
Even though you’ve forgotten
We’ll now stop this broadcast
This endless cacophonous sounds of separations and distractions, to tell you this:
We’re not OK
None of us is
We’re all suffering
Last year, the firestorms that set the lungs of the earth on fire didn’t stop you
Nor did the melting of the poles
Or your sinking cities
Or the simple acknowledgement of being the sole responsibility for the sixth mass extinction
You didn’t listen to me
It’s difficult to listen while being so busy
Struggling to climb higher and higher
On the scaffolding of comforts you are creating for yourself
Now the foundations are crumbling
They’re collapsing under the weight of your fictitious desires
I’ll help you
I’ll light the firestorms inside your body
I’ll drown your lungs
I’ll isolate you like a polar bear on a melting iceberg
Will you listen to me then?
We’re not OK
I’m not  your enemy
I’m just a messenger
I’m an ally
I’m the force that will rebalance everything
Now you have to listen to me
I’m screaming for you to stop
Stop, hush, listen
Now look up to the sky
How is it?
There are no more airplanes
How healthy do you need to be to enjoy the oxygen you breathe?
Look at the ocean
How is it?
Look at the rivers
How are they?
Look at the earth
How is she?
Now look at yourselves
How do you feel?
You can’t be healthy in a sick ecosystem
Stop!!!
Many people are afraid now
Don’t demonise your fear
Don’t let it control you
Let it speak to you
Listen to the wise words it has to say
Learn to smile with your eyes
I’ll help you … if you’re willing to listen

Text: Darinka Montico
Voice: Giulia Chianes


A list of  ‘good news’ websites compiled by Wendy Nash, Australia

Charles Eisenstein

The Coronation

The War on Death

… The mantra “safety first” comes from a value system that makes survival top priority, and that depreciates other values like fun, adventure, play, and the challenging of limits. … The surrounding culture, however, lobbies us relentlessly to live in fear, and has constructed systems that embody fear. In them, staying safe is over-ridingly important. Thus we have a medical system in which most decisions are based on calculations of risk, and in which the worst possible outcome, marking the physician’s ultimate failure, is death. Yet all the while, we know that death awaits us regardless. A life saved actually means a death postponed.

The ultimate fulfillment of civilization’s program of control would be to triumph over death itself. Failing that, modern society settles for a facsimile of that triumph: denial rather than conquest. Ours is a society of death denial, from its hiding away of corpses, to its fetish for youthfulness, to its warehousing of old people in nursing homes. Even its obsession with money and property – extensions of the self, as the word “mine” indicates – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. All this is inevitable given the story-of-self that modernity offers: the separate individual in a world of Other. Surrounded by genetic, social, and economic competitors, that self must protect and dominate in order to thrive. It must do everything it can to forestall death, which (in the story of separation) is total annihilation.


Matthias Horx – an influential futurist in the German-speaking world

The Post Corona World
… A massive loss of control suddenly turns into a veritable intoxication of the positive. After a period of bewilderment and fear, an inner strength arises. The world „ends“, but with the experience that we are still there, a kind of new being arises from inside us.
In the middle of civilisation’s shutdown, we run through forests or parks, or across almost empty spaces. This is not an apocalypse, but a new beginning.
This is how it turns out: Change begins as a changed pattern of expectations, perceptions and world connections. Sometimes it is precisely the break with routines, the familiar, that releases our sense of the future again. The idea and certainty that everything could be completely different — and even better.

May it be so!

More soon …

community, Insight meditation - vipassana, Insight Meditation Society, retreat, Retreat practice, Uncategorized

Insight Meditation Society 2020 Registration Now Open

Just letting you know that the Insight Meditation SOciety in Barre, Massachusetts, has just announced its 2020 retreat schedule and registration is now open. Based on previous years, most retreats tend to get fully booked within a few days, so if you’re interested in practising at IMS, best to register as soon as you can to avoid missing out.

IMS images

I’m scheduled to teach a five-day metta retreat in February 2020, the first six weeks of the three-month retreat in September, and the whole month of November at the Forest Refuge.

