LGBT

Being Wonderfully Together

Report from the Order of Interbeing Second International Conference "Being Wonderfully Together" was the theme for the Second International Conference of the Order of Interbeing held September 30 to October 2, 1996, at Plum Village. More than 100 core community members from Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Canada, the U.S., Vietnam, and other countries attended. Most of the meeting time was devoted to working group meetings and reports, following an agenda prepared by agenda committee members Fred Eppsteiner, Howard Evans, Mai Nguyen, and Francoise Pottier. We also had one inspiring afternoon tea meditation.

Reports from Working Groups

Administrative Structure

After reviewing the current structure and the role of monastics and laypeople, we proposed that the work of the Order fall under the guidance of a Council of Elders (composed of members, both older in age and those who have practiced twenty years or longer) and a Coordinating Council (composed of nine positions). On the Coordinating Council, at least one monastic and layperson will share responsibility for each area (communication, practice, training, youth and family, Sangha building, and social action). We also proposed the formation of a small Administrative Committee, composed of two directors, two secretaries, and two treasurers. The Youth Council as such will be discontinued, but the YouthlFamily committee will provide for retreats and attention to youth issues. After discussion and nomination in the General Assembly, members of the current Administrative Committee are: Co-Directors: Thich Nguyen Hai, Jack Lawlor, Therese ~itzgerald, Fran~oise Pottier; Co-Secretaries: Thich Phap An, Karl Riedl, Fred Eppsteiner; Co-Treasurers: Sister Huong Nghiem, Lyn Fine, Andrew Weiss. The following are committee proposals. They are not Order resolutions:

Education/Training

Implicit in our recommendations is the need for local Sanghas to provide consistent opportunities and introductions to practicing mindful sitting and walking, chanting, tea meditation, etc. The four-year Dharma teacher training curriculum devised by Sister Annabel was reviewed and suggested as a course outline. We suggest flexibility in how local Sanghas implement their training programs. Each group must learn how to strike a balance between welcoming newcomers and deepening the practice of long-time members. Sanghas can integrate the training into their weeknight sittings, Days of Mindfulness, retreats, or whatever schedule is practical and enjoyable for the group. The Order will conduct a survey of members to determine, among other things, what talents are available to facilitate Sangha d ve opment, training, and retreat activity. Efforts will be made to coordinate with the Communications/Resources Group to create a library of videotapes, audiotapes, and transcripts of Thich Nhat Hanh' s Dharma talks.

Communications I Transcribing I Resources

We discussed the need for transcriptions and translations; how local Sanghas could use their talents to help transcribe and edit Dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh and others, following the lead of the Lotus Buds Sangha in Australia; how to develop archives of audio and videotapes; how talks could be indexed for particular topics; and how to facilitate individuals and groups obtaining audio and videotapes and transcriptions, especially of winter retreat talks which Thay gave in Vietnamese.

Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

Thay has replaced the term "precepts" with the telm "mindfulness trainings" to more accurately reflect their intention and purpose. A first draft was revised on the basis of suggestions from more than 30 people, and appears on pages 22-23.

Application for the Order of Interbeing

An application form and guidelines are being developed. General recommendations:

  1. Keep the current guidelines for applicants, but add requirement of a one-year mentoring period. When the core community reaches a decision on an applicant, it should use its Sangha eyes and nourish the bodhichitta of the applicant, even if that means suggesting a delay. While the Dharma teachers and core community make the decision on an application, long-standing members of the extended community should be consulted in the process.
  2. To encourage experimentation, local Sanghas are authorized to embellish the application procedures to address local culture, geography, and circumstances, provided that the goals and aspirations of the Order are not compromised. For example, local Sanghas may choose to formally celebrate the submission of an aspirant 's letter in a public or private ceremony, permit the aspirant to select a mentor or mentors from among the core and extended community (or another resource), and provide the aspirant with a gift copy of the book Interbeing.
  3. Provisions of the charter regarding ordination may be waived in individual cases under special circumstances (such as medical hardship) provided that the chairperson of the Order and the local or most appropriate Dharma teachers are first consulted and, if time permits, the local or most appropriate core community members.
  4. The charter's existing description of the extended community should be retained,but it should emphasize that long-standing members of the extended community (i.e., those who have participated regularly for a year or more) should be consulted about potential ordinations, whether or not that member has taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
  5. While the charter may continue to state that partners of an Order member should be members of either the core or extended community, it is proposed that language be added stating that, in the alternative, an aspirant would live harmoniously with his or her partner so that the aspirant's partner supports his or her practice.

