conflict resolution

Beginning Anew

By Penelope Thompson & Lee Lipp It has been more than six months since our Sangha "got a divorce," and it has been a time of suffering and broken-heartedness for everyone. It has also been a time of looking inward, learning to take responsibility for ways we have caused each other pain.

For seven years, we met weekly for meditation and Dharma discussion and monthly for a Day of Mindfulness. There was much joy among us and a shared love of the Dharma. As 14 individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, it is not surprising or unusual that there were also many issues and causes for conflict in the Sangha.

Our failing as a group is that we did not openly confront these shadows. We did not speak about problems that we did not wish to acknowledge. Furthermore, we did not practice Thay's recommendations for conflict resolution and peacemaking.

Looking backward, it is easy to talk about how we failed to create peaceful means and safe structures in which we could speak truthfully to one another. There were unaddressed issues of power and control, leadership, direction of the group, and strong differences of opinion about rituals, perceptions of boundaries, and privacy concerns. We may have felt afraid of what would happen if we addressed these issues directly. But by failing to shine a bright light on the shadows, they grew larger and festered in the dark, until they exploded.

In the wake of this catastrophic community breakdown, the remaining members of the Santa Monica Sangha have worked over the past months to establish processes of peacemaking, conflict resolution, and Beginning Anew, based on Thay's teachings. We are still fine-tuning and modifying the forms as we try them out.

Each month we have a new moon ceremony. We begin with "watering each other's flowers." Slowly and joyfully, we express our appreciation of one or more Sangha members for something they have done or an aspect of their way of being. In the second phase of the ceremony, each of us takes responsibility for our behavior that may have caused suffering to a member of the group or to the Sangha. This is received in silence, as other Sangha members practice deep listening. In the third phase, we each invite feedback from the others. Perhaps we have been unaware of a behavior in ourselves that has caused problems for someone. After some silence, other members of the Sangha may give feedback, which is received in silence, unless further clarification is needed.

This new moon ceremony is based on two prior steps of conflict resolution. Whenever there is some difficulty between members of the Sangha, the first step is for them to meet alone together, to speak and listen deeply to each other. If they are not able to complete the reconciliation process, the second step is for them to request a fair witness

from the Sangha to meet with them. The role of the witness is to hold loving energy for them and, where necessary, to intervene to assist them in listening to each other with open hearts. If the conflict is still not resolved, it is brought to the new moon ceremony and addressed by the whole group. At this time, both persons describe, without blaming the other, their perceptions of the problem. We meditate on the issue as a group, and then we make suggestions for reconciliation that the two conflicting members can agree upon. If the conflict begins to pervade the Sangha at large, a friend of the Sangha, a fair witness from another Sangha, might be invited to facilitate open dialogue, but we have not had to try this yet.

All of these procedures depend on the goodwill of everyone in the group. The forms alone are not enough to ensure stability and reconciliation. They are only a skeleton that must be fleshed out with loving compassion, right intention, and skillful speech. The new moon ceremony has helped us feel safer and more trusting. We have begun anew as a Sangha to heal ourselves from the wounds of separation and loss, so that we may grow and be strengthened as a community of practice.

Penelope Thompson, True Dharma Source, and Lee Lipp, True Opening of the Dharma, are psychologists practicing in Santa Monica and members of the Santa Monica Sangha.

PDF of this article

The School of Interbeing

Twenty-first Century Life Skills Hanneli Francis

Interbeing  has  emerged  as  a  new  philosophy  of  creating social  change  and  healing  in  our  personal  and  global  con sciousness.  We need to realize our interbeing nature, to recognize the significant part we each play in the larger web of life.

This is the core philosophy of the School of InterBeing, a vision that is in the process of manifesting in southern Oregon. We will offer courses that inspire, revive and enliven the human spirit. Our focus is to provide trainings that are practical in nature, to support the whole human being in contemporary society. For example, imagine what your life might have been like if you had gone to a month-long course at the beginning of your adulthood that had taught you how to do a daily meditation and yoga practice, how to eat mindfully, and how to communicate clearly, with compassion and honesty? And further that you had been introduced to the possibility of natural construction and organic gardening, of working in harmony with the land through permaculture, and you had received the tools to sustain these skills long into the future? How might a course of this nature have changed the path of your life? How might it affect your life if you did it now?

