Archive for category Spiritual Roots

Being Peace / Protesting War

Peace March at Golden GateNow that I’m working at the intersection of social activism and Buddhism, I get to articulate my previously mostly silent but internal feelings that Buddhist thought has much to offer social activism, and social engagement in the world has much to offer a Buddhist who can get stuck on the meditation cushion.

Today, the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11, I walked the Golden Gate with hundreds of others, declaring peace in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the US that were waged in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. It was my first demonstration bringing my Buddhist face as my primary face, and I found myself curious how it would feel different.

I woke this morning glad to have sat several days of meditation in the past week, as I was strongly in touch with the depths of kindness in my heart. In other times, I may have contemplated my anger and bitterness at Bush and other political figures who started these wars. Instead, on my bus ride in to the city, I tapped in to feelings of peace, safety, kindness, and compassion.

When I walked in to the rally space, I felt ready to rally for peace. On the inside, it seemed markedly different than showing up for an anti-war rally. I looked at people with a silent smile, felt confident and strong despite awkwardly holding a 6-foot banner by myself. I didn’t feel the need to do, to run around and feel anxious about what was happening or not happening. I just felt the need to be peace.

It’s a different path to change, to believe that the greatest influence is to first embody that which I seek. There is a lot of comfort in this, as it’s entirely in my locus of control, while changing the policies of my government feels mostly outside of my control.

Yet I don’t completely relinquish the power I do have to influence government and other social systems by focusing my attention only on internal peace. I bring whatever peace I have, even if it’s not fully perfected, to the rally. I mindfully walk in our march across the bridge, feeling each movement of my walking as I shift weight, lift my right foot, move it forward, and place it heel first. Another shift of weight, then the left foot lifts, moves forward, and gently comes down on the concrete. As we approach the middle of the bridge to stand together in solidarity, I find my own blend of both lifting my voice with others in wise speech for peace and holding a noble silence of meditation practice. These practices helped me stay mindful about where I was, why I was there, and kept the link to peace and peacefulness strong in my heart.

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Pinch Me

Someone pinch me – I think I’ve magically landed my dream job!

Wanted: A nonprofit leadership position in the San Francisco Bay Area. An organization interested in trying out new models of leadership and governance, building on the power of shared leadership rather than the traditional board-ED-staff hierarchy.

Organization must be committed to building a more inclusive version of itself. And it can’t be scared of me trying out mindfulness practice, a balance of the brahmaviharas, an analysis of the Three Rootssuffering, impermanence, and non-self – in the work we do. – From my journals, September 11, 2010

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Buster Benson asks, “What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?”

I believe that Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and lovingkindness hold the keys to transforming our world to be peaceful and just. – From this blog, June 3, 2011

Enter the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a community of primarily dharma practitioners established to support socially engaged efforts of visionaries of compassionate social justice and dharma-based organizations for social change. A community people working right at this intersection of Buddhist practice and social action.

I started today as the Operations Manager, and will be supporting BPF for at least the next few months as they (we!) sort out the next version of the organization. I’m super excited to be part of this transformation, and am already brimming with enthusiasm about supporting this work.

I’m also excited to see how this blog can be useful in processing the transitions and transformations as they come to pass. It’s exciting to have a real live organization with whom to think through some of my big questions – how can care of the self be connected with caring for the world? How does changing organizational structure change what an organization can accomplish? What do Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and compassion have to teach us about creating a more just and peaceful world? How does an organization include a diversity of voices, and grow stronger when those voices conflict?

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One Strong Belief

I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Buster Benson asks, “What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?”

I believe that Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and lovingkindness hold the keys to transforming our world to be peaceful and just.

I have been fortunate to have amazing friends who share many of my political views and understandings of life. Right now, I have a set of friends working actively on creating a more just world, and a set of friends engaged in Buddhist meditation – but those circles have little overlap. Whatever circle I’m in, I have work to do to make my beliefs understood and I often feel like I’m on the edge of lecturing people about things they don’t really want to hear. Like when I had lunch with some Buddhist friends, and started breaking down the dynamics of sexual violence when our conversations meandered from living in France, to the sexual mores of France versus the US and how that relates to each country’s perception of DSK’s rapes of multiple women. Or when I’m with activist friends who cringe at training activities that get a little “woo” – especially if they slow things down and ask us to be mindful of the body. I’m overjoyed when I meet people who find interesting the overlap between social justice and meditation.

I chafe at Emerson’s love of the independence of solitude. As a community organizer, it goes against every cell of my being to just hang out with my solitary beliefs. If I find an idea compelling, I want to share it. Preferably not in a dogmatic way, but in a way where others can interact with it and tell me where it’s not quite right. And when it speaks to them clearly, I invite them in to my life as co-organizers, as friends, as family so we can work together to spread this idea, and change the world.

