War: Only If We Care Will We Listen. Only If We Listen Will We Hear.

At 10:30 pm EST on Wednesday night tv programs were interrupted for a special report no one wanted to hear. War.

 

I’m sitting here, like millions of people, horrified. Watching a nightmare unfold on tv. Americans, Europeans, people all over the world, but especially Ukranians, who were being awakened at 5:30 am to the sound of bombing, too shocked, too frightened to speak.

 

I was watching NBC and at one point the reporters, I think it was Tom Llamas and Erin McLaughlin, just stopped and let us see the city of Kyiv, at night. We saw in the forefront a beautiful cathedral, a beautiful city lit up behind it. And we heard a moment of silence interrupted by explosions in the distance. The silence of the reporters was like a prayer for the lives of these people. And maybe for all of us. A last look at a beautiful city threatened by an enormous cloud of violence and malignancy.

 

And I thought, what will this city look like tomorrow? The reporters told us about bombs, missiles, and the threat of infantry. And all of this preceded by cyber-attacks, disinformation, all combining to interrupt the connection between the government and its people; the government and its military forces. To isolate in fear. Russian agents going through the streets looking for Ukrainian leaders or people of influence. To arrest? Murder?

 

This is now. But we’ve seen it coming, although almost all of us prayed in our own ways that it wouldn’t happen. Putin has been building up to this in Ukraine for months and years. And in the U. S. we’ve seen forces of autocracy, oppression, malignant greed, narcissism, ignorance attacking democracy and decency at the root. Attacking education. Attacking unions. Attacking a free press and the very concept that a news organization should aim at truth. Attacking authentic political speech and protests. Attacking diversity of thought. Gender, race, religious freedom. And many on the right, in the GOP are supporting Putin. Supporting Russia and war.

 

And cyber-attacks are happening here, in the US, too. Led by agents from Russia and other nations. Other autocrats. Not only in the 2016 election but since then.

 

Attacking democracy is not an abstract attack just on a political system. Democracy means everyone has a voice, which means everyone has rights and a bit of power, responsibility, and value. Just for being alive. Democracy is attacked so only certain people will have power, will have rights, will have value just for being human, alive. Attacking democracy is happening so one small group, less than 1% of the population, can steal the wealth of the many to give it to the few. Democracy is attacked so one group can turn other groups from fellow humans to items with value only for what they can contribute to the one small group in power.

 

What we’re seeing played out in front of us in Ukraine, the U. S. and elsewhere is the Shock Doctrine actualized. Behind recent threats to democracy, internet security, etc. is the threat of chaos. Loss. Shock. De-stabilizing society so even those not threatened by direct violence from Putin will feel threatened. We will feel threatened also by those who were on the streets of Charlottesville and elsewhere. Or from increasing gun violence, while that violence is indirectly protected by those who claim to only want to protect their right to own guns. (In 2020, according to the Pew Research Center, more people died from gun violence than any other  prior year. The violence continues to increase today.) Many in the GOP and those who support them seem to want us so afraid, so on edge, we will accept the unacceptable. But we won’t.

 

I can relate to people, now, who want a gun to protect themselves, their family. Their rights. I want to protect myself, my family. My rights. But there are more important and proficient ways to arm ourselves. It is more important to make ourselves strong inwardly so what we do outwardly makes the situation better, not worse.

 

When we feel so strongly the horror being inflicted on others, and fear so strongly who might be next, it is our responsibility to make our hearts open and our minds as clear as we can. The situation is so traumatic that to let our minds digest information and think critically we need to be kind to ourselves. Empathic.

 

We need to be as literate about the media as possible. And question what we hear as we search for the truth amongst all the lies and distortions. Who is giving us this information? What is the source? What is the bias or perspective? Is it from someone expert in the field? Is it firsthand, second hand? Is it backed by a reputable agency or university source?