In the first week of our course, students learn essential elements of self care: yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices, intuitive nutrition and self-massage. The second week we explore the Self in Relation communication, conflict resolution, and respectful touch and relationship. Once a healthy and effective way of relating is established, students are ready for the Self in Relation to Nature – natural construction, organic gardening, alternative energy, permaculture, and earth-based ceremony. Finally, in the fourth week, we focus on Integration & Holistic Activism, examining core societal beliefs and offering tools to keep our new skills rooted in our beings.

Mindfulness practice as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh is woven into the curriculum throughout the month.

The 21st Century Life Skills School is our gift to this generation and the next. We hope to offer tools to build understanding, confidence, and clarity, that will bring stability, inner peace, and the awareness of our true nature, the nature of interbeing. For further information, go to: http://www.wildpeace.com, or write interbeing@wildpeace.com.

Hanneli Francis is a certified Anusara yoga teacher, retreat facilitator and enthusiastic student of life, who currently thrives in southern Oregon.

D’vorah Swarzman is co-director of the School of Interbeing. She is a Thai massage practitioner and teacher, and practices with the Community of Mindful Living, Southern Oregon in Ashland, Oregon.

PDF of this article

Rivers Academy

Judy K. Harmon mb33-Rivers1

I would really love to share the story of Rivers Academy with the world. Rivers Academy is not a Buddhist school, a mindfulness school, a parochial, or a non-parochial school.

Rivers Academy is just a school, a place where people maintain as much mindfulness as they can. It is a place where the twenty-five to forty students ages six to seventeen, and eight to ten teachers all know what the word mindfulness means to them. The word is in our vocabulary. We even know it in sign language. It is a wonderful word. Teacher: “How do we enter or leave a building?”

Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “How do we cross the street:” Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “How do we treat each other?” Students: “Mindfully!” Teacher: “What are the two things you should do when you hear the mindfulness bell?” Students: “Stop and breathe.”

“Mindfulness and Rivers Academy are truly one and the same”, says office manager, Shawnne O’Brien. “The center of Rivers Academy is our hearts. Within our hearts is the center of our mindfulness. Every breath, smile, school lesson, phone call and conversation is one of awareness, not just with ourselves, but with those around us. In the silence of the school day, the energy of love and unity, through each breath, is absolutely miraculous.”

Mindfulness is applied in practical ways when we take walks to the nearby parks and recreation centers. We walk with space between us, each student practicing silence, and awareness of breath and space. We keep a mindfulness bell in our classroom. When anyone invites the bell, everyone stops for a moment and takes a breath.  We have learned sign language for “mindfulness bell”.  One day a teacher reported seeing a student catch another’s eye across the room to remind him with sign language to be mindful. Our yoga class offered tea ceremony to the other students, parents, and staff on the last day of school last year.

We are fortunate to be a school that is not limited by law in our expression of faith, religion, and prayer. Last year two Thai Forest monks visited our school. We walked silently behind them, many of us barefoot, through our inner city neighborhood. They spoke to us, answered many questions, and spent the afternoon with us. As schools all over town were dismissed early due to one of the worst sandstorms in recent history, these gentle monks comforted us all in their gentle loving presence. In our part of the world there is a strong culture of Catholicism.

Many of our students are Catholic, and prayers to Jesus and the Blessed Mother frequent our hearts and altars. The family and friends of one Baha’i student offer presentations and gifts according to their faith. These are only some of the faiths openly expressed at our school.

When I asked our students how they believe mindfulness helps them to be happy, two of them responded that there is no fighting, no bullies, no name-calling, no meanness. If discipline is needed, we stop and breathe, sit and talk. One student said learning is easier. Mindfulness helps us remember to be quiet. One teacher has her students stop and breathe before activities and tests. She states that when students are mindful, it is easier to get their attention. Lessons are easier to focus on, not rush through. One student sums it up. She says, “We have to be mindful while we work. That means being aware of our surroundings.” With all this talk about quiet and silence, let there be no misunderstanding. Joy and laughter fill our days, for there is space for that joy to manifest. The expression of our joy is complete and visible in many ways. Mindfulness in a school atmosphere allows the human elements of joy and happiness to emerge in beautiful ways through creative projects. Certainly conflict arises continually, for happiness is not the opposite of conflict. Our happiness reflects our commitment to peaceful conflict resolution.

