Archive for the ‘Our Great Global Problems’ Category

Despair and Empowerment, Talk by Paula Green

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by PennyGill 1 Comment

Paula Green, distinguished teacher and practitioner of conflict transformation around the world, recently gave this talk. It is a deeply insightful analysis of where we are, as a country, and how to move forward. Very highly recommended!

Despair and empowerment 2 12-7-16

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

Kwan Yin on Current Middle East: Supporting Reform

Posted on: November 25th, 2013 by PennyGill 2 Comments

Recently, I asked beloved Teacher, Kwan Yin, about the Middle East.  Are there solutions within reach?  How can the incredible stresses Islam is under in all these different situations lead to deep awareness of all that is at stake? What could allow a return to Islam’s fundamental core teachings about living good lives in harmonious communities, and thus begin the slow turn in search of non-violent ways to resolve conflicts and pursue more equity and justice?

The great tradition, the great river of Islam, has raced now to its ultimate barrier and opponent: itself.  Along with its powerful teachings about self-control, submission to the divine, and generosity to one’s neighbors were planted seeds of impatience, the use of force to achieve unity, and a certain hard-heartedness.  Shutting out women and girls from the whole religious and spiritual enterprise has made it ever more difficult to leaven the ferocity of the pursuit of virtue, which might allow gradual transitions from within the tradition.

Now Islam has come up against itself, and it is in profound shock.  As is common in such situations, people retreat into the known and  secure practices of earlier times.  But they are not sufficient in a world of drones, chemical weapons, cell phones, and instant communication.  People meant to be followers now can inform themselves and judge for themselves what is to be preserved and what, of all that has led to this inhuman catastrophe, must be transformed or discarded.

There are two things for you and like minded colleagues to do: wrap the Muslim world in your kind energy, to create a safe container for this profound self examination which must be underway. And do all you can to keep the other powers, especially the US, Russia, and Europe, out of the region.  This can and must be resolved by the people who live there.