Water

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.

And yet,

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.

www.unep.org

March 22 is World Water Day. Take a moment to reflect on the big and the small ways water plays a role in your life. And then consider joining the conversation at:

https://www.worldwaterday.org/

Learn and share how to honor this valuable resource.

Black History Month: “What makes us, us?”

By Sara Neall

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, H​ollywood 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.

This post is rooted in the work of:
africanamericanhistorymonth.gov
https://www.rachelcargle.com/
The Inner Work of Racial Justice – Ronda V. Magee

Poverty Awareness Month

January 2021

689 million people live in extreme poverty surviving on less than $1.90 a day.

Children and youth account for 2/3 of the world’s poor.

WorldVision.org

In Buddhism, poverty is understood to mean a lack of material requirements for leading a life free from hunger, exposure and disease. To alleviate suffering, all people require:

  • food sufficient to alleviate hunger and maintain health
  • clothing sufficient to be socially decent and to protect the body
  • healthcare sufficient to cure and prevent illness
  • shelter sufficient for serious engagement of the mind

The pandemic continues to challenge many people’s ability to meet the needs of their family. Our community and communities around the world are suffering.

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa

Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day.

Oxfam.org

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:

  1. possessing enough material resources
  2. enjoying them
  3. sharing them with friends and relatives
  4. 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.

https://www.unicef.org/
https://www.feedingamerica.org/
https://nationalhomeless.org/
https://www.womenforwomen.org/

These ideas have been researched using the works of:
Clair Brown (Buddhist Economics)
David Loy (The Great Awakening)
Helena Norburg-Hodge (Local is our Future)

Think deeply, read widely and act wisely.

The Twelfth Step: Love your Enemies

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.

Love Your Enemies

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.

Recognition

Step 11: Part Two – Recognition
Recognition ~ Reconciler ~ Reconciliation

After I completed several readings of Step 11, I was walking around repeating the word recognition to myself, then I heard myself saying reconciliation and then saying reconciler. I paused and comprehended that this was a pathway enlightening me to journey in a world that needs us as recognizers, reconcilers and facilitators of reconciliation.

Recognition calls us to not only look at the other, but also ourselves and the world. Recognition also urges us to, as Karen Armstrong says, “. . . look at the world anew and do not leave this step until you have chosen your mission. There is a need that you – and only you – can fulfill.” How many of us truly believe that there is a need only ‘I’ can fulfill? Let’s try it, clothing ourselves with loving kindness and compassion and – LOOK! SEARCH! RISK! Is there something or somewhere calling us, waiting for us?

Recognition makes us aware of not only global suffering but also national and local suffering. Recognition now has a deeper meaning of feeling compassion in the depths of our hearts for other people’s pain. One of my recognitions focuses on a need that breaks my heart – the suffering of children worldwide – hunger, homelessness, abandonment, lack of childcare, abuse, trafficking, are some of the problems.

One of my missions in life has been concern for children. Together with praying for children, I care for them by donating, when possible, to children’s groups. We all know our future depends on today’s children worldwide, for they are tomorrow’s leaders for a World Community of Peace and Justice.

Finally, recognition brings us to the realization that meditation is important, as we are called to be reconcilers and sowers of reconciliation. The gift of meditation provides the internal support needed in the give and take required for positive relationships with others. Some may not have the same belief systems that we do, others may disagree with our values and vision. Yet it is ours to be healers of division in the World as reconcilers and sowers of reconciliation.

Henrita Frost, SSND

Recognition

Step 11 – Part 1, by Sara Neall

Karen Armstrong launched The Charter for Compassion on November 12, 2009 with the simple rule, “Always treat others as you wish to be treated yourself.”  This golden rule is at the center of her book The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.  Step 11 is recognition. 

In Step 11 Armstrong writes, “during the previous steps, we have been developing a more empathetic outlook based on imagination rather than logic. Our work has revealed that we are not alone in our suffering but that everyone is in pain.” (p.167) Further, “we should regard our exposure to global suffering as a spiritual opportunity.” (p.168) Suffering is an opportunity to turn towards others and treat them as you wish to be treated.

‘There is suffering’ is the Buddha’s first noble truth. It is this recognition that allows wisdom and compassion to arise. At the first sight of suffering we can feel our hearts naturally turn towards it. 

The Buddha asks us to know suffering from its arising to its cessation. When we pay close attention we can notice that suffering is eased by gentle acts of compassion. Conversely, we can notice that when we turn away from suffering, out of fear and judgement it increases.

In this step, Armstrong tells the story of Christina Noble. Growing up homeless on the streets of Dublin, Christina suffered greatly. A profound dream inspired her to travel to Vietnam. In Vietnam she saw, “two destitute little girls playing in the dirt of the street, one of them smiled at her and tried to hold her hand. Christina was immediately overcome with memories so painful that she tried to walk away; she wanted no more grief, no more involvement. Yet all the time she was saying to herself: ‘There is no difference between an Irish gutter and a Vietnamese gutter’….This was a major turning point: Here, [she says] the pain, sorrow and anger of [her] childhood in Ireland would be resolved. [She] would work with the street children of Ho Chi Minh City. Here [she] would stay. Here [she] would find happiness.” (p.165,166)

Karen Armstrong implores us to recognize suffering.  She asks that we look out into our world, without fear,  and know that our own suffering makes us a powerful source of compassion. It is with this recognition that we can “always treat others as we wish to be treated.”

