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When a human being feels compelled to lash out against another human being for something as arbitrary as skin color, it is a plain signal of their suffering. Imagine going through life in a state of ongoing intimidation. Imagine an endless series of threats coming from all directions at once. The fundamental lie of separate “races” of human beings, compounded with the lie that one of these non-existent “races” is superior to the other non-existent “races” logically results in such a nightmarish scenario.
Paul treated Iraqis with compassion at risk to his life and reputation among fellow soldiers. The military culture encouraged the deadly and disgusting notion that all Arabic people were enemies until proven otherwise—fair game for shooting first and asking questions later. Not asking questions at all actually. The culture of war refuses question entirely; whether it be a Racial Holy War, the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror.
“The best advice I can give you is to seek the beauty of the moment you’re living in. Cherish each moment you have with your child, each smile, each giggle, even each tantrum, as that kid will be an adult before you know it and those moments will be gone. Set an example for happiness by treating everyone and everything with as much compassion and respect as you can—especially if they seem to not deserve it. In doing so lies true honor and bravery, and a child raised to do likewise will not only be a blessing to the world but will have a rich and rewarding life no matter what happens to them. What better gift could you give as a father?”
Practice isn’t perfect. Even the most diligent practitioners will stumble. This is a good thing, as challenge promotes growth. Peace practitioners can have violent slips, and even the most wounded and vicious can have sweet moments of humanity. But the process is found in the moment. The inherent value of life happens with presence. Greed, fear, and ignorance cloud presence as past insult conspires with future vengeance. By understanding that imperfection is perfection we can enjoy the process of life with lighthearted, yet respectful, curiosity. Our ability to wage peace is enhanced with the truth that we are capable of forgiving ourselves, especially with the help of the forgiveness of others.
“On my way back, I read more of your book. It’s been very interesting, very impressive. There was a chapter that made me stop and think. When I used to cry more often, I would have cried in the bus, but there was only a tear showing my emotions. The chapter 8 “Epiphany”, when you described how much your daughter and the power of love of paternity helped you to see things in another way touched me a lot.”
We become attached to ideology when we have nothing else to identify with. Then, to build and maintain that identity, we must define others according to the ideology it is founded upon. We effectively see ourselves not as human, but as righteous proponents of ideology. The Other is seen as some sort of fixed form, not as a fellow human being. Certainly not as family!
We live in an interdependent world of cause and effect. Hate and violence don’t arise from a vacuum. Every human being has an innate need for compassion and the ability to give it. While the potential to connect with this basic human goodness is always present, human constructs composed of greed, aggression, fear, and ignorance diminish the ability to do so. Over time, these simple ugly thoughts can fester until they give rise to a tainted reality where human beings do inhuman things to each other, which leads to more hate and violence.
I hoped the murderer wasn’t Muslim because I knew how the cycle of violence would be enflamed. I knew how peaceful Muslims like the friends that I love would once again face reactionary violence for actions they in no way support.
When lightning struck twice,
I took this to be good.
When hail came pelting down,
I felt a surge of energy.
Then, when a rainbow appeared,
I felt a smile.
All these are signs of bravery.
As wind blows and sun shines,
The Warrior’s heart is touched by this magical display.
Feel and be alive.
Do not forget that in this moment,
All of life is occurring.
Wake up and enjoy your humanness.
Then cosmology of past and future
Dissolve like the mist—
We find ourselves
Under the brilliant blue sky of basic goodness.
Written for the Sangha retreat, Shambhala Mountain Center, 2011, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Last Saturday I sat talking with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We had both recently returned from different parts of Europe and it was a treat to compare memories and feelings. She had been to Sweden, where she fished in North Sea, swam in mountain lakes, and immersed herself in the newness of the moment on the other side of our Earth. She stayed with a band of young graffiti artists, who were fascinating and gracious hosts, but also actively speaking out against injustice. It was noted that despite dramatically different culture and geography, greed, aggression, and ignorance remained constant roots of social problems.
My journey consisted of a week in Dublin, Ireland, immediately followed by a week in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The trip to Dublin was part of an absolutely historic event: the Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE). My role was that of a “Former”, as-in “Former Violent Extremist Turned Peace Activist.” There were other Formers there from across the globe, representing all sorts of factions. Leading up to the event, I was focused on meeting my counterparts and testing a hypothesis of very similar stories as to why we got in and why we got out. This did indeed turn out to be true on all sorts of levels, as a fill-in-the-blank Us vs Them ideology and subsequent assumed identity was common no matter what part of the Earth we came from or what particular brand of justification for our violent extremism there was.
