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"Leaving Fear Behind" and Allowing Love to Move You
Submitted by Angela A. Russo on Fri, 4/13/2012, 3:55pm
*A photo I took of H.E. the 11th Shingza Rinpoche on March 14th, the 22nd day of the hunger strike. He is being read Martin Luther King Jr.'s autobiography (his story IS NOT one of the following accounts.)
A Warrior's Account
The Generous Warrior
The cold breeze creeping through the door quickly retreated, when I realized I was looking into the eyes of a man who just told me he was wrongly imprisoned before he hit puberty. He became a man in jail. A tortured child. An angry young man.
He was 11 when the Chinese government took his freedom away. He was 21 when he escaped prison and was forced to leave his country behind. When he reached free land, he wanted to fight. He enlisted in the Tibetan-in-exile army and vowed to avenge his country and fight his enemies. He did this for the next 20 years plus. He fought two wars for freedom (and has the scars to prove it.)
Today, it’s hard to ignore the compassion and forgiveness that he offers to the people that took decades from his life (and then his country altogether.) He makes it a point to remind me daily of the importance of placing my enemies at the forefront of my meditation practice. He says, "Your enemy is your greatest teacher. Your best friend. Never forget that."
It seems that despite the reasons he is in America, he is grateful to have the ability to share and continue the Buddhist teachings and Tibetan culture. He’s readily available, with pen and paper in tow, to help a novice learn Tibetan and becomes ever more vibrant through answering questions regarding the Dharma. Often he says that this is the real practice; “Giving, sharing, and talking to others.”
The Front Line Warrior
The stiff, wooden park chair underneath me seemed to disappear when he began explaining why he hasn’t spoken to his family in over 4 years. It seems this is part of a freedom fighter's long list of sacrifices when battling a dictatorship. Also found on this list is fleeing your country at the age of 12 to begin a new life that never stops fighting to get it back. I wonder if his 12 year-old-self knew he would be taking on a life of never-ending community-organizing and fighting?
Because this is exactly what his life has become; a personification of the fight for freedom for the last 15 years. Since leaving his home, his actions have become a continual response to the suffering his country endures. He seems to be able to transform this suffering into a methodological set of actions that doesn’t forget, but skillfully utilizes this pain to show the world what Tibetans undergo.
Amongst his schedule is an abundance of protests to organize, meetings to attend, and interviews to give (I often find myself wondering when and how he sleeps). But what is even more abundant is the amount of new stories of suffering he can share. I’ve asked him how he continues. His response, “This is why I am here. This is why we are here.”
The Dedicated Student Warrior
My hunger became nonexistent as he took out photos of his life in Tibet. Seeing these pictures seemed to make it all too real. This new friend, who is just a few years older than me, really has dedicated over 20 years to monastic life, spent 30 days on the run through the Himalayas and escaping a dictatorship, and is now sitting across from me in a small lower-east side Manhattan restaurant.
He has braved the sadness of leaving his spiritual and biological family behind, broke through the possibility of imprisonment and death, and battled uncertainty in the hopes to bring attention to the lack of education and overall well-being that his school and monastery faces. I’ve asked him why he chose to face the ordeals that comes along with escaping Tibet and resettling as a refugee; his response; "To know the truth. To share the truth. To help these kids."
As some IDP members know, I closely followed the hunger strike for Tibet that took place outside of the United Nations in March. The above accounts are my attempt to relay just a few of the personal stories that have been shared with me. The last month and a half has been nothing short of trying and enlightening. Yet, it didn’t really take off until I posted the journal, "Where Are My Dharma Teachers At? NY Sangha?" expressing my confusion with what, to me, seemed like a lack of engagement within the NY Western Buddhist community, regarding the Tibet and China conflict. I will admit that I view the journal as not the most skillful way I’ve dealt with confusion in my life. However, I’d be lying if I said I regretted writing it. Doing so has forever changed the way I engage in activism, the community, and honesty. There is just too much I've learned about myself, this crisis, the Tibetan community, activism, the amazing Sangha I'm a part of, and the inspiring nature of suffering. One blog, one action can never relay it all.
Instead, I want to share one common theme that I noticed and deeply pondered the last month and a half; fear, in both its impeding and inspiring natures, and its overall impact on activism. [DISCLAIMER: Now, before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me first state that I, in no way, am speaking for Tibetans, Tibetan supporters, or anyone but myself. This is simply a personal reflection of the fear I’ve experienced within myself and how I view what those from the NY community have shared with me, regarding activism and fear. It also is an account of the fearlessness I personally see within the Tibetan community and movement.]
“There are moments of tragedy, horror, anger, and sheer disbelief. Surpassing all is the conviction that a movement which has risen so spontaneously from the people’s irresistible desire for the full enjoyment of human rights must surely prevail.” – Aung San Suu Kyi in her essay, “In the Eye of Revolution.”
