In the wake of the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade in the United States last week, I found myself reflecting upon The Future of American Buddhism conference I attended earlier in the month.
Buddhism, much like the ethos of The Pollination Project, is steeped in compassion. However, compassion is not weakness. Reverend Cristina Moon – a writer, strategist, and Zen priest living and teaching at Daihonzan Chozen-ji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Honolulu – said that although Buddhism is known for its compassion and blissful meditation, it also requires the heart of a warrior.
At Moon’s temple, they practice the art of Japanese Kendo or “the way of the sword” in order to better understand one’s fight, flight or freeze tendency in the face of challenges. Reverend Moon shared how this practice helped her cut a path through the noise and busyness, allowing her own inner voice to emerge with greater clarity.
At the conference, the warrior’s compassionate heart was something I carried with me as I moved through talks and workshops focusing on topics most prefer to turn away from.
We discussed issues of racial inequality in our communities, religions, educational institutions and more. We learned of sexual assault stories within communities that many thought they could trust, and acknowledged that little had been done to help survivors. I listened with an open heart as people shared their personal experiences and honored the emotions that rose to the surface for me and for others. Each person attending this conference came from a different background and carried with them a different lived experience. Our bodies responded to stories that held significance for us, ideas that pushed us to our edges and various perspectives that inspired connection and disconnection in the same moment. All the while, we sat with and explored our discomfort. We may not have found answers to the questions – that takes more than even our lifetimes – but we found a way to connect with, hold space for and respect one another.
Reverend Myokei Caine-Barrett, the first woman and first American to become Bishop of the Nichiren Shu Buddhist Order of North America, is also the guiding teacher and priest of Myoken-ji Temple in Houston, which is home to the Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Texas. She spoke about how we are a gateway for one another and extended the idea of Radical Hospitality. This concept was pioneered by Gregory Ellison, and invites convergent conversation across great differences. I began to wonder, what would happen if more people opened to and truly listened to the lived experiences of others with an open heart and mind? Would we be able to suspend judgment, look at our blind spots and question what we believe we know as true?
Aarti Tejuja and Sojourner Zenobia, founders of Antara, led a workshop on Transformative Justice that allowed us to move our bodies to process emotion and look deeply at our ideas of justice. Extending an invitation to explore the stories in our own bodies helped us to think about the experiences of others and see our interconnectivity. Our bodies carry wisdom and memory; they have the power to teach us when we choose to listen. In leaning into meditation we lean into intuition, our unique knowing, a knowing that no one else possesses outside of us. In leaning into listening, we lean into our heart’s ability to listen to another and trust that the story that they are sharing with us is true – it is their experience- just as in sharing our story we share our truth. When we are sitting in compassion and opening our hearts, we exercise our basic human right to choose what is right for us and extend our service to others again and again.
Whether it is racial justice, sexual assault, abortion, environmental conservation, women’s empowerment, or any other issues, finding the ability to center ourselves in compassion and choosing openness is essential if we as a heartivist community, as a country and as a world are going to work together – together being the key word – to overcome the challenges we face.
Is it possible to understand that outside of societal constructs, religious ideas, and our educational upbringing that we are just human beings on varied journeys? Is it possible to find a way to learn from one another and deeply value our lived experiences no matter how similar or different they may be? Is it possible that we can move beyond fear and judgment to connect with one another?
At The Pollination Project, we are listening to people from all walks of life everyday. Our Executive Director, Carolyn Ashworth, is a huge proponent of having conversations that allow our compassionate hearts to guide us in questioning, understanding, exploring emotion and thought and connecting with others. We don’t need to agree with one another, we simply need to choose to be open and courageous enough to address our personal fears, face them and recognize our shared humanity in the stories of others.
So I ask you, what might happen if we chose to approach each and every challenging situation, every uncomfortable issue, every perspective that differed from our own, every moment in our lives with compassion and a warrior’s heart?