How Should We Speak to One Another?

August 7, 2020 Step 8: Part One

How Should We Speak to One Another?

Step Eight from the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong, has guided me on a journey of memories about learning to dialogue, a daily challenge. There were moments when I said to myself “I have it, I know how to dialogue”, then a surprise dialogue occurs that reminds me that the call to growth is never ending.

Karen Armstrong’s questions on pages 141 – 142 are treasured guides in my ministry for myself and others. Usually, following an interaction with a person and/or group, taking time to reflect about it is imperative for dialogue, to enable growth and an open-minded stance. Sometimes further discussion with a person or persons may be critical, for which Karen’s reflections are a priceless guide.

As I reflect on my history with dialogue, I share a time when I was young and attending an International Meeting of my Congregation in Rome. It was there that I was initiated into other cultures. My companions at the meeting, with kindness, awakened me to the realization that we are all different. This gift of learning about diversity enabled an openness to “make a place for the other”.

Plato’s description of dialogue as communal meditation with the essence of compassion is imperative for us who hope for a Global World where all people can feel at home. It is also important for our call to be peace-makers. The challenge is ours to assume our crucial part in social dialogue with nonviolence, according to the example of Gandhi. Conversion is the activity of each moment as cultures struggle for their rightful place.

St. Paul presents us with the garment of love for our responses to the needs of our times, “Love is patient, love is kind. . . . There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its truth, its hope, its power to endure.” 1Corinthians 13:4-7

Henrita Frost, SSND

How Little We Know

Becoming Compassion-New

Step 7 – Part 2

by Sara Neall

When I look out into the world and see so much suffering, I want to do something. This desire to ease suffering is the root of my compassion. However, when I pay attention, what arises next is often judgment and righteousness.  My mind often fixates on how I think things ‘should’ be rather than on seeing the complexities that exist.

Step 7, of The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life offers me clarity on how to understand the righteous quality of my mind.

In this step, Karen Armstrong asks us to “make place for other.” (p.117)

She outlines how to ‘make place’ in three ways:

  1. to recognize and appreciate the unknown and unknowable
  2. to become sensitive to over-confident assertions of certainty in ourselves and in other people
  3. to make ourselves aware of the numerous mysteries of each human being we encounter

As I contemplate these steps through my lens of the Buddhist teachings, it feels to me like the practice of “sampajanna” or clear comprehension. Sampajanna is not a practice of acquiring knowledge; it is a practice of seeing thoroughly. Rather than seeking to be right, it guides me to be more open. With this practice, I imagine that I am training my mind to be balanced, strong and flexible.

I have recently begun to learn to draw. In this pursuit, I realize that drawing what I ‘think’ I see and drawing what I actually see are two completely different things. In order to draw the scene in front of me, I must deconstruct it. I must look at my subject, line-by-line; shape by shape and most importantly see how each part of the scene exists in relationship with the other parts. It requires seeing thoroughly.

In part one, of step seven, Sister Henrita reminds us of, “how little we know about the needs of the world community.” How little we know shouldn’t stop us from acting with compassion, simply it should reminds us to ask questions, to listen deeply and to see how our individual actions are related to the bigger world.  It is this humility that is a key to compassion.

How Little We Know

Becoming Compassion-New

Step 7 Part 1: How Little We Know

The words How Little We Know echoes in my being as How Little I Know! Having lived many decades and having been present in many nations, I feel empty as I gaze upon my World Home. Every day for many decades, I have prayed for the gifts of compassion and wisdom. Now I ask myself, what has happened to what I know, where is my compassion and wisdom, and to what is today’s world calling me?

As I continued to read about – “make place for the other,” “knowing and not knowing,” “freedom of speech,” do we know what we are talking about? Questions also arise: What is happiness, what is truth, how do we live in today’s world with all the changes? So much beckons to me about our present historical moments.