Youth and Family Practice

The Youth and Family Practice group was a wonderful meadow of beautiful smiling flowers. We listened to each other deeply as we promised to have fun and to work from our own experiences rather than theory. We discussed the challenges to practice with youth. We recognized that sometimes children suffer rather than enjoy children's programs on retreats. We encouraged each other to listen deeply to children and to look deeply at ourselves so that we might make creative growth experiences out of opportunities that arise. Our purpose statement embodies that vision:

We recognize the joy of mindfulness practice with children, families, and communities. We want to embrace the spark of children's enthusiasm. Through the practice of looking through children's eyes and into their hearts, we wish to provide loving opportunities for them to creatively explore the Dharma. We recognize the challenge of including children in our practice. We wish to share with each other our diverse experiences of practice. We honor the value of diversity and acknowledge the need for skillful means to make the Dharma available to children of different backgrounds. Therefore, to encourage an experientiallybased approach and to nourish the seeds of mindfulness, we envision these tools for practicing with children:

  • A family section in The Mindfulness Bell, composed of an "adults" page, with anecdotal experiences, suggestions for practice, seasonal practices, and family retreat information, and a children's page with children's writings and drawings.
  • A resource notebook which would serve as a family practice handbook. The notebook could be composed, in part, from Thay' s Dharma talks and from the family section of The Mindfulness Bell.
  • Cassettes and videotapes (fun and instructional), some prepared by young people on retreat and some prepared for youth and children in practice.
  • Making Thay's Dharma talks for children more widely available in tapes or transcripts.
  • Support for local family retreats through notice of retreats, sharing experience of what does and does not work in local Sanghas, and helping to organize family retreats.
  • A catalog of resources on practice with children, compiled by members of the Youth and Family Council with contributions from the larger Sangha.

Sangha Building

The role and responsibility of Order of Interbeing members is to practice, to offer practice, and to support other people in the practice. The following recommendations were made:

  1. Help Jack Lawlor revise the draft of the manual on starting a Sangha.
  2. Support Dharma teachers to lead retreats within and outside their geographic areas. Assist newer groups and individuals to organize these retreats.
  3. Commit ourselves to practicing consensus, Beginning Anew, and the Peace Treaty in our Sanghas, and deepening our Sangha relationships. Create a suggestion box as a way for newer people to offer their fresh perspective to the Sangha.
  4. Commit ourselves to develop shared leadership by teaching our skills and developing ourselves in less skilled areas, honoring different styles of approaching the work.
  5. Gain wisdom from elders. Help newer folks. Support and receive support from monks and nuns.
  6. Commit ourselves to look deeply at how our collective consciousness and individual experiences shape how we see differences between us, in order to understand and honor differences (e.g. cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, economic).
  7. Commit ourselves to helping Sanghas solve problems. Enlist support of Dharma teachers and international resources to help.
  8. Support and receive support from monastic community. Help Western aspirants enter the monastery. Support and receive support from residential practice centers In the West.
  9. Devise a calendar based on suggestions from Plum Village for international practice (monthly or weekly themes) incorporating seasonal changes, other religious traditions' important holidays, etc.
  10. Develop mechanisms for networking and support: e.g., Order of Interbeing address and phone list.

Inclusiveness and Special Needs

Recognizing the interbeing nature of all humanity and the suffering caused by isolation and exclusion, we are aware that there are many silenced and marginalized groups in our society, and that we need to listen deeply to these groups and individuals in their own language and ways of living. We need to become more aware and open to the tensions and misunderstandings between us and to explore ways to address areas that reflect our own suffering.

We agree to be open to suggestions from all racial and ethnic groups regarding inclusiveness; to listen deeply to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual members to help eliminate misunderstandings which may exist; and to increase awareness of ways our Sanghas can welcome people with mental and physical disabilities and the chronically ill. Economic inclusion, financial support and scholarship to Sangha events, and health-related dietary needs were all identified. We hope that The Mindfulness Bell will present a broader picture with more diversity.

Social Action

To reflect the complex and diverse nature of social action, and to support our international community in responding to suffering, we submit the following:

  1. To facilitate the exchange of information and the networking of people, resources, materials, and spiritual support, we propose a designated time on the schedule during general retreats where those involved in social action can present their work to the Sangha. In addition, we propose that affinity groups concerning social action be encouraged and supported as part of the retreat schedule.
  2. We propose that The Mindfulness Bell provide a section in each issue to inform members about social action projects; resources and support needed and/or available both within and outside the community; continuing updates of the projects; immediate action calling for response to suffering and injustices. We encourage those involved in social action to write articles for The Mindfulness Bell.
  3. We propose organizing retreats for those involved or interested in social action, facilitated by experienced teachers both in and outside of the Order of Interbeing. We propose circulating the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in a non-Buddhist context as a skillful means of connecting and working with others.