mb33-Rivers2

When asked to give examples of conflict resolution, at first I was stumped. We sit, we breathe, we talk, hug. That is all. Or is it? As I pondered this question, I came across an article in the Sun Magazine (February, 2003) by Marshall Rosenberg. Dr. Rosenberg teaches people how to act in non-aggressive ways. His method is known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC). There I saw a description of what we do. NVC has four steps:

observing what is happening in a given situation; identifying what one is feeling; identifying what one is needing; and then making a request for what one would like to see occur. Seemingly simple, the key, as I see it, is mindfulness. Only through the practice of mindfulness can an individual have enough presence of mind to observe and identify feelings and needs, much less to make a request based on those feelings and needs. In NVC, there is no blame, no retribution, no punishment. When we tell families our school is safe, we are not just referring to the protection from outside influences and criminals. Children are safe because violence is not tolerated, in speech or action. Once you experience this kind of safety, the heart opens.  This is where our work begins. It is the heart connection, the connection to another’s life, that opens the door to communication. Communication is the door to education, as well as to healing. The educational program at Rivers Academy is called the DeLta System© of Dynamic Literacy.  Dr. Stephen Farmer of New Mexico State University, and mentor to Rivers Academy’s founding director, Nema Rivers LeCuyer, created and developed the DeLta System© in response to his work in the field of communications and speech/language pathology. Recognizing that all true education depends on making sense of one’s world and the ability to communicate with others, Dr. Farmer also recognized the innate compassion in such true education. Therefore, the system of Dynamic Literacy embraces all learners, inclusive of their individual learning styles, type of intelligence, and learning preferences. It does so through the use of curiosity conversations and grasp levels, which replace grades. It is a non-fearful type of education, as it precludes failure and teacher versus student scenarios.  Marshall Rosenberg uses the term “domination culture” to describe power structures in which the few dominate the many.  Schools, religions, workplaces, and governments are examples of structures where authorities sometimes impose their will on other people. Punishment and reward are the strategies for the authorities to get what they want. Why was I stumped when asked to describe conflict resolution? Embraced by the loving atmosphere in which I am blessed to work, I could almost forget that the ways of the DeLta System© and of Nonviolent Communication are not just common sense. It will take time for schools such as Rivers Academy, and others that use nonviolence as their basis, to change the world.  But one child at a time, one family at a time, living one moment at a time in mindfulness, as Thay so beautifully teaches us, makes a future possible.

Rivers Academy is a non-profit school, serving the wealthy and poor alike. We depend on grants and donations and often experience financial struggle. Due to the faith and devotion of staff and board members, we celebrate our seventh year in 2003, and our mindfulness practice serves us well, as we focus on the present moment.

Do we ever forget to be mindful? Yes, all day long. Do we remember to be mindful? Yes, all day long. Will we forget tomorrow to be mindful? Yes. Will we remember tomorrow to be mindful? Yes.

mb33-Rivers3

How long will we continue to practice this mindfulness? As long as the moment lasts. As long as it takes. As long as the breath goes in and goes out. As long as it takes to smile. As long as it take a tear to wet your cheek. As long as it takes to help a friend. As long as it takes.

Judy K. Harmon, Deep Vision of the Heart, is a teacher who practices at Daibutsuji Temple in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

PDF of this article

Joyful Purpose of the Heart

By Annie Mahon mb42-Joyful1

When I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha many years ago, I was given the dharma name “Joyful Purpose of the Heart.” At the time I didn’t think much about it. Frankly, the name didn’t mean much to me. Joyful Purpose? I had no idea what my joyful purpose might be. I had been practicing mindfulness in a personal way, meditating by myself and reading books on mindfulness. As a result, my life had been changing slowly. For example, I found myself having more patience for my kids and a sense of calm inside myself. But I did not feel there was any purpose to my life. I was living life aimlessly.

After the events of September 11, everything changed. As I listened to the coverage of the crashes, I felt a sense of compassion and courage growing inside of me. Suddenly, interbeing—the idea that every one of us is intimately connected to one another—was a concrete reality rather than an abstract concept.

mb42-Joyful2

My own need for Sangha surfaced as I sought the support of other people who could see the interbeing in this event and find the connection between the victims and the terrorists. I began to sit regularly with the Stillwater Mindfulness Group in Maryland. I needed the support of other people for my growing mindfulness and to be in an emotionally safe place. By joining fully in the Sangha, I made the decision that mindfulness was my life path, and I began to live from this foundation.

