July 30, 2021 is World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. 40.3 million people – primarily women and girls – are currently being trafficked and exploited for profit.
The recent 2021 International Trafficking in Persons report states that,
“Global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and enduring discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals already oppressed by other injustices. These challenges further compound existing vulnerabilities to exploitation, including human trafficking. We must break this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices if we hope to one day eliminate human trafficking.” – Anthony Blinken
Suffering of this magnitude breaks our hearts.
Sister Henrita’s July, New Moon compassion blog reminded us that following the natural rhythms of nature can ground us and that tuning into the cycles of the moon can open us to life’s challenges. From this place of deep compassionate practice she asked us,
“if we have the courage to break open our hearts to contain the whole universe?”
This year the theme for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is,
As the world starts to open up again, it can seem as though the World is adjusting to a new normal — new health protocols, new ways of socializing, and for some of us, an entirely new outlook on life. We can liken this spirit to the energy of the new moon, which, according to astrology, inspires transformative change and helps us adjust to life’s ever-changing waters. The July 2021 new moon began on July 9 and we entered the intuitive sign of Cancer. Cancer’s energy influences us to take a look at how we prioritize our home life and care for our deepest selves.
We began with the words “as the world starts to open again it seems as though the world is adjusting to a new normal. . . an entirely new outlook on life.” The energy of the new moon inspires transformative change, and it is presently upon us. Brian McLaren, a Pastor, describes the new community we are called to in the Spirit of Christ: “We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one community, as sisters and brothers in one family of creation.” Let us remember the world has started to open again ~ this new world is our home – it’s an entirely new outlook on life. It calls us to believe and to adjust and eventually accept it.
Becoming Compassion Challenge Each moment is a compassion occasion and holds a longing to comfort the heart of the world. The Dalai Lama shared that “my mother planted in me the seed of compassion by the example that she set. She raised me on a diet of love.” It offers us a challenge to companion one another with seeds of Compassion and diets of Love
“The joy that compassion brings is one of the best-kept secrets of humanity. It is a secret known only to very few people, a secret that has to be rediscovered over and over again.”
Have you ever reflected about “the joy that compassion brings?” Or is it a surprise to hear the words “the joy that compassion brings.” Take a moment to reflect about compassion in your life and interactions: compassion for yourself and joy, compassion for others and joy! Compassion for others has its home in compassion for oneself, knowing the experience and feeling its true joy and compassion.
A crucial hope for our world is the coming of Peace for all of Creation. Love and Compassion are fundamental to the journey toward Peace. Imagine the feeling of joy that the coming of World Peace could bring. When we experience that joy, we understand the joy compassion brings to us. The challenge of the moment is for each of us to continue the compassionate journey within ourselves and bring it to the needs of the local and global community. Let’s sprinkle the World with our secret, “the joy that compassion brings”.
My reflections also brought me to our whole world daily penetrated with words and actions filling all of creation with pain. There is a desire, a call to embrace not only one person with compassion, but the whole world. An enormous mission held by countless people worldwide. The Charter for Compassion consoles us that love and compassion are universal. But then we have the daily reminders that the World is also embraced by global painful suffering.
At some point, I heard the words of Joanna Macy who said: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” The heart is present to me in several images, sizes and colors which daily remind me of the pain of Creation. What could our hearts containing the whole universe possibly mean for all of us, but to dwell as sisters and brothers in a common home with a web of life made up of millions of species. This can give us a sense of the universe, but there is so much more, known and unknown.
We are sisters and brothers entrusted with Creation – all of it! Do we have the courage to break open our hearts to contain the whole universe? Its mystery is overwhelming! We are the ones responsible to fill the world with love and compassion, one moment at a time, one person at a time, and on and on we live with each challenge, with each call. Remember, the universe needs us, depends on us.
Remember the children of this world are our future!
One in ten children worldwide are forced into labor.
64 million girls and 88 million boys.
Nearly half of these children, 73 million, do hazardous work. Work that directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as every human being below the age of eighteen years. It defines child labor as work that is mentally, physically or morally dangerous and harmful to children. Work that deprives children the opportunity to attend school. Work that requires children to leave school prematurely. Work that forces children to combine school attendance with excessively long and tiring days.