I look forward to meditating with some of you at IMS again soon!

anxiety, climate change, community, freedom, retreat, Retreat practice, Uncategorized

Retreat as rebellion

mens shirts 7

Resisting the tyranny of productivity

Over the last few months, I’ve been having conversations with students – and with myself! – about what feels to be the increasingly relentless busyness of our lives. People often say to me that they don’t have time to meditate every day, and they certainly don’t have time to go on retreat, because of work or financial or family pressures. There are just too many other demands on their time, energy, and resources.

Sometimes there are genuine obstacles that get in the way of making time for formal practice. But sometimes, the busyness is a convenient rationalisation, one that allows us to avoid looking at what might be underneath the frenetic activity. On top of our own individual conditioning, most of us are impacted by the dominant values of mainstream society, which demand us to be constantly productive. As a result, we often develop  a compulsive need to be doing; doing; doing; almost as a way to justify our existence. Capitalist values tend to define us by what we DO, so unless we’re constantly busy, we’re no-one. For many people, the idea of simply BEING – even for a few minutes at a time – is terrifying. As a society, our flight from stillness and solitude has gone into hyperdrive.

wrong way 1

Resisting time-pressure

One of the side-effects of this speeding up of everything, is that time spent meditating or on retreat is easily devalued, because it’s not productive. More and more, there’s pressure to achieve the same meditative “results” – whatever they may be – in shorter and shorter times.

We can even see a shift in the retreat schedules of some insight meditation centres around the world. The nine-day retreat has shrunk to seven days, the seven-day retreat to five days, the five day retreat to three days, and so on, so that more retreats can be fitted in to each calendar year.

Retreats should be getting longer, not shorter

Yet if anything, retreats should be getting longer, not shorter, because most people come into retreat chronically stressed and tired. Much as we might like to deny it, we are organic beings. We’re made of meat and bone, flesh and blood. We’re not machines or electronic devices that can just be plugged in, switched on and kept going 24/7. But more and more, this is what we expect of ourselves, and it’s often not until we go on retreat and do stop, that we realise just how exhausted we are.

This means that the first one or two days of the retreat are spent in recovery mode, catching up on sleep and giving our fried nervous systems some time to recuperate. Then, because of our achievement-oriented striving, we feel like we have to make up for this lost time during the remaining days of the retreat, otherwise we’ll fall behind, won’t measure up, won’t achieve anything, won’t make any progress …

Our drivenness damages our own health, and the planet’s health

This drivenness is bad not only for our own health, but for the planet too, as we try to alleviate the stress of our over-full schedules by consuming more and more resources. Constant busyness gives us an excuse to ignore the damage we’re doing to the world – and each other. So in some ways, going on retreat and taking time to not be productive is an act of rebellion.

When we are able to take some time to slow down, the shift from DOing to BEing is often uncomfortable at first. It brings us face to face with the powerful conditioning that tells us we’re worthless, unless we’re involved in fifty different activities simultaneously. But as we start to see through that conditioning, we begin to taste moments of deep ease, peace, and freedom, and the insanity of our old way of being loses some of its appeal.

Every moment of meditation is a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity

It still takes courage to resist that conditioning and prioritise living a more contemplative life, so we need the support of others who are oriented in a similar way, to help us maintain confidence that we are heading in the right direction. Each time we go on retreat, we’re strengthening our own intention to live a more sane and healthy life, and we’re helping others to do the same. In that way, every moment of meditation can become a moment of resisting the tyranny of productivity.

May our collective efforts to live with more ease, sanity and peace be a contribution to the welfare, the happiness, and the freedom, of all beings on our planet, and the planet itself.

Lake Freestad reflection

 

community, compassion - karuna, daily life, ethics, Noble Eightfold Path, racism, Right Action, Uncategorized

September 2017 full moon – Taking A Stand

Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

“‘As long as a society protects the vulnerable among them, they can be expected to prosper and not decline.’

The Buddha, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta

Buddhism does not align itself with any party or ideology. But when great suffering is at stake, Buddhists must take a stand against it, with loving-kindness, wisdom, calm minds, and courage.”

Stand Against Suffering: A Call to Action by Buddhist Teachers

watertower yard
Water tower with Native American protest graffiti, Alcatraz

What stand can I take?

The purpose of the dharma, the Buddha’s teachings, is to free ourselves from ignorance. With the current escalation in overt racism and hate crimes around the world – on top of systemic social injustice – as a white person, the stand I’d like to take is in terms of better understanding my own white privilege.

