Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that giving makes us happy. Since I lately struggle with feelings of fear, depression, and discouragement, I am willing to give it a try. In each and every moment I’ll focus on generosity and “share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need”, including myself.
Sitting as silent witness as Lisa Coleman is executed is my act of giving. I know my vigilance won’t save her life, repair the pain and suffering of the boy she beat and starved to death, or bring peace to those left behind. I only know that I can be with her in spirit and send her love and peace, while she counts down the last minutes of her life.
As I drive up to Capitol Hill I am noticing how appreciative I am that I am alive. How grateful I am that I can feel the sun on my arm, my hands on the steering wheel, my breath flowing through me. I might muddle through life, and yet everyday offers a new opportunity to live and love.
And as I sit and imagine her fear, despair, anger, and loss as she is strapped to her death bed, I feel my anger towards society dissipate. We are in this together. We are confused and lost as to how create connections that are inclusive, supporting, open, and loving. We don’t know how to reach out to those on the fringes of society, at the top of corporations, and bridge the differences. We make mistakes with sometimes horrendous consequences, and we punish by killing, because we lost sight of our compassion and interbeing.
I look at the cars stopping at the traffic light in front of us. I look at the drivers and the passengers and wonder who they are, where they are going, what they’re doing. I imagine their families, their loved ones. I see them as children, maybe happy, maybe unhappy. And I tap into this universal reservoir of limitless love: “May you be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit. May you be safe and free from injury. May you be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.” And all I wish for is that they will never kill, be killed, or lose a loved one to killing or execution.
Sitting as silent witness when someone is executed and sending out loving-kindness to everyone in this world is a simple way of giving, and I feel elevated by it.
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Tonight I am gonna sit with my Sangha as silent witness as Lisa Coleman gets executed.
What good does my sitting do? How is my sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill with ten or less people, hardly visible, not even at the place of the execution, gonna make a difference?
I should be like Sister Prejean. She has been working incessantly for the abolishment of the death penalty for the last 30 years. She visits death row inmates, she travels the country non-stop to engage with the audience, she speaks on television and radio. Her story even got filmed as Dead Man Walking.
I should do so much more.
Marshall Rosenberg refers to Dan Greenburg to demonstrate “the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us. He suggests that if readers have a sincere desire to make life miserable for themselves, they might learn to compare themselves to other people. For those unfamiliar with this practice, he provides a few exercises.” Dan starts with the suggestion to compare ourselves to a male and female photo model. Just observe their body measurements and compare theirs to ours.
I don’t even need to do that exercise. Only thinking about it, makes me miserable: my belly is too poochy, my breasts are too small and hanging, the corners of my mouth growl down in seemingly dissatisfaction.
“Since physical beauty is relatively superficial, Greenburg next provides an opportunity to compare ourselves on something that matters: achievement… Greenburg lists the languages Mozart spoke and the major pieces he had composed by the time he was a teenager. The exercise then instructs readers to reflect on their own achievements at their current stage of life, to compare them with what Mozart had accomplished by age twelve, and to dwell on the differences. Even readers who never emerge from the self-induced misery of this exercise might see how powerfully this type of thinking blocks compassion, both for oneself and for others.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, 2003, p. 18-19)
Thank you, Marshall Rosenberg and Dan Greenburg, for your wisdom.
I will follow my heart’s calling and be true to myself. I will practice looking deeply to see how comparing myself to the achievements of others doesn’t nurture the peace, compassion, understanding, love, and support I want to bring into the world. I will honor myself and the contribution I can make with an open heart and sit as silent witness.
And that’s enough.
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“Because all manifestation has both an individual an collective aspect, it would not be correct to say that a young man in prison bears the whole responsibility for his crime. He is the product of his family, his schooling, and society. If we look deeply, we may find that when he was younger, his parents often fought and caused each other and their child to suffer. Perhaps he was abused. Lacking love, lacking education, he tried to forget himself in drugs. With drugs, his ability to make good choices diminished even further. Committing a crime was the result.
Looking deeply, we see that the conditions for this young man’s actions did not arise only from his own mind and experiences. All of us bear some responsibility for creating the conditions that led him into the cycle of crime and addiction. If we only condemn or punish him, it will not help. People use drugs because they are in pain and want to run away from life. Putting someone who is suffering like this in prison is not the way to solve the problem. There has to be love and understanding, some means to bringing him back to life, offering him joy, clarity, and purpose.“ Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind.
Wednesday evening, September 10, 6 pm CST, Texas State killed Willie Trottie. Because he killed his ex-girlfriend Barbara Canada and her brother Titus.
I joined my Sangha to sit as a silent witness at the steps of the State Capitol in honor of our first mindfulness training: Reverence for Life. “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate 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.”
I thought of offering myself as a replacement of the convict to take an active stand against executions as a strategy for safety. I thought about it a long time. Then I realized that I would be terrified, panicked, and anguished in the certain prospect of death. I am too attached to life, and too averted to pain and suffering. Instead of peace, trust, love, openness, and understanding of impermanence and interbeing, I would offer fear and terror. I am pretty sure that would not help.
I think the only thing that helps is practicing compassion, understanding, love, and mindfulness in our thoughts, speech, and actions. For ourselves, for our beloved ones, for our not so loved ones, and for our society. So that we would help create a society where everyone receives so much support, acceptance, belonging, understanding, and compassion, that no one needs to kill to get their needs met.
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