Every single time that we read through the Mindfulness Trainings, whether our "massaged" version or the original as written by Thich Nhat Hahn, we experience a deep interior shredding... "Did you notice another piece of my ego and my pride and my feverishly constructed self-identity slip off into the mud beneath our feet?" "Did you notice mine, too?" And then on into, "Gee, is everyone looking at us? Are we the only ones this hits square on the nose?" While the shredding is genuine, it is also true that there is no easy escape from the human condition -- there is no easy path forward into one's personal transformation, just as collectively we seem to only move forward by circling back much of the time, only to be nudged ahead again by the words shining and shining light of another prophet...
On the Chinatown streets of Salinas, "Bobby" was a goof-ball, crazy-happy, mixed-up young man: always loud usually obnoxious, frequently intimidating and threatening. For him, "let's party", meant a no-holds-barred night of anything-you-can-get-away-with-goes... on and on, month after month, year after year... his only "down" time was jail time. If you were to flip this Ninth Training on its head, and maybe turn it inside out into its opposite, you'd have the daily life story of "Bobby"... not exactly an endearing character... and yet, and yet... We had increasingly frequent conversations as to the "whys" of his behavior. One day we were in the office together and he told me the story of his father beating him and sexually assaulting him as a young boy... in the midst of flowing tears, his final question was an endless "Why?" (He asked me why, God Almighty, I don't want no cheap word to come out of my mouth -- so what could I say?) "Bobby" asked if he could use the phone -- he made a call to his brother, saying he needed to talk to him...
I don't know if "Bobby" ever got to talk to his brother... One bad-decision-too-many caught up with him that night: he sold some laundry detergent or some such powder to a couple of out-of-towner's. When the powder didn't do for them what they wanted, they came back to Chinatown and shot "Bobby" dead. He died by the railroad tracks just as the train was leaving town... just another day-another night-another life ending in Chinatown... and yet, and yet... The irony of our fractured human condition slapped me across the face a few days later when I was greeting our guests at the Soup Kitchen door... "Bobby's" father came up to me, shook my hand, and in the midst of tears, could only ask me, "Why? Why? Why?"
When we stand for justice and serve the dignity of every person, especially the most powerless among us, we are choosing to stand on Holy Ground -- wherever it is that we are. We may not have the "right" word to say at just the "right" moment -- but the truth is: when someone is living in any sort of version of hell they have no interest in hearing a "right" word. It Is Our Bodies That They Want! They want to know that someone is standing, living, crying, salvaging, working, losing, struggling, winning, and dying With Them. Sometimes we'll be surprised by the words that will leak from our mouths -- like, where the hell did THAT come from? The only wisdom that's worth anything at all is the wisdom that flows from solidarity and the wisdom of US! This is Beauty and Love made tangible, made edible, made worth entering into the whirlwind of history for -- just to see what little bit of hell we just might be able to raise! "Pray for the dead... fight like hell for the living." (Mother Jones)
Have you noticed that each of the Mindfulness Trainings is specifically serving us, like a magnifying glass, by focusing our attention on suffering? Each and every one among us is / has / will cause even more suffering on this precious blue Planet. So the Mindfulness Trainings are a sort of crash course on how each of us might reduce a bit of this suffering. This is of great importance! Many, many, lives hang in the balance between our will to act in solidarity or our retreat into "getting along to go along"... But there is another suffering that needs, not a magnifying glass, but Books, Lights, Videos, Academy Awards, etc. etc. It is suffering voluntarily endured for life, for peace, for justice, for equality, for hope, for the children, and for the Planet. Mahatma Gandhi made voluntary suffering an art form in his Satyagraha campaigns. This moment in time requires of us the courage to go deeper than the Mahatma in questioning the Dominator Paradigm -- and in deconstructing its myths and legitimizing power so as to reconstruct a human civilization that will work for and include all.
The Ninth Mindfulness Training:
Aware of my contributions to suffering, I am choosing to activate my passion for possibilities! I am choosing to practice beauty and liberation through my everyday choices and actions. I am choosing to stand and act in solidarity with everyone who suffers from injustice and oppression. I will serve the dignity of every person especially the most powerless among us.
Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. -- John Steinbeck
A questing mind is a great help in withstanding violence or oppression. Aung San Suu Kyi
God expects something from each one of us that no one else can do. If we don't it will not be done. -- Dorothy Day
Write a story -- not more than 250 words -- in you are the one to do / say something great and heroic. How can you make the story of your life as great as it can possibly be?
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.