This labor prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future. It perpetuates poverty and supports economies built on unjust and unsafe working conditions. We must work to withdraw children from this type of labor. We must provide children with education and assist their families with training and employment opportunities which will contribute directly to creating decent work for adults.
Child labor is the product of an array of social and economic forces.
There is a strong correlation between child labor and situations of conflict and disaster. The incidence of child labor in countries affected by armed conflict is 77% higher than the global average. It is important to prioritize the elimination of child labor within humanitarian responses and during reconstruction and recovery.
Most child labor takes place within the family unit. More than 2/3 of children who are forced to work, work to contribute to their family earnings. This underscores an important broader point concerning the nature of child labor in the world today. We must better understand and address family reliance on children’s labor. This is critical.
Policy responses to child labor need to be integrated into national development efforts and adapted to local circumstances. Child labor is not an isolated issue. It’s elimination must be reflected in policies of education, social protection, labor markets and labor standards.
Everyone can take a stand and make a difference. Our economy is built on unjust and unsafe working conditions. What we buy often supports child labor and poor working conditions. We must spend wisely, consume with care and make all children our priority.
“I urgently appeal, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing and its human roots, concern and effect us all.” -Encyclical Letter LAUDATO SI’ (www.vatican.va)
“What kind of world do we want to leave for those coming after us, to the children growing up?”
During the week of May 16th to May 24th 2021, the Catholic Church asks us to contemplate and celebrate our deep connection to the natural world. The Church invites us all, regardless of our faith tradition, to renew our commitment and responsibility to the earth by asking,
When we fail to care for creation, what impact does this have on our relationship with ourselves, others, God and the earth?
How is our concern for our fellow human beings connected to our concern for the environment?
What values should be reflected in our local, national and global relationships and in our conversations around environmental issues?
What changes can we make to our lifestyles, production and consumption to better care for one another and creation?
How can faith communities in the United States (and around the world) be involved in exerting pressure on leaders and government, both locally and nationally, to be more responsible stewards of creation?
In order to fully answer these questions, action must be taken. Please,
Response to the Cry of the Earth Use clean renewable energy to reduce fossil fuels in order to achieve carbon neutrality. Protect and promote biodiversity. Guarantee access to clean water for all.
Response to the Cry of the Poor Defend all forms of life on Earth especially vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities, migrants and children at risk.
Engage in Ecological Economics Support sustainable production. Consume and invest ethically. Divestment from fossil fuels.
Adopt a Simple Lifestyle Act with sobriety when using resources and energy. Avoid single-use plastic. Adopt a more plant-based diet and reduce meat consumption. Use public transportation. Walk or bike when possible.
Promote Ecological Education Re-think and re-design educational curricula in the spirit of integral ecology. Create ecological awareness and action. Promote the ecological vocation of young people, teachers and leaders.
Celebrate Ecological Spirituality Recover a religious vision of God’s creation. Encourage greater contact with the natural world in a spirit of wonder, praise, joy and gratitude. Promote creation centered liturgical celebrations. Develop ecological catechesis, prayer and retreats.
Embrace Community Encourage involvement and participatory action to care for creation at the local, regional, national and international levels. Promote advocacy and People’s campaigns. Encourage rootedness in local territory and neighborhood ecosystems.
“The time is running out and the cry of the earth and the poor are getting louder, can we still afford to remain passive.?”
During Laudato Si 2021, add your voice to the conversation. Explore the links below.
“we are not going to get out of crisis, like climate or COVID-19 by hunkering down in individualism but only by ‘being many together’ , by encounter and dialogue and cooperation.”
In the first half of 2020, 12.6 million people were newly displaced. 62% of these displaced people were forced from their homes as a direct result of a natural disaster. Disasters which can be linked to climate change. Each day the news media reports more suffering. As individuals, this suffering is overwhelming.
