Saturday, December 29, 2012

Growing our compassion and life force energy for the new year

Today in yoga class, I took a risk to share the letter below.  I find it to be a beautiful letter which can bring us understanding and help to transform our suffering around the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT.  My purpose for wanting to go there today came from our focus this month on the second chakra (Svadhistana) and the coming new year.  The second chakra houses our emotional body, the place where our gut feelings originate.  It is the place where we begin to find connection to others, build relationships, and find out how we interact with / respond to / and are impacted by others.  Our yoga practice which includes asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), studying the dharma (teachings), meditation and mantra gives us many tools to navigate life.  We get to choose everyday how we deal with our bodies, our feelings, and our thoughts which are all triggered by our interactions with nature and other beings.  We can be so thankful to have the practice in our lives to help transform our suffering, give us a bigger perspective, and be sure to enjoy the beauty in the world since we know there is also suffering.
As we look to a new year, let's support each other in our choices toward joy, toward peace, toward self-understanding so we can find support when we need it and recognize how powerful and strong we already are.  We are so blessed to have these practices.  We need to remember that it is those people who do not have a path of practice and do not have the tools or support to deal with their emotions, mental formations, and urges who cause others great suffering.  "There but for the grace of God go I."

From "The Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger" in Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, we learn in the fifth way that someone whose actions are not kind, whose words are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness is suffering greatly and desperately needs a spiritual friend.  This is the place we begin to grow our understanding and compassion for someone who causes such awful suffering in the world.  Only someone in great pain could cause such pain.  This is in no way meant to excuse the act, just to help alleviate our suffering and cultivate our practice and compassion to better prevent another suffering being to make such an act.
This letter is from a monk in the Plum Village community, who is from Newtown, CT himself, to Adam Lanza.  May it bring more healing and understanding.

Saturday, 15th of December, 2012
Dharma Cloud Temple
Plum Village
Dear Adam,
Let me start by saying that I wish for you to find peace. It would be easy just to call you a monster and condemn you for evermore, but I don't think that would help either of us. Given what you have done, I realize that peace may not be easy to find. In a fit of rage, delusion and fear”yes, above all else, I think, fear,”you thought that killing was a way out. It was clearly a powerful emotion that drove you from your mother's dead body to massacre children and staff of Sandy Hook School and to turn the gun in the end on yourself. You decided that the game was over.
But the game is not over, though you are dead. You didn't find a way out of your anger and loneliness. You live on in other forms, in the torn families and their despair, in the violation of their trust, in the gaping wound in a community, and in the countless articles and news reports spilling across the country and the world yes, you live on even in me. I was also a young boy who grew up in Newtown. Now I am a Zen Buddhist monk. I see you quite clearly in me now, continued in the legacy of your actions, and I see that in death you have not become free.
You know, I used to play soccer on the school field outside the room where you died, when I was the age of the children you killed. Our team was the Eagles, and we won our division that year. My mom still keeps the trophy stashed in a box. To be honest, I was and am not much of a soccer player. I've known winning, but I've also known losing, and being picked last for a spot on the team. I think you've known this too the pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness. Loneliness too strong to bear.
You are not alone in feeling this. When loneliness comes up it is so easy to seek refuge in a virtual world of computers and films, but do these really help or only increase our isolation? In our drive to be more connected, have we lost our true connection?
I want to know what you did with your loneliness. Did you ever, like me, cope by walking in the forests that cover our town? I know well the slope that cuts from that school to the stream, shrouded by beech and white pine. It makes up the landscape of my mind. I remember well the thrill of heading out alone on a path winding its way”to Treadwell Park! At that time it felt like a magical path, one of many secrets I discovered throughout those forests, some still hidden. Did you ever lean your face on the rough furrows of an oak's bark, feeling its solid heartwood and tranquil vibrancy? Did you ever play in the course of a stream, making pools with the stones as if of this stretch you were king? Did you ever experience the healing, connection and peace that comes with such moments, like I often did?
Or did your loneliness know only screens, with dancing figures of light at the bid of your will? How many false lives have you lived, how many shots fired, bombs exploded and lives lost in video games and movies?
By killing yourself at the age of 20, you never gave yourself the chance to grow up and experience a sense of how life's wonders can bring happiness. I know at your age I hadn't yet seen how to do this.
I am 37 now, about the age my teacher, the Buddha, realized there was a way out of suffering. I am not enlightened. This morning, when I heard the news, and read the words of my shocked classmates, within minutes a wave of sorrow arose, and I wept. Then I walked a bit further, into the woods skirting our monastery, and in the wet, winter cold of France, beside the laurel, I cried again. I cried for the children, for the teachers, for their families. But I also cried for you, Adam, because I think that I know you, though I know we have never met. I think that I know the landscape of your mind, because it is the landscape of my mind.
I don't think you hated those children, or that you even hated your mother. I think you hated your loneliness.
I cried because I have failed you. I have failed to show you how to cry. I have failed to sit and listen to you without judging or reacting. Like many of my peers, I left Newtown at seventeen, brimming with confidence and purpose, with the congratulations of friends and the approbation of my elders. I was one of the many young people who left, and in leaving we left others, including you, just born, behind. In that sense I am a part of the culture that failed you. I didn't know yet what a community was, or that I was a part of one, until I no longer had it, and so desperately needed it.
I have failed to be one of the ones who could have been there to sit and listen to you. I was not there to help you to breathe and become aware of your strong emotions, to help you to see that you are more than just an emotion.
But I am also certain that others in the community cared for you, loved you. Did you know it?
In eighth grade I lived in terror of a classmate and his anger. It was the first time I knew aggression. No computer screen or television gave a way out, but my imagination and books. I dreamt myself a great wizard, blasting fireballs down the school corridor, so he would fear and respect me. Did you dream like this too?
The way out of being a victim is not to become the destroyer. No matter how great your loneliness, how heavy your despair, you, like each one of us, still have the capacity to be awake, to be free, to be happy, without being the cause of anyone's sorrow. You didn't know that, or couldn't see that, and so you chose to destroy. We were not skillful enough to help you see a way out.
With this terrible act you have let us know. Now I am listening, we are all listening, to you crying out from the hell of your misunderstanding. You are not alone, and you are not gone. And you may not be at peace until we can stop all our busyness, our quest for power, money or sex, our lives of fear and worry, and really listen to you, Adam, to be a friend, a brother, to you. With a good friend like that your loneliness might not have overwhelmed you.
But we needed your help too, Adam. You needed to let us know that you were suffering, and that is not easy to do. It means overcoming pride, and that takes courage and humility. Because you were unable to do this, you have left a heavy legacy for generations to come. If we cannot learn how to connect with you and understand the loneliness, rage and despair you felt which also lie deep and sometimes hidden within each one of us not by connecting through Facebook or Twitter or email or telephone, but by really sitting with you and opening our hearts to you, your rage will manifest again in yet unforeseen forms.
Now we know you are there. You are not random, or an aberration. Let your action move us to find a path out of the loneliness within each one of us. I have learned to use awareness of my breath to recognize and transform these overwhelming emotions, but I hope that every man, woman or child does not need to go halfway across the world to become a monk to learn how to do this. As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present for one another, by being truly there for one another. For me, this is the way to restore harmony to our communion.
Douglas Bachman (Br. Phap Luu)
who grew up at 22 Lake Rd. in Newtown, CT., is a Buddhist monk and student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh. As part of an international community, he teaches Applied Ethics and the art of mindful living to students and school teachers. He lives in Plum Village Monastery, in Thenac, France.
Let this darkness be a bell tower,
and you the bell.
As you ring, what batters you
becomes your strength.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, Let this darkening be a bell tower