 

And how do we listen? Do we recognize the source as another human being, as fragile and tender as we are? And as we listen to reporters, pundits, neighbors, do we listen to ourselves? Do we hear the thoughts in our mind or hear sounds outside our room or home as part of the music of our life?

 

Do we feel the sensations in our body? Our breath? Can we feel ourselves as one of all the selves in this world? Can we feel ourselves in community with those in Ukraine? Can we take on minor burdens to help those facing the worst of burdens? Can we send *support to Ukraine in any way we can? Can we help those physically fighting autocracy by opposing autocracy here?

 

Only if we care will we listen. Only if we listen can we hear. When the world is threatened and our hearts are afraid, that is the most important time to pause and listen. That is a moment we can make a difference.

 

*To send support to Ukraine, one resource is Charity Navigator.

**This article was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Lies and Hate

I grew up with a love of Sherlock Holmes. Millions of us have. When I was teaching a class on logic and debate to high school students, I used a book of quotes and incidents from Sherlock’s cases to study critical thinking and teach informal syllogisms. So, when I saw a review of a modern version of the detective, not written by Arthur Conan Doyle, and read about the plot, I was intrigued.

 

The author of the book is Nicholas Meyer, a contemporary scriptwriter as well as novelist. It’s called The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols. The plot is built around actual events from the past that are still haunting the present.

 

The Protocols mentioned in the title are actual screeds, lies, disinformation that were first published in the nineteenth century and, unfortunately, have been reproduced even today. They are called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

 

The document was created to deceive people into believing Jewish leaders had come together to plot the takeover of the world. In the novel by Meyer, Sherlock is asked to find out if the plot is real and, if not, expose the lie so the truth could be revealed.

 

In truth (as well as in the novel), the Protocols were plagiarized from a work of satire called The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, by a writer named Maurice Joly in 1864. It included no mention of any Jew. According to Wikipedia, Joly’s piece was an attack on Napoleon III, elected President of France who later made himself absolute ruler.

 

Joly has Montesquieu speak in support of democracy and argue that the “liberal” spirit in people was indomitable. Machiavelli argues it wouldn’t take him even 20 years to “… transform utterly the most indomitable European character and render it as docile under tyranny as the debased people of Asia.”

 

In the end of the satire, absolutism wins, and Montesquieu is consigned to remain in hell.

 

The piece would have been consigned to oblivion, except probably for Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Russian Okhrana or secret police of the Tsar Nicholas II. He commissioned a re-write, to replace the attacks on Napoleon with attacks on the Tsar. And to turn the meeting between two dead philosophers in hell to a meeting in Switzerland by Jews.

 

In the original, Machiavelli argues “Men must not scruple to use all the vile and odious deceits at their command to combat and overthrow a corrupt emperor…” Just change a few words and we get the tenth protocol, “Jews must not hesitate to employ every noxious and terrible deception at their command to fight and overturn a wicked Tsar…”

 

And there were in fact meetings by Jews in Switzerland in the nineteenth century, but they were not secret. They were Congresses called to create a Jewish state. Unlike the plot of the plagiarized and fictional Protocols, the meetings had nothing to do with overthrowing the Tsar or any other state.

 

The document was created by Rachkovsky as disinformation, to stoke a fear of Jewish people in the Tsar and hate in the Russian people⎼ and to justify anti-Semitic violence….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Visual Art as the Entranceway to the Ancient Caves of Humanity: Alone, Yet in the Embrace of Everything

Since the pandemic began, I’ve had this impulse to look at, or hang on the walls of my home, new pieces of art. Sometimes, they’re pages from an old book or museum calendar or one I created myself; sometimes, a piece from a dealer or a work by someone I love. I take a walk every day, look at whatever seems beautiful, trees, roads, hills, brooks, buildings, animals, and people. And with art this sense of beauty can come inside with me.

 

And there’s something more. Something about aging, relationships, and life itself, or life in a time of great crisis, that eludes understanding yet is motivating this impulse.