Finances

We discussed the following issues:

  1. The membership fee of $50 for the Order of Interbeing is dana: it is suggested, not required. Of this, $18 goes for a subscription to The Mindfulness Bell. Payments outside of the U.S. can be made by Euro-check to one European account, or in U.S. dollars to the U.S. account.
  2. Local and national Sanghas are encouraged to have their own membership dues to cover local expenses. The UK Sangha has accomplished this by having their newsletter subscription be the Sangha dues.
  3. The Order of Interbeing finances are separate from the finances of Plum Village, Parallax Press, and the Community of Mindful Living.
  4. Questions for discussion: Should local Sanghas tithe 10% of their funds to the International Order of Interbeing? Should a portion (e.g., 25%) of receipts from Plum Village retreats and workshops with a significant involvement of Order of Interbeing members be tithed to the Order of Interbeing?
  5. Twenty to twenty-five percent of Order funds may be used for administrative costs, mailings, and phone calls. A portion of the remaining funds may be used to support Order of Interbeing retreatants at Plum Village and to respond to needs for social action.
  6. Questionnaires may be sent to determine the percentage of funds to go to scholarships and to needs for social action. Decisions about social action responses to be based on questionnaire responses. Decisions about scholarships may be made by financial coordinators.

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On Love and Being Gay

By Laurie Arron mb48-OnLove1

“I believe that we all have the need to love and to be loved, and life without love is not pleasant, it is suffering.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Friday, July 13, 2007, Lower Hamlet

These are the words Thay spoke to me during the first Question and Answer session of the summer retreat at Plum Village. I had asked about finding love and had clearly stated I was gay. Thay’s answer was all about true love, and it demonstrated to me that he believes true love is possible regardless of sexual orientation.

Although I’ve accepted being gay, there’s still a voice in my head saying there’s something wrong with me. I’m forty-five now, I’ve been single for over four years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find true love — or be able to let go of my grasping for it.

Years of Silent Suffering

Sometimes the memories of being a gay teen cause tears to well up inside me. I know that I have a long way to go in healing my suffering.

I first realized I was gay when I was thirteen years old. It was a terrible and frightening realization. At school, a “fag” was the worst thing you could call someone. It’s what we called the kids we didn’t like, the ones who didn’t fit in. I’d used it many times. How could I possibly be one of them?

But the fact was that I had a strong physical attraction to some of the boys in my class and none whatsoever towards the girls. My grim realization was indisputable.

I could not deny my sexual orientation, but I could keep it an absolute secret. I thought being gay was unnatural and I desperately wished I could be “cured.” I was convinced if anyone knew they would hate me, except my parents who would simply be devastated. I thought it would be better to be blind or in a wheelchair. At least then people wouldn’t hate me.

I hid my sexual orientation from everyone until I was twenty-seven years old. Being “in the closet” was very difficult, and I turned to smoking marijuana to ease the pain and escape my reality. I did fine in school and work, but whenever I thought about having to live life without love I was consumed with despair. It wasn’t until a close friend of mine (who wasn’t gay) killed himself that I realized life was too short to waste. I decided to take a leap of faith and stop hiding who and what I really was.

I went to a “coming out” support group and there I finally started to accept my sexual orientation. At the group they did things like turn on their head the questions gay people often get asked. They pointed to the absurdity of asking questions like “when did you first realize you were heterosexual?”, “what do you think your parents may have done to contribute to your heterosexuality?” and “what made you choose to be heterosexual?”

I’ve come a long way since then. I got involved in working for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people when I was thirty-one and eventually became Director of Advocacy for Canada’s national LGBT equality advocacy group. In 2005, Canada’s federal government debated and passed a law extending civil marriage to include same-gender couples. I did many media interviews and was about as publicly “out” as you can be.

But even being so comfortable with being gay, in public places I still had to ask myself whether it was safe enough to hold my partner’s hand or give him a kiss when I greeted him at the airport after not seeing him for several weeks. These are simple acts that most people take for granted, but for gay and lesbian people they are not so simple. And that’s in Canada, one of the most accepting and progressive countries in the world. In many countries, being gay is still criminal, sometimes even punishable by death.

I look back and sometimes it feels like my youth was stolen from me. While my friends learned to date and to be in relationships when they were teenagers, I started from scratch at age twenty-seven. The whole possibility of young love was already gone.

I find it particularly hard not to regret those lost years and wish I’d had more courage and come out earlier. My equality advocacy has been driven by my desire to make the world a better place for LGBT youth, so they don’t have to go through what I did.

The most difficult thing about the suffering I experienced was not being able to tell anyone. I suffered alone and in silence, with absolutely no support. I think about how wonderful it is to have a Sangha for support. Looking back on my years in the closet I realize that it was the exact opposite. The fact of not being able to tell anyone magnified my suffering a thousand times.