But us Formers were only part of a much greater whole. In addition to public and private sector executives, diplomats, renowned academics, and technology and creative gurus, there were the “Survivors”, as-in people who had personally survived the attacks of violent extremists and now found the strength to leverage horrific loss as a means to wage peace. I met amazing human beings who had lost limbs, spouses, parents, siblings, and children to the very sort of desperate, tragically misguided violence I had vehemently promoted for 7 years—and then forgiven the perpetrators. In some cases, forgiveness was just the beginning, as partnerships in peace activism and genuine friendships were seeded and nurtured from roots of kidnapping, rape, and murder. Inspired by sublime examples of all that is wonderful with our great human family, I took a vital and giant-step closer to self-forgiveness, and recharged my already charged zeal for the pursuit of peace.
Flying straight from Dublin to Denver, the second half of an epic fortnight began as I made my way to Shambhala Mountain Center to join the annual Sangha Retreat. The Sangha seemed the perfect follow-up to SAVE, as I sought to understand every last bit of wisdom there was to be gained from such a unique and beautiful gathering as had just happened in Dublin.
“Sangha” can be loosely translated from Sanskrit as “community with a common purpose”, and the feeling of community and commonality was as palpable amidst the approximately 250 people who had gathered in the serene beauty of Shambhala Mountain Center as it was amidst the approximately 250 people who had gathered 7 hours ahead and 24 hours ago at SAVE in Ireland. Once again old friends were warmly greeted, and many new friends were made. Moving from a swanky hotel in Dublin to a shared (with a very gracious roommate who endured my raucous snoring with prototypical Buddhist lighthearted gentleness) tent and nighttime temperatures in the 40s maintained the feeling of exhilaration that had been virtually constant since leaving Milwaukee a week earlier. Every bit of that energy was needed to prevail against ensuing exhaustion and frustration as I struggled to deconstruct an ego that had swelled quite a bit after being congratulated by a cast of International Peace Activism All-Stars at SAVE. Learning from the bearers of a 2,500 year-old tradition, I explored my personal responsibility to acknowledge and celebrate simple truths of interdependence, presence, and basic goodness. Understanding and peace.
Having raced twilight up to Marpa Point, a majestic mass of rock that overlooks the The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya and valley containing Shanbhala Mountain Center itself, I sat to contemplate, and to feel. With the wind from the top of the world racing past, and tears welling from a genuine fearless heart, I existed as never before. Freed from constructs of self. Ready to return to Earth as a warrior of gentle loving kindness.
Reflecting on our respective experience, my friend and I wondered together if it would ever be possible to live in an enlightened society, where everyone was engaged with the moment and the sweet gentle quality that can only be found therein. Where people cared for each other, and took less so that others could have more. Where our common human family treasured our common home: our beautiful planet Earth. Where everyone was included in this incredible state of being we call life.
The conclusion was reached that such an enlightened society does indeed exist, whenever we can find the mindfulness and compassion to bring it about. Whenever human beings connect with the need for compassion and ability to give it to all other life, an enlightened society is created. Fleeting as the moment it happens in, enlightened society is as impermanent as everything else in the universe. A destination that can never be reached, yet the most noble of pursuits. Each of us has the ability to become a glowing beacon in the fog of greed, aggression, and ignorance. Realizing this ability empowers others to realize theirs.
This core truth of human existence has been a guiding light for Life After Hate since before day 1, and will continue to be as the message of basic human goodness echos far and wide. In Issue 19 of LAH, we are overjoyed to welcome our first author from Pakistan, an incredible man we met at SAVE: Tahir Wadood Malik. Tahir’s wife was killed by a suicide bomber in Islamabad, Pakistan in October 2009. In a tremendous display of courage and compassion, he responded to profound misery by co-founding the Global Survivors Network in Amman, Jordan, and founding the Pakistan Terrorism Survivors Network; both efforts to help his fellow human beings cope with the aftermath of violent extremism and to raise suffering voices for peace. In the spirit of international peace activism, Tahir brings you his unique and comprehensive perspective in Reflections on the Summit Against Violent Extremism.
