I Can’t Breathe

Photo by Miki Jourdan

I Can’t Breathe

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 04, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening, June 4, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening, June 5, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends:

Three recent events are replaying in my mind:

  • A video of a white woman in a New York city’s Central Park calling the police to tell them she was being threatened by an African-American man and to come immediately. Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher, had simply asked her to leash her dog in a bird sanctuary that required dogs to be leashed.
  • Multiple videos of a white Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed, African-American man on the ground, for eight long minutes, until he was dead, despite the multiple pleas of onlookers asking him to stop.
  • A CNN video of Secret Service officers and Park Police using tear gas and flash bombs to clear peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park, next to the White House, so that the President could walk from the White House to St. Johns Episcopal Church and hold up a bible. Bishop Mariann Budde noted in the video, “Let me be clear: The president just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for.”

Given than Still Water’s stated core purpose is “To nourish the seeds of mindfulness, compassion, and community in individuals, families, and the larger society,” how might we respond to what is happening in and around us, right now? That is the question I would like to address this Thursday and Friday evenings in our Dharma sharing.

However, before we address that question as a community, I would like to bring in three other voices, through two video clips and a poem. The first voice is that of musician Jon Batiste, the band leader of A Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Batiste, in a June 1st show, tells Colbert that pain and trauma brought up by the death of George Floyd “is an opportunity to address the things that have led us to this point. … People’s minds are changing. There is an opportunity for those of us who may not understand our role in what is happening to have a moral awakening, an elevation of our spiritual consciousness.”

The second voice is that of Killer Mike, a rapper and community activist in Atlanta. On Friday he was asked by the Mayor of Atlanta to speak to protestors about alternatives to destruction. His spontaneous words are powerful:

It is the responsibility of us to make this better right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged. We want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burning. We want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground. … I don’t have the answers, but I do know we must plot. We must plan. We must strategize, organize, and mobilize. (Video and transcript available online)

The third voice is that of Dzung X. Vo, a pediatrician and mindfulness practitioner who reminds us that when we are overwhelmed by the suffering in and around us, our first step is always to “just breathe.” His poem, “i can’t breathe” is below. (An artistically formatted version is also available.)

You are invited to join us.

Many blessings,


P.S. Two recommended readings: The Price We Have Paid for Not Confronting Racism by Mitch Landrieu, and Message to White Allies from A Black Anti-Racism Expert: You’re Doing It Wrong — The Dalai Lama shows us a better way by David Campt.

 I can’t breathe
by Dzung X. Vo

i can’t breath
said George Floyd
the knee of four hundred years of racism
on his neck

i can’t breath
said the woman with fear
in her eyes
her lungs attacked by coronavirus
as she was put onto the ventilator

i can’t breathe
said the nurse, exhausted
after a long shift
sweating under a hot surgical mask
and foggy goggles

i can’t breathe
said the young man
poisoned by a toxic drug supply
and generations of trauma and loss

i can’t breathe
said the one hundred thousand
dead americans
a nation
and a world
in mourning

i can’t breathe
said cities choked in smoke
from a planet on fire

Breathe my dear
said the buddha of our time reminding us of the way
to love and healing and transformation

breathe my dear
said the beloved community
and waking up together

breathe my dear
said mother earth
and let my oceans, mountains,
and forests embrace you

right now
when it seems so hard to breathe

right now
just breathe

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 04, 2020


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