Because of its emotionally charged nature, it is difficult to engage in political speech in a mindful, compassionate way. I often ask myself, How do I remain compassionate when criticizing others? Can we criticize others without disparaging or demonizing them, especially when we speak of them perpetuating injustices and other forms of harm to others? On a number of occasions, in sangha and on retreats and days of mindfulness, I have talked with other practitioners about these difficulties. On the one hand, some have told me that they deal with these challenges by simply not speaking of such contentious topics at all. While this may be appropriate for some people at some points in their practice, if none of us speak to these issues–to say nothing of working actively around them–changes for the better will not occur. On the other hand, I have talked to some practitioners who I felt were seeking for a Buddhist rationalization for speech that is not just angry but laced with ill-will by, for instance, making a distinction between anger and outrage, with the former to be avoided but the latter to be embraced as a mindful, positive reaction. Continue reading “Practicing Compassionate Political Speech Through Deep Looking”
In light of hearing from so many who are struggling amid these times of political changes, I felt called to offer this letter, of which I hope will offer some support and benefit.
Dear friends along the path,
I know you suffer, and I am here for you.
I see that your anger and fear are rooted in a fierce compassion for others and out of a strong desire to do what you feel and know is right. As a mindfulness practitioner, the question is not whether or not to be angry, it’s about how we utilize our anger to influence our thoughts, speech, and actions. Is our anger motivating us to become more informed and involved with an open heart and sense of connection and compassion, or with an un-grounded, frantic sense of heaviness and despair? What seeds are we sowing in our wake?
Do you feel as though anger is not only an appropriate response but a necessary one, in order to affect change? I remember feeling this way when I was in my early 20’s. It took me a long while to reconcile my mindfulness practice with my deep-rooted feelings of anger, related to those I felt were responsible for both large and small acts of environmental degradation. Without anger, I queried, wouldn’t I then become complacent and ineffectual? Wasn’t anger a crucial motivator? As my foundation of mindfulness was being built and strengthened, I came to understand that the answer, to both questions, was: no.
There resides a middle path to follow. One that allows us to become involved with matters of injustice, human rights, and environmental advocacy work (just to name a few) while also choosing not to carry around and spread the heavy burden of anger everywhere we go. May our anger and upset start us on the path of active engagement with the world around us, and may we then learn how to transform that anger into mindfulness, concentration, and insight, so that our speech and actions will cause as little harm as possible as we move forward.
Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if we’re not careful and attentive, it can easily overtake and overwhelm our lives, causing us to become embittered, cynical, miserable, difficult to be around, and mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. If we allow our seeds of anger to be nurtured, we will create a very hostile and unpleasant atmosphere within and around us.
Feel your anger, dear friends, experience it as it arises, without judgement or suppression – I would not suggest otherwise. But don’t stop there. Investigate it. Become inquisitive. Understand your internal landscape, so that your actions that carry forth will be well informed. Do not allow your anger to go unchecked. Do not allow your seeds of love, ease, equanimity, inclusiveness, and interconnection to go un-watered. The well-being of our family, community, country, society, and the world depends on our ability to embody and practice the tools that mindfulness affords us, especially in the midst of change, challenge, struggle, adversity, and fear.
With Love and Support,
True Wonderful Flower
Be Here Now Sangha
I teach sociology and global studies at the college level, which means that thorny social issues regularly come up in my classroom. As part of observing the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in the classroom, I try both to foster dialogue between students of different worldviews, encouraging them to understand and respect each other, and also to create a classroom that cultivates social justice, particularly in giving those who belong to oppressed and normally silenced groups room to speak. But in mindfully observing the dynamics of the classroom, I have realized that there is a tension between these two goals, making it difficult at times to achieve both. If, in the name of open dialogue, we give too much room to speak to those who normally dominate the public conversation on social issues, they can silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. Sometimes I have found it necessary to intervene in classroom conversations in a way that cuts off a certain line of argument in order to create a space for where students from oppressed groups feel safe expressing themselves. The trick is doing so in a way that doesn’t permanently shut down students with worldviews reflecting the dominant belief systems and the experiences of the dominant social groups. Continue reading “The Creative Tension Between Fostering Dialogue and Social Justice”