Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In our discussion we will focus especially on the Third Training (see full text of the training below), which Thich Nhat Hanh calls True Love.
I’m interested in examining the recent #MeToo movement — in which people have disclosed stories of their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse – through the lens of the Third Training. But writing about this topic has been harder than I expected. Hesitation rises in me as I write these words. I am realizing just how difficult it is to talk about sex. Part of me anticipates the same kind of negative feedback to my sexuality that I’ve received before: that I am thinking about it too much, not enough, or just not in the right way.
A lot of us probably share that anxiety — maybe even shame — that there is something wrong with our sexuality, which may contribute to some ambivalence about the Third Training. I have heard people express the feeling that the training appears to add to the rules and judgment that they already feel shackled with.
This fear of judgment may also be one of the reasons that it can be so difficult to discuss #MeToo. The disclosures have triggered a variety of strong feelings, including pain, outrage, traumatic memories, empowerment and also powerlessness. In some, the movement has triggered feelings of defensiveness, and fears of losing opportunities for closeness, fun, and spontaneity.
One of the most powerful outcomes of the #MeToo movement is the creation of connection. Based on the idea of “empowerment through empathy,” Tarana Burke created the #MeToo. movement to help “survivors know they’re not alone in their journey.” But not everyone can easily relate.
We all have very different experiences of sexuality, sexual abuse, and harassment, and these differences are often related to our gender, age, sexual orientation, and other dimensions of power in our society. The realities of sexism, racism, and homophobia contribute to the uncomfortable ambiguity that sexuality can be both a source of joy and connection, but also a source tremendous pain and disempowerment, particularly for those who occupy traditionally less powerful positions is our society.
So what can we do? How do we take care of ourselves and also connect with one another in the face of pain and confusion that can cause us to retreat? I believe that mindfulness and compassion are powerful tools to help us heal ourselves and stay open to one another.
First of all, we need to be able to feel safe. We need to take care of ourselves, of our pain and shame – particularly people who have been hurt and violated – before we can really hear one another.
Next, I believe that we can move toward increasing our empathy and compassion for one another. According to Thich Nhat Hahn “Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
As we address #MeToo, Mindfulness, and True Love, I invite people to consider the following questions:
Do the stories of abuse trigger anger, fear, powerless, or other strong emotions in me?
What helps me take care of strong emotions when they arise in me?
What are the challenges that arise when I envision protecting the safety and integrity of all beings?
The text of the Third Mindfulness Training, True Love, is below, along with a brief except on Compassionate Listening.
The Third Mindfulness Training: True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, longterm commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
by Thich Nhat Hanh, from a 2010 interview with Oprah
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.