Reframing: We Begin the Long Haul

Posted on: November 30th, 2016 by PennyGill 3 Comments

I have often been startled at how a radical reframing of a very stuck or painful place can release so much energy and focus and even confidence. Surely that is what we need now, in order to leave behind these swamps of overwhelming discouragement, astonishment at what we have learned about our country, and the profound confusion of what, if anything, we should be thinking and doing now. So, let’s try.

First, remember that most of the predictions are rooted in deep fear, imagined by a small part of ourselves that is completely uninformed about the future. Admit that you just don’t know what will happen! When you see yourself drowning in predictions, interrupt those narratives, admitting to yourself they are simply the products of your imagination.

When you can do that – not only will you find some relief and probably sleep better and be kinder to those around you – you will also be able to shift to a stance of curiosity: These will surely be interesting times! For example, I was sure all summer I was watching the collapse of the Republican Party. Now I see, I am watching the collapse of TWO parties! Amazing. And that the possibilities for reconstruction and healing are legion.

Third: Find some way to support and protect the weak, the vulnerable, the marginal, all those most at risk from the horrendous language of the campaign. Do something concrete and local.

And last: We have learned an enormous amount about the deep fissures and toxicity in the depths of American culture, none of it new, really: it is an inheritance from decades and centuries of denial and self congratulation by powerful Americans. It is all visible now, so we can get to work. Come out of your safe hiding place now and join hands with others, to begin building the society we want to live in and the communities we want to leave to the next generations.

Please post your good ideas, your questions, your suggestions, and your hopes here, if you wish. I’d be so glad for more conversations, for we are many!

Manjushri on Post-Election

Posted on: November 13th, 2016 by PennyGill 6 Comments

Conversation with Manjushri, post election
November 11, 2016

Oh, Manjushri, these have been very tough days since the presidential election. Many have asked me if I have received a teaching from you about all of this. And though my grief is deep, and I have wept a great deal, I must say, the results – though shocking to me – did not give me new information about the deep values of a significant part of the American electorate. We are an immature society, a society that countenances violence while it tells itself a story about its own exceptional qualities and its right to impose itself on other nations. It often seems to me to be arrogant, self-congratulatory, and focused on the pursuit of wealth over many other possible values. We praise freedom from and ignore the possibilities of freedom for. Perhaps in some way, we deserve what we have done to our republic, for surely, we have done it. And surely there is a very great deal about how we govern ourselves and manage our affairs which could well be changed, often radically changed.

I come to you this evening with a very heavy heart, full of worry for our poor earth and the cascade of environmental destructions and for those Americans with the least access to power – people of color, the poor, Moslems, the ill, immigrants, the unemployed, and surprisingly, so many women and children. Once again, I am deeply concerned about the American role in the global world, our foreign policy, and our global economic institutions and policies. We are a challenging presence in the lives of many other nations.

And once again, I am impossibly stretched between these matters and the call of the Teachers to greater consciousness, to opening our hearts, to recognizing our interdependence with all beings, and to lives shaped by both wisdom and compassion. I wish I were brave enough to ask you to direct your shining sword against our ignorance, but I am not.

Perhaps you could grace us with some strong and clear advice about how to understand our grief, even when it seems self-righteous, and how to gather ourselves up to get back to our essential tasks in these precious lives of ours? Or is there another way to address our deep confusion? Anything you might be willing to say would be a very great gift to all of us.

Ah, yes, student whose energy I have come to know well, yes. Some words for you and your friends. First, and most important, do not be afraid! You have received many teachings about fear; they always remind you that fear is an enormous obstacle to clear thinking, deep understanding, and creating solutions to problems. Of course, you are afraid, all of you. So, take up the arduous practices of the fear-work: name the fear, most importantly, and say it to another. This slight moment of self-acknowledgement shifts the energy of fear significantly. Then, conversation may follow, or sending oneself compassion for the suffering that comes from fear, or inquiring into the roots of the fear; all are helpful.

Second, inquire into a simple question: what in my community or my country is an obstacle to recognizing your deep connections with each other and with all other species? This is the simple question about your awareness of interdependence, simple and extremely powerful, if you allow it to lead you deep into the many institutions and practices common in your society. Again, this may be done singly, but it is much more powerful to do this in conversation with others.

Third, ask yourself/yourselves, which relatively focused piece of this great puzzle will you commit to changing? Be clear about how it relates to the larger picture, but do not overwhelm yourselves with a grandiose goal. The possible projects are unlimited, but what matters most, at the outset, is that you join with a few others, promising to stay focused on some important dimension of change in your community and to support each other in the process. In all likelihood, the most important outcome will be to create seeds of resilient, open-hearted community, which in turn will begin to undermine the real sickness of American society, its embrace of competitive individualism.