 

I’ve written about art before. So have thousands of others. Art is one blessing we can all share. No matter how hard we look at, think, or feel about an artwork, it keeps on evoking something new⎼ or it can. One look, one realization sets the stage for the next.

 

There is an infinite depth to any perception, as any perception takes place in and is influenced by an infinite number of factors, or by the universe itself. It is this infinite depth that art can access. So the English poet William Blake, in his poem Auguries of Innocence, wrote the famous lines: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wildflower.”

 

I look at this woodblock print by the Japanese artist Kawase Hasui which hangs on the wall of my bedroom. It is called The Inokashira Benten Shrine in Snow. I love this piece. It is so detailed. It depicts a snowstorm over an old Buddhist Shrine that sits next to a pond that over a hundred years ago stood at the head of the source of Edo’s (now Tokyo’s) drinking water. Each snowflake stands individually by itself, and then floats into the whole. I feel as if I could enter the scene, become another detail in it, or feel the artist as he painted it.

 

Maybe each artwork is a door to a hidden place in ourselves, or the universe, or the artist’s vision. Like C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe doorway to Narnia. Or a window; just like a painting might be framed, a window frames the world for us to view with care and attention. And I feel that if I can mount such windows and doors on my walls, I will never be lonely or bored. An adventure will always be available to me. One minute, the world might be tired or threatening. The next, it shines brightly.

 

Years ago, I bought a piece of Buddhist art, a slice of shale with a Buddha painted on it. It is a reproduction of a painting from a cave in Southeast Asia. When I slow down and let my eyes linger on it alone, focusing on the whole piece; then a detail; then back again, the scene expands, taking on dimensionality. I feel what I see. The Buddha stands there for a moment in 3-d.

 

Art was probably created just for this sort of purpose. When we let go of our focus on ourselves for a moment, our plans, concerns, and beliefs, art can help us see the world in more dimensions. That’s why, throughout the centuries, it was closely tied to religion and spirit. One of the greatest visual works of art ever was The Creation of Man (Human) painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, by Michelangelo….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

**Photo is from the cave created by students in our school.

Mindfully Healing from Hurt and Feelings of Revenge

Teachers know just how traumatized both adults and children have felt this past year, with all of the political tension and ongoing COVID crisis. As we hope for a more positive year ahead, mindfulness can be the first step in letting go of pain, but it has to be used in a trusting space, with awareness of what we as teachers and our students might be facing.

 

A trauma is an incapacitating form of stress. Stress by itself can be helpful or harmful. But when it is deep and we can’t integrate or face it, it can become traumatic. The DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as exposure to “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

 

In his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, David Treleaven makes clear that this exposure can come in many ways, from directly experiencing or witnessing a trauma or from learning about what happened to a relative, loved one or close friend. Children are especially vulnerable. One in four children in the U. S. have experienced physical abuse, one in five sexual. Then we add a pandemic, political instability, and oppression, whether it be sexism or violence directed at one’s gender identity, race or religion, etc. and we have a huge number of people who have suffered from trauma. We have not just a coronavirus pandemic but a pandemic of extreme emotions like hate and a craving for revenge.

 

Teach Compassion and Turn the Classroom into A Compassionate Learning Community:

 

Compassion can include but is more than empathy. It is close to kindness, with the added commitment to taking action to relieve the suffering of others as well as ourselves. It is one of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when it lives in us, the hurt lessens or disappears.  In fact, practicing compassion is a way to skillfully let go of any hurt. By acting with compassion, we walk a bigger road and rediscover our strength.

 

Having students research compassion can be a way for them to teach themselves the benefits. A wonderful resource is the Greater Good Science Center

 

Explore what emotion is and specifically what revenge is.