Around the same time I began to understand that living life aimlessly was not about living with no aim, but rather about living without attachment to the outcome of our actions. In the

Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Do thy work in the peace of yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure… In the bonds of works I am free, because in them I am free from desires.” I began to think that it might be okay to express my creativity through my work and even to do it with joy.

Teaching Peace

I knew there was something I could do to transform the growing anger and mutual misunderstanding that led to the events of September 11. I had a talent for teaching children, and my study and practice of mindfulness and my relationship with Thay gave me insights into peace and conflict resolution.

On September 14, I sent an e-mail to Coleman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist turned peace activist, asking how I could get involved in teaching peace and conflict resolution in the Washington, D.C. public schools. His organization got me in touch with Marsha Blakeway who works with the public schools’ peer mediation and conflict resolution programs. Marsha happily became my peace mentor, and I immediately began to assist her with peer mediation meetings at Alice Deal Junior High.

I also contacted my son’s third grade teacher and asked if she would be interested in having me teach a weekly conflict resolution class. I had no experience in this area, but I had books and I had my new mentor and I had my mindfulness practice. With these tools I was able to fabricate a wonderful class in which I used games, literature, discussion, and dramatization to help third graders learn how to resolve disputes peacefully.

At the end of my first month of teaching, I was approached by another third grade teacher to teach in her classroom. During the first year, I often wondered whether the kids were getting anything out of the class. Then one day, my son had a friend over to visit. Both of them were in my conflict class at the time. When my son did something that irritated me, I began to scold him. His friend said, “Annie, use your ‘I’ language.” I had taught them to do this in our conflict class, and he not only remembered it, but also applied it to real life. After that, I worried much less about the impact of my teaching.

Making Little Yoginis

In the fall of 2002, I saw a notice for a program training people how to teach yoga to kids. I had long been a yogini and had experience in the connection between the mind and the body. Kids especially live in and through their bodies and their ability to stay centered depends on this connection. As we teach children how to think rationally, they begin to lose this grounding, and I think this can cause children—and adults—to become physically and mentally ill.

During the last day of the training, I was asked to teach a free yoga class for children with two of my fellow students. We gave a forty-five minute class to seven kids, ages eight to twelve. What surprised me was that the students liked the relaxation part of class best. These kids really needed the time and space to relax. They are often busy all day at school and afterwards with activities, and then they usually watch TV or use the computer.

After the training, I approached the owner of a small exercise studio where I took classes and asked if I could teach a yoga class for kids. They were happy to try it. I also decided to offer an after-school class at the local elementary school. That class was so popular I ended up offering two classes after school, each class filled with twelve students.

After a while I realized that part of the experience for kids was having a kid-friendly, aesthetically pleasing space. So I decided to open a yoga studio for kids. In March, 2003 I opened Budding Yogis, Mindful Yoga Studio for Kids.

A Mindful Business

My practice is to stay open to what the world, my students, and coworkers need; to express my creativity without becoming attached to the outcome; to create a space for myself and the community; and to remember that the connections—interbeing—are what matter. The business supports the vision.

At long last my dharma name begins to make sense. Now I understand what it means to have—to be—Joyful Purpose of the Heart.

Annie Mahon, Joyful Purpose of the Heart, practices with the Stillwater Mindfulness Practice Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. She has four wonderful and sometimes stressed-out children of her own.

From: Spoken Like a True Buddha, an unpublished compilation of stories about mindfulness practice in everyday life, edited by Carolyn Cleveland Schena and Sharron Mendel.

PDF of this article

Sangha Building

A Lesson in Love By Joanne Friday

Our practice is about expanding our capacity for love and compassion. We use the practice to transform our unskillful states of mind and develop fearlessness so we can go through the world loving freely with an open heart.

