In my continued journey of practicing to find ways to use my voice in matters concerning topics I tend to stay quiet on (in part for good reason), I’d like to see where this topic takes me as I write about it out loud.
Recently, I came across a twitter post by Roshi Joan Halifax that said:
I think it’s easy to make the mistake in Buddhism that neutrality is some kind of spiritual goal that we as practitioners have. I know I’ve suffered from this misunderstanding. I’ve also suffered from thinking that I needed to squelch certain types of emotions from arising, such as: anger, sorrow, disappointment, and sexual desire. I am now, thankfully, at a point in my practice that I am able to dismantle some of my misunderstandings about the teachings and actualize more clarity based on my own experiences.
In our current U.S social landscape, with respect to our upcoming presidential election, protest climate, and covid pandemic, my bristling reflexes around activism and activists are front and center for me. NOTE: part of my work to speak up on topics I feel so moved to put voice to centers around my own opinions involving subjects that I feel are either unpopular (to my close sphere of people anyway) or awkwardness-producing. My views on this topic are situated in the unpopular realm of things.
I have a number of friends who would self-identify as being an activist: a social justice activist; an environmental activist; an animal rights activist; a human rights activist; a political activist; some combination of the above or maybe simply an activist with no specific classification. And while I love my friends dearly, when the word activist or activism comes up or is mentioned, I’ve always taken a few energetic steps back, and depending on the intensity level of activism involved, I might also take a few physical steps back from our friendship as well.
I get caught in those words; entangled in what I take them to mean, which is partly fueled by collective narrative and conservative-based discourse. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is propelled by blaming and anger, and more specifically as someone who shames others for not thinking/acting the way they do. When I think of an activist, I think of someone who is fueled and propelled against someone(s) verses for something. I think of someone who is fighting verses transforming. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, simply that these are some of what is situated behind my bias towards activists.
I feel as though signs of my own personal maturing involve recognizing and appreciating, more and more as time goes on, that:
- nothing and no one was created in a vacuum; everything and everyone consists of a myriad of causes & conditions that factor into their manifestation
- every topic and subject and matter of human interest involves subtleties and nuances; nothing is black and white
- there is no one right answer or one approach to anything in life
- no one is ever nourished by or benefits from being shamed/looked down upon/negatively judged; I know I’ve strayed off the path of practicing inter-connection and am moving in the direction of separation when I get caught in thinking I’ve got stuff better figured out or am somehow better than someone else
My experience is revealing that the more able I am to embrace paradoxes and the presence and reality of non-duality, the more stable and well-balanced I feel as a result. My optimal functioning and most aligned sense of well-being is dependent on my capacity to practice with, embody, and put into practice one of my favorite and often mentioned teachings from Suzuki Roshi:
This is me practicing with the self-compassion phrase: and that’s okay. As in:
I am not functioning optimally…and that’s okay.
I am feeling drained and unmotivated…and that’s okay.
I am getting overwhelmed by small things…and that’s okay.
I am shutting down quickly when I am confronted with challenges…and that’s okay.
I do not feel mentally and emotionally well in balance right now…and that’s okay.
I am vegging out to more shows on Hulu than I would like to be…and that’s okay.
I feel slow and lethargic…and that’s okay.
I feel un-tethered…and that’s okay.
I am on the verge of tears and I don’t really know why…and that’s okay.
I am getting irritated and frustrated at the drop of a hat…and that’s okay.
I am not operating as I usually do…and that’s okay.
I am struggling…and that’s okay.
“When you think that someone or something other than yourself needs to change, you’re mentally out of your business.” — Byron Katie
Something I remind myself often to do is to: stay on my own side of the fence. And what I mean by this is that all I can ever do to help affect positive change in the world is to do my own work and to do it to the best of my ability, for the benefit of all beings. The work needing to be done, is always my own work to do.
I draw deeply on my spiritual practice tradition and answer the question of How can I help change the world by diligently practicing to show up in the best ways I can in body, speech, and mind. There is no world change without continual and on-going self-change.
As soon as I get caught in thinking that someone else needs to change; someone else needs to listen to me (and not vice versa); someone else needs to do something differently; someone else needs to be some other way than they are, I’ve strayed from the path of connection and understanding. This isn’t to say I am not upset and bothered by certain people or that I don’t judge certain actions to be unjust and damaging, but there is a middle ground between apathy and rage, between indifference and incensed.
When I start getting carried away with thoughts about how I think the world should be or how other people should act, I know I’ve climbed the fence and am now wandering around in someone else’s field, where I have no control or sway.
Stay on your side of the fence, Nicole or Get back over there to your side of the fence, Nicole, I say to myself. It helps me to remind myself where my sphere of influence is – and it’s never out there, it’s always – every single time – an inside job, on my side of the fence.
The above video is a recording of what’s written here below.
Decompressing in the wake of having watched a total of 9-hours of the Republican National Convention this past week (and 7-hours of the Democratic National Convention last week), including 70-minutes of President Trump’s speech last night, I’ve taken myself up here to the mountain, to the peace sign overlook here in Missoula. And I feel it’s worth mentioning that while I take comfort in this spot and find ease in this peace sign, I do not consider myself an activist or a world peace idealist.