In the beautiful quote above, Pope Francis reminds us, we are not alone in our deep desire to alleviate suffering. He asks us to turn towards suffering, to ask questions and to listen deeply and then to work together in our quest for climate and social justice.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame are wonderful examples of this. Each month the publication, Shalom News , shares their tireless work. The Sisters invite us to read, to learn and to help.
Water is flexible, taking the shape of whatever vessel it flows into. It’s always interacting, changing, in motion, yet revealing continual patterns of connection. Water can be so expressive, a signal of our most heartfelt feelings. We cry tears of sorrow, tears of outrage, tears of gratitude, and tears of joy. Water can be puzzling, seeming weak or ineffectual, yielding too much, not holding firm. And yet over time water will carve its own pathway, even through rock. And yes, water freezes. But it also melts.
Real Change, p.15-16
These beautiful words, written by the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzburg, use the image of water to describe life’s journey. Water as a metaphor easily illustrates our common humanity. Water is our life.
Each day I love to walk along the Menomonee River. It is an urban waterway flowing into Lake Michigan. At the moment the water is high and fast. Its movement drowns out the background hum of the city. I can walk along the bank and feel almost completely immersed the world of nature. It is both a solace and a delight.
Water is, of course required for our health and our hygiene. Most of us can’t imagine a life without easy access to water to meet our most basic needs.
Globally, over 3 billion people are at risk of disease because the water quality of their rivers, lakes and groundwater is unknown. A fifth of the world’s river basins are experiencing dramatic fluctuations in water availability. 2.3 billion people are living in countries categorized as “water-stressed,” including 721 million in areas where the water situation is “critical,” according to recent research carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners.
Since 1926 Black History has been recognized in the United States during the month of February. Originally one week long, it was created by Carter G. Woodson. He believed that by raising awareness of African American contributions to civilization, “truth could not be denied and reason would prevail over justice.”
How is it possible that 95 years later, on January 6, 2021 a violent mob, rooted in the belief of white supremacy, attacked the US capitol? A mob which was intent on overturning a legal and democratic election. A mob which tried to suppress the voices of millions of American voters. A mob who was encouraged and supported by the 45th president of the United States.
In the hopes of understanding this crime in the context of my own whiteness, I have been following the work of Rachel Elizabeth Cargle. She writes, “Black history is American history.” “Unlearn the boundaries of whitewashed history and culture” and understand, “what makes us, us.” Each day she offers a topic to Google …Black cowboys…Black Wall Street…The Chitlin Circuit…Combahee River Collective…the Devine Nine…womanism
And so I Google Black Cowboy. I note my surprise at seeing a Black woman on a horse. In the short YouTube documentary I watch, I learn about the origin of the word cowboy. And I learn that the classic John Wayne, Hollywood cowboy is based on the true life stories of Black men like Nat Love, Bass Reeves and Brit Johnson. I feel my perceptions being challenged.
Mindfulness teacher, Ronda V. Magee writes, “race is not something outside of us, it is something we are doing.” She suggests bringing, “awareness to the way your mind ‘does race’, the way your mind makes race filled assumptions.” As a practicing Buddhist, I practice to notice the habit patterns of my mind. When I turn my attention toward race, I notice how my body changes in the presence of a Black person. I become hyper-aware. I feel discomfort and uncertainty.
Magee goes on to define racism as, “a complex of behaviors and explanatory stories that enable some humans beings to assert power over other human beings.” She states, “we often refer to people as white, black or some other race, without thinking twice about it, as if race is the natural order of things. But race is a matter of social imagination and construction, of perception shaped by a given context.”
The history I explore through Cargle’s prompts are small ways I can challenge my perceptions about race. It is only by noticing my racialized patterns of thought that I can begin to change them. What makes us, us? We do.
Our global economy, based on unsustainable growth, has vast disparities and heartbreaking inequalities. We have resource enough to meet the basic needs of everyone living on our planet. Yet billions of people continue to suffer. How can we begin to change our thinking, our habits and our consumption to transition to and advocate for distributive justice?
Distributive justice is a means of “providing moral guidance for political processes and structures that effect the distribution of benefits and burdens in society.” (plato.standford.edu) Buddhist dharma can offer moral guidance in understanding wealth and poverty. It offers an opportunity to examine collective structures and policies and challenge individual beliefs and habits in order to shape society.