In my experience, this is the basis of Sangha building. It is a very deep practice of expanding our capacity to love. The Sangha, committed to practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings, ideally provides a safe container in which we can water the wholesome seeds in ourselves and each other. It is a community with which we can practice deep listening and mindful speech and share our aspirations, our joys and concerns, and support each other in our practice.

mb51-SanghaBuilding4

It also gives us opportunities to be more aware of the unwholesome seeds in us and to use all of our practices so that we can transform them. We can observe our habits of mind and our attachment to views. Because our Sanghas are open to everyone, we come in contact with some people who are difficult for us. We can feel our hearts close. It requires that we invoke Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, whom I see as a sort of patron saint of Sangha building. S/he is the bodhisattva of deep respect who sees the Buddha nature in everyone. We need to be able to do that for each one of our brothers and sisters. When we find our heart closing, we can look at what arises in us regarding the person we find to be difficult. We embrace those difficult feelings, look deeply in order to understand, and with understanding, we arrive at compassion and love for ourselves and the one we thought to be “difficult.” Then our heart can open again.

The Sangha gives us many opportunities to put into practice the teachings of the Discourses. We might use the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. If a person’s actions are not kind, we focus on their words. If their words are not kind, we focus on their actions, and so on.

In the Sangha, we have a responsibility to resolve all conflicts however small in a safe way. We can touch those things, like conflict, that scare us, and develop skillful means to transform them. This enables us to become more fearless and more honest with ourselves and each other about conflicts when they arise. Once again, we can allow our hearts to open instead of to harden and close.

These are just a few examples of the transformative power of Sangha building. If we want to build a healthy and happy Sangha, we need to discover and transform the barriers to love in our own hearts, so we can truly love every one of our brothers and sisters. We are so blessed to have a practice to help us to be truly joyfully together.

mb51-SanghaBuilding1

Joanne Friday, True Joy of Giving, practices with the Clear Heart Sangha, the Radiant Bell Sangha, and the Mind Tamers Sangha in Rhode Island.

PDF of this article

Is There Harmony in the Community?

By Jerry Braza mb51-IsThere1

Over five years ago at the Winter Retreat, Thay suggested that local Sanghas practice meeting on a regular basis to formally recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Since then, at the River Sangha, in Salem, Oregon, we continue, with nurturing results, to practice with a formal ceremony every month followed by a Dharma or book discussion. The formal ceremony always includes a Sanghakarman procedure, which “ is the way we make decisions on all matters that arise in the Sangha.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, Joyfully Together) This process has helped us to stay connected to the core community, enhance the greater community, and overall has contributed to open dialogue and peace within the Sangha.

Several years ago, during the Sanghakarman procedure we were awakened by an honest response to the question “Is there harmony in the community?” At that gathering an individual shared “No, there is not harmony and here is why.” Apparently she and others were concerned about the amount of political discussion that seemed to be infused in several weekly Sangha gatherings and she felt the Sangha was not the refuge it had been in the past. Courageously, this individual responded from her heart and shared her deepest truth at the time.

Since the Sangha had already gathered to recite the Trainings, the Sangha continued. Following the formal recitation a discussion began that continued on several other occasions; the issue was resolved one month later at the next formal recitation. If a person is aware of difficulties within the Sangha, this needs to be brought out. Perhaps a facilitator can announce, in the weeks preceding the formal recitation, that if anyone feels there is a lack of harmony please say so now, so that the Sangha can resolve the issue beforehand with either a Beginning Anew or other dialogue process. In this way harmony will be reached before beginning the next formal recitation.

In Joyfully Together Thay shares, “Being in harmony does not mean that we do not disagree or make mistakes and miss opportunities to understand one another. It means that we are doing our best and there is no division or split within the Sangha.” Reflecting on Thay’s description of Sangha harmony, it was obvious to me that we naturally had disagreements and that we were all doing our best at the time.

However, the gift that came from our Sangha member’s sharing was the call to stop and have several discussions on the matter.

When all views were heard, we were then able to move forward with insights and suggestions for the leadership corps in order to more skillfully guide Dharma discussions, select Dharma discussion topics, and promote understanding.

