Posts Tagged buddhism

Now Is Not Then

This week, I find myself poised to be named Acting Director at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It’s a temporary solution to support another staff member who will be on leave. We’re hoping this distribution of leadership will jump start our intended move to a staff collective this year.

I feel deeply honored to be asked to step up in this way. And deeply in awe of everything that has unfolded over the past two years, since I decided to move to the Bay Area to be more connected day to day with socially engaged Buddhists. I’m in an even more strategic position to fulfill my dream of trying out new models of governance in a Buddhist organization.

But it’s not all easy. I’ve been sitting with a lot of dread in my chest and throat, a sense of fear and trepidation about what I am getting myself into.

A certain amount of this is normal. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get it all done in a 40 hour work week. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how much others will be able to step up to help. I may be shouldering a lot in the next few weeks.

But a large part of this is not about now.

1. What does this remind me of?

So much of this is unprocessed anger and fear from my past experience with nonprofits. Some of it is directed outward at nonprofits that continue to work people until they burn out, unwilling to make the hard decisions that would make our work more sustainable. Some of it is directed toward me too – can I trust myself to really take care of myself this time?

2. How is now not then?

Now – I have a huge set of practices that I didn’t even have a clue about when I was last an executive director. Meditation, compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness. When I learned those practices, I was blown away. “If only I had known about these when I was a director, my experience would have been completely different!” Now I get to learn just how different they might be.

Now – I work in an environment that supports me in using these practices. Even ASKS me to incorporate these practices throughout my work.

Now – I also have a whole set of practices for interacting with my stuff. Talking with monsters and walls, learning the patterns with Shiva Nata, emergency calming techniques, how to enter and exit consciously. And a million other helpful things that I had never even heard about, much less practiced for the past year or more.

Now – I know going in the problems of burnout, overwork, and how nonprofits struggle to make hard decisions. I can enter as I wish to be in it. Which probably means doing less, more slowly, but more deeply. There will be more practice of saying no to say yes.

3. What qualities do I want to bring to this encounter?

Courage. Love. Sovereignty. Possibility.

Presence. Laughter. Sustainability. Fierceness.

4. What do I want?

To midwife the organization into its next iteration. To stay open to not knowing what that actually looks like or how much of this process is mine to do.

To find my practices of self care so solid, so natural, that I stop telling the story that “I can not be trusted to take care of myself.”

5. What do we have in common?

(I’m reading this as “what do I have in common with this role of Acting Director”). Ten things:

  1. We meditate
  2. We use other self-reflective practices to bring our best selves to work
  3. We open our hearts with practices of compassion, loving kindness, joy & equanimity
  4. We’re interested in non-hierarchial leadership models
  5. We need to get more rooted after a period of transition
  6. We need to not get so rooted that we can’t still be transplanted as things continue to transition
  7. We need to ask for help from others as a way to be less hierarchical
  8. We are both terrified and hopeful about the future of the organization
  9. We are walking forward into a dark forest full of unknowns, slowly feeling our way
  10. We are resting in a larger field of interconnected, supportive people.

6. And how will this experience help me in the future?

I will certainly be learning a lot more about my practices of self care. Even if they completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about how to retool my self care tools to be more effective the next time.

I also am getting another set of lessons about nonprofit management. Even if things completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about what works and doesn’t work when trying to shore up a nonprofit.

7. Without having to appreciate this situation, what might be useful about it?

I don’t love that I’m feeling so much dread about taking on this role. I wish I could be unabashedly enthusiastic about it.

But having to process this old dread is really forcing me to think about how critical my self-care is going to be in this, and how important it’s going to be for me to start saying no to many upcoming things. I’m wanting to carve out lots of time for self care and reflection. And I wouldn’t be quite so intentional about this if it didn’t feel quite so dire.

8. What might help this encounter be less agonizing more harmonious?

I could ask Slightly Future Me who knows more about how we are aligned with this role of Acting Director in cool and amazing unanticipated ways.

I could refresh my memory of some good Emergency Calming Techniques, so they are easy to access when I am in a panic.

I could make a bag of slips specific to self care, and pull one out every day plus every time I find myself in a panic.

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Planting Seeds

Planting Sunflower Seeds

Creative Commons License photo credit: tjmwatson

Not Working As Planned

“I’m planting seeds. Planting seeds.” I was muttering to myself again, speed walking up Mission Street past Yerba Buena Gardens. I was trying to catch up with the march that had a 10 minute head start on me, thousands of San Franciscans protesting in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and people around the world on October 15. I had folded up the banner I was carrying, since it was too big and unwieldy to carry by myself.

