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Category Archives: Non-violence

march-with-banner

Together we are ONE” was the theme of our gatherings Friday and Saturday, January 20/21 for a mindful presence at the Women’s March.  Washington Mindfulness Community, MPCF, Stillwater, ARISE, Wake UP, sanghas from Baltimore and many others, local and national, organized and led us in silent walking to the mall.  There we formed a circle of about 140 meditators, then did mindful walking, sitting, singing and eating together amidst half a million other sisters and brothers.  We rejoiced when we learned that we were part of over 670 marches around the world, in every US state, on every continent, standing up for justice, peace and love.

thays-photo-at-march

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh was present in the form of a large photo, reminding us to keep coming back to the home of our breath, here and now, in the present moment.

In Together We are One  (Parallax Press, 2010, p. 79),  he says “Sometimes we believe, ‘Until this person or that institution changes, I can’t be happy.’   We may make a particular person or group of people into our enemy, we think they are the obstacle to our happiness.  But our suffering comes from our own ignorance and lack of understanding, not from other people.  When we understand this, we can open our arms to embrace all peoples, all species, and we have no enemies.  To have no enemies is such a wonderful thing.  When we have no enemies, no reproach, and no blaming, our mind is light as a cloud, and our happiness is vast, immense.  We do not look at those who hurt us as our enemies, but as people who need understanding and compassion.  When we are able to look in this way, we can call ourselves the children of the Buddha, disciples of the Buddha, and no one is our enemy….If we use the eyes of compassion to look at the world, we can see that even those who oppress and exploit others, those who instill terror, or those who cause harm, can be our beloved ones.  None are our enemies.”

Those of you who remember me as the “mini-skirted nun” of 1969 protests and actions will smile.  Have you truly embraced this teaching, you might ask?  I am transforming, trying, stumbling sometimes, gaining tremendous strength, joy and hope from the millions who walk with me, one day at a time, one step at a time, never alone now, always “Together as ONE.”

Photos by Bao Tich Nguyen

 

 

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“It was an army into which no one had to be drafted, it was white and Negro, and of all ages…It was a fighting army, but no one should mistake that its most powerful weapon was love.”   Martin Luther King, Jr “Why We Can’t Wait,” 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 85 years old yesterday had he not been assassinated in 1968.  Yet he is alive in every one of us who were deeply affected by his voice, his hopeful message and courageous actions to defeat segregation and the oppression of African-Americans.  He changed my life forever, especially once I was able to experience living in the city where he carried on his long and effective bus boycott.

My first teaching assignment in 1963 as a Catholic nun was to a small diocesan school in Montgomery, Alabama.  I traveled there by train, educationally armed with knowledge about social justice, but naive about the lengths to which people with power and privilege would go to protect their interests.  In August, the March on Washington had opened my eyes further.  But the September bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four girls, in the city where I first experienced a segregated train station just two weeks earlier, shook my being.

I was teaching in an all white Catholic high school of 300 students – in a city in which less than one percent of the population was Catholic.  The black Catholic high school -St. Jude’s – had 150 students. What sense did this make?  Wouldn’t it be more economical, more just, more sane to have one Catholic school, combining student populations and resources?  I started an integrated baseball team, urging students from both schools to get to know one another, practice together, talk to resistant parents.  It was a simple effort, but threatening enough that I was transferred the next year, a different person.  I realized that I had grown up in the same racist, segregated system in Missouri, just without the “whites only” signs.  I had changed inside, come to love and understand both my white students and African American students, their fears and their courage.  I would tell their stories, become the voice of Martin and other revolutionary leaders for my students back in Missouri and throughout my teaching career.

In the same year that MLK wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and led the March on Washington, I changed from an ordinary nun into a revolutionary activist.  Martin’s words and actions, along with those of his friend Thich Nhat Hanh, whom he nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1966, slowly but surely led me to the 1969 action in DC against the war in Vietnam.  These next few years will be filled with so many 50th anniversaries of changes in our lives.  Hopefully we will continue the fight for justice, peace and unity, using the powerful weapon of love

Thay with kids

Dear President Obama and Congressmen and women,

Last week in a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, a young woman asked him what he would say to President Obama about Syria if he were his spiritual adviser. Thay said that the president is not able to act alone, that he has his own sangha, his community. We sometimes think that he has the power to do what he wants to do. On this day of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, we must remember that there are many other ways to deal with problems than war. We need communities of loving speech, deep listening, love and compassion to deal with the fear, anger, violence and injustice in ourselves and in the world. In order to make peace, you have to be very powerful. Powerful with the power of love and compassion, not with bombs.

We are in a moment now, a pause between a terrible unleashing of violence against the people of Syria and possible US bombing of that suffering country. There was a similar pause after 9/11 before the war in Afghanistan, another before the attack on Iraq. In the latter moment, 8 million people around the world demonstrated against US intervention in Iraq. George Bush bombed anyway, causing a decade of great loss of life, culture, economic stability and suffering for the Middle East and for our people and soldiers also.

In this interval, President Obama, please listen to the people of the world who are telling you not to bomb a people already suffering so much, especially since attacking them will not force the outcome you want in this horrible war. There have to be more effective means of stopping the use of chemical weapons (such as really ending their use by the US) and standing up against dictators than using their own methods of war.

Jeannette Rankin had the courage to vote against both World War I and World War II in Congress and to speak out against the war in Vietnam. Who, looking back on the wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, would not want us to search for more effective methods of dealing with violence than war. War does not bring peace. Only peace brings peace. Peace full of compassion, love, understanding and wisdom. Once begun, war can no more be “won” than a tornado, a tsunami or an earthquake. The suffering of every war affects many generations and now people all over the world. We are one world

What a glorious morning! Cooler, overcast, breezy and filled with azaleas, pink and white dogwood, birdsong and LOVE. Somehow getting the grass mowed yesterday gave me energy to re-pot all my plants and put in herbs on the back porch – basil, fennel and cilantro. Spring is such a gift of the Universe. I picture my God smiling, tapping me on the shoulder, asking if this is enough to make me happy. “Have I pleased you with this sunrise? This perfect peach blossom? This curious cardinal who returns every morning to the porch? Is this enough to satisfy you?” “Are you happy yet?”

