awareness practice and political activism

The main reason for this post is to publicise a Learn to Meditate day 10am to 5pm on Sunday 26 Feb 20127 as a fundraiser for CEFN, the north Wales refugee support network.  The workshop  is open to all and booking is essential for ten places.

I thought I’d share why I’m doing it and some thoughts about the interesting times we live in.

Thirty years ago I was up to my neck in politics and had been for several years in several different arenas from a feminist collective (Spare Rib) to the GLC, a multi-million pound resourced local authority.  I first learnt to meditate in 1987 and two years later (and after burning out a few times) I withdrew from it all – as my work  as well as an activist – though I’ve continued to  follow politics and nagged people to vote at the very least!

I began to re-engage as an activist (for want of a better term), most regularly (and easily) with what’s now called CEFN from when it started in August 2015.  Since then Brexit and Trump have happened for a complex range of reasons.  We have years of both ahead of us and possibly, probably, more calamitous events in 2017. Some, including Gorbachev, believe and fear that the world is preparing for war. What to do?

I subscribe (online) to Lion’s Roar, the biggest buddhist magazine, based in America, with writers from different buddhist traditions and a vision of inclusivity and diversity.  Melvin McLeod is Editor-in-Chief, a man with a professional background in politics and journalism.  I recommend his 2006 anthology ‘Mindful Politics’.

I watched and read its flow of articles following Trump’s election on 8 November.  The issues are much the same  for those of us grappling with our predicaments this (UK-European) side of the pond.

First up, as so many were in shock and freaked out, the emphasis was on remembering all the teachings on how to work with difficult and painful emotions.  Pema Chodron reigns supreme in communicating these teachings most simply and clearly methinks.  Her books have  titles such as ‘Uncomfortable with Uncertainty’, ‘Practicing Peace in Times of War’ and ‘The Places That Scare Us’ – take your pick!  Read my review of her book How to Mediate.

A month later, Jack Kornfield posted ‘Now is the time to stand up: Practising the Dharma in Uncertain Times, part two’.  “This is not about red or blue,” he says.  “It’s about standing up for the prevention of harm…You are not alone.  You have generations of  ancestors at your back….You have been training for this for a long time.” Wary of headless chicken syndrome, perhaps, he concludes “Don’t worry if Right Action is not yet clear to you…Wait in the unknowing…Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up.”

This was followed by other articles encouraging the same, notably monk-scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Let’s Stand Up Together.  In it, he urges buddhists to become “more visible as advocates of peace, basic sanity, and social justice” and explains why doing so transcends party politics.

I was particularly struck by Mushim Ikeda’s I Vow Not to Burn Out.  “It’s not enough to help others,” she says.  “You have to take care of yourself too.”  I ran a couple of days in 2016 for CEFN activists of self-care techniques, mindfulness, energy exercises, and Way of Council as a way of sharing concerns and feelings about the refugee crisis.  Not many came but it kinda helped get the importance of self care on the agenda, which helps when someone melts down. Mushim Ikeda uses the concept of ‘radical rest’.

The day after I originally posted this, Suzanne Moore’s opinion column in the Guardian appeared ‘Aromatherapy won’t stop fascism, but we shouldn’t dismiss self-care as trite‘. Clearly, the concern about the effect current events are having on people’s health and mental state has gone mainstream, as has the importance of pacing ourselves and building resilience.

The Lions Roar article that’s stayed most with me is an interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams, An Unprecedented Opportunity.  Zen priest, spiritual maverick, activist and founder of CXC (Centre for Transformative Change) which is dedicated to “changing the way change is done”. CXC supports social activists in becoming more spiritual as Rev angel believes this is the only way we will ‘flip the switch’ in people’s hearts so that we treat each other and the Earth more compassionately. She sees this as America’s “next great social movement:  the application of inner awareness practice to broad-based social change”.  I hope she’s right.

An obituary I recently read has stayed with me too.  A son described how his mother, Marjorie, (then an ambulance driver) had met his father during a London air raid – adding how, after the events of 1938, she’d decided to learn how to drive and trained in first aid.

So here’s A Meditator’s 7-Point Practice Plan for 2017, from Ethan Nichtern, sharing the practices he’ll be undertaking to stay healthy and responsibly engaged this year.  I’m off to practice point 5 now, Responsible Consumption, to get one of these cool Sit Down, Rise Up tee shirts.

Enough already!

Tho I will just add that if you don’t want to ‘do’ stuff but you have money, for goodness sake, give money to help others ‘do’ – step up and give generously.  The best thing about money (which is a neutral energy) is what you can do with it – put yours to work for the good.  (By the way, I save with and recommend Triodos Bank – ethical and transparent, and about to launch a current account too.)

Thanks for reading.