Monday, June 22, 2020

The Courage to Live

In 1994, Rwanda experienced a civil war in which close to a million people, many of them ethnic Tutsi,  were slaughtered.  Statistics vary, but whatever the exact number, of victims, the human mind can barely comprehend violent death on such a scale.  As we know, human beings continue to perpetrate murder upon each other.  This happens regularly, and it hasn't stopped.  All of us will die, but not everyone has to die through hatred.  And yet...

That year I was finishing up my career as a homicide bereavement counselor, working with loved ones of people who had been murdered.  It was a challenging job, and I found my heart breaking regularly.  I continued as a grief counselor in private practice, and had begun teaching mindfulness under the training of Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  So I was able to experience some relief from the impossible grief of the people I worked with.  And yet...

In the grief training I had received in graduate school and at the Connecticut Hospice where I did my internship, we were taught to listen, and listen more, and then listen more, as our clients poured out their stories.  Ultimately, healing began when people began to find some ease in the love that remained, and some renewed purpose in their lives -- almost like the people who had died had found their way into the crack in our broken hearts.  And yet...

I still miss my parents and other loved ones who died decades ago.  They visit in my dreams, and especially these days, with the deaths spreading throughout the world from the two pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, I feel a renewed grief for them, and for this world of love and hatred intertwined. 

This morning I read a short story in the June 22 issue of the New Yorker magazine.  It's about a woman who fled Rwanda just before the genocide.  Most of her family,  all of those who remained in her native country, were murdered.  She returns home seeking healing.  The story, called "Grief" is by Scholastique Mukasonga, a Rwandan author who lives in Paris, and it's translated into English by Jordan Stump.  Towards the end of the story, overwhelmed by horror and heartbreak, she receives the following counsel from an old man who guards a church where many people had been massacred.  He says:

"...You won't find your dead in the graves or the bones.. That's not where they're waiting for you.  They're inside you.  They survive only in you and you survive only through them.  But from now on you'll find all your strength in them -- there's no other choice, and no one can take that strength away from you.  With that strength, you can do things you might not even imagine today.  Like it or not, the death of our loved ones has fueled us -- not with hate, not with vengefulness, with an energy that nothing can ever defeat.  That strength lives in you,  Don't let anyone try to tell you to get over your loss, not if that means saying goodbye to your dead.  You can't:  they'll never leave you, they'll stay by your side to give you the courage to live, to triumph over obstacles...They're always beside you, and you can always depend on them... "

In these times, as in all times in human history, we must cultivate the courage to live, the strength to persist.  May we never forget our dead, and may we stay in close touch with their example, finding the power to go forward and fight for justice in this wild world. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

BoWZ Guiding Teachers' Response to Institutional Racism

Dear Boundless Way Zen Sangha and friends,

We, the Guiding Teachers of Boundless Way Zen, grieve the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. We also grieve the disproportionate suffering and death of people of color due to the coronavirus, which has exposed underlying inequities in our society. We recognize the deeply embedded and often violent ways systemic racism and white privilege deprive everyone of the justice, respect, and equal rights we have vowed to co-create with all beings.

We vow to practice the humility that is essential to listening deeply and that is the beginning of  real and lasting change. We vow to investigate and transform our deluded views and blindnesses that maintain overt and systemic racism. We commit to continually awaken and grow on this journey toward liberation for all.

We stand in solidarity with those who have suffered racial violence and injustice, with all oppressed peoples, and with those who work for racial and environmental justice. Understanding that statements of solidarity must be accompanied by action, we vow to challenge the many ways in which institutions, including Zen groups, perpetuate a culture of oppression, segregation, and inequitable outcomes.

Today is Juneteenth, marking the 155th anniversary of the day when it was announced in Texas that Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years before. While this is a day of celebration, it also serves as a reminder that there remains much progress to be made. As we hear the cries of the world, we recall our Bodhisattva vows to be of service in this burning world. In collaboration with other sangha members, we will soon begin a social justice group focused on how to be an active anti-racist, and we invite everyone to participate. We also share this reading list to help us begin to educate ourselves. We are committed to this ongoing collective practice of awakening and taking action for the liberation of all beings.

With deep bows of appreciation and shared sorrow,

Melissa Blacker, Roshi
David Rynick, Roshi
Bob Waldinger, Sensei
Michael Fieleke, Sensei

The Guiding Teachers Council of Boundless Way Zen