The one awareness to which I am attracted is “that the world is unbelievably mysterious.” And what shall we say about these times except that it grows even more mysterious day by day. Then there is the challenge of the statement “the unexamined life is not worth living.” The pace of these uncertain times seems uncontrollable. The swiftness of change in areas of our daily lives can be overwhelming. We hardly have time to examine life and change happens. Some areas of our lives also need redefining. How shall we define justice for today’s world as we hear cries for justice that break our hearts.

In this moment, I hold the mysteries of Covid-19 and the outcry for racial justice and ask God – Why? I hear no answer, but know that it is a mystery. Our challenge is to care about those who are ill, health care givers, all those involved in caring for the living and deceased, and those suffering from racial injustice.

How little we know about the needs of the World Community! My desire and call is to remember the gifts of compassion and wisdom which empowers me to help create an environment where all are one in our mysterious world.

Henrita Frost, SSND

All Actions Count

Becoming Compassion-New

Step 6, Part 2 : Action

by Sara Neall

In part one, of step 6, Sister Henrita describes an insight she had while protesting at The White House. She was told that if she crossed a certain line, she would be arrested and she was afraid. Her fear challenged her commitment to her cause.

In the Buddhist tradition Right Action is part of The 8 Fold Path. Right Action takes the form of observing the precepts of non-killing and non-stealing. It is easy for me to think, I am a good person because  of course I don’t kill or steal.  In reality though, when I pay attention, I notice that embedded deep into my habits and patterns of thought are subtle ways I support stealing and killing.

The Buddhist scholar Joseph Goldstein writes, “if practicing the precepts doesn’t make us uncomfortable, it’s probably a sign we should investigate them more deeply.” (Mindfulness: A practical Guide p.380)

2020 is a year full of fear. Our climate continues to be in crisis. We are living in the midst of a global pandemic. And White comfort continues to kill Black people. My mindfulness practice and my commitment to the Buddhist precepts help me to challenge my actions in relation to these atrocities. Each time I waste food, I see that I am stealing resources. Each time I forget to wear my mask in public is an action that may contribute to someone’s death. Each time I fail to speak against racism is an action that  supports a brutal system of oppression. All my actions count.

In chapter 6 of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong reminds us that, “we have the ability, with disciplined repetitive action to construct new habits of thought, feeling and behavior.” (p.113)

It feels possible with practice, to examine my habits and my patterns of thought and to challenge the fear that keeps me tied to them.

Daily, Sister Henrita asks herself, “What lines to assist others, am I willing to cross?”

This inspires me to ask, “What am I willing to give up and what am I willing to change, day by day, to ease the suffering of all living beings?”

Action

Becoming Compassion-New

Part 1, Step 6

Several times I have read and reflected on the Sixth Step, ACTION, of the TWELVE STEPS TO A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Karen Armstrong.  Recently, I turned on the television and my world was shaken as I, once again, read the head- line, Thousands march across America for Black Lives!  Daily, I have read these and similar words about Black Lives, not only in the United States, but also in the Global Community.  However, this moment was different because I was concentrating on my call and obligation to ACTION.

Many years ago when I lived out East, I was involved in a march on the White House.  When we arrived we were given a place across from the White House.  We were soon informed that if we crossed a certain line we would be arrested.  I was afraid.  I still regret today that I didn’t cross the line.

I think of that moment of non-ACTION as a lost opportunity to pursue the cause of justice.  By my life-long efforts to pursue justice for all, I pray that I have paid a debt to all those I failed to assist in my lifetime.

In this new time, the word ACTION inspires me.  What lines to assist others, am I called to cross today?  Now that I am in my older adulthood and have less speed, I can’t excuse myself from taking ACTIONS.

My goal for my actions has always been Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.  This includes a focus of working for nonviolence and racial justice.  From a contemplative stance, the challenge each day is to become educated in the new understandings of today’s reality, offering me an opportunity to participate in the coming of a future full of peace.

“We Cannot Tolerate or turn a Blind Eye

to Racism or Exclusion of any Form.”

