Trudy Goodman reflects on the crisis in Ukraine and increasing conflict throughout the world, and shares the Buddhist teachings we must take to heart at this time.
Today my heart is heavy with grief. What an unthinkable tragedy to watch another war unfold; civilians and soldiers dying, families fleeing and becoming refugees. And along with this war there are wars in Eritrea and Syria, Myanmar and Sudan, Darfur, again. There is conflict spread across the world. Today’s new UN climate report is dire. The news is heartbreaking and frightening. As the poet Warsan Shire wrote:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
I mourn for humanity. I feel the fear that is hardwired into us for survival. And yet, when I pause to look out the window, sunshine is splashing all over my little garden. Prayer flags strung over the wooden gate dance in the fluttering wind. I can hear the chirpy voices of children playing next door. When I open my internal mind window to the natural world outside, I feel quiet joy. Sorrow and joy peacefully co-exist in my heart.
Practices to cultivate mindfulness and compassion open the inevitably narrow frame of an individual perspective to a vastness of peace and well-being, a space where all opposites can rest in the infinitely tender embrace of a wide open heart. Learning to be present with it all — from the horror of hate to the wonder of beauty — is a huge relief.
If you feel awash in fearful thoughts, get quiet for a moment.
When tension, strain, and feelings of being unsafe or left out are met with understanding and kindness, quiet joy can flood your whole being. Even as voices of anger and outrage boom across the internet, by meeting them with a little bit of mindful presence and awareness, you can relax your mind and catch a glimpse of relief, as suffering eases into light and gentle freedom.
Right now, if you feel awash in fearful thoughts, get quiet for a moment. Whatever posture you’re in, simply shift your body back ever so slightly, just an inch or so. You can sense a subtle shift as the whole body-mind relaxes into receptivity. You’re shifting your stance from tilting forward into the next moment, to stepping back to receive this one. Mindfulness and meditation can help you rest in presence and resist the push of restlessness and worry.
The mind is the basis for everything.
Everything is created by my mind, and is ruled by my mind.
When I speak or act with a clear awareness, happiness stays with me.
Like my own shadow, it is unshakeable.
–Dhammapada verse 2, (Wikisource translation)
These first two verses of the Dhammapada say all of our experiences — pleasant and unpleasant — are created by our minds. Collectively, we can see how human greed, hate, and ignorance create suffering, war, racism, poverty, injustice, and other toxic ‘isms’. Individually, “created by my mind” refers to the power we have to be aware and understand how our minds automatically interpret and react to situations, and how habitual patterns and expectations shape our attitudes towards self and relationships. Will I go through loss or traumatic events with steadiness and grace, or get stuck in bitterness and resentment? It all depends on my mind-heart’s “clear awareness.” This is the good news and sanity of the dharma.
In times of difficulty, we need this wisdom more than ever.
The Buddha saw how human beings can get attached to a deeply rooted sense of separate self. In his awakening, he freed his heart from the narrow confines of this self-oriented perception. He saw that life as a self is a flowing process — a changing field of interdependent experience arising in response to the relationships and conditions that form us. Seeing this truth he offered a path to wise loving and wise society.
Often the Buddha taught through a language of negation: non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion. He mostly focused on suffering and deliverance from suffering and its causes, engaging in practical exchanges with people that would serve their well-being. Yet, he understood that, like us, people also needed to know what’s joyful and positive on the path for them to want to do a practice and stick with it.
So he taught ways to create harmonious, beautiful spaces where our hearts can dwell in peaceful relationship with ourselves and others: generosity, friendship, integrity, love, compassion, appreciative joy, and spacious equanimity. He encouraged everyone to directly experience the pleasure of these healthy spiritual qualities. When the heart opens to a more alive, connected, and expansive reality, this is a delightful liberation — from suffering, yes, and also an invitation to enjoy peace and happiness. How inspiring!
In my own practice, when I have experienced betrayals and difficulties, if I stick to the story of what happened to me and how bad it was, I suffer and struggle. It’s depressing. But when I can step back and allow those thoughts to come and go, there comes a gift of presence right where I am, not in the past or a possible future. When I live in the present there is an incalculable joy. Being in the present moment, sharing presence, is an act of love.
In times of difficulty, we need this wisdom more than ever. May we and all beings live our diverse lives with gratitude and appreciation for ourselves, each other, and this bittersweet world. May we and all beings wake up together. May we live happily in peace, caring and connected — bringing blessings to all life.