Just getting beyond the initial reaction to the term “white privilege” can be quite a journey, so I’ve set up a new webpage with links to some resources that I plan to continue exploring myself over the next few months and years.  I also hope they’ll be helpful for any dharma practitioners who are interested in seeing through our various biases and social constructs, in the service of deeper wisdom and compassion.

https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com/wise-action-undoing-racism/

I plan to add more links to inspiring and challenging articles, and in the meantime, below are just a few items that touched me recently.

 

jail screen 3
Cell block, Alcatraz

Where Will You Stand?

Rev. angel Kyodo williams 18 August 2017

“Much of what is being taught as Buddhism in America is the acceptance of a kinder, gentler suffering that does not question the unwholesome roots of systemic suffering and the structures that hold it in place. The expansive potential of the dharma to liberate us from suffering is in danger of being rendered impotent because it is held in subjugation to the very systems that it must thoroughly examine. 

No one group, community, or institution has the answer, but each of us can call forth the willingness to offer our best, claim responsibility for our worst, and fold it all into the continuous moment-to-moment practice of simply being present to what is. If your practice is not attenuating greed, hatred, and ignorance—the social expressions of which are the delusions of supremacy, racism, and oppression—then you need to change your practice.”

Where Will You Stand?

trunk red sap close
Eucalyptus trees after bushfire, New South Wales, Australia

Clinton Pryor walks for indigenous justice in Australia

“I started this journey walking from Perth to find the truth and find a new way for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. For the past 50 years our people have been fighting for rights, but it’s like it has just gone down the drain too many times. So, I decided to go for a big massive walk across the country to find the truth of what’s going on. What I’ve seen and experienced this way is that our people are living in developing world conditions.

In some communities there’s no fresh water. Other communities are polluted from mining, and on top of that these companies are hiring people from out in cities and towns to work in these communities, when our local people want jobs as well. What the people want in these communities is to be self-governed. They want to take care of our people themselves.”

https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/08/6000km-only-20-minutes-with-the-pm-prime-minister-clinton-pryor-relives-epic-walk-across-australia-indigenous?


Te Puea marae
Te Puea marae – image from facebook

Te Puea Marae gears up to help homeless for second winter in New Zealand

The south Auckland marae (Māori meeting house) that opened its doors to the homeless last year is about to do so again.  Te Puea Marae in Mangere helped 181 people last year, using 1200 volunteers over three months. Starting on 18 July, it will again take people in – for six months.

Spokesperson Hurimoana Dennis told Morning Report this time they’ve been working hard with government agencies to provide the service.

“We believe we can still … support homeless families. We did it last year – we learnt some things, and we put people into homes.  It’s an opportunity … to work with agencies, to show agencies what best practice engagement looks like for our Māori families, our communities and those who are homeless.”
http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/334794/te-puea-marae-to-help-homeless-for-second-winter

Check out their facebook page for ways to help:

https://www.facebook.com/TePueaMaraeManaakiTangata/

 

7 equanimity, anxiety, community, daily life, equanimity - upekkha, Equanimity - upekkha, fear, impermanence - anicca, motivation, racism, sangha, Uncategorized

November 2016 full moon – Turmoil

newcastle-beach-full-moon

almost super-moon, Newcastle Beach NSW Australia 13 November 2016

Turning towards and turning away

Whether it’s global political upheaval, worsening social injustice, natural disasters, personal stress, emotional pain, relational crises, or health challenges, we seem to be in a phase of intense turmoil right now.

Many of the communities around the world that I care about are struggling in relation to recent political developments in the US and UK.  And now the latest earthquakes and flooding in New Zealand are powerful reminders of our vulnerability, confronting the delusion that we are in control and challenging the belief that we can rely on anything external for our security.

I’ve noticed in myself these last few days, a shift from turning away, to turning towards.  After an initial period of shock and numbness, a renewed sense of purpose and determination is starting to emerge, helped by a whole range of articles, videos, resources and Buddhist readings that have been shared from many different sources.

So in this month’s post, I wanted to include a few of these, with the hope that they might bring some inspiration, renewed courage, or just practical support for facing these current challenges.