Pope Francis

 

Henrita Frost, SSND

Reflections on Mindfulness

Becoming Compassion-New

Part 2, Step 5 by Sara Neall

Sister Henrita started her mindfulness blog post with the beautiful image of her walking through The Christine Center bookstore and being attracted to the children’s book, I am Peace – A Book of Mindfulness. She writes, “It is what I needed. It enabled me to move with memories of my long journey with acquiring mindfulness.”  In that moment, Sister Henrita remembered that she had everything that she needed.

I love this image for two reasons. First, knowing that the Sisters, Henrita, Johanna, Gabe and Marge, continue their steady work of prayer through this COVID-19 time, for me, has been a great comfort. Second, because Sister Henrita remembered.

Mindfulness, or Sati in the Pali language can also be translated, to remember.

In Step 5, Karen Armstrong states, “The purpose of mindfulness … is to help us detach ourselves from the ego by observing the way our mind works.” p.105

Buddhism refers to the ego as Self. The Self is the location of I, me and mine.  The Self looks to the future and it looks to the past. It clings to its own preservation.

In this time of so much uncertainty, I notice my own fear of what the future holds and my anger at what was done in the past. I notice how I cling to my ideas of what is right and what is wrong. And I notice how easily I can get lost in the narrow view of me and mine.  This clinging to Self strangles compassion.

Compassion arises from a belief that we are enough and that we have enough. It is rooted in the present moment. Compassion requires letting go of Self.

Thich Nhat Hanh, likes to Remind us that, “We already have everything we need.”  It is in this present moment, each time we Remember, that we live and act with compassion.

Mindfulness During Challenging Times

Becoming Compassion-New


Mindfulness-5.2020

After much reading, reflecting and searching on mindfulness as a companion in my life, I was walking through the Christine Center’s bookstore and suddenly was attracted to a Children’s Book by Susan Verde: “I Am Peace – A Book of Mindfulness.”  It is what I needed.  It enabled me to move with memories of my long journey with acquiring mindfulness. Even now each day is a learning.

Each definition I find on mindfulness is basically presenting the same meaning: “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).  As I reflect on mindfulness in my life, many of my past years seemed overcome with busyness, and mindfulness was definitely neglected.  For many years I know that anxiety, stress and fear were present because of a sizeable work schedule.  However, I embraced it willingly for the needs of my community.  Now I am grateful that my present life situation fosters mindfulness in my daily life.

For me, I believe my faithful relationship with mindfulness took on renewed life in 2007, when everyday Mindfulness awareness and practices from Mahamudra Retreats became essential to my daily life.  The graces that I pray for each day are love, compassion and wisdom for myself and for all beings, that they may be free from suffering and that Peace may come.

You may notice that the picture at the beginning of these words with the background of the coronavirus, is a symbol of mindfulness for our times.  Perhaps it is a call to be mindful of all those suffering from the virus, to remember them in prayer, and hope for their well-being.

Henrita Frost, SSND – May 8, 2020

The Fourth Step: Empathy

Becoming Compassion-New

Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

Part Two of Step Four, by Sara Neall

As Sister Henrita and I continue our study of the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, we arrive at the fourth step, empathy.  Armstrong opens this chapter  by telling about the Buddha’s early life. The story goes, his father, disappointed when told that his son, after seeing great suffering was destined to be a monk, posted guards around the palace to keep all distress at bay.  Of course this was impossible and at the age of 29, after being shocked by the reality of sickness,aging and death, the Buddha left the comfort of his home in order to understand how to bear the sorrows of the world.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, to do this we must turn towards suffering.

Below is a picture of my friend, Thomas Windsor and his father Jesse participating in the honor flight.

Sara-4th Step Photo

Jesse Louis Windsor grew up in Slocomb, Alabama. He went into the United States Army at the young age 16 1/2, with his mother’s reluctant blessing, to escape the hardships of the South. He is a dedicated family man, a hard worker, church deacon and was successful with minimal formal education.

