Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening Jindra Cekan will facilitate our Thursday program. Jindra has practiced mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for more than twenty years, is the mother of two teen-age boys, is a international development consultant focusing on issues of food scarcity, and is a dear friend. In the notes below she suggests ways we can together look deeply at the roots of fear:
We are living in a profoundly turbulent time. It takes great compassion – for ourselves and others – and solidity of practice to weather all the causes of fears we face now, from climate change and political change to personal fears for our families, jobs, and those who are at risk. It can be easy to blame others for causing our fears but as we know, we inter-are and all clearly suffer.
What can we do now? How can we touch the seeds of peace within us so that we can care for ourselves and others?
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that first we take care of ourselves. In Calming the Fearful Mind he writes:
If we stop our constant activity and consumption, we can recognize that there is suffering inside us, born from ignorance, anger, and fear. We can practice breathing, walking, and slowing down in order to get relief. We can come home to ourselves as a country, recognizing and embracing our suffering. Practicing mindfulness, we see that our fear and anger are born inside our own country, not imported from outside. As a country, we can generate collective mindfulness to embrace our fear and anger. Together, with enough sensitivity, awakening, and insight, we can embrace our suffering. When we feel better, we get some insight, and we know what to do and what not to do in situations of conflict.
Thich Nhat Hanh suggest then, after we have calmed our suffering, we can reach out to understand the suffering of others. In Calming the Fearful Mind he writes:
The only way we can protect ourselves is with understanding and compassion. Only when understanding and compassion embrace you and the other person does safety become a reality. … Appropriate political and social solutions can only arise when suffering is acknowledged and understood. Only with understanding is healing possible.
It is not easy to embrace our suffering and fear. It is not easy to open to the suffering of others, especially if we feel they are mistaken or misguided. Parker Palmer observes in To Know As We Are Known:
The spiritual life is lived in a balance of paradoxes, and the humility that enables us to hear the truth of others must stand in creative tension with the faith that empowers us to speak our own.
This Thursday evening after our meditation period, Jindra will explore with us these questions: What empowers us to embrace and calm our fears and then reach out to understand others and foster peace? What makes it more difficult?
You are invited to join us.
An excerpt by Thich Nhat Hanh on fear and compassion is below.
A Revolution of Compassion
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
We all have original fear in us, but it is not just we, as individuals, who are afraid. Many countries and regions of the world are burning with fear, suffering, and hatred. If only to ease our own suffering, we have to return to ourselves and seek to understand why we are caught up in so much violence and fear. What has caused terrorists to hate so much that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives and create so much suffering for other people? We see their great hatred, but what is driving it? Perceived injustice. Of course we have to find a way to stop the violence. We may even need to keep people separated while they are still a danger to others. But we also need to ask, “What responsibility do we have for the injustice in the world?”
We do not like feeling afraid. Often, if we hold on to our fear, it turns into anger. We are angry that we are afraid. We are angry at whatever or whomever we perceive as causing our fear and keeping us afraid. Some people spend their whole lives trying only to take revenge on whatever or whomever they think caused their suffering. This kind of motivation can only bring suffering, not only to others but also to the one who feels it.
Hatred, anger, and fear are like burning fires that can be put out by compassion. But where do we find compassion? It isn’t sold in the supermarket; if it were, we would only need to bring it home and we could dissolve all the hatred and violence in the world very easily. But compassion can only be produced in our own heart, by our own practice.
Sometimes someone we love—our child, our spouse, or our parent— says or does something cruel, and we feel hurt. We think it is only we who suffer. But the other person is suffering as well. If he weren’t suffering, he wouldn’t have spoken or acted in a way that hurt us. The person we love hasn’t seen a way to transform his suffering, so he just pours out all his fear and anger on us. Our responsibility is to produce the energy of compassion that first calms down our own heart and then allows us to help the other person. If we punish the other person, he will just suffer more, and the cycle will continue.
Responding to violence with violence can only bring more violence, more injustice, and more suffering—not only to the ones we seek to punish but also to ourselves. This wisdom is in every one of us. When we breathe deeply, we can touch this seed of wisdom in us. I know that if the energy of wisdom and compassion in all people could be nourished for even one week, it would reduce the level of fear, anger, and hatred in the world. I urge all of us to practice calming and concentrating our minds, watering the seeds of wisdom and compassion that are already there in us, and learning the art of mindful consumption. If we can do this, we will create a true peaceful revolution, the only kind of revolution that can help us out of this difficult situation.