Dear Still Water Friends,
Last week, I participated in a getting-to-know-you conversation with three other people in a Zoom breakout room. Two of the participants revealed they had chosen not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Although the pandemic was not the purpose of our meeting, the friendly atmosphere allowed them to feel safe in sharing their fears and health concerns. The third participant and I both wanted to be supportive while disagreeing with their decision, as well as feeling uncomfortable with the divisive topic.
At first I felt my body tense with the desire to deliver my own righteous perspective. Aware of my reaction and wanting to offer compassion, I took some slow breaths, calmed myself down, and listened more carefully. I set aside my need to convince anyone and heard the distress in one woman’s voice as she talked about how her decision not to vaccinate made her feel socially isolated and rejected. She seemed overwhelmed by the advice and negative reactions she received from friends, and I felt she needed us to hear her suffering and fear.
The last sentence of the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life, reminds us to look deeply at how we hold our views.
Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
When I was able to listen to the woman on the call without judgement, I could see her anguish ease. All of us gained a more nuanced perspective about her situation. As we shared, the group now felt safe for us to disagree with each other in a clear, kind way without personal attacks or animosity. At the end, my new friend seemed emotionally relieved and less defensive. It was a profound affirmation for me of the value of becoming compassionate, open, and connected to myself and others in challenging moments.
In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
Prayer or good intention is not enough to transform a violent situation. The First Mindfulness Training is a reminder that you have to practice, to train yourself yourself to lessen violence through understanding. You can do this by practicing mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness means that instead of reacting to whatever stimulus is around us and provokes us, we go back to our breathing, we calm our body, we stop our thinking, and we bring the mind home to the body in the present moment. We become more aware of our thoughts, our motivations, our actions and their consequences, and the way we speak to others. We understand ourselves better. We see our part in the situation, and we see that we may be harboring misperceptions about the person or group. With this clearer view, we see that the others are human beings like us with very much the same feelings, motivations, and concerns.
This Thursday evening, after our sitting, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In our Dharma sharing we will discuss the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life, and explore these questions:
- What arises for you when you are around people who hold views contrary to yours?
- How do you cultivate compassion when it is not your first response?
- Are there other parts of the First Mindfulness Training that are alive for you tonight?
You are warmly invited to join us!
An excerpt on growing our hearts by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.
Inclusiveness from Peaceful Action, Open Heart: Lessons from the Lotus Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh
Each of us must ask ourselves: how large is my heart? How can I help my heart grow bigger and bigger every day? The practice of inclusiveness is based on the practice of understanding, compassion, and love. When you practice looking deeply to understand suffering, the nectar of compassion will arise naturally in your heart. Maitri, loving-kindness, and karuna, compassion, can continue to grow indefinitely. So thanks to the practice of looking deeply and understanding, your loving-kindness and compassion grow day by day. And with enough understanding and love you can embrace and accept everything and everyone.
Very often in a conflict we feel that if those on the other side, those who oppose us or believe differently from us, ceased to exist then we would have peace and happiness. So we may be motivated by the desire to annihilate, to destroy the other side, to remove certain people from our community or society. But looking deeply we will see that just as we have suffered, they have also suffered. If we truly want to live in peace, safety, and security, we must create an opportunity for those on the other side to live this way as well. If we know how to allow the other side into our heart, if we have that intention, we not only suffer less right away but we also increase our own chances of having peace and security. When we’re motivated by the intention to practice inclusiveness, it becomes very easy to ask, “How can we best help you so that you can enjoy safety? Please tell us.” We express our concern for their safety, their need to live in peace, to rebuild their country, to strengthen their society. When you are able to approach a situation of conflict in this way, it can help transform the situation very quickly. The basis for this transformation, the first thing that must happen, is the change within your own heart. You open your heart to include the other side; you want to give them the opportunity to live in peace, as you wish to live.