Also connected to LAH by SAVE is Angela King, a former white power skinhead who grew to understand how wrong racism was after enduring years of hate, violence, and incarceration. Angela has become an accomplished researcher, writer, and speaker and we are deeply honored and humbled to welcome her to the LAH family. Read a moving autobiographical account of Angela’s story in Traveling the Distance: A Movement from Being a Part of the Problem to Part of the Solution. In a powerful complement to Tahir’s SAVE reflection, Angela gives her impressions of this amazing event in [S|A|V|E] Summit Against Violent Extremism Recap.
Another new author Life After Hate is proud to welcome this month is Milwaukee artist and poet Daylee Iris Bree. In Sub. Culture. Daylee paints a verbal picture of what it means to need compassion and inclusion.
The fourth (!) of our new authors in Issue 19 of Life After Hate is my dear brother and Canadian Counterpart Tony McAleer. Tony was a contemporary of mine back in the late 80s and early 90s, leading a notorious white power organization in British Columbia, until, like me, he was moved by the birth of his daughter to question his assumed ideology of hatred. In The Neo-Compassionist, Tony digs into the circumstances that lead to his involvement in the white power movement and how he ultimately came to his senses as a human being engaged with the truth of basic human goodness.
Empathy and reflection are key to understanding and promoting basic human goodness, and LAH author Terry Hoffman-Vincevineus does a wonderful job of both in Remembering Ryan White. We know you’ll enjoy this moving tribute to a remarkably brave and dearly missed young man.
LAH wordsmith DaRaven returns in Issue 19 with a poetic exploration of how it feels to be missing a parent in My Father’s Identity, a deft arrangement of words and thought that inspires young moms and dads of today to be the best parents they can be.
Our sister Tamara Westfall brings you an incredibly poignant interview with 2 former racist skinheads, Bryon and Julie Widner in Explaining Hate . In graphic open honesty, this conversation examines the true dehumanizing cost of hate, and the all-too-real penance of having the tattooed symbols of that hatred burned off.
The Summit Against Violent Extremism was just the beginning of a global collaboration towards peace that Life After Hate will be honored to be a part of for many years to come. On July 13th, the LAH outreach program Kindness Not Weakness joined our brothers and sisters at Proud Theater and one of the most inspirational Warriors I have ever met, Jo Berry of Building Bridges for Peace to explore crucial truths of interdependence, impermanence, forgiveness, and compassion. That workshop promises to be the first of many connections that defy geographical distance to convey these messages that so beautifully illustrate the best of humanity. Boundless love and gratitude to Jo and everyone at Proud Theater for making such a lovely experience happen!
Finally, Life After Hate is outrageously excited and honored to announce the second book published by La Prensa de LAH, Sammy Rangel‘s singular example of transparency and accountability, FOURBEARS: Myths of Forgiveness. This is a book that will change the lives of everyone who reads it, to one positive degree or another. If you are someone struggling with any sort of adversity (and who isn’t?), this immense work will give you strength to carry on and ultimately prevail. If you are a human being engaged with the truth of basic human goodness, FOURBEARS will validate and inspire your continuing engagement. Order your copy online, or join us for Sammy’s book launch at Cup of Hope in Racine, WI on Saturday July 30th.
With love and gratitude for all of my great human family, and life in general,
Proud Theater – an award-winning, exciting and innovative youth theater program designed to foster self-expression and self-empowerment for Madison-area youth – is opening its doors through November 17, 2010 to youth ages 13 to 18 interested in changing the world through the power of theater. Proud Theater was founded in late 1999 by Sol Kelley-Jones and Callen Harty and is currently aligned with Outreach, Inc – Madison’s LGBTQ resource center. Proud theater is open to any youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ), or who are the children of LGBTQ parents, or who are allies of the LGBTQ community at large.
Proud Theatre is living proof of the truth that we are all in this together. A beautifully functioning system of inclusion that becomes stronger with each being it touches. And you will be touched. You will be challenged to join the open honesty of human expression that graces the stage when Proud Theatre is in effect. These artists are unique, gifted individuals who have so much to teach from what they’ve learned in the first 13-19 years of this lifetime. Each makes an essential contribution to a collective masterpiece. Care for one another elevates the talent and capability of everyone. Interdependence is radiated outward to fortify all with the courage to acknowledge it. Together with me, and everyone else who brings their time and attention to the audience. Each of us strengthening the other by embracing vulnerabilities and virtues, as so artfully demonstrated with this performance. Your healing processes initiates my healing process. My joy is yours and your pain is mine—resulting in the ability to cultivate compassion and think past fear. Rockin’ the Rotunda is infused with the boundless warmth of these truths. Love and gratitude to all who made this happen and especially to my brother Callen for inviting me.