 

How do we as teachers explore negative or hostile feelings if they arise in class, either online or with in-person instruction, considering the time restraints, stress, degree of trauma, and unique circumstances we face today? [https://www.badassteacher.org/bats-blog/for-blended-teaching-its-not-just-the-covid-its-the-stress-by-dr-michael-flanagan]

 

A useful guideline especially on-line is be short and simple, with processing afterwards and weaving the practice into the subject matter of the day. Before introducing any type of meditation or visualization to our students, we must first practice several times by ourselves and then imagine how specific students would feel doing this type of practice. Provide choices in all aspects of practice, including postures, whether we keep our eyes open or closed, etc.

 

Start with asking questions to stimulate engagement and intellectual curiosity. What is emotion? Feeling? How do you know what you feel? Why have emotions? Work on increasing self-understanding and our ability to calm mind and body and focus through mindfulness. We strengthen ourselves and our students with visualizations, compassion, and other exercises, then apply those practices to better understand the person and situation that hurt us, and how to respond in the most healing fashion.

 

A student once asked me what to do about his “feeling” he needed to take revenge on a classmate. He obsessed over it. Young people can be especially vulnerable to this emotion, as they are so aware and sensitive to how others treat them

 

I told him that it was a difficult question, but like any emotion, the inner push or craving for revenge can seem like it is one humongous stone in our gut that we can’t handle. But it is not one thing and not just a feeling. It is composed of many components that can be broken down so we can handle them.

 

What is emotion? Daniel Siegel makes clear emotion is not just feeling. One purpose of emotion is to tag stimuli with value so we know how to think and act. There are phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is jolting the system to pay attention, what he calls the “initial orienting response.” The second is “elaborative appraisal,” which includes labeling stimuli as good or bad, dangerous or pleasing. We begin to construct meaning and then prepare for action, to either approach or avoid something. This sets up the third step, when our experience differentiates further into categorical emotions like sadness, happiness, or fear. Memory and thoughts are added to feeling and sensation. Teaching about emotion, its uses and how it’s constructed is one of the most important subjects we could teach our students. In fact, it takes up most of my book on teaching compassionate critical thinking.

 

Revenge is a complex of emotions, like anger, hate, humiliation, fear and a sense of being threatened. According to Janne van Doorm, hate, anger, and desire for revenge are similar but have a different focus: “anger focuses on changing/restoring the unjust situation caused by another person, feelings of revenge focus on restoring the self, and hatred focuses on eliminating the hated person/group.” …

 

To read the whole article, please go to MindfulTeachers.Org.

Waking Up to a New World

I wake up to a new world. The standing Buddha in the yard is wearing a large conical white hat and is surrounded by a foot of virgin snow. The solar lights on the deck are miniature mountains.

 

And even indoors⎼ near my bed, a painting on the wall I’ve looked at almost every day for ten years named “Golden Woods,” by the English artist Jo Barry ⎼ suddenly, the painted light flows through the artwork. It is absorbed by dark trees and adds so much life to the yellow, orange, and gold leaves and flowers they pop out and become so distinct that, for the first time, vast depths can be seen behind them. Unrevealed details.

 

And Linda, a wife, partner, and best friend⎼ is standing by the dresser, the universe seen and loved in her eyes. What a beautiful morning.

 

Already it’s different outside. The light has changed, dimmed. Near the Buddha, under the bird feeder, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove⎼ is that a Nuthatch?

 

Writing, like a good conversation, can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Yet it can be so tenuous. It is best when words just emerge almost by themselves. When I started writing this morning, my mind was fresh from a good night’s sleep. There was clearly something pushing to be noticed and written, but I didn’t know what it was. The only thing clear was the fresh snow, the light in the painting, and that naming emerges from the nameless. Writing can be like that, when we trust the process. We pick up a pen and don’t know if we will get what we aim at or what, if we let it, we’ll say.

