Archive for the ‘On Fear and Compassion’ Category

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!

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.

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.

Which Place on Earth Do You Most Love?

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 by PennyGill No Comments

I’ve been discussing Naomi Klein’s superb new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, with my first-year Mt Holyoke College students.  Klein argues that our only hope of really solving the terrifying consequences of climate change is to radically change how capitalism functions today, both in the US and the world.

In the first 2/3 of the book Klein shows the intricate relationships between the corporate drive for profits and growth and a political system increasingly serving that corporate agenda.  In the last third, Klein reports on the myriad examples of local resistance, of local communities around the world organizing to protect their land, water, air, and lives from the destruction caused by the hunt for ever more fossil fuels.  People mount this stunning resistance our of love for their own place on earth.  Their love for their land and their community dissolves their fear of corporate invasions, threats, and claims over their land and resources.

Last week I asked my students to be quiet for a few moments and to think of a place on earth they so love, they would fight to protect it.  To my dismay, only about half of them could identify a beloved place.  And I was saddened as well; how can one live in this challenging world without a beloved place?

It resonated deeply for me with Manjushri’s teaching about the relationships between fear and love.  So much of our self-destructive behavior arises from fear.  Fear must be addressed with kindness and clarity, and love and compassion are far more powerful energies than fear.  It is a deep truth well born our in Klein’s powerful new book.

The Place I love

The Place I love