It’s hard to put into words what I think and feel about politics. Part of me is scared too, as no matter what words I land on, I will spark hard, unpleasant, uncomfortable, harmful, damaging feelings in others. And this is, I see now, another step in my journey of letting go. I cannot caretake for everyone; cannot keep everyone comfortable all the time – should not keep everyone comfortable all the time. Still. What is there to say? And is it worth saying?
This is what I know:
Amid this collectively difficult time, the question often arises (in my circle anyway): What are you doing to help nourish and restore yourself? What elements of self-care are you investing in in order to stay balanced? Spurred by this, I felt called to fashion this post as a way to help me process my own journey. Here goes.
One of my new favorite quotes is:
“Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations, but fall to our level of training.” – Bruce Lee
I can only imagine what my life would be like right now amid this pandemic and this heightened time of racial awareness and justice movement had I not already been investing in a mindfulness practice prior to these swells of turmoil. A Chinese proverb comes to mind: Dig the well before you’re thirsty.
It’s incredibly difficult to learn from scratch the skills and tools of self-care amid a period of internal and/or external collapse. In my experience with serving as the program director for our weekly sangha for the past 18-years, I’ve seen it over and over again: people coming to our meditation group in a deeply ailing state, looking for something to keep them afloat and bolster their well-being, only to fall away from such things as continuing to attend sangha and practicing meditation in short order because it’s not the quick fix remedy they were hoping for. This isn’t to say that it can’t or doesn’t work for some folks to have hard times propel them into actions that create lasting change but in my experience, this is a very small demographic of individuals.
Two years ago, I had no idea about what it meant to be white.
Two years ago, I thought racists were individuals who were outright and visibly cruel to members of the BIPOC community and racism was something that had mostly died out after the Civil Rights Movement.
Two years ago, I thought BIPOC communities were making a big deal out of nothing.
Two years ago, I would’ve thought “enough already” about drudging up the past of slavery.
Two years ago, I would’ve subscribed to the notion that to not see race was a good thing and meant that I was treating everyone equally.
Two years ago, I would’ve been the white person to counter BLM with ALM.
Two years ago, I would’ve sloughed off such things as white privilege and deemed white supremacy as something that applied only to extremists.
Two years ago, I believed what it says in our Declaration of Independence about how all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Two years ago, I was extremely un-educated and harmfully mis-informed.
Two years ago, I never would’ve possibly considered saying what I’m about to say: I am a racist; I help propel white supremacy; I have white privilege.
Let me break it down for you:
Prompted by a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh that I’ve been reading and reflecting on this week (see pic below), centered around asking ourselves as mindfulness practitioners Are You Sure?, I made this creation (see pic above) from some recently purchased Modge Podge and a package of scrap cardstock.
from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Everyday Peace Cards” set
It’s easy for me to hold this teaching in the abstract and just sorta hang out and linger in a place of theory and rhetoric with it. Oh yes, my perceptions are usually not accurate. I get it. Makes sense. Okay. Moving on.
As so often is the case for me, I need ways of unpacking Dharma teachings and Buddha-inspired wisdom offerings, in order to embody them in my practice in such a way that brings them to life in an experience-based way. Otherwise, I situate myself at risk of spiritual bypassing, thinking I have something in particular “down” or “figured out,” when in reality I have little to no actual understanding that penetrates down through my intellect and into the heart of my practice.
There ain’t just one way
one catch-all setting
for being “woke.”
There’s a gradient scale
on which we all fall.
It ain’t a matter of
whether we are woke or not woke,
it’s a matter of where we are on the scale.
It’s about knowing no matter where we are,
we will always have further to go
more work to do.
There ain’t no end game
no end of the line.
How can we possibly think
that in the span of one human being
exists the possibility
of tending to all the important matters
that would benefit us all in transforming?
Understanding, healing, support, and advocacy
are needed for so many threads that comprise
our global landscape:
our homeless population;
those with mental illness;
the health of our environment;
animal cruelty in slaughterhouses;
our LGBTQ+ community;
our BIPOC community;
young single mothers;
inner city youth;
our working class poor;
those who are differently abled;
those we are sick and suffering;
our elderly population;
those who have the disease of addiction;
refugees in need of a safe place to land;
abandoned and neglected children…
Let us not declare our self “woke.”
Let us not shame others for not being “woke.”
Let us instead lean into the fortitude
of our human family
and focus and commit our own self
to the work we’re called forth to do.
Let us know our work
do our work
and work hard
at work worth doing.
from Everyday Peace Cards, 108 Mindfulness Meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh
Don’t you just love when things line up sometimes? For the past few days, I’ve been percolating on crafting a blog post on the power/importance/wisdom/practice/art of resting and this morning, I drew this card at random from my deck of Everyday Peace Cards to read and reflect on this week.
In case you’re not well-versed in the topics I routinely gravitate towards, I write fairly often about the art of resting. Two of my other regular writing threads center around cultivating joy and practicing gratitude – and all three are investments of time I place high on my list of priorities, as someone who is deeply called in the direction of spiritual living.
So this is me, putting out yet another plug for resting as a vital component of well-being.
My experience -both personally and from what I’ve seen in my friends & family – aligns with what TNH is saying in the card shown above: most of us do not know how to rest.