Monday, August 22, 2011

Being Brave: Transforming Our World

Being Brave, Transforming our World

August came and went in a flurry, and in her wake spirited moments like snow on the first day of spring. They now sit cross legged in my mind waiting to be held in offering.

In early August I took part in a five day Sangha Retreat guided by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Acharya Pema Chodron and Acharya Adam Lobel. As the theme of the retreat, “Being Brave, Transforming our World” unfolded so did the notion of self-courage and confidence and in its wake the notion of changing our world by how we live our lives today, now.

How do i begin to write about this transformative week? How do i convey the teachings, the insights, the self-revelations and self-doubts? How do I take my seat in the middle of this incredibly messy destructive world and still witness and give praise to the miracles of life? How do I stay present to both? How do I acknowledge and breathe in the violence and suffering and still maintain a belief in the inherent goodness and strength of humanity? How do I use the gifts bestowed on me by the luck of a privileged birth to fight the injustices of this unjust world, to seek my role as a warrior of transformation both in my own small self and the larger world? These questions become the path to opening my mind and heart, exploring my humanness and humanity.

I offer reflections plucked from my journal from the Sangha Retreat and shaped into blog pieces beginning with the Shambhala teachings on the courageous notion that all human beings are inherently good, strong, worthy; this notion of believing in ourselves and believing in the good ness and strength of humanity.

The first day of Sakyong’s teachings pinned me to the cushion as I imagined a world, a society, a culture where we the inhabitants are made to believe from birth that we are good, strong, worthy people; where contemplating our basic goodness is natural and normal. I imagined an education system that offered our children a confidence based foundation; teaching our kids about their inner strength, goodness, power and ability to honour their own needs and also to honour and experience the needs of others and the needs of Mother Earth. I imagined a world, society, culture abundant with safe positive nurturing spaces where kids are not bombarded by self-defeating messages telling them over and over that they are not beautiful, smart, good or happy enough.

Ani Pema Chodron gave a beautiful example of a child’s first teachings of basic goodness through sharing the story of a friend who at the age of 7 arrived home from school frustrated and bewildered at the kids who bullied in the school yard. After acknowledging her daughters feelings, the mother said to her, “we are all good people but some of us are just very confused.” This struck me deeply as I take more time to understand people’s stories and the many difficult and complicated historical, social, economic, political, emotional, psychological layers we all come from, some of us dealing with many more layers than others and many more obstacles to overcoming those layers.

On the third day of the retreat a brave Australian woman stood up to share her deep grief and suffering after witnessing some of her coworkers, friends and local afghan children blown up by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. She started by saying she was sure the man who blew himself up didn’t mean to kill these people. I remember the whole room sinking into a long and deep silence, many of us weeping not only for this woman’s pain at not being able to let go of the horrid images but also for her ability to feel compassion for the man responsible for the destruction. The Sakyong led us in a compassion meditation and as a community of 900 people we breathed long and full all those who are deeply affected by war, by fear, confusion and chaos.

However breathing in and being present to the pain of this world and ourselves is not enough. As Adam Lobel says, “There is a danger in finding inner peace but then letting everything else around us go to pieces; being completely calm while the ship is going down”. The Sakyong said the basis of social transformation is how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about humanity, that this notion of self-worth is pivotal to the way our day and world unfolds. If we as individuals and as part of a global community do not feel worthy then we cease to be of use. How do we transmit the notion of human worthiness within ourselves and others? The Shambhala perspective believes we already have enough compassion, goodness, wisdom to make a difference, to transform society and that there are countless examples of empathy, love and compassion to learn from.

How do we create in our own minds this notion of bravery, this notion of possibility? How can we create environments of possibility in these hard times? How can we be fully present to the sadness and suffering of this world and not shut down but become active agents of change? What is the next step?

I look forward to writing part two of these reflections, teachings, and numerous questions in my next blog entry. Ani Pema Chodron has been a gentle warrior force and source in my life over the years and I look forward to sharing more of her teachings along with Adam Lobel and the Sakyong; teachings that bring me closer to this notion of bravery and transforming the world.