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An Appropriate Response: Wisdom, Compassion, & Courage

This is the fifth installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

An Appropriate Response to Suffering

An Appropriate Response to Egolessness

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Wisdom, Compassion, & Courage Form An Appropriate Response

How do we apply wisdom, compassion, and courage to all that we face in nonprofit management? Wisdom requires that we clearly see these three characteristics and how they shape our reality. Compassion asks that we respond with a heart well-tenderized by the Brahmaviharas so we can meet the world openly. Courage inspires us to practice the Eightfold Path in our daily work, from intention setting, to right speech and action with others, to mindfulness and concentration on what we do. By asking ourselves and each other how to apply wisdom, compassion, and courage to all that we do, we practice the dharma as we care for our nonprofit. We liberate ourselves as we work to support the liberation of others.

Dalai Lama Kyegundo
Creative Commons License photo credit: SFTHQ

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An Appropriate Response to Egolessness

This is the fourth installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

An Appropriate Response to Suffering

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An Appropriate Response to Egolessness
OCP Logo

Out on the Colorado Plateau Summit

Among all staff members, it is the Director who has the most temptation to become identified with the organization. Their key role as the face of the organization, as the person in charge, as the one responsible sets them up for ego-identification. I am most successful as a leader when I can get out of the way, when I can make it as easy as possible for others to contribute their best skills and talents to the cause. My practical Midwestern upbringing has served me well here. I care most about finding the most practical way to accomplish something, and am happy to take a front and center role when needed, and a behind the scenes role when that is appropriate.

I have found great success in team leadership models where 3-5 people come together, each contributing their unique skills, with the support of a larger team to paint a broad vision. For example, the Out on the Colorado Plateau summit had a 4 person leadership team that held the larger process. This team was supported by a committee of 20 who were involved in choosing the vision for the summit (visibility for rural LGBTQ individuals and communities), and several key decisions that had many pros and cons depending on the perspective you came with: holding the event at the local college or at the county fairgrounds event center, 2-3 keynote speakers with both local and regional appeal, approximate cost for attendance (free vs. $20 vs. much more than that). Sub-committees broke off (each led by a co-coordinator) to make detailed decisions about presentation schedule, media plan, secure food donations for the day of the event, and solicit sponsorships. It’s been one of the most well-functioning, engaged teams I’ve participated in. No one person was “in charge” of the process, but many contributed an important piece to make the event happen.

The flip side to practicing egolessness is tapping into the deep interconnectedness between us all. I find myself deeply drawn to projects where I can help foster a sense of belonging among people who have felt isolated and alone. In the process, I continually examine who feels welcome and comfortable in the spaces I create, and who does not. Knowing the pain of exclusion and loneliness, I seek to build spaces that include people often shunted to the margins – people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

This work was most powerful at SASO, where we challenged ourselves to examine our role as an organization in perpetuating oppression, and do our best to dismantle this. SASO, like many rape crisis centers, grew out of the feminist movement of the 1970s. Violence against women was a tool of sexism, used to keep all women in our place. As federal funding came for rape crisis programs in the mid 1990s, the radical edge softened, and oppression was rarely talked about.

Yet when we looked at statistics of sexual violence, it was clear that sexual violence was still being used as a tool of oppression – all forms of oppression. How else do you explain that Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than all other races combined? That more than 70% of disabled women have been sexually abused at some point in their life time? That immigrant women and men were targeted for sexual violence, because perpetrators assumed they would never go to the police to report it?

We recognized that institutional oppression was often more insidious than overt interpersonal racism, and made a huge difference in whether people felt welcome in our agency or not. For instance, why did we not have even the most basic services available in Spanish? Why did we offer therapy support groups but not sweats in a Native sweat lodge for Native survivors? Why do all our brochures assume that it’s a woman who is being assaulted by a man, when we know men assaulted by other men, women assaulted by other women, men assaulted by women? How can we work in an office that isn’t even handicapped accessible?

While painful initially to look at our failings as an agency in being the welcoming and comforting space we wanted to be, our examinations led us to see clearly where we could improve. Monthly, we dedicated time to meet and set intentions toward change. We held each other accountable as we took the small but necessary steps to change how our agency operated. While the initial steps felt small (I’m going to call another rape crisis center with a Spanish hotline and see how they operate it), they built upon each other. I’m proud to say that five years later, SASO has model programs for engaging the immigrant community, Spanish language programs that are being requested around the state, helped organize the first ever LGBTQ Pride Festival in Durango, and finally operates out of an accessible office. Perhaps most notable, the majority of staff are people of color and identify as LGBTQ. The agency has become a welcoming place for those most marginalized.