Inspiring Buddhist teachings for difficult times

Pema Chodron

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground—something predictable to stand on—seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/fundamental-ambiguity-being-human/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753

Jack Kornfield

When times are uncertain, difficult, fearful, full of change,
they become the perfect place to deepen the practice of awakening.
After viewing the elections, whatever your point of view,
Take time to quiet the mind and tend to the heart.
Then go out and look at the sky.
Remember vastness, there are seasons to all things,
gain and loss, praise and blame, expansion and contraction.
Learn from the trees.
Practice equanimity and steadiness.
Remember the timeless Dharma amidst it all.
Think of the best of human goodness.
Let yourself become a beacon of integrity with your thoughts, words and deeds.
Integrity in speech and action, virtue and non-harming brings blessings.
Remember the Noble Truths, no matter the politics or the season:
Greed, hatred and ignorance cause suffering. Let them go.
Love, generosity and wisdom bring the end of suffering. Foster them.
Remember the Buddha’s counsel,
“Hatred never ends by hatred but by love alone is healed.
This is the ancient and eternal law.”
The human heart has freedom in itself to choose love, dignity and respect.
In every circumstance, embody respect and cultivate compassion for all.
Let yourself become a beacon of Dharma.
Amidst the changes, shine with courage and trust.
Love people, and…
This is your world. Plant seeds of goodness
and water them everywhere.
Then blessings will grow for yourself and for all.
http://www.spiritrock.org/

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.”
http://kalachakranet.org/text_his_holiness_dalai_lama.html

Gil Fronsdal

Equanimity, one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice, is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.”
https://tricycle.org/magazine/perfect-balance/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=c816b6d659-Special_Newsletter_11_09_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-c816b6d659-307269753


The current U.S. political situation – some commentaries

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.
https://buddhistglobalrelief.me/2016/11/09/a-trump-presidency-need-not-be-the-end-times/

Van Jones

Van Jones is a CNN political contributor, regularly appearing across the network’s programming and special political coverage.  He has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice.
Van reminds us that we have 70 days before the president-elect Trump takes office, and suggests that in these next two weeks we prioritize three things:
1. grieve and heal;
2. gather information;
3. build community.

“It’s ok to take time to grieve and heal” … then “We gotta play our cards right.  Our most important card is you.  We need you … You can turn the TV off, turn the radio off, stop going online .. you can binge-watch some stuff, you can go exercise, do whatever you need to do, get some cuddles in, get some snuggles in, and heal a little bit, and grieve a little bit … And then from an authentic place, not pushing … not ‘I gotta do this, I gotta do this, I gotta do this’ – that’s gonna give you a bunch of do-do, and we’re not trying to do do-do – we want you to BE … and be connected to who you are, and why you care so much, and why you love folks so much.  We want you to be deeply grounded, deeply connected, so we can make wise decisions going forward.”

Connect and strengthen our communities

The Work That Reconnects (WTR) is an open-source body of work that has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy. It is a process of group work that uses experience based activities to help participants connect with one another and with the intelligence, self-healing powers of life on Earth. The goal of the WTR is to “enliven” and motivate participants to play an active role in the creation of a life sustaining society.
While the primary focus of the WTR is deep ecology and environmental activism, the process of sequencing used within the WTR (called “The Spiral“) can be a valuable tool in building racial awareness, as well.
https://whiteawake.org/self-education/wtr-spiral/

Stand with Standing Rock

https://nodaplsolidarity.org/
This site is dedicated to supporting the frontline, indigenous led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We hope that this site will make it easier for allies from around the world to take action against the institutions that are attempting to construct the pipeline.
Please join in taking sustained action in solidarity with the Red Warrior Camp and the Camp of the Sacred Stones.


New Zealand 2016 earthquakes

Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand.
Damage done by an earthquake at Bluff Station between Blenheim and Kaikoura in New Zealand. Photograph: Alex Perrottet/RNZ

Earthquake support information

An extensive list of web links providing high quality information to assist you, and those you support, through tough times following Earthquakes and their Aftershocks. This includes for children and young people.
http://skylight.org.nz/earthquake+aftermath+support

WHAT TO DO NOW

Some suggestions from Dr Sarb Johal, psychology professor at Massey University
* Follow a normal routine as much as possible
* Eat healthy meals – be careful not to skip meals or to overeat
* Exercise and stay active
* Help other people in your community as a volunteer – stay busy
* Accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or other people you trust – talk about your feelings with them
* Limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened – don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the events.