Often when bearing witness to another’s severe physical and emotional suffering, we can become overwhelmed by an urgent feeling to do something. Many times this can quickly transition into an equally as powerful feeling of the inability to do anything. After reading my journal many shared that despite the recent developments inside Tibet, and the upsetting emotions its created within them, many just don’t know what they could do or how they could be of service to the movement.Thus resulting in a state of mind that is moved by the suffering of another yet also paralyzed by it at the same time. (Forgive me if there is a fancy psychological term for this.) All I know is that I've been all too familiar with this type of inaction in the past. So, I began analyzing the process of being emotionally moved into inaction in regards to activism in general. What can it be that quietly but furiously smothers even the strongest and most sincere sense of wanting to help another?
In fellow IDP member, Nancy Thompson’s journal, “Change Your Mind to Change the World, but Don’t Change Your Heart”she states that when engaging in activism, to ensure that you don’t ostracize or freeze people into inaction, it’s important not to lock “yourself into a mindset of inadequacy because you can’t remake the world the way you want it or guilt because you can’t do everything.” Her usage of inadequacy in this context started churning the mental wheels. We become frozen or hasty by feeling either we aren't enough or the situation isn't ideal in our eyes.Yet, how do we get to this feeling, particularly in regards to social and political situations, of viewing the world and ourselves as inadequate and incapable of truly being able to change?
Of course, the connection between fear and inaction seems logical. However, I’ve noticed that its particularly the fear of uncertainty that gets in our way. We are uncertain as to where to start, uncertain of our purpose, uncertain of our level of dedication, uncertain of our ability to make a difference… And with issues involving large dictatorship governments, corporations, or relentless systems, these questions can be that much more daunting.
But at the root of this uncertainty, is the pervasive discomfort with discomfort. Not knowing what to do with the groundlessness of life is scary. This discomfort tends to propel us into seeking a route that ensures comfort and reinforces our notion of perfection, pushing away anything that links to the possibility and uneasiness of failure. And under the pressure of suffering, if we can’t find that route, sometimes we tend to turn away all together. Often, in practice, I've experienced this by becoming obsessed with embodying the right amount of skillfulness at all level of interaction with the world. I understand, as Buddhists we learn that skillfulness is essential. And it is. Yet, waiting for a particular level of comfort with our ability to discern wisdom from delusion and skill from improper action, to the point of inaction, can be damaging. I believe it simply recycles us back to the desire to feel adequate, even in our efforts to practice.
*I took this photo on the last day of the hunger strike, March 30, 2012. It captures the emotional moment after the hunger strikers received the letter from the United Nations. Yeshi Tenzing (left), Rinpoche (right)
A Warrior’s Inspiration
“There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance, and fear.” –Aung San Suu Kyi during her 1988 speech, “Freedom From Fear”
As I explored these ideas about fear and activism, I began noticing a sense of fearlessness within the Tibetan freedom movement. I wondered what moved these warriors I’ve come to know, into action despite the surmounting ambiguity of success. They knew what they could be facing hiding in the Himalayas, the uncertainty of staying alive, and knew nothing of what they would do once they reached free land. They also don’t deny the strength of China’s global influence and how it impedes their efforts and are aware of the danger the increase in self-immolations presents. The uncertainty of whether or not this new type of protest will lead to success, before it leads to more violence, seems to be openly acknowledged. Yet, they push on, with endless hope and determination. How do freedom fighters, such as them, continue to do it? Where do they find the courage?
Those I've spoken to who have escaped Tibet expressed to me that they had no clue what they would do once they reached their destination. I've noticed the community as a whole simply stresses awareness, sharing the truth of what's going on. It seems they feel with this basic awareness of injustice and suffering, freedom is inevitable. I believe, this belief is what keeps them going. It is the very act of embracing the uncertainty and continuing to move forward despite possibility of failure. But not because it is an act of bravery, but because it is an act of love that they are working on behalf of. It seems, instead of shying away, fearless activists see uncertainty and find refuge, not just in their responsibility to do something, anything, but in the certainty of the world’s capability to notice truth and the power of compassion. Its an acknowledgement of our fundamental humanity. What is even more inspiring is that the very act of confronting uncertainty with the certainty of the love that is at the core of their actions, seems to eventually lead one to discover how they can, individually, impact a movement. Possibly, its not just dedication and time that leads to this, but an opening of the heart and the natural clarity that shines when fear takes a backseat.