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An Appropriate Response to Suffering

This is the third installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

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Responding to Suffering

178/365 - Don't Be Blinded
Creative Commons License photo credit: Www.CourtneyCarmody.com/

One of the biggest changes in context between the Buddhism of the East, and the Buddhism of the United States is our capitalist culture. Capitalism teaches us from birth that greed is good, that clinging to money and what it buys is what will make us happy. This huge delusion is a core root of the suffering that many in the US feel, including our general dis-ease that suffering should cease to exist if we do all the right things. We slip into the trance of unworthiness, thinking that all others have found happiness while we alone have been found unworthy. We are deeply desperate in our culture of teachings that remind us that holding on tight to our money is not what will lead us to happiness. Buddhism offers beautiful teachings on generosity. As the first teachings of the Buddha to lay people, it becomes a teaching practice to instruct people on the benefits of generosity. Every fundraising ask is simply a teaching.

Participating on the Fundraising Committee for the Durango Dharma Center, I have heard many lamentations about how the cultures in Burma, Thailand, and elsewhere in the east have a deep appreciation for generosity and the importance of giving generously to the dharma. This often leads to comparison to our own culture’s stinginess and our difficulty raising needed funds to keep our center open. Durango’s sangha is unique in that we have no guiding teacher, but a strong council of Community Dharma Leaders trained at Spirit Rock who guide our practice. We have been grappling deeply with raising enough funds to sustain our CDLs, so they can focus deeply on their own practice in service to our practice.

I draw deeply on the fundraising philosophies of Lynne Twist, whom I heard speak in 2008 at Upaya Zen Center. How asking people for money is a sacred ask, as we ask people to open their hearts wider to what they most care about, whether it’s our project or something else entirely. How fundraising is a healing profession, where we help people heal their relationships with money that get so distorted in the confines of capitalism. How fundraising asks people to drop the myth of scarcity and begin to live in abundance.

The roller coaster of nonprofit funding deeply challenges our ability to be equanimous. It can cause deep suffering. One of my largest challenges came on a day that SASO lost a major grant. I had been working as Director for a year, and had successfully raised an additional 25% to better support our foundational services of advocacy and prevention. SASO was a collaborator on a federal grant that was not renewed due to personnel changes at the granting agency. This grant represented almost 20% of SASO’s funding for the upcoming year. I had just 5 months to figure out how to raise that money through other means, or I would have to let go a core staff member.

I started making plans immediately for both scenarios. In financial management of our own assets during tight times, how do we keep our own money flowing to what we most care about? In times of budget cuts, how do we focus laser-sharp on what we most care about and celebrate what we are still able to do? And how do we do this at the same time we are deeply committed to increasing our fundraising efforts so that we do not have to make these deep cuts to what we have lovingly built? Between trimming the current year budget and raising money from several new donors and foundations, I was able to retain our core staff members. And in the process, gained new donors and streamlined costs down to what was most essential. The initial suffering in response to revenue cuts was transformed into gratitude toward the strength our agency gained in the process.

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An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

This is the second installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

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Responding to Impermanence

winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all

Creative Commons License photo credit: jenny downing

We know that nothing is truly stable. In business, a strategy that is successful this year will go out of favor the next. The “right” way to fundraise with one person is the “wrong” way with another. The buildings we build today will need repair tomorrow.

On a May day in 2005, I woke up and went to work, thinking it was a day like any other. My first year teaching sexual assault prevention programs in schools was wrapping up, and I was looking forward to a summer where I could review my “pros and grows” – where I had succeeded and where I could improve in the upcoming year.

Liane met me at the door. As the Executive Director of Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) for the past four years, Liane had made a strong impression on me about how to run a nonprofit and maintain some balance and joy in life. I wasn’t expecting her news. “I’ve been hired to be the director of another nonprofit organization and am giving my notice today,” she paused slightly before dropping the next bombshell, “And Claire is probably going with me.” SASO was losing its two full time staff members, leaving me in my part time role to hold down the fort until new people were hired. Liane looked at me with some seriousness, “You really should think about applying for the director position.”

I had never seen myself as an executive director – at 28 I wasn’t sure I was old enough or had enough experience for the position. As I began to look at my mix of skills – skilled at writing, comfortable speaking in front of people, facility with budgeting and accounting, and enjoyment of working with people – I began to imagine that I could take a step into this role. What one day seemed an impossible challenge began to seem a grand opportunity. I applied, and got the job.