 

Other times, it’s amazing that we can speak at all or write about anything. One minute, we feel we are in the grip of a great revelation, only to find, on the very next day or next moment, a contrary revelation. We speak, thinking we know what we’re talking about, but so much lives in each word, each perception, that all we can ever describe is one moment’s cupful. The rest spills out or jumps from the cup as if our speaking or looking gives it feet.

 

We can worry so much about saying the wrong thing or how we will sound that our voice becomes foreign to us, as if spoken at a great distance, like an echo. And this echo can be  painful and isolating, made worse when we think only we personally carry such burdens or there is something missing in us because we do so. If only we could step right through this distance.

 

When we study ourselves closely, mindfully, study our actual sensations and feelings, we can eliminate the seeming separation between us and everything….

 

This piece was published by The Good Men Project. To read the whole post, please click on the link. 

Happiness and Questioning: Replacing Malignance with Loving, Greed with Compassion, Ignorance with Insight

How can we have any sense of happiness in ourselves during a pandemic, when so many are sick, and we fear getting sick ourselves? And the nation, for another 47 days or so, is still led by someone most of us recognize as malignant, ignorant of the very idea of caring for the lives and well-being of others. When a nation is led by a person who speaks and acts as DT does, every day is an assault on our lives and our humanity⎼ on our sense of compassion, love, and beauty.

 

Or every day asks us how can we create, right now, a sense of strength and caring amidst the chaos and sickness? How can we, knowing what we know, find happiness in our lives? What can we do to liberate our heart instead of allowing a would-be oppressor to subvert it? What is the payoff and what is the price for not asking or answering such questions? There is a letting go, a release needed here that I haven’t yet found.

 

In the Winter 2020 Issue of Buddhadharma, the Practitioner’s Quarterly, Akincano Weber, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, talks about “Radical Attention,” the attention needed to touch the earth in a specific place, or a specific person or situation, and discern in it a universal truth. He talks about approaches, “life-hacks” that can help us do this, one of which is skillful questioning.

 

Think about questions. Did a question ever stick in your mind and you couldn’t let go of it? They can act as hypnotic suggestions. Ask the right question and you receive what? Attention. Your mind is directed, not just to some place, but possibly to the act of searching itself. Questions can focus the mind very narrowly, on one place, or on every place, the tree or the forest.

 

To answer a question we must leave behind any exclusive focus on self-concern or we never get to the object of concern itself. We must immerse ourselves in wherever the question takes us, live there so we can feel what that place is like, think from that perspective, and then move on. Such questioning can open us up to other practices which help us keep in our mind and heart the larger whole from which we are never separate.

 

Love, obviously, can also do this, switch us from “me” to “you,” self to other. I am sitting now with two of my cats and watch them sleeping. One of them, Milo, turns over, exposing his belly, and puts his front paws over his eyes. This gesture of his just floors me every time. The cats lie there, trusting me enough to be vulnerable. They want to be with me. Suddenly, I feel totally different. Because I love them, I feel loved in return. They mirror back to me my own feeling. Because I am open to them, they reveal myself to me….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was published.

Compassionate Critical Thinking: A Workshop

We are living through a time that challenges us to learn how to think compassionately, clearly and critically—to think in a manner that facilitates awareness of our own emotions and thought processes while elucidating what is happening to those around us. This workshop will explore how to use practices of inquiry and imagination, as well as mindful and compassionate questioning, to better understand and teach course material and critical thinking.

 

The approach is described in my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, published in October, 2016, by Rowman & Littlefield. It was developed over 30 years of teaching. All the techniques help students improve focus, find more meaning in classroom studies, and so are more engaged in their education. Many take only a few minutes and all were used in actual classes.

 

The workshop is part of Ithaca Loves Teachers Week. It will include experiential exercises and discussion. It is open to teachers, administrators and others interested in developing and teaching empathy and critical thinking. For more background, go to my website: irarabois.com.

 

The workshop will be Thursday, February 23, 2:00 – 3:15 pm, at the Tompkins County Public Library, Cornell Reading Room.