Young people may need some assistance with this; elders may need support to trust their relevance, but all people, winners and losers in this election cycle and all the rest, can recognize there is much work to be done in their world. Becoming active, moving through the passivity and discouragement, is essential, before anything else can even be contemplated.

So: that is a brief outline of what you might do. I must once again re-frame the moment for you. You experience defeat, rejection, and powerlessness. You are appalled at those who would reverse much progressive social change from the last decades. Let go of all of that. It is not helpful. Instead, recognize that this very upset – a perfect word – suggests opportunity. Structures that seemed impossible to change now seem weak, even tottering. Normal practices and behaviors that seemed of little interest now carry much greater weight, in your view. Grand questions are on every page and in almost every beleaguered mind. All this is very helpful! Everyone is awake, on edge, at the same moment. It is a superb opportunity to re-evaluate, re-imagine, re-shape, and then, re-build.

And none of this is possible, unless you uncover and release your fear. Begin with that work, share it, and move to focused, achievable tasks, on behalf of yourselves and your community. It is a very pregnant moment. Do not waste it, please.

Thank you very much.

Begin to Heal the Country

Posted on: November 7th, 2016 by PennyGill No Comments

We all are deeply concerned about the aftermath of this very difficult and toxic electoral campaign. I invite you to join me in a daily practice of sending kindness and blessings and healing to those you have most disagreed with and who have disagreed with you. Begin with inviting healing and ease for yourself, and then, send it out into the country. Here is a lovely version of the ancient Metta practice, from the Himalayan Buddhist tradition, which I have adapted to express my own deepest concerns and desires. Please do the same, as you wish. Blessings to all….Penny

First, for yourself. And then, for your opponents, as you visualize them:

May I (May those who so disagree with me) be happy, healthy and whole.
May they have love, warmth, and affection.
May they be safe, economically secure, and free from fear.
May they know themselves to be respected, secure, and people of value and dignity.
May they celebrate the many layers of their identity, of who they are.
May all people find ease, peace, and well being.

Checking In

Posted on: April 5th, 2016 by PennyGill 1 Comment

I am so happy to report that What in the World Is Going On? has engaged readers in the Tibetan community in India, Bhutan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Italy, Germany, Norway, Great Britain, and of course, the US. I will be jogging behind it, as it goes out into the world, with ever more astonishment and joy.

As a Lenten practice this spring, I began to copy treasures from various file folders into a lovely, big black book. Here is one I thought you might find worth pondering; I have. It is by Paul Ferrini. And I think it speaks beautifully of Manjushri’s main point: Heal your fear and open your heart center!

The Rewards of Partnership

As long as there is growth and honesty in your relationship, it is worthy of your commitment. This doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. Even in the best relationships, doubts and fears continue to arise for both people. However, mature people learn to hold those doubts and fears with compassion. They learn to be patient with and accepting of each other.

In time, the hard shell around your hearts begins to crack open. Where fear used to hold you back, you learn to take baby steps forward. You learn to walk through your fears and stretch your hand out to your partner. You learn to heal together and to trust each other.

And then you experience a gentleness born of the struggle, a sweetness born of the pain. Then there is a twinkle in your eyes when you look at your partner. It isn’t the same twinkle that was there when you first met. It is a different one. It tells of your journey through fear and projection into the heart of acceptance and love.

Why Teach?

Posted on: February 1st, 2016 by PennyGill No Comments

As many of you know, I have just begun my very last seminar at Mt Holyoke College. I have a fine group of new students, half of whom are from South Asia. We will be studying another version of What in the World Is Going On? This time, focusing on global capitalism and its deep connections with our current climate crisis. The main readings will be Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything, Fred Magdoff: What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism, Steger: Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, and Joanna Macy: Active Hope. It should be a splendid way to finish up my long teaching career at the college.

But I write to pass on a stunning quote from Thomas Mann, the distinguished German novelist of the first half of the 20th century (Magic Mountain, for example).

“a vocation towards educating others does not spring from inner harmony, but rather from inner uncertainties, disharmony, difficulty – from the difficulty of knowing one’s own self.”

This seems to me both wise and stunningly accurate, for teaching has led me deeper and deeper into both my self and the world. Such a blessing!