On Monday, April 6, he tested positive for COVID19 while in a rehabilitation center for back surgery.  Jesse is 96 years old.

His son Thomas writes,

We loved, and continue to love this facility [the care home where Jesse Windsor currently lives]- they take good care of him, and he knows the staff. But it was inevitable that the virus would find its way there. The staff, hardworking as they are, must go home every evening, and return each day, typically by public transportation. The doctor(s) service multiple facilities. How could it not enter the premises? We were able to face time a couple times last week- he is out of breath and a bit confused. I try to tell him daily that me and my sister did our best, that cruel timing got the best of the situation, and that we are here for him, and for each other. I could never imagine him going through this without my guidance or presence, yet he is. I try not to dwell on the loneliness and uncertainty he and the others must be encountering. But then I watch my thoughts . . .

In the Buddhist tradition our existence bears three marks; suffering, impermanence and non-self. I understand this to mean, that illness/aging/death is embedded into life, that everything is changing,  and that I am not at the center nor am I alone. These three marks hold the truth and in order to be fully awake and alive we need to see them and be in relationship with them. We can only do this by looking directly and seeing clearly. This takes courage.

As a tool for understanding empathy, Sister Henrita wrote about the art of mandala. Her beautiful mandalas represent our relationships to each other and the world around us. Through the art of creation, or the act of observation mandalas remind us of our connections and our relationships.

Thomas is a dear friend yet I have never had the honor of meeting his father. However, when I look directly and deeply, I know Thomas’ love for his father in the way I know my own love for my father. I know Thomas’ fear in the way I know my own fear.

Suffering is a law of life. It takes courage to look at it directly. However, when we  see it in relationship to its changing nature and its universality it becomes a path of wisdom and compassion.

 

Becoming Compassion-New

Third Step: Compassion for Yourself

Reflections on the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
Part Two of Step Three, by Sara Neall

In a distant zone in my being, I hear whispered the words, love yourself just as you are here and now.” – Sister Henrita Frost

Self-compassion is often the hardest compassion to practice. It can be fraught with self-judgement. As we strive to be more …. more kind, more loving, more giving we can begin to feel like we are not enough.

In Step Three: Compassion for Yourself (p.75) Karen Armstrong writes the story of Albert Friedlander. As a young Jewish boy in Nazi Germany, Albert was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. This eight years old boy had the wisdom to know he was not what the propaganda described. He lay awake one night and made a list of all his good qualities. He felt his own inherent gifts of heart and mind.

Lately, I have been practicing, ‘catch yourself being good*.’ It is a practice of noticing. I try to notice when my mind turns towards love, generosity and kindness. Over the past few months, I have noticed that when confronted with external suffering, for example, someone begging at the intersection, the news of a friend’s tragic loss, the frightening unfolding of COVID19, my first thought is always, “how can I help? what can I give?” Fear and doubt come second. It is my secondary thoughts, “that’s not enough, that’s inappropriate, that is too little, too late” that often stop me from acting. These thoughts feel rooted in a fear that I am not enough.

For me, this means that my own self-compassion is a practice of trust. I can trust myself. I trust that, if I make time for stillness and if I live more fully in the present moment, I can lean back into my own goodness. I can trust that in difficult times, like the ones we are facing, I will always act in the direction of goodness. This has a taste of equanimity. (But of course I need continued practice to be sure ….)

Our own goodness, perhaps our Buddha-nature often seems to go against the common scientific and social narrative of our ‘primitive’ brain. We hear so often that we are tribal creatures driven to react out of fear.

So, it was such a delight to listen to Nicholas Christakis’ March 5 episode of On Being:

https://onbeing.org/series/podcast/

Nicholas offers us a refreshing perspective on ‘social goodness.’ He offers the idea that love is just as primitive as fear.  And that love is in fact more powerful.

Please listen.

* Catch yourself being good, is my understanding of a practice from Susan Mickel.