The learning curve was steep. As the last remaining staff member, I had to figure out how to hire staff, get them up to speed in an agency I had worked at for under a year, and start juggling the fundraising, grants, and financial management tasks that I was just learning to do. I quickly dropped any story that I needed to be “the boss” who was “in charge” and needed to “direct” everything happening “below” me. Instead, we were a team, learning together how to do our jobs, each a leader in our particular areas of expertise, each willing to help out the others when we needed an extra brain on a sticky problem. Our ability to drop the hierarchy and practice team leadership was noted; agency partners continually commented on the strength of our team and our ability to achieve greater success because of our approach.

I cannot imagine leading in another way, particularly in an organization dedicated to transformation and healing. Working with the trauma of sexual violence was our outer work. It is a deep practice of compassion, of being with the suffering of others, balanced with a deep practice of equanimity, of being completely unable to fix others’ suffering. As happens, this deep practice with others’ suffering continually touched into our own wells of suffering. The work is triggering, which while painful, is a great gift to be given the opportunity to face and heal our own suffering. We learned quickly that our inner work was just as essential. That when our own suffering was triggered we stopped to be with the feeling and honor where we’ve been. We would set new intentions, start planting those seeds, and tend to their growth. Our work together became a deep practice in inner and outer transformation, of ourselves and those we worked with. There was no division between our outer mission and what we practiced within. And there was much practice of joy with the realization that impermanence allows for the possibility of transformation.

In a nonprofit, how do we capitalize on our deep understanding of impermanence? A commitment to learning communities is key. By continually operating in a learning mode, we do not get entrenched in one right way of doing things. While we plan for things to change (because we know they will!), we focus on responding to current reality in the most appropriate ways possible.

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An Appropriate Response to the Three Characteristics of Nonprofit Management

I have toyed here with the idea that spirituality may offer a deeper rooting for nonprofits and nonprofit workers. I had more to say, but was a bit scared to really go there. Will folks who need rooting be scared off by frank talk of spirituality? Will I be able to do justice to intertwining spirituality and nonprofit work, in a way that helps people feel supported rather than feeling like it’s one more “should” they need to be doing?

Yet the world needs me to be me. And I am currently excited to think about how much my meditation and Buddhist practice would have helped me with nonprofit management. Especially by how much it will help me in future positions.

I had the opportunity to pull my thoughts together on this when I applied for my dream job right at the sweet spot between Buddhist practice and nonprofit management. I wanted to share here this framework I developed for Buddhist or dharma-centric leadership. Stay tuned for posts full of stories on responding to impermanence, suffering, and egolessness.

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An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

wrap your wings around me
Creative Commons License photo credit: timsnell

We talk of the two wings of Buddhism, wisdom and compassion. Like a bird flying through the sky, we need both wings of equal size and strength to get where we are going. Donald Rothberg talks about the recent addition by Vietnamese Buddhists of the body of the bird, which represents courage. In this age, we need to display deep courage to act, to not be paralyzed into inaction.

In a dharma-centric model, this combination of wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management. When we take our practice off the cushion and into the real world, it is critical to have clear comprehension of the three marks of all existence – impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. As we learn to do business in a dharma-centric manner, we will rely on using these three marks as three tools to help us succeed in finding an appropriate response.

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Deeper Roots with Spirituality?

I’ve noticed the real lack of spiritual or religious foundations to the work of many social justice nonprofits. In some cases, that is good. I hate to see people who need help or who are continuously marginalized from society forced into certain beliefs (or forced into pretending to have certain beliefs) in order to get the help they need.

Yet I look at Martin Luther King, Jr as a counterpoint. His faith in a power greater than himself was essential for him to stay the course. I remember a quote of his I read at one of his memorials, how he stayed up all night doubting this path he was on. His house had been recently bombed, his life was at risk, as well as his family’s lives. He spent the night wrestling with God in prayer, trying to find some relief, some way to just fade back into the shadows, not to have to continue to lead this civil rights movement. Through the struggle, he found yet a deeper foundation in his God to move forward toward justice.

Harvest
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

I am beginning to see ways that spiritual practice is necessary to sustain work that challenges the fundamental structure of our societies.  When it takes hundreds of years to do something so simple and obvious as to give women in the US the right to vote, we need to be sustained by something deeper. I’m not sure it matters what religion or spirit-engaging practice you choose, just that something sustains you. That could be as secular as a deep connection with nature and the earth, or as religious as a deep commitment to following one of the world’s major spiritual traditions. The connection to something larger than the self, the feeling that we are but one cog in a greater system that seeks justice, the solace found in watching a cycle of birth, growth, death, and regeneration – these help us make sense of the struggles for social justice we engage in.

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