*Photos I took outside of the UN
“Even though we don’t know what will happen, we need to carry on as best as we can, without wavering, along the correct path. Even though we don’t know what will happen, it is right that we take part in this struggle…Don’t think whether or not these things will happen. Just continue to do what you believe is right. Later on the fruits of what you do will become apparent on their own.” – Aung San Suu Kyi, excerpt of her 1988 speech,“The Role of the Citizen in the Struggle for Democracy”
I didn’t know what I was getting into going to the Hunger Strike that day. Actually, I almost decided not to go. I was clueless as to what I could really do, the impact I could actually have. When I got there, I didn't know how I could help. But I stayed. I stayed because I couldn’t deny how much this crisis moves me, nor deny how selfish this fear of uncertainty and failure really is.
I’ve learned that the key to inspiring change is creating the environment for it. Creating the environment or the conditions for it begins with showing up and being present with what you want to change. Feeling it, becoming familiar with it. Continually showing up is birthed from having faith in our ability to figure it all out, to persevere if love is our motivation, regardless of the waves of discomfort and fear we confront. But it’s important to remember that fearlessness is not the absence of fear, yet the presence of faith that in the uncertainty of groundlessness, we can continue, if we allow love and compassion to move us. This allows us to realize that just as failure exists, so can success. And I believe if true love and compassion isn’t at the heart of our actions, our world will remind us, someway, at some point.
In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes, “A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty."
Go into your fear of uncertainty, touch your fear of failure, and become familiar with it. Because it won’t go away. But you can slowly transform your reaction to it. If there is anything I’ve learned from the Tibetan community within the last month, it is the power of stepping into fear, based on the human capability to persevere when love and compassion is your intention. In time, you can truly lose yourself, soften your fear, and keep going regardless of whether you feel you have succeeded or not. Don’t fear rocking the boat or getting it wrong. As Renee Morgan Bochman, another dear Sangha member, told me, “…with the right intention, no non-violent force is too much!!” I feel this to be true, regardless of the type of action you decide to make; forceful or not. Don’t be afraid, because if the well-being of others is at the core of your desire to take action, everything will fall into place.
So, show up. Show up to the march, the demonstration, the discussion. Ask questions, ask friends to support. Call the organization, stop by the soup kitchen, go up to the organizer. Wear your heart, your confusion, your eagerness on your sleeve. Someone will see. They want you to help as much as you want to help. Just keep your expectations in check. I feel that mindful activism and responsible social change laughs at the desire for immediate concrete results. Instead find shade and ease in the ever-changing process of it all, especially of yourself. By showing up and embracing our fear without expectation, you will discover what your contribution to life is. The world will show you what it needs from you. Because you’ve allowed it to.
I want to leave you with one more quote from Aung San Suu Kyi, a non-violent freedom fighter who is winning. During a 1988 interview with The Times, she was asked what she thought her role would be if the regime fell and Burma won independence. Her response; “There is no particular role in which I see myself. I shall wait on events to see how I can be of most use in bringing about a peaceful transition.”
Be patient. But start with showing up, somehow. And love.
Thank you to all those who supported by lending their ears, time, and insight.
May we never experience prosecution due to our love of the Dharma
May we always have resources, like this, to share our opinions without fear of prosecution
May our cries of suffering always be heard and responded to with equanimity
*Photo by Konchok Yangphel taken of a support sit at the hunger strike location on day 26.
*Photos I took at the Sanghas in Solidarity for Tibet support march on March 21, 2012
“Leaving Fear Behind” is the title of a documentary by Tibetan political prisoner and filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen. He interviewed 108 Tibetans to gain insight into their view of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the overall political situation in Tibet. He was arrested in March 2008 and sentenced to six years in prison because of “subversion to state power.” You can find more information on how to support here: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=13745
If you are interested in learning more of the conflict between Tibet and China or becoming involved here are some organizations/media sources that you can follow:
Voice of America: www.VOAnews.com, Phayul: http://www.phayul.com/news/, International Campaign for Tibet: www.savetibet.org, Students for a Free Tibet: www.studentsforafreetibet.org ,Tibetan Youth Congress: www.tibetanyouthcongress.org
There are many issues being addressed and discussed via individual campaigns/movements. One may be of more interest to some versus others. For instance, there are movements to free political prisoners, economic and land rights, freedom of the press, education inequality, political action via legislation and lobbying, artistic expression/cultural resistance…
If you would like to take action right now, there currently is a resolution in the House of Representatives; H.R. 609 that needs support. Please go to the below link to send a letter to your representative to urge them to co-sponsor the bill:
http://action.savetibet.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5799 Here is the full text of the resolution. It’s a quick and easy read: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hres609/text
My quotes from Aung Sann Suu Kyi came from the book, “Freedom from Fear,” a collection of her speeches, essays, and interviews. I highly recommend it.: http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Fear-And-Other-Writings/dp/0141039493/ref=dp_ob_title_bk/182-2685363-6719113
Finally, if you are in the New York area and would like company to attend an event, holler at me; firstname.lastname@example.orgFeel free to email me with any questions, suggestions, or food for thought. I’m still figuring out my continued part in all this myself. J
Thank you for reading this far.
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