We learned how important it was to have had those discussions and to subsequently encourage others to answer the “harmony question” mindfully. This may be one of the best skillful means to look deeply into Sangha dynamics and involve everyone in the process of resolving all conflicts, however small. It became clear that we were practicing the “Four Skillful Means of the Bodhisattva” as outlined by Thay:

  • Offer "non-fear" and provide protection for all. Sanghas should be a safe place to practice and leaders need to provide support for this deep sharing.
  • Practice loving speech. Creating an atmosphere to practice loving speech is the opportunity that formal recitations and discussions provide.
  • Do things for the benefit of others. It is very empowering for all Sangha members to see that everyone benefits through skillful speech and true understanding of “interbeing” is achieved.
  • Practice the path of understanding and love. Through processes such as the Sanghakarman procedure and heartfelt sharing, we are able to listen deeply and practice true love through our understanding of each other.

One simple courageous response helped our Sangha to look deeply at itself and has helped create wisdom and clarity. Harmony is possible through our daily practice of the Mindfulness Trainings. As with the Trainings, harmony is the direction we all aspire to and this can be our most essential practice.

Jerry Braza, True Great Response, is a professor, a private consultant, and the author of Moment by Moment: The Art and Practice of Mindfulness. In 2001 he was ordained as a Dharma teacher; he practices with the River Sangha in Salem, Oregon and leads retreats.

PDF of this article

 

Listening Deeply

Public Office as a Dharma Door

By Pam Costain

mb55-Listening1

As an elected member of a school board, I regularly make difficult decisions that affect thousands of children’s lives. While all public officials make tough choices, none are quite so personal as those made by school boards. After all, nothing is more precious to people than their children.

After four years of service and dozens of challenging decisions, I can honestly say this has been both my most rewarding work and most challenging burden. Quite simply, I could not have done it without a regular mindfulness practice. My practice has enabled me to slow down, listen deeply, check my own intentions, and find comfort in the recognition that there is no guarantee about the outcome, only the possibility of creating a stronger community of support.

My Life Is My Practice

I ran for the Minneapolis School Board in 2005 because I loved the schools here, yet saw that too many children—especially those living in poverty—were not doing well. As my concern turned to alarm, I realized that I had some skills that could be useful, and put myself forward for elected office.

At this time I was also taking steps to deepen my mindfulness practice, such as attending the Estes Park retreat with Thay. Like many others, I left Colorado with many new insights, a profound sense of peace, and a strong intention to bring mindfulness practice more fully into everyday life.

Nevertheless, I was experiencing a crisis. On the one hand, I had been a social justice activist for thirty-five years, and deciding to run for school board meant committing even more time and energy. On the other hand, I was being drawn to a more contemplative and spiritual path. Part of me wanted to leave it all behind and move to a Buddhist community, while another part of me wanted to use my energy even more powerfully to act in the world.

Ultimately, I decided to try to meld the two paths into something authentic for me—a stronger practice of mindfulness coupled with a very public presence in the life of my community. This would not be a simple synthesis, but rather a process that would unfold over time.

It was not until my second retreat with Thay in 2007 that I came to a very important realization: my life as an elected official was my practice. My practice was not primarily the time I sat on a cushion or attended retreats or recited the Five Mindfulness Trainings. As important as these all were, the most significant aspects of my practice were my everyday actions as an elected official. Having finally understood that my life was my practice, I have tried to bring more of the wisdom of our tradition to my public role.

mb55-Listening2

Practicing in the Public Eye

How do I bring my practice into my role as a school board member? I try to cultivate an attitude of respect for each and every person I talk to, no matter how difficult it may be. I try to listen to everyone with focused attention and compassion for their point of view. I remind myself that when I make decisions about children and schools, I am making decisions about individual children whose parents care deeply for their well-being. I must be very careful with my words, actions, and voice. I try to be completely present and give undivided attention to all those who talk to me, even when it is exhausting. Often those who speak are very angry, but I understand that underneath that anger is fear.

Early in my fi year, we had to make a decision about closing five schools in neighborhoods where people already had lost a great deal—their jobs, grocery stores, safety, and, in some cases, their dignity. Now the school district was going to close neighborhood schools. Hours of tearful and angry testimony could be summed up as: The school board does not care about African American children.

The day after an especially painful public hearing, where emotions had run high, I ran into a woman who had been very vocal. To my surprise, she approached me smiling. Rather than being hostile, she was friendly and even thanked me for listening so thoughtfully the night before. I was able to share what I felt would benefit children in her neighborhood. As we parted, I was reminded that our practice encourages us “to make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”

Through all difficult situations, my practice has been to try to remain calm (at least in public) and keep an open heart. Wherever I’m approached, my role is to bear witness to people’s fears and concerns. “Aware that the lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. We will learn to listen deeply, without judging or reacting.”