HOW TO REMAIN OPTIMISTIC

* Support one another, especially family members and your community
* Provide emotional support – comfort each other
* Carry out practical tasks – tackling the jobs that need to be done a bit at a time and counting each success
* Share your experience and feelings with others – a bit at a time when it is right for you – and have sensitivity for what the listener or audience (like your Facebook or social media friends) might be prepared to hear at that time too
* Look after your own and your family’s general health – rest, exercise, food and company all help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/inspire-me/86488820/earthquake-how-to-stay-positive-in-shaky-times

WAYS TO HELP

Wanting to lend a hand, or provide some type of assistance after NZ was shaken just after midnight on Monday?  Here are some ways you can help.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/nz-earthquake/86453967/ways-you-can-help-out-after-the-november-earthquakes

May all beings be safe … healthy … happy … free …

community, freedom, Insight Meditation Society, love, Sangha / Community, spiritual friendship, Triple Gem, Uncategorized

June 2016 full moon – Inspiration and taking refuge in sangha/community

graduation group by Ben MarshallGraduates of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock four-year teacher training programme, 10 June 2016 – photo by Ben Marshall

In my last international newsletter back in April, I wrote about inspiration, an aspect of spiritual practice that surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be talked about very often.  As I discovered back then,

“… the root of the word “inspiration” comes from late Latin, and it’s related to the act of breathing, specifically breathing in, in the sense of giving life to, or animating – just as expiring is related to breathing out, and dying …
Inspiration, then, is literally life-giving.  When I feel most inspired, I feel most alive, in touch with some kind of life-energy that feels much vaster than just my own individual human vitality.”

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been appreciating the power of community to help kindle that sense of inspiration and connection to an energy bigger than just my own.  And I feel to have understood a little more clearly why the Buddha referred to sangha or community as the third of three jewels, three treasures that we can “take refuge” in.  Continue reading “June 2016 full moon – Inspiration and taking refuge in sangha/community”

community, daily life, gratitude, Insight meditation - vipassana, Insight Meditation Society, joy - mudita, Uncategorized

November 2015 full moon – gratitude

red berries close

A few slightly random reflections on Gratitude

“These two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.” AN 2.118

 As the three-month retreat at IMS comes to a close, there’s a definite shift in the overall mood of the meditators.  Each day, the ones I meet with are expressing more and more gratitude for the opportunity they’ve had to be here, practising intensively for six weeks or three months.
It’s definitely not easy to do this, and yet perhaps because of the challenges, there’s a corresponding depth to the gratitude.  I’ve noticed this in other situations, too – that there can be an unexpected ability to connect with gratitude even in the midst of difficulty.

Continue reading “November 2015 full moon – gratitude”

anatta or not-self, community, daily life, dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, freedom, impermanence - anicca, racism, Three universal characteristics

July 2015 full moon – dukkha

African Burial Ground memorial New York City
African Burial Ground memorial New York City

In last month’s full moon post, I wrote about impermanence.  Impermanence or anicca is one of the three “universal characteristics” recognised by the Buddha as being inherent in all experience; the other two being dukkha (usually translated as “suffering,” but more accurately, unsatisfactoriness), and anatta, or not-self.  Deeply understanding these three characteristics leads to the highest freedom, the freedom of heart and mind that is the goal of all insight meditation.

In my own practice, when I’ve read statements like the one I just made, my mind sometimes baulks.  What’s being conveyed sounds too abstract, remote, or perhaps idealistic, and my poor brain just doesn’t know what to do with that kind of information – at least on an intellectual level.

So this month, I’d been wondering how to talk about the second universal characteristic, dukkha, in a way that makes it real, and wakes us up to its transformative power.  Then the news came in about the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Sousse, Tunisia.  And I need to say right away that I feel completely unequipped to know how to respond to pain of that magnitude.  I’m tempted to turn away and write about something completely different, but because I have friends in the US who are negatively impacted by individual and collective, institutional racism every day, I’m going to focus on the first of these two events.