Knowledge

Step 10, Part 2~ by Sara Neall

The book The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, is an active guide to develop compassion towards self and towards others.  Each step requires us to dig deep into our own hearts and minds in order to build the world in which we want to live. Step 10, knowledge, challenges us to examine our own prejudices in order to learn about the world and each other with heartfelt curiosity. 

In this step, Armstrong asks each of us to, “overcome the limitations of the unexamined life and the dangers of habitual tribal thinking”(p.162) in order to, “develop a wider, more panoptic knowledge and understanding of our neighbors.”(p.156) When she wrote this step, it was with the intention that ‘our neighbors’ were countries away. She held a global view. I write this with a national view. It seems timely and necessary. 

In these last few weeks before the election we are all too familiar with what “habitual tribal thinking” feels like and sounds like. We share our opinions on politics to our like minded friends and shutter in disbelief at those who don’t agree. As things get louder and more confusing  we naturally get more entrenched in our own views. The more frightened we get, the more we seek comfort and safety from our tribe.

However, deep compassion requires knowledge of the ’other’. It takes a courageous look at our own entrenched beliefs. It “presupposes an awareness of [our own] preconceptions, attachments and blind spots that can cloud our understanding.” (p.158) It seeks an “objective overview that sees the situation as a whole.” (p.158)

In this contentious election cycle, I know from the yard signs along my street that my next door neighbors and I hold opposing political views. In moments of fear and of righteousness, I have been tempted to dismiss them as ‘other.’  And then …they email to ask about my dog, they wave as they head off to work, they take time to chat as I take the garbage out. I am continually reminded that they care about our community just as much as I do.

The knowledge that builds deep compassion,  asks questions and listens deeply. It reaches out and it remembers that we are more alike than we are different. Deep compassion challenges us, as Sister Henrita wrote in Step 10 – Part 1, “to realize and continue on a way of love and join others on the journey of love.”

Step 10, Part 1: Knowledge*

May our loving thoughts fill the whole world,
above, below, across— without limit;
our love will know no obstacles—
a boundless goodwill toward the whole world,
unrestricted, free of hatred or enmity.
Whether we are standing or walking, sitting or
lying down, as long as we are awake
we should cultivate this love in our heart.
This is the noblest way of living. Source: Sutta Nipata 1.18.

This is the noblest way of Becoming Compassion.

Following contemplation on the Four Immeasurable Meditations (Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity), I rested in the concluding thoughts that are quoted above. These thoughts elicited hope within me, hope for our mysterious time, hope inspiring me to believe my presence, my beliefs are needed in this world. The challenge is to realize and continue on a way of love and to join others on the journey of love.

As citizens of a Global Community, we are unable to know everything about our sisters and brothers. However, our call is to be persons with a concern for everybody and to be persons who take time to be aware of what is happening in the Global Community – take time to reflect, how can I help? We may respect ourselves for our concern for everybody, but also we need to be aware of our failures which have resulted in negative relationship with our sisters, brothers and also some nations.

Indeed, our call is to open our hearts with compassion for all. As we meditate on the Immeasurables, we are encouraged to extend friendship and offer loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity to all peoples. Together, we now stand in a profoundly difficult time in our Nation’s Life and Future, a time that begs us to be concerned for everyone. What shall we do? Let us meditate on the beginning reflection and respond with love and compassion.

*Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong

Henrita Frost, SSND

Concern for Everybody

Step 9 – Part 2, by Sara Neall

The 9th step to living a compassionate life is cultivating a concern for everybody. Karen Armstrong defines this concern as, “understanding different national, cultural and religious traditions.”  She goes on to say, “we cannot confine our compassion to our own group: we must also reach out in some way to the stranger … – even to the enemy.” (p.144)

The coronavirus pandemic continues to challenge each one of us. As it travels around the world infecting people indiscriminately, it has revealed the depth of our interdependence. This pandemic has laid bare the fact we are connected and that our care for each other must include everybody. Realizing this interdependence is both terrifying and beautiful.

When we are afraid, we live in survival mode. Fear narrows our borders and we focus on caring for ourselves and those closest to us. But if we live too long in fear it becomes harmful. Our narrow borders can lead to regard “one’s own group as inherently superior” (p.144) This breeds arrogance and divisiveness. Our thoughts, words and actions become defined by an attitude of superiority.

However, the beauty of interdependence arises when we realize that we are One. In Step 9 – Part 1, Sister Henrita writes, “we each have a place in the Earth Community” When we see ourselves as part of the whole world, fear, and connection meet.

Step 9 helps us nurture this beauty. Concern for everybody, even those with whom we disagree, must guide our compassion. It is in this step that we move away from fear and towards beauty.

Holding complex ideas can lead us to the beauty of creativity.

Stepping out of our comfort zone can lead us to the beauty of greater diversity.

Widening our borders can lead us to the beauty of deeper insights.

And remembering that

we are not free until all beings are free

can lead us to the ultimate beauty of liberation.