June 4th is a day with vastly different meanings to me.
The first is trauma.
[I wrote this as a Facebook post early in the morning of June 4, 2020. Amid the protests sweeping across the United States in response to the killings of unarmed black men and women. And amid simultaneous protests in Hong Kong. I'm posting it here so that I can come back to this, and allow it to encourage me. I hope it also benefits anyone who lands here, and is looking to build paths of non-violence in their heart and in the world.]
June 4th is a day with vastly different meanings to me.
The first is trauma.
I was walking through Unum's vast Portland campus today when I discovered the meditation room. I've spent 16 years studying meditation and for the last decade I’ve taught a weekly meditation class as a volunteer. So I know firsthand its powerful benefits in generating peace, happiness, creativity and resilience. But I have never, never been in an office that has an area devoted to it.
So I went in — and found an ingeniously designed experience.
Today is NKT Day. It is a day to celebrate the founding of the New Kadampa Tradition, a remarkable Buddhist not-for-profit organization of which I am a part. I know it is this day because I was just sitting in the early morning light, on this first Saturday in April, sipping tea while the sun rose over the forest floor. I had flicked to Facebook, to see the wonderful Buddhist blogger Luna Kadampa share this news in my feed.
In honor of this day, I wanted to share this poem below, something I scrawled in my notebook one early fall day. I share these words with my hands pulled together at my heart — and the deepest of thanks to my humble teacher, the Tibetan monk Geshe Keslang Gyatso, for his extraordinary wisdom. This poem grapples with one of Buddha's most phenomenal teachings and something that Geshe Kelsang has taught extensively, emptiness, or wisdom teachings. And my mind's clumsy attempts to realize its liberating profundity.
Two weeks ago, at 5:15pm the day before Thanksgiving, my husband Tim had a major accident. I don't quite have the language to explain it all. For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you may have read the rant I posted the following morning:
Thanksgiving Day, 2017
I am grateful for the woman with the calm and kind voice on the 911 call, who told me what to do.
To the paramedics who appeared minutes later and carried Tim onto a stretcher, down rain-covered steps and into the ambulance.
To all the drivers I saw on the highway as I followed behind the flashing red and blue lights. To every single driver that pulled aside to let that ambulance pass.
I am grateful to the doctor and nurses, to that entire building full of people trained in caring for humans that we found ready and waiting to help. To that young doctor who did the MRA scan and found most of the ribs on Tim's left side broken but miraculously the lungs full, miraculously the inner organs unaffected.
I am grateful to the Family of Morins and Tyrrells who texted, called, said they’d do anything, and a global community of sangha jewels who sent Buddha’s blessings, mantras of protection.
I’m grateful to my teacher for teaching me how to sit and hold love in my heart and know that life is simply about these moments. How developing wisdom and compassion and helping those in need really is the real meaning of our lives.
And now home, with Tim by my side.
In the two weeks since, I have met my Dharma practice in a way I've never met it before. And by this I mean that my Dharma and meditation practice has come to life in a new way.
It was Sunday afternoon, 13 August 2017. The afternoon light was falling over potted plants in my living room. I had spent four days away from my phone and laptop, walking through forests with my family who were visiting from the UK. I had kayaked in the ocean and remembered what it felt like to touch water, air, land.
It was 4pm and I sat on the sofa in the now-quiet house, and flicked my iPhone awake. And there was the Facebook newsfeed. Protests of white supremacists marching in Virginia. Anger. Violence. The shock that hits you deep in your stomach. The horror of seeing humans hurt one another.
I scrolled further, switching over to news outlets and learning the facts. But then something else appeared in my Facebook feed. Something so drastically different that it astounded me.
A blog post that tries to make sense of falling planes, bombs being dropped on living beings, and our inherent capacity for peace. How do we react?
(This blog was first published on July 10, 2014. I am reposting it again today because of the recent news, and my wish to find peace in this world. I welcome your feedback below): I walked into my apartment, opened my laptop and the first story was there. Of a Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over the Ukraine. Images of a scarred landscape. Intense, manifest suffering.
I got up, put on the kettle, sat down. Felt utter panic. Put on the radio. After 30 minutes of radio, internet, and the shock in journalists voices, the tears came. And a thought kept circling my mind: my people, my people, my people. The people of my world.
I saw a young woman yesterday, as I stood waiting for a bus in Portland, Maine. An art student giving out free hugs. A line on her placard read: “Love is unconquerable and constant.”
I was spending the morning putting up posters for our upcoming meditation workshop called 'Overcoming Anger'. The poster seemed specifically designed for this morning after the US Presidential Election of 2016. I walked into coffee shops, oddly silent with 20-year olds tethered to laptops and phones, not talking to one another, their faces blue from the electricity.
Then I took a coach to the moneyed towers of Boston. Here, cafes were full and buzzing with college students. I was having tea with a friend. While I waited for her, I read a newspaper stuck under the glass tabletop, the front page was from November 23, 1963. The day after JFK was killed. I read about how Johnson, that day, walked down a lonely corridor of the White House, "bearing the tremendous weight and burden of becoming the leader of the free world."
This morning, I sit and write and attempt to let the emotions of the past three days find alignment. So I can release them to the wind. How does one reconcile the terrorist attacks in Paris? How does one react to a world filled with this sort of pain? In the lead-up to this past weekend, I had been deep in preparation for a meditation retreat. As a volunteer in my local Buddhist center, I was helping to lead a full-day retreat on Saturday November 14 called Tranquil Abiding - Buddha's astonishingly clear teachings on how to still the mind, to bring it to complete focus.
I first met Mei at a dim sum restaurant in Portland. It was October 2013 and Suzanne Fox and I had put on an event with the curator and translator Valerie Doran. A quiet legend, Valerie has worked alongside the likes of Johnson Chang Tsong-zung and played a seminal role in the emergence of the Chinese avant garde to the world in the early 90s. I had lured her up to this New England sea port to speak about 5,000 years of Chinese art history.
At this lunch event, Mei Selvage appeared, her eyes wide with inspiration, telling me that she was an artist based here in Portland. It was almost like we had generated the entire event for her - so intensely did she respond to the themes of the talk. The two of us exchanged phone numbers and met up again the following month. She came dressed in a funky Tibetan wool hat and handed me a photograph of one of her artworks, Tao Seeker (below).
I was struck by this work, its searching, its journeying.
For the past 48 hours, I have been tied to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Like a drip, that has been feeding me with news and sounds and sights. I have been unable to leave it. Perhaps it's because I am watching these mass scenes of civil disobedience in Hong Kong and want to be there. I grew up amid those streets - and I can't walk out the front door right now. I'm stuck in the US, so I need to read my way through this.
I've hung out with Hong Kong's punk rockers and artists and dancers and I've come to know its soul through my work as an arts writer there - one of ancient fishing village meets Bladerunner futurism. One of killer movie industries, 4am cha cha tengs, financial wizardry, and a resilient and utterly unique culture that has grown from its ancient Chinese roots despite all the crap that colonialism has thrown its way.