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Category Archives: Peace

Have you heard the protests against Trump’s bombing of Syria?  Who is speaking out against this dangerous action? Yet another undeclared war!

Yesterday I attended an excellent panel on Islamaphobia at Takoma Park Elementary.   I was very moved by all three speakers, two of them Muslim women, Dr. Maha Hilal of the DC Muslims for Justice Coalition and Ramah Kudaimi of the Washington Peace Center.  Dr. Hilal’s dissertation was entitled “Too damn Muslim to be Trusted: The War on Terror and the US Involvement.” She explained the term “Islamaphobia” as part of our government policy to enforce laws discriminating against Muslims for the purposes of promoting “war on terror.” It includes violence against Muslims in this country, dehumanization of Muslims, hate crimes, justification for torture, imprisonment without due process, dark prisons in other countries, Guantanamo Bay, criminalization of charity, bans based on religion, kill lists, drone bombing in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

The culture of this country, supported by media, television programs, stereotypes, puts the onus on the Muslim community for “terrorism.” Whereas the true fuel for terrorist actions comes from our own government policies of war, bombing of innocent civilians, increasing severe poverty, stealing oil and other natural resources from countries in the Middle East which are predominantly Muslim, killing and persecuting Muslim people, well over a million in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and northern Africa. These policies have been going on long before Trump and are supported by white supremacy and (I would say) imperialism of our government and our US people.

In other words, the cause of terrorism is in US, not in the Muslim community. So we need to focus the solution, not on changing the Muslim community, pointing out the “good” Muslims who are peaceful, making them responsible for uncovering the “bad” Muslims. The solution is to CHANGE US! Our discriminating laws, such as the “CVE” (Countering Violent Extremism) programs, (spearheaded by the U of MD and Montgomery County!) that equate activism with terrorism. This is a Homeland Security plan to recruit teachers, social workers and police to target youth who express objection to government policies (in violation of their 1st and 4th Constitutional rights of free speech, assembly and security from unreasonable search and seizure), gather information on these young people and stop protest against government policies and actions. Policies like this feel like the beginning of fascism in our country! We have to focus on stopping this, not on changing Muslim communities, practices or “saving” Muslim women! They are some of the most outspoken against these injustices!

Contact mococivilrights.wordpress.com or mococivilrights@gmail.com for more information on how to stop CVE in our schools and community.

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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.

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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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“May the sound of this bell reach suffering ones in the whole cosmos, sending healing, comfort and peace.”  These words from my meditation teacher, Anh Huong Nguyen (www.mpcf.com) last Saturday morning, brought tears of joy and relief to my soul.

I had just traveled half way around the world from a wonderful visit to family living in Malaysia.  I had suffered the night before from lack of sleep and justified anger directed at me from a loved one.  I ate cereal in the car on the ride to this beautiful annual ceremony to transmit the Five Mindfulness Trainings to a member of WMC and many others from MCPF, Stillwater and other sanghas on the east coast.  I had been filled with remorse for my mindless actions that had hurt and angered someone I love dearly.  My body was still adjusting to crossing 12 time zones and being greeted by bitter 16 degree weather.  My spirit needed the silence, the beautiful church with huge windows revealing gently falling snow, a fox trotting by in the woods, the warmth of dozens of beloved sisters and brothers surrounding me.  I took a deep breath, relaxed and let myself cry.

I often find in meditation that the first person who needs the healing sound of the bell is me.  My suffering is so small compared to that of families dying daily in Aleppo, women raped and beaten in many countries, children starved and abused, all people suffering from war, poverty, oppression and fear of their political leaders.

Yet this body is the one I feel most closely, can breathe in most easily, can feed, rest, comfort and nourish.  I hope it is true – as Thich Nhat Hanh and his niece Anh Huong teach me – that in taking care of myself, I am taking care of the whole cosmos.  All suffering beings are present in me and me in them.  We “inter-are.”  I am the child in Aleppo.  I am the woman in Nigeria bearing a child of rape.  I am the coal miner in West Virginia worried about feeding his children.  I am determined to take care of all of me, all of the suffering in the world in my breathing, in the sound of this bell going out to the whole cosmos.

Spring budsWhat a glorious spring day!  The first birthday of our great niece Hannah Grace (https-//www.facebook.com/photo), the spring full moon, cherry blossoms trying to burst into bloom on the Tidal Basin, and so many great activities coming up.

