- The Farm
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“When I sit zazen, feelings of anger and even rage come up. What can I do?” was the question. I didn’t have an answer, but a response came anyway, from the depths of Buddhist tradition. Because so many of us have this situation, I’m offering it here now.
There’s a practice called tonglen, from Tibetan Buddhism. There are many ways to describe it. Its basis is the act of taking in negativity, allowing it to enter and purify your heart, and sending out pure loving and healing energy. Here is a more detailed description:
Sit comfortably; settle your physical body and let your breathing become steady. Bring your attention to the event, person, or emotion that troubles you. It could be a matter of injustice in the world, something that affects you personally, a person or group in pain, or your own inability to calm down. Beginning, it’s easier to begin with something outside yourself, something specific, especially an individual person.
Let yourself be aware of their distress. With every inbreath, breathe it into your heart. You might imagine it as an ugly or dark cloud, a poisonous gas, an acrid smoke, extreme heat – whatever is unpleasant to you. Bring it toward your heart, staying objective and just observing.
Allow this toxic thing to penetrate your heart and cleanse it. You might imagine there is a thick shield around your heart, that requires a very strong acid to penetrate. Or visualize the heart itself as clogged, rigid, thick, dead. As if you were using a powerful cleaning substance, bring the smoke in and let it dissolve the hindrances, making your heart clear again, open and flexible.
Breathing out, let this clear and open heart send a beautiful light, clear, cool, radiant, out and toward the original object. Imagine that it has the power to actually heal the situation or person.
Do this as long as you like. It won’t be instant; your first breath may barely begin the process, and the first exhale may seem puny. Just let it come a little farther in each time. Let the poison be the medicine. You will learn that your heart has the ability to transform negativity into healing and life.
After describing this process in the class, I realized how desperately I need to do it myself. For a while now, it will be my core practice for daily sitting meditation and occasional other times. Whatever comes into my mind can be a focus. Now, along with chanting for people and causes, I’m sending tonglen. To this land where I live: it feels like a living being underneath my body; on my way to sleep I felt its presence and sent this embrace. To a friend. To the places of wildfires, and the places of floods, to the humans, animals, insects, plants, soil-dwellers, soils and rocks and mountains and streams and air impacted by those natural disasters whether caused naturally or not. To the people facing prison for environmental activism. To the Mi’kmaw people in Nova Scotia as they resist violent attacks by white lobster organizations. To Gretchen Whitmore, and to the “Wolverine Watchmen” who attempted to kidnap her. To immigrant children held in cages. Personally hardest – a certain neighbor who has harmed me and probably will again.
It’s harder to do this practice with the perpetrators of violence. It’s a beneficial practice anyway. In the past I’ve said to people criticizing those wo do evil, “Would you want to live in that mind?” They never would. Yet it’s more comfortable to divide the world, to divide human beings into good and bad, right and wrong, our people and the enemy. And when we make that division, hate wins.
I say that very carefully. To suggest that the perpetrators are still human, probably acting from trauma, seems to offer permission for them to do their harm. No. Definitely not. When we look at someone acting clearly out of hate, or worse for simple profit, we are looking at someone severely damaged by this culture. The damage may come through obvious trauma in their family, through societal conditioning in grade school, or from subtle conditioning of an insane, wetiko social culture.
Wetiko is a Cree word that means cannibal monsters that devour everything, and that make others be like them. It’s a mental illness set loose in Europe centuries ago; my ancestors had to adapt, submit or join. Those who joined the best became the rulers of our (white people, industrial civilization, capitalist) culture.
Just briefly, I want to encourage you to vote, and to get engaged in activities that support people to vote and to protect the vote. Here’s a website with a lot of information: https://paceebene.org/election-action
People are doing things to get out the vote, to protect voters from intimidation, and to make sure votes are counted. Afterward, there is probably work to do for peace, for protection, and to protect the election results. You can find that at this information too.
Very small things can help. You can help safely. Please do something.
The idea of a “management team” has come up and I’m looking for a few people who’d like to do a little more. The team would get together with me occasionally to make detailed decisions.
For example, I’d love some folks to think with me about the 2021 schedule, and help me write a budget .
Some of the team would take on ongoing roles – something you would enjoy doing for a few hours per month, or sporadically for projects. Here’s a list.
If you are tempted, please call or email me, and we can talk. I won’t pressure. I’d love your help.
We are in a perilous time as a country, and as a world. The pandemic combined with climate change combined with serious economic hardships for many of us – and the polarization, open violence and open white supremacy, the signs of pending fascism – let us practice calm, let us offer prayers and chanting and kindness in every way we can. Do not despair.
The meditation offered above is one possibility. Loving-kindness meditation, if you do that, is another. And here is a poem I love, offering a way to be, regardless of the times.
“what if our religion was each other,
if our practice was our life,
if prayer, our words.
what if the temple was the earth,
if forests were our church,
if holy water—the rivers, lakes, and oceans.
what if meditation was our relationships,
if the teacher was life,
if wisdom was self-knowledge,
if love was the center of our being.”
Please be well and care for each other.