I wasn’t planning on marching alone that day. I had made plans to meet up with two different people, and had put the call out to a thousand more. I really could have used a day off from organizing, but people seemed interested in marching and I wanted to support any glimmer of interest in Buddhist participation in the Occupy movements locally in the Bay Area.

But here I was, alone, feeling ridiculous that I couldn’t even carry the banner in a way that people could see who I was with. I felt like a failure, like I was wasting time and money and energy on a lost cause.

“When planting a tree, if you want to do it the right way and get fruit from it, how should you go about it in order to have a relaxed mind? You do that which is your responsibility. Getting hold of the sapling is your job; digging the hole is your job; planting it, fertilizing and watering it, and keeping the insects off it is your job. That’s it. Stop here. How fast or slow it grows isn’t your job. Let go of this part.” – Ajahn Chah in Being Dharma

Some days, it is so hard to remember my job as a community organizer. Fostering the conditions where people can come together, can show up, can take on leadership – this is my job. Ensuring people show up isn’t my job. How much leadership they take on isn’t my job. Wrapping up my ideas of success around having a certain number of people show up, or having people take over leadership, or having an intensely powerful experience – this is all out of my control.

How Do I Let Go?

This is where I’ve learned to be a better community organizer by studying Buddhism and meditation. I can say over and over and over again – this is not my job! Do not be attached to outcomes. Just don’t do it! But how do I actually do this? How do I practice letting go of outcomes over and over and over again until it feels easy?

In Buddhist practice, we don’t do it by starting with the hardest things. We don’t start with letting go of the outcome of an event that we’ve poured our heart and body and mind into.

We start simply. We start on the cushion, watching our breath move in and out. We watch our mind do what minds do which is THINK and PLAN and TELL STORIES and CHATTER. We watch how we are attached to certain outcomes of meditation. My mind should be quiet! My breath should come easily! I should be feeling peace instead of panic!

We look at these attachments first because there’s so much less riding on it. It is just us with our minds and bodies. No one is depending on our breath being a certain way or our mind being quiet. No one can see what’s going on inside, whether we are still or a tornado.

If Practice Is Hard, Taking It to Our Work is Harder

And yet it is still SO HARD to let go of these attachments about how our meditation is going. Especially when they are enmeshed with guilt and shame, with a running commentary about how we should be better, smarter, more relaxed. About how we are inadequate and unworthy. How we are a waste of space just sitting here, not even able to sit still correctly.

If all this is happening when we are simply sitting, imagine how much more is happening when we have other peoples’ needs also at stake? When we’re sure that others will judge us by how many people come out, who attends, whether it’s a transformative experience? These voices of shame and inadequacy scream louder and louder.

I feel like when I was an organizer without Buddhism, I found ways to cover up those voices. I would hush the stories of inadequacy and tell myself other stories about how I was adequate and worthy. I would fake confidence until I felt something that looked like confidence. I would work harder and faster, trying to quiet the voices by demonstrating just how hard working I could be.

And these strategies worked for awhile. People judged me to be successful, and I felt proud of what I could accomplish.

But these nagging doubts lingered. Patching over inadequacy and unworthiness was like putting a towel over an infected wound. I don’t see it anymore, but it doesn’t heal. Instead it gets worse. As I felt worse, I also had less capacity to manage my work, as I was depleted by all the faking, all the working harder and faster. Things unraveled.

Practicing New Practices

During the march last week, I tried out some other practices. There was a lot of breathing as I walked fast to try to catch up with other marchers. When I got anxious, I returned again and again to the words “I’m planting seeds” to remind myself why I was there. When I finally caught up with the march, I found a way to stretch my arms wide enough so the banner was mostly visible. I walked with pride, in connection with others marching even though I felt lonely.

After letting go of this outcome, I was happily surprised to not be alone for long. A nearby marcher who practices with an allied organization saw me and offered to hold the other end of my banner. She ended up marching with me for the next two hours. We eventually met up with the other two people who I had plans to connect with, who helped our contingent feel a little larger. A few others came up and thanked us for being there, glad to see our presence.

Whether people connected with me or not that day was no longer the point. Some days people show up, and some days they don’t. Some days people jump at the chance to lead. Other days everyone averts their eyes when you ask for help. Whichever day it is, the task is the same. Keep planting seeds.

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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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