YES! I am pleased. I am happy. I am filled with joy actually, even in the absence of sunshine. These flowers are enough. My sweet husband is enough. The encouragement from an old friend and author about my book is enough. My family is enough. My health is enough. Just being alive, breathing and writing is enough. Thank you for all the hard work, whatever powers of creativity and beauty have served me this day full of possibilities.

How are you feeling today?

Photo at White House by Messay

Away on retreat on a different Gulf, I missed some of the news of revolution spreading throughout the Persian Gulf and northern Africa. My heart hurts for the people of Libya suffering such vicious violence against them by Qaddafi. He is saying “People who don’t love me don’t deserve to live” and “I rule over you or I will kill you,” promising to make his country a “living hell.” Yet the people rise up, protest, brave the mercenaries firing on unarmed civilians with automatic weapons. Most of the violence in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Libya seems to be coming from the people in power who are desperate to cling to their power and wealth. The level of courageous non-violent protest on the part of the people in areas of the world that have experienced little democracy is truly amazing. The uprisings in the Middle East seem to also be encouraging our own teachers, state workers and union members whose rights are threatened in the U.S. These protests are very encouraging to those of us who dedicated our lives to ending war, poverty and racism in the sixties and seventies.

Non-violent protest takes tremendous courage, resilience, perseverance, hope and love. Satyagraha, Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent action, is far more powerful than any violent regime. He said that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness more manly than punishment. Non-violence is not meant for saints but for common people. It is the conquest of physical might by spiritual strength. I pray that the people of Libya will be able to withstand the violence being carried out upon them by a desperate dictator. One our country has supported for the sake of its oil.

How encouraging, heart nourishing and inspiring are the people who are standing up for their rights, for a life of greater freedom. If they use the right means, the ends will take care of themselves, Gandhi says.

This is true for each one of us in this day. Is there violence or desperation in our hearts? Fear that we might lose what we have or not get something we want? Are we willing to harm someone who is expressing their needs to us or someone who no longer loves us as we wish? Perhaps we need to look first in our hearts for dictators to overthrow. Are our hearts are full of joy, peace and freedom? Are we ready to practice non-violence in speech and action today?

Demo in DC/Photo by Messay.com

The pictures and stories about the protests in Egypt stir my revolutionary soul. I have gone through so many experiences in my own life that have drawn me to non-violent protest against war, injustice and oppression that my spirit resonates with the people in Tahrir Square. After having experienced violence and seen violence used to counter violence, I am again a firm believer in non-violence as a powerful force against oppression. Gandhi says, “I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of destruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. Wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

There were scenarios in the Washington Post Sunday describing various ways the uprising there could go – like Tiananmen, Poland’s“Solidarity,” Indonesia or Iran’s Islamic Republic. Or something different, something particularly suited to the conditions and history of Egypt. This is the moment of opportunity, opening, change, when many options are possible. I felt that same possibility during the intense month after 9/11. A peaceful, non-violent solution was possible then. It was an option. But Bush and our vengeful government chose instead to perpetrate an un-winable war against a country ravaged by war, oppression and destruction for many years. Less than two years later, the US attacked Iraq.

I’ve worn my peace sign on my coat since the first bomb in March, 2003, hoping for an end to the wars that have cost so many lives. It may be a small act of one small person, but I am part of a growing and powerful non-violent movement. War doesn’t work. Oppression doesn’t work. Eventually people will resist both. People want peace, enough security and safety in which to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families, freedom to vote, to celebrate life, practice their faith, work and create. All people need peace. If we want peace in our world, we must build peace in our country. If we want peace in our country, we must build peace in our communities. If we want peace in our communities, then we must build peace in our homes. If we want peace in our homes, we must build peace in our own hearts, minds and bodies. (my version of a Confucian saying).

How do you feel about the uprising of the Egyptian people? About how you are making peace today?

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, Obama’s dream is my dream. I couldn’t say it better.
Happy Birthday, Martin.

“Threats of violence, no less than violence itself, are antithetical to democracy” says E. J. Dionne in an article on the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people in Tucson, six of whom died. Giffords had spoken out about the rhetoric used by Palin and others in the November elections – having her district “in the crosshairs of a gun sight” or “being on the targeted list.” Granted, this particular assassination was not carried out by the politicians voicing the threats. However, violence in mind, heart and speech is the bedrock of violence in action.

We live in a country that daily perpetrates war in Iraq and Afghanistan, sends drones to kill in Pakistan, allows widespread sale of guns and is one of the few democracies remaining to use the death penalty. It is as important today, as it was in 1969 when many of us were willing to go to jail for major portions of our lives in order to stop the war in Vietnam, to look deeply at the violence in our society and to do whatever we can to stop it.

Today, I begin my day with an examination of my mind and heart through journaling, Qi Gong and meditation. I know that I have the same seeds of violence, anger and fear in me that plagues others. I want to become more aware of those seeds, their origins and triggers. I try to water the opposite seeds of peace, joy and faith in my heart and in the hearts of all people I will encounter today.

Non-violence is not passive. Practicing non-violence toward ourselves, our families, our communities, our political rivals and other countries takes awareness, commitment and a community to support us. I am happy to see that some of her opponents in Congress have found enough peace in their hearts to pray for Congresswoman Giffords’ recovery today.