European Institute of Applied Buddhism
Europäisches Institut für Angewandten Buddhismus,
Schaumburgweg 3, 51545 Waldbröl
+49 (0) 2291 9071373
I am so thankful that when my darkest time came at the age of 24, after losing my mother and my grandmother within the span of 6 months, I found the resources both within me and around me to deal with my lonliness, sadness, and depression.  Though it was extremely difficult, I allowed the support of those around me to seep in.  Eventually, I got to the work that I needed to do which was to find new places of belonging since the two most dear to me were taken away.  A coworker invited me to my first sangha (meditation group) and I had come home.  Learning and internalizing the teachings of the Buddha helped alleviate my suffering.  Being surrounded by a supportive community, my sangha, gave me that sense of belonging and care.  I started to recognize the other blessings in my life that I didn't allow to shine in the shadow of my losses.

I hope we can all continue to do this work with each passing new year, coming to fully know ourselves and recognize how wonderful we are.  Our work continuing up the seven chakras over the next 5 months is one way to grow this understanding and continue to clear the space for our light to shine.

I'll close with this Metta Meditation (Love Meditation) from Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book.  Imagine what it would be like if we all recited it every day.


Love Meditation*

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

"We begin practicing this love meditation focusing on ourselves.  Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.  Next, we can practice towards others (substituting he/she or they), first with someone we love, next with someone we like, then with someone neutral to us, and finally toward someone who has made us suffer."

 * Adapted from the Visuddhi Magga.  For other practices to nourish love, see Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997).
Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Lead me from darkness to the light
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
Lead me from the fear of death to the wisdom of immortality,
from attachment to what is temporary to the wisdom of what is eternal

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu

Blessings of Peace, Love, and Ease of Living to you and your beloveds and to all beings!
 Here is the link for the complete reading 
"The Five Ways of  Putting and End to Anger"