I try to be as honest as I can with people, which is especially challenging when I have to tell them something they don’t want to hear. I have found that it is best to be honest with people about what I am thinking or how I am going to vote, regardless of how painful that may be. As the teaching says: “We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred.”

Finally, I try to operate from a belief that everyone’s motives are good and decent. Many times, I have differed with decisions of the administration or my fellow board members, or with an angry parent who has called me at home during supper. When faced with these challenging situations, I try to take a deep breath to open up the space around me. With more space and calm, I strive to give people the benefit of the doubt and to understand things from their perspective. “Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences.”

As a public official, my job is to make decisions, imperfect as they may be. It has been humbling to recognize that making decisions is much more difficult than simply having an opinion. Even when several points of view have merit and each contains a kernel of truth, ultimately I have to exercise my judgment and choose. Doing so has been both a burden and a gift. I have had to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity (which I believe is essential to the practice of mindfulness), but not allow them to prevent me from making difficult decisions.

I am very grateful for Thay’s teachings, the strength of the practice, and the support of my Sangha in this path.

mb55-Listening3Pam Costain, Empowering Communication of the Heart, is a member of Blooming Heart Sangha in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

PDF of this article

Dharma Teachers Sangha News

  mb63-DharmaTeachers1The North American Dharma Teachers Sangha (DTS) was formed in 2010 by those in Canada and the United States who have received lamp transmission from the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. We have joined together for encouragement, support, and clarity as we fulfill our many responsibilities within local Sanghas. There are currently sixty members of the DTS, and the Care-Taking Council (CTC) was chosen to be our representative body.

This March, the CTC gathered for our annual in-person meeting at Blue Cliff Monastery. The CTC annual meeting has become important for us as a community, to deepen our connection and further our work and practice. This year at Blue Cliff, we joined the Thursday Day of Mindfulness with the community and participated daily in the monastic schedule of sitting and walking meditation. We also spent time meeting each day to continue our work. Throughout the year, we meet monthly by conference call, so to work and practice together in person is deeply renewing.

In the past two years, we’ve formed several working committees of CTC and DTS members. The committees have worked on a variety of tasks, such as supporting the monastic community in organizing OI transmission ceremonies, and developing resources to help address topics brought to us by local Sanghas.

The governance committee has developed by-laws that determine how the DTS makes decisions as a Sangha and how the Care-Taking Council renews itself with new members. The by- laws create an organizational structure to help us work together as Dharma teachers. The organizational model applies to us as a sub-group within the OI, not to the OI as a whole.

At the request of our monastic brothers and sisters, the aspirancy committee has developed Order of Interbeing aspirant and mentoring materials in order to support aspirants as well as the Dharma teachers and OI members who are mentoring them. The aspirancy materials have been emailed to OI members and posted on the Order website, www.tiephien.org. The materials are intended to help minimize difficulties that were encountered by aspirants in the past. They include things such as pre-aspiration checklists and contemplation questions, as well as information the monastic community needs prior to ordination.

The harmony and ethics committee has adopted Policies and Procedures for use if ethical concerns regarding Dharma teachers arise, and a Conflict Guide to help resolve difficulties that may arise anywhere in our community. These materials draw on our tradition’s many skillful means, those used by western conflict resolution professionals, and on the experience of Sanghas and Dharma teachers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The communications committee is exploring ways to provide these materials to Dharma teachers, OI members, and Sanghas in the near future, using a variety of means. We expect to place them on the Order website with links posted to the OI yahoo groups, and perhaps to email the materials to North American Sanghas.

We, the Dharma Teachers Sangha, offer our work with the loving intention to support not only Dharma teachers, but all with whom we walk this path of practice. We offer it for anyone to use in any way that can benefit our Sanghas.

Please feel free to contact the council at dts-na@tiephien.org if you would like to explore any of these topics further.

The current members of  the Care-Taking Council are Brother Phap Ho, Brother Phap Vu, Rowan Conrad, Lyn Fine, Chan Huy, Eileen Kiera, Jack Lawlor, Cheri Maples, Bill Menza, Anh Huong Nguyen, Mitchell Ratner, and Leslie Rawls.

PDF of this article