Never Have I Ever …

Photo by Llima Orosa

Never Have I Ever …

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 11, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening, June 11, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to All Online on Friday Evening, June 12, 7:00 to 8:45pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday and Friday evening, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus on the First Mindfulness Training, Reverence for Life. With the ongoing pandemic and the recent protests against social injustice, it feels like deepening our Reverence for Life is more important than ever.

During the past two weeks since George Floyd’s murder, I have found myself lost in a haze of anger, fear, uncertainty, hopelessness, and confusion. George Floyd survived COVID-19, which has taken the last breath from thousands of individuals worldwide, only to lose it to nine minutes of brutal indifference. During this time, I have read many statements on social media and listened to many speeches and interviews on the topic of social justice, and I have wondered what my personal response should be. I am in full support of Black Lives Matter, but saying the words alone seems hollow and meaningless. Of course, I will vote for the candidates that I believe will work toward the changes we need, but the system feels so dysfunctional and institutional racism so engrained that even voting feels futile. I found myself at a loss for the words to express what I was feeling and swimming in a lack of clarity about what is mine to do. So, in search of something meaningful and heartfelt, I turned to poetry.

On April 7, 2020 American singer and songwriter John Prine died of COVID-19. Over the past several weeks, I have been listening to many of his songs, and learning several of them on the guitar. During this time, I have really gotten to know many of his lyrics and have come to appreciate how masterful he was at capturing the simplicity and the complexity of life in the absurdity of individual stories and experiences. Like the man frozen in the bath tub who laughs when the sun melts him free in “That’s the Way that the World Goes ‘Round” or the woman who swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs in “In Spite of Ourselves.” As I was practicing these songs, it occurred to me that this is poetry in action. The poetry of words that create images and capture emotions that help me see and feel the world at a deeper and more intimate level.  Ultimately, what I have found in his poetry and music is my own mindfulness practice, the desire to look deeply into the nature of things and to find true love wherever I gaze.

So, in thinking about my recent experience with John Prine’s music and poetry, I searched for a voice that might capture what I was feeling, and bring alive the First Mindfulness Training of Reverence for Life. I found piercing clarity in the powerful poetry of Raja Belle Freeman, a 21-year old Cleveland State University senior. Her poem, “Never Have I Ever,” discusses the 2014, Ferguson, Missouri, shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr., an 18-year-old unarmed black male shot six times by a white police officer.

The poem’s vivid imagery and raw emotion helped me see and feel the inequities of our world at a deeper and more intimate level. I was left with a much clearer idea that the real work that must be done is in breaking through the layers of judgement, comfortable complacency, and unchallenged biases that prevent me and us from truly seeing each other’s humanity. It is clear that it will only be when we can see into the true nature of each other’s humanity that we can fully experience reverence for human life and dismantle racist institutions.

After we recite the Trainings, we will watch a video of Freeman reciting her poem.

In our Dharma sharing we will begin by exploring the ways the First Mindfulness Training, and Freeman’s poem, help us develop a deeper understanding of the coronavirus pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. In what ways can they also guide our practice and our actions?

You are invited to join us.

The text of the First Mindfulness Training is below, along with a few paragraphs of commentary from Thich Nhat Hanh.

Warm regards,

Eric Donaldson

Protecting Life and Nourishing Compassion
from The Mindfulness Survival Kit by Thich Nhat Hanh

The First Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, nondiscrimination, and nonattachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

The First Mindfulness Training reminds us to practice protecting life and not to kill. This is a practice that is intended to remind us of violence both small and large. As with each of the Mindfulness Trainings, it’s intended not to be an absolute but a path to walk on. …

When we practice the First Mindfulness Training, we strengthen our eyes of interbeing. Our look has to be wide and open so that we can see without being caught in ideologies and dogmas. We can see that when we kill someone we kill ourselves. When we meet someone we think of as an enemy, we tend to think that we need to protect ourselves, and that hurting the other person will help keep us safe. But hurting another person doesn’t keep us safe. We may think the only way to be safe is to attack the other person. But hurting or killing the person we think of as our enemy will only make more enemies. We have to understand our own anger and suffering and help the person we think of as our enemy to alleviate his or her own suffering. Violence can’t end suffering. Only understanding and love can transform suffering. …

Prayer or good intention is not enough to change an angry or violent situation. The First Mindfulness Training is a reminder that you have to practice, to train 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 or 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 motivations, our thoughts, 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 other 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.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 11, 2020