A capitalist economy promotes individual wealth and exploits the natural world. Its growth is dependent upon continuous excessive consumption. This individualism and exploitation is in direct conflict with Buddhist values.
In Buddhism the root cause of suffering is craving. The free market exploits craving. We are constantly advertised to and reminded that we need more and more to be satisfied. Fortunately, when we slow down and begin to practice mindful awareness we see our consumptive habits and begin to make better choices.
Material wealth does not bring lasting happiness. However, there is pleasure in valuing beautiful items. There is community in exchanging gifts. There is ease in acquiring labor saving tools. Consuming is not inherently bad. The Buddha did not imagine nor teach complete renunciation, instead he offered 4 kind of happiness to consider:
possessing enough material resources
sharing them with friends and relatives
not being in debt
Poverty awareness month asks us to open our eyes and see the suffering in our communities. It also asks us to reflect on our values, re-evaluate our priorities and examine how we can become wiser consumers. Perhaps in 2021 we can re-imagine our society and work towards systems of distributive justice.
If you have the means please consider donating to one of the many organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, tending to the sick and educating our children.
Karen Armstrong’s final step in her book The 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life is, “love your enemy.” This step is an essential part of living The Golden Rule, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated.” It is at the heart of all faith traditions.
The word enemy is heavy. It conjures up warring nations and historic disputes. However, the latin word is inimicus. The prefix in means not and the root imicus means friends; simply, not friends.
In this step Armstrong reminds us of the Buddhist practice of Metta or lovingkindness. In the traditional story of Metta, the Buddha sends a group of monks into the forrest to meditate. During the daylight hours the monks settle in. They are content to practice among the beauty of the trees. When night draws in the forrest begins to feel forbidding. In the dark, unfamiliar sounds are amplified. The monks become agitated. They get distracted. They can’t get comfortable. They become afraid. They return to the Buddha and ask him to send them to a different place. He says no, they must return to the dark forrest. Before they go however, he gifts them the practice of Metta.
Metta is the practice of friendship. During this practice we offer health, happiness, safety and freedom to 4 different people. These people are, ourself, a loved one, a neutral person and a difficult person. Conjuring these people into our hearts and minds allows us to remember that everyone, even our ‘not-friends’ want health, happiness, safety and freedom.
Sadly, in 2020 we do not have to travel far to find someone who we disagree with and would no longer consider a friend. People have the capacity for great love and great harm. The work of committed compassion recognizes suffering and acts to alleviate it. Metta practice keeps deep compassionate work rooted in friendship. It reminds us to always treat others as we would wish to be treated.
In 2021, may we all have the courage to face our fear of ‘the enemy’ and come together to alleviate suffering.
Twelve Steps to A Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
Step 12, Part One – Love Your Enemies
“Love Your Enemies”. I have remained in contemplation with these words, “Love Your Enemies” for a long time. I searched for what it is saying to me. This reply came – they are your sisters and brothers. My reflection continued as I pondered that those whom I may consider enemies are my sisters and brothers just as those whom I love and care about.
“Love Your Enemies” invited me into soul searching Scripture (the Bible). The words quickly came, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31) which is the second great commandment of Jesus. Then followed “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34).
St. Paul the Apostle described love to the Corinthian Community: “Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, and it is not conceited; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not prone to anger, nor does it brood over injuries. Love doesn’t rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to loves forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Now I reflect: What is my relationship with “Love Your Enemies.” As I contemplate my long life, I am aware that love and hate have existed within me. In all I do, I need to remember that those I considered enemies have also experienced similar pain and anger that caused my failure to love. How can I make a place for everyone in my life, a place of mutual healing and compassion?
During a Meditation on Loving Kindness I identified an enemy. I identified an enemy as one who harms the lives of children. Then I asked the question: Am I doing anything that harms the lives of children? The meditation called me forth to engage in compassionate healing of children, of myself and others.
So I leave this reflection with the consciousness that we are at the end of the book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, but we are at a new beginning of living more compassionately the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.