From Darkness to Light: Solstice 2015

Posted on: December 23rd, 2015 by PennyGill No Comments

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Shower of Spirit: Summer Rain or Fierce Thunderstorm?

Posted on: November 19th, 2015 by PennyGill 1 Comment

Manjushri speaks of the Shower of Spirit now drenching us, bringing us a new energy, an energy of a higher frequency. It has been difficult for me to really understand what that means, and I have looked for concrete evidence and images. Last summer, for example, there was a period of more frequent and intense solar flares, and I wondered if that was somehow related to this Shower.

Probably not. But it is a good example of how I automatically try to ground a Teaching about Spirit in my three-dimensional, visible world. But Shower of Spirit surely refers to a different aspect of energy, not material, not visible to the human eye, and maybe quite unrecognizable to a normal person like myself.

I’ve been pondering this all summer and fall, at my island cabin. I think I did learn one very helpful aspect of this Shower of Spirit: I used to envision it as something comforting and welcome, like a soft rain in early summer. But not so.

For me, the Shower of Spirit has come to mean a time of intense inner and outer transition, painful losses, and some inescapable interior pressure to speak ever more truthfully from my deepest self. No more self-censorship or circumlocutions. I realized that the Shower of Spirit is actually a goad, a relentless wake-up call, and an invitation to much more transparency and deeper integrity.

There is nothing easy about this process, but perhaps it is a necessary step to recognize my embeddedness in the great web of interdependence and compassion. No soft summer shower, but thunder and lightening, as well!

Fear Shapes Our Lives

Posted on: July 3rd, 2015 by PennyGill No Comments

Nine people gathered in a circle to study their sacred scripture last week were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina. There are many ways to understand this horrifying event, as we’ve seen in commentaries from across the nation and around the world: tragedy, the act of yet another mentally-ill young white gunman, another reason for new gun control legislation, or a stunning reminder of the deep structures of racism in the US, just to name a few. A Greek student of mine wrote me from Athens that night, bewildered by the violence, and asked if there is a civil war between blacks and whites in America. The answer to that is a firm No, of course, because the violent attacks are almost exclusively white-on-black. But it is easy to understand why people around the globe would see the violence in America as a sign of a civil war. The sad truth is that these murderous impulses are rooted in our unfinished and undigested civil war of 150 years ago and the systems of slavery which preceded it.

One wonders, how can old historical practices and events like that continue to shape today’s American society and politics, after all these years? Part of the answer is our fear: how we experience fear, how fear overrides evidence and obliterates thinking, how we help create fear in ourselves and others, and how our fears shape our most basic understanding of ourselves and our world.

There are two kinds of fear, as the teacher Manjushri explains in my new book, What in the World Is Going On? Wisdom Teachings for Our Time. The first kind, communicative fear, we share with many other species; it gives us information about an immediate danger in our environment which requires a response: flight or fight, in most cases. This superb mechanism, sensitive to a “tiger in the grass,” vastly enhances our survival, and we can only be grateful for it. The second type, imaginative fear, however, is created in and by our own minds. It may or may not be grounded in reality and may have little connection with any plausible threat to our survival. Yet it can just as powerfully shape our perceptions and our behavior, over and over, until it becomes an unexamined dimension of our supposed reality. Because it is wound so tightly with human intellect and human imagination, it is much more difficult to trace its roots, and it is a delicate process to uncover those deeply rooted fears and begin the long and hard work of dissolving them.

The steps of this process, however, are simple and straightforward. First, identify the fear lurking deep in one’s heart and mind. Give it a name, and as best you can, bring it up to the surface. Then, greet it with kindness and understanding, over and over, day after day, until it slowly dissolves. It will lose its power to trigger a sense of danger, to initiate a counter-attack, and to escalate a situation all out of proportion to its actual size and heft in the world. You will be rewarded with much more ease, both in your own life and in your surroundings. And it will surely reduce the violence in your community and world, as you no longer fuel it with your own fearfulness. It may seem too small to make a difference, but truly, it is probably the best way to begin to heal the generations of fear and violence in the United States.

Video of reading at the Odyssey Bookshop

Posted on: June 14th, 2015 by PennyGill No Comments

I am delighted to write, that a video of my reading at the Odyssey Bookshop in May is now available on the web site; just click on Videos, and you will find it there. I was honored that Joanne Creighton introduced me, and my colleagues at Mt Holyoke College and I had a spirited conversation about the book. Enjoy!

Reminder: I’m reading from my new book at the Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, Thursday, May 7, 4:30.

Posted on: May 6th, 2015 by PennyGill 2 Comments

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