There are people far better qualified than me to talk about the negative impacts of racism on all of us, but I’m inspired to even mention it in a blog because of a dharma talk I recently listened to by Ruth King.  She talks about the common dynamics of dominant/subordinate relationships between racial identity groups, and she refers to lack of urgency from the dominant group in relation to matters that are life-threatening to the subordinate group.  She gives the example of a group of white people taking the time to write 20-30 drafts of a letter protesting the killing of unarmed black men by US police, even though new murders were happening almost daily.  I thought of this example as I hesitated to write, then re-write, this post, knowing that I was never going to get it right no matter how long I took.

Here’s the link to Ruth King’s talk: http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/539/talk/27269/

Shrine at East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, California
Shrine at East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, California

In the Buddha’s teachings, the First Noble Truth is the simple recognition that “There is dukkha.”  Simple, but often completely counter-intuitive.  It’s more common when faced with distress of any kind, to fall into habitual strategies: to avoid, ignore, deny, numb out, blame, etc. These are the urges I notice in myself when extreme violence and/or racism are “in my face.”  Underlying them is often a feeling of complete powerlessness, but paradoxically, when I’m able to let go of all the useless strategies and stay in contact with just that underlying feeling, I can access more clarity.

I may still feel unable to DO anything about the situation, but at least I can “bear witness,” as they say in Zen.  In my understanding, this means being willing to not turn away, to fully face the situation as best I can, and to just name to myself – and perhaps others – what is really going on.

Yesterday, I received an email invitation to endorse an open letter sent by an organisation called Buddhists for Racial Justice.  Although on one level it might be dismissed as just another email petition, on another, I was grateful to be able to do something, no matter how small it might seem: just to be able to bear witness to what has been going on for so long, and add my name, publicly, to the wish for this form of dukkha to be overcome.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the letter:

As Buddhist teachers and leaders we are deeply shaken and saddened by the intentional and premeditated murder of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. We send our heart-filled condolences to the families, loved ones, church, and communities, who have experienced this grievous loss.

While this terrorist act was apparently perpetrated by a single individual consumed by racial hatred and a desire to ignite a race war, the soil in which this massacre took root is the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the resulting racial inequalities and injustices that persist in our individual and collective consciousness and institutions. The daily experience of violence against people of color has become more recently visible through highlighted media coverage of the ongoing brutal treatment and killings of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement agents across the country.

As Buddhists we realize the interdependence of all of our experiences—and that violence towards one community is violence perpetrated upon us all. As spiritual leaders, we must be committed to healing the wounds of racism that are such a primary and toxic part of the landscape of our country. This calls on those of dominant white communities to inquire deeply into and transform patterns of exclusion to power, inequity in resources, unseen bias, and unexamined disparities in privilege. There is an urgency to affirm that Black Lives Matter and work with religious and secular communities to respond to racial injustice.

You can see the full letter here:

http://buddhistsforracialjustice.org/an-open-letter/

bus hairstyling girl, San Francisco
bus hairstyling girl, San Francisco

This site also has useful information for white people about racial awareness as spiritual practice, and a Shared Resources page with links to excellent documentaries and dharma talks.  All of these are from the US, and so far I haven’t been able to find any equivalent for Australia and New Zealand.  Please contact me if you know of anything relevant to this part of the world.

May we all experience freedom from the dukkha of oppression, in all its forms.

community, daily life, lay sangha, Noble Eightfold Path, sangha, spiritual friendship

April 2015 full moon – “awakening community” *

Spiritual friendship one-day workshop 29 March 2015 Auckland, New Zealand

Last weekend I ran a one-day workshop in Auckland, New Zealand, on the theme of “spiritual friendship,” and just a few days ago I facilitated a small group discussion in Australia at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, on the theme of “awakening community.”

These two topics feel very alive for me at the moment, partly because of spending so much time visiting different insight meditation groups in different parts of the world.  I’ve noticed that when a group is well-established and healthy, the level of dharma practice in those communities feels much stronger, yet in many of the places I visit, access to teachers and good dharma friends is not always easy to find.