Please join us in celebrating SPRING and new life within yourself at these events.  Our world needs every gesture of peace, every celebration of life possible:
1) “Twelve Posture Qi Gong”class.   My husband Patrick and I will be teaching this 8-week class in simple, gentle movements that will greatly reduce pain, improve agility and open energy channels in your body. Join us on Tuesdays from 7:00-8:00pm from April 5-May 24 at the Takoma Park Community Center. Sign up for drop-in or the full class at (https://apm.activecommunities.com/takomaparkrecreation/Activity_Search/qi-gong-12-posture/4440).

2) There are still some private rooms available for our Women’s Spiritual Retreat at Claymont Court, WV (near Harper’s Ferry) the weekend of April 29-May1. (See http://www.ruthfishel.com or email Joann to register ASAP).   REST, RELAX!

3) AND join Ruth and me in a special women’s retreat in SEDONA, ARIZONA May 30-June 2 “Awakening to the Power of the Vortexes!” (with a trip to the Grand Canyon on June 3 optional). To sign up, see http://www.ruthfishel.com.

Enjoy every moment of new life, every precious, beautiful moment, my friends.

Love and Peace,

Joann

Buddhas at Malihom

 

“We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.” The joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children and their children is ours, NOW. It works both ways – suffering passes from generation to generation, but so does the peace of one affect the peace of previous and future generations. This is the teaching on Inter-being of the Buddha, as transmitted to us in this generation by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dali Lama and other great teachers.

Scientists are now verifying what spiritual teachers have said for thousands of years. We have wondered how children who did not actually experience the Holocaust, genocide in Cambodia, war and poverty in Iraq and Gaza have suffered so much from their parents’ suffering. In an article I read yesterday, anthropologists have studied PTSD in children of Cambodians in Lowell, Mass, children who did not directly experience the Khmer Rouge but whose bodies, minds and spirits bear the marks of their parents’ torture. (See http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120144/trauma-genetic-scientists-say-parents-are-passing-ptsd-kids).

I have also personally experienced healing in my own body, mind and spirit from deep, generations-old suffering passed on to me from my ancestors and forward to children and grandchildren. Without the great suffering, how could we see this multi-generational healing? The suffering is necessary, Thay says, to develop the love and compassion, the motivation to practice deep listening and mindful speech now, knowing that it will help our mothers and fathers who didn’t have the tools of recovery and meditation that we now have. Their mothers and fathers and our beloved children and grandchildren benefit immediately also. Sometimes this healing is visible, tangible; sometimes it works at the level of DNA and gentle transformations in the synapses of our brains.

I still have the deep hope, shared by Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Buddha, Thay and many others, that we can achieve peace in the world by bringing true peace to our own hearts and those of our families and loved ones. Peace is possible….NOW! The deep teaching about living in the present moment is that in this moment is EVERYTHING, all the past and future, all the joy and suffering interconnected.  We are so fortunate to know and practice this reality.

January’s moon revisits us tonight, April 17, 2011

We celebrate each full moon with a vow renewal ceremony we learned in Plum Village on a retreat. After a beautiful Touching the Earth ceremony with our sangha, the Washington Mindfulness Community, and two sitting meditation sessions, we came home and realized that we could end the day with our Full Moon Ceremony. Tonight’s full moon is very bright in a mostly clear sky with occasional clouds that lend even more mystery.

The ceremony is very simple and takes only a few minutes. We light a candle at the kitchen window with a view of the moon, sound the bell we were given by my son’s father as a wedding gift and recite the Five Awarenesses:

1. We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
2. We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us.
3. We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children and their children.
4. We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.
5. We are aware that blaming and arguing never help us and only create a wider gap between us, that only understanding, trust and love can help us change and grow.

The moon slides behind a cloud, but we are aware it is here, that we are here, interconnected.

Full Moon 1:4:15

Reposted 1-4-15

 

Duck Sligo

 

This morning, my husband and I enjoyed Qi Gong and meditation on Sligo Creek.  As we sat on a bench to meditate, I noticed a duck in the creek watching for fish to swim by for his breakfast.  I was fascinated by the duck’s patience, hardly moving a muscle watching the water with a slight head movement now and then.  I knew I had a focus for my meditation, the patience and stillness of animals, trees and rocks in this beautiful spot.   Could I ever be that still, even for twenty minutes?  The sound of the water trilling over rocks, the gentle spring breeze and occasional glances at the duck and the sunlight reflecting on the boulders next to the water all enhanced my meditation.  I felt one with nature, with all of life, allowing the beauty and peace to penetrate my body and mind.

When we finished our meditation, I asked Patrick if he saw the duck.  We weren’t sure that any animal could remain in one position for so long.  So we went closer to have a better look and discovered that our “duck” was a piece of branch holding several fallen winter leaves in the water.  Our teacher of patience had taken a different form than the one we both had in our minds.  We smiled.  The lesson happened, even though our perception was incorrect.  And don’t ducks have many “non-duck elements”?

