Small Seeds of Hope: This Is Really, Really Hard
That may sound like a strange "seed of hope" but bear with me. Many thanks to Janet Evergreen who passed it on to me.
"This is really, really hard." Insight Meditation offers this as part of a simple practice that I have found to be especially helpful right now: They suggest placing your hand on your chest in the area of your heart and saying, compassionately and tenderly, "This is really, really hard."
Without a hand on your heart it will likely be just a depressing statement of our current reality. With a hand on the heart, it seems to transform into a nurturing blend of deep honesty and deep compassion. Those who are compassionate towards themselves are better equipped to become more compassionate towards others.
The whole pandemic is really, really hard. So is the racial injustice and turmoil in our country, the violent responses to it and the violent reactions to that violence--and the self-righteous or simplistic judgments that spring too easily to peoples' minds and lips. We need compassion, now more than ever.
As author and journalist Jon Katz said so well in his "Bedlam Farm" blog post on June 1, 2020 , “Compassion is incompatible with judgment and cannot exist alongside it.”
Compassion leads to a life of power with others. Shared power. Judgment leads to a hunger for power over others.
If it is very hard for those of us who are on the periphery of the pandemic, like me--and it is--I can barely begin to imagine what it must be like to be a meat packer on a crowded assembly line--or a nurse caring for COVID patients--without adequate virus protection, or to be unable to feed my children because I have no work, or to lose my spouse and not have anyone present to comfort me.
And if it is hard for those of us who are on the periphery of the racial turmoil, like me--and it is--I can barely begin to imagine what it is like to be shot at. Or to have lost a loved one. Or lost one's store or livelihood. Or an eye. Or to be black in a culture that continues to function as if people of color are suspect, less than, expendable.
I do not condone the violence--on any side. But perhaps I can try to have at least some tiny understanding of why people resort to violence: for some it may be rooted in centuries of pent up grief, frustration and rage. Or fear. Or a need for power long denied. For others it is a tool for maintaining the dominating "power over" that has been a central part of the problem all along.
And I must say that the anger, simplistic reasoning and divisiveness being preached from high places are tools as violent and culpable as any others being wielded right now.
And finally, I do not consider myself to be innocent in all this. I don't think any of us are, really. It is extremely difficult to grow up in this culture and not end up with some racial biases, conscious or unconscious, good intentions notwithstanding. So we need to work hard at listening, to ourselves and others. We need to work hard at being less judgmental, more compassionate.
Here's another seed that might not seem like a seed of hope--at first.
"Using hatred to fight hatred is the surest way to create more hatred." I don't include this here as an opportunity to sit back and judge others, but as a reminder--a call--for each of us to look deeply into ourselves. Ask yourself, who do I hate? For me it is often people who hate others. But do I really want to create more hatred? Do I want to be part of that terrible cycle of violence? Can I find some tiny seed of ability--or grace--to not hate those who resort to hate and divisiveness?
"Using hatred to fight hatred is the surest way to create more hatred." These words were penned over fifty years ago by a man who, just a few months earlier, had suffered the loss of four young friends--his students--by cold-blooded murder. Yet he was able to move through his grief and anger to a place of compassion. And wisdom.
The location? South Vietnam in the middle of the Vietnam War, when fear, hatred, death and ruination were the norm. The young men were part of a school for nonviolence that prepared its students to go out and help rebuild any and all communities shattered by the war. The men who killed them were agents of their own government, lost in their fear of something they couldn't understand--unselfish, compassionate service.
The man who wrote those words? A monk named Thich Nhat Hanh--the same man who has since taught millions around the world to practice the wisdom of mindfulness, of being present and compassionate towards oneself and others. It is good to remember: his wisdom and compassion were honed in the most difficult of circumstances. But he even managed to maintain some lightheartedness and humor in his life and his teaching.
When Jesus told us to love our enemies, he was telling us to do something that is really, really hard--ridiculously difficult, in fact. I, for one, can only begin to do it with prayer, lots and lots of and lots of prayer. And deep soul-searching and attention. And then only very, very imperfectly. But Thich Nhat Hanh, in the midst of his grief, in the midst of rampant bloodshed and fear, was somehow able to see his way through to compassion and service. To love his enemies. He stands as a quiet, persistent seed of hope for me.
This is really, really hard.
But not quite.
God help us.
Until next time,
Thich Nhat Hanh Facebook page