This may be because historically, within the Western insight meditation “tradition,” there’s been a strong emphasis on offering silent individual meditation retreats as the main form of dharma practice, so it’s still quite rare to find opportunities for people to engage with each other outside of formal retreat.  Yet throughout the suttas, there’s a strong emphasis on spiritual friendship as being foundational to the development of the whole path to freedom.  Here’s just one example:
“If wanderers who are members of other sects should ask you, ‘What, friend, are the prerequisites for the development of the wings to self-awakening?’ you should answer, ‘There is the case where a monk [practitioner] has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues. This is the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to self-awakening.'” AN9.1

Then there’s the often-quoted exchange between the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, and the Buddha, where Ananda has a sudden realisation of the importance of spiritual friendship.  He goes to the Buddha and tells him how he’s just recognised that spiritual friendship is half of the spiritual life, but the Buddha disagrees with him quite emphatically:
“Don’t say that, Ananada. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.” SN 45.2
The Buddha then states that when someone has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, they can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.  This path is the core of the Buddha’s teachings, and consists of eight factors: Right View, Right Intention or Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.  Of those eight factors, only the last one, right concentration, needs to be specifically cultivated in meditation practice.  All the others can be developed in daily life, in relational and social contexts.

I wonder then, if by putting so much emphasis on solitary, silent retreat practice, we may have developed an unbalanced approach to the Buddha’s teachings – one that reduces his holistic path to a set of meditation techniques, done mostly for our own individual improvement.

A few years ago, the US dharma teacher David Brazier wrote an article in Tricycle magazine that pointed out some common cultural biases in the way Westerners have tended to approach dharma practice.  I found his critique quite revealing – and a little bit painful – but it’s also inspired me to want to explore more relational and socially-engaged forms of practice alongside traditional silent meditation.  He says:

For many Western Buddhists, a technical approach that says in effect, “You don’t need to believe anything, just do the practice” is very appealing. We are, after all, a culture very much driven by technology. Yet this technical emphasis directed toward Buddhism is something new. …
The idea that one can “just do the practice” is itself based on faith, yet it is easy to miss this sleight of hand. This view of practice does not avoid faith; it simply plays into a faith we already have — that is, faith in a technological approach to life. It assumes that meditation, like penicillin or Windows 7.0, works the same in any context. That is a lot to assume.
Going hand in hand with the idea of context-free meditation is the view, not uncommon in Western convert Buddhist circles, that Buddhism and meditation are virtually synonymous. But the vast majority of Asian Buddhists, now as throughout history, do not meditate, or only do so on rare occasions, and when they do, do so as part of a collective ritual rather than as a personal improvement method. …
This self-focused, technological model of Buddhist practice is not without its virtues. It has made Buddhism widely approachable in a new cultural setting. It has highlighted the richness of its meditative traditions. But a decontextualized dharma can put the spotlight on the private subject in a manner that is quite in line with the alienated, isolated, choice-making individual that is the primary model of the person in our capitalistic society. Is this really what we want? It also makes Buddhism into a set of commodities that can be purchased, and reduces practitioners to economic units. This is dharma that reinforces, rather than challenges, many tendencies in Western societies that are anything but emancipatory. …
Lack of a coherent and meaningful community life and way of relating to others is, arguably, the cause of much of the suffering that people seek to resolve in Buddhism. If what they get is a do-it-yourself, on-yourself, by-yourself, for-yourself, at-a-price technique, this is not going to do the trick, even if it does provide some secondary gains or palliative satisfactions. … [Ultimately] Buddhism flourishes through an other-centered, rather than a self-centered, orientation toward life.

Living Buddhism http://www.tricycle.com/feature/living-buddhism?page=0,0 November 2011

In many of the communities I’ve been visiting recently, people often express a desire to feel more connected to others, but don’t know how to help that happen.  And without some degree of conscious effort and commitment, the default seems to be just a group of individuals who sit together in silence on a regular basis, perhaps having a cup of tea with each other afterwards, and that’s about it.  Maybe that’s more than enough for many people, but somehow, when the Buddha talks about spiritual friendship being “the first prerequisite for the development of the wings to awakening,” I think he was referring to a bit more than that!

It also feels important to acknowledge that many people have experienced hurt through their involvement with – and/or exclusion by – various kinds of communities, and every one of us has known the pain of a broken friendship.  So what might it take for any group of meditators to move closer to being an insight meditation community – a group founded in spiritual friendship, that supports all of its members to deepen their practice, both on and off the meditation cushion?

I don’t have answers, but I do look forward to continuing to explore these questions with whoever might be interested.

(* with thanks to Yael at BMIMC for suggesting this title)