Reading the news after breakfast, I carried the same question “Are you sure?” to articles about the civil war in Syria, the exchange of the American soldier for five Taliban leaders, sexual abuse in the navy, the death of a local hip-hop artist.  I have also been reading the draft of a wonderful book that delves into the shaping of people who end up on opposite sides of a genocidal civil war.  In a world full of both conflict and great peace, would it be useful to constantly ask myself the question “Are you sure, Joann…are you sure?” when I am ready to impose a view, speak out strongly against a perceived wrong, take sides in an argument.  Even my eyes perceive only what they perceive in a moment, and the duck I see might just be leaves clinging to a branch in the water.

May my mind stay open today, trying to perceive what I see, hear what I hear, be whatever I am in the moment, open to the lessons of nature, people, events, letting go of the need to be sure.

Non-duck

 

martin-luther-king-pictures

“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

 

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I promised my husband I would stay home today, healing the first symptoms of a cold, staying off icy streets.  If it causes him less stress, I will, but it is difficult for me to stay indoors during the winter.  I might feel lonely, my mind tells me, even though many hours of each day I spend alone writing, preparing for retreats, practicing Qi Gong, meditating, reading, communicating with suffering friends.

On Tuesdays, I usually invite the bell at Stillwater, but the building is closed when schools are closed.  So, our group sat warm and cozy in our homes, thinking of one another, doing the practice that enriches our lives, relieves stress and useless negative thinking.  Before I began the meditation, I read from Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh: “I can awaken to the fact that I am alive, and that life is a precious miracle.  I can awaken to the fact that I am never alone and can never die.  The earth is always there within me and around me at every step, nourishing me, embracing me and carrying me into the future.”

I used the phrases “I am never alone” and “I can never die” for the focus of my concentration in meditation.  I visualized all the friends and family members who enrich my life with their love, including some who have continued in a new form.  They can never die as long as they are alive in me, in my memory, in the actions that are influenced by their love.  I watched the gentle snow falling.  How short the life of a snowflake, we think.  It forms from air, water, dust, takes a beautiful and unique form, floats through the atmosphere, lands among millions of its peers and eventually melts.  But it can never “not be.”  Just as we can never really “die.”  Our bodies, minds and feelings change constantly, transforming, growing, changing form.  Without these changes, new life would not be possible.

I am grateful for these teachings of “no birth, no death,” watching the snow falling, resting.connecting with you.

The Goddesses to whom I had been praying, writing affirmations to make the retreat happen, to send the right people, CAME THEMSELVES!!!  Without the participants, there would be no retreat!  I am so, so grateful to each person who came, the ones who considered it but couldn’t come this time, to all who’ve come in the past and returned, to all the new women who had the courage to experience something new, to bare their souls, share their suffering, affirm their desire to transform that suffering into precious jewels that radiate peace, joy and freedom for themselves and others!

We practiced mindfulness meditation in various ways – guided meditations, silence overnight, QiGong at dawn in the ballroom, sitting, walking and eating meditation, exploring the woods meditation, sharing in small and large groups, deep listening and mindful speech, stopping and breathing when we heard the bell, hugging, singing, holding one another’s joy and pain.  We became one, a community of recovering sisters.

The theme of this retreat was “self-compassion.” We invited the women to relax, take it easy, stop struggling for just two days and take good care of body, mind and spirit.  We offered some exercises to look at self-critical thinking, develop acceptance of ourselves as we are and nourish positive affirmations.  Mindfulness practices helped us stay in the present moment where we were safe, together, enjoying gorgeous fall days.

We watched transformation happen as we shared, opened our hearts to one another and gave ourselves a chance to look deeply into our own suffering and water seeds of happiness and peace.   One person had very recently lost her husband, another was grieving through a recent divorce, another struggling over custody of her children.  Many had either been neglected by their mothers or had become mothers who neglected their children because of addictions.  The mother/daughter theme emerged as such a deep suffering that we are considering doing a workshop on it next spring.

The healing was tangible, faces and bodies relaxing, tears and smiles mixing, a woman who considered leaving dancing in the fall leaves instead.  This is what I love, being with people, especially women, forming a group where sharing on a deep level is possible, where healing of our bodies, minds, emotions and hearts can happen, continue.

So, I feel GOOD!  even though one of my legacies of the weekend was a cold from hugging some sick folks.  This will pass.  I am resting, drinking water and tea, taking lots of vitamins and trying to follow my own “self-compassion” advice.

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Peace is possible – HERE and NOW in our hearts, in this beautiful fall day, with one another.