The Question of Marriage

A big source of suffering for LGBT people is the exclusion from marriage. It’s often said that love and marriage go together, but for same-gender couples this is usually not permitted. Only the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa have equal marriage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts permits same-gender couples to marry but our marriages are not recognized by the federal government. Israel also recognizes our marriages, but they must be performed in another country.

Marriage is about many things, including love, commitment, intimacy, companionship, emotional support, financial support, children, and fidelity.

Some people argue that marriage is essentially about procreation, but many opposite-gender couples don’t have children and many same-gender couples do. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, studies show that children of same-gender couples do just as well as other children and are no more likely to be gay or lesbian themselves.

Simply put, marriage is the central and most prominent way in which society recognizes romantic love and commitment. Since being gay is defined by who you love, the exclusion or inclusion in marriage sends a powerful signal about our place in society.

Exclusion says our love is inferior to the love between a man and a woman. This message does us great harm, both in affirming anti-gay attitudes and also in telling LGBT people that there’s something wrong with us. Inclusion in marriage sends the message that we are not flawed because of our sexual orientation. It says that we are equally worthy of respect and consideration.

This is especially important for LGBT youth. This poignant letter to the editor was written when equal marriage legislation was before Canada’s Parliament:

“I wonder if those fighting so hard against same-sex marriage ever consider how much it means to gays. They don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager — when the pressure to conform is so great — and you experience the horror of realizing that you are gay. They can’t understand what it’s like to listen to your friends talk about how they hate queers and how they wish they were dead. You consider suicide, because you never want anyone to find out the truth about yourself; your shame is too great to bear.

“And these people can’t understand the hope that filled my soul when I first found out that Canada was considering allowing same-sex marriage. This legislation goes so far beyond marriage. It is a symbol. It represents the hopes and dreams of gays for a better world. Now that I’m 18, I can finally admit to myself that I am gay and no longer feel the shame that almost drew me to suicide. At least now I have hope.”

The Desire for True Love

My deepest aspiration is to understand my suffering and to transform it. At Plum Village Thay Phap An told me that most of us spend much of our time struggling with one particular issue, one that is based on a misperception of reality. This misperception acts like a prism, distorting how we see the world and causing us to suffer. Covering up this misperception is a block of pain that has been built up over the years.

My block of pain seems to revolve around my desire to find true love and my belief that I won’t, perhaps because there is something wrong with me, or perhaps because I am simply fated to be alone.

I have had many insights about the source of my suffering, usually when I cry during sitting meditation. This has happened many times when I recall a feeling from the past, such as the sadness and despair when my partner left me, or the fear that I will never find another. And then another thought will manifest, perhaps from a different time in my life, and I know that there is a connection between the two.

Slowly, slowly, I am chipping away at the block of pain that exists deep inside me. I still have a long way to go to get through the block of pain, and to see and penetrate the misperception that lies beneath it. I don’t know if I will ever get there, but I know I am on the path, and I have faith in that path. The more diligent my practice, the happier I am.

For example, sometimes I despair. But I identify it as despair, or perhaps a mix of despair, sadness and grasping, or whatever feelings I can identify. I observe my in-breath and out-breath. I remind myself that this is just a feeling, and that feelings come and go.

For much of my life I learned to suppress my feelings and to cut myself off from my body. But that did not end my suffering. If anything, it made the suffering worse and prevented me from taking positive action. My practice is helping me to re-connect with my body and to become whole again.

Feelings are not only in my mind, but also in my body. I find the feeling in my body and I describe it to myself. Perhaps the feeling is a tension between my shoulder blades, or tension from my neck extending outwards to each arm. I observe that this is how despair is manifesting in my body. When I release the tension in my body, the feeling also dissipates. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes I don’t have time to wait because I’m too busy at work and I just live with the tension until later.

Underneath despair I find joy. I have experienced this hidden joy many times. Sometimes I can even find joy without having to go through despair. If I just look around my body, I can almost always find somewhere that’s experiencing joy.

Smiling Through Tears

I have also observed that I need my Sangha to support my practice. It is so easy to practice at Plum Village, but so difficult to practice in the world, with the pressure of work, friends and the dominant western culture. My Sangha helps motivate me to be diligent.

My practice helps me transform my suffering into happiness. It gives me faith that there is a way out of suffering. It reminds me that my suffering is impermanent. With this awareness, I can smile through my tears.

mb48-OnLove2Laurie Arron, Faithful Embrace of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing. He divides his time between Toronto and Ottawa and is a member of the Mindfulness Practice Centre of the University of Toronto and the Pine Gate Sangha.

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