Last night, I was lying in bed, trying to grasp the current state of our world.
On the 24th of February, Russia invaded Ukraine, violating international law and setting into effect a chain of events none of us can fathom yet, and most of us are afraid of.
Having grown up in a household that was shaped by the trauma the GDR had inflicted on my parents and grandparents, I still have low tolerance and a heightened caution toward anything that reminds me of dictatorships, Russian politics, and communist systems.
So, it came as a surprise to me that through my mental chatter of fear and worry I was trying to calm while lying in bed, I remembered a Thich Nhat Hanh teaching.
A few years ago, I had listened to one of his talks. In it, he discussed the actions of George W. Bush against Iraq following the events of 9/11 and related it to the concept of interbeing.
After initially not wanting to travel to the United States after Bush’s actions, he decided to go. He explained his process in this way:
“I saw that I was one with the American people, with George Bush, and with Saddam Hussein. I had been angry with President Bush, but after breathing consciously and looking deeply, I saw myself as President Bush. I had not been practicing well enough to change this situation. I saw that Saddam Hussein was not the only person who lit the oil wells in Kuwait. All of us reached out our hands and lit them with him.”
Thay also wrote a letter to George W. Bush, which you can find here.
What Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us through this letter isn’t toxic positivity. Instead, he shows not only vulnerability and love, but calls for Bush to be accountable.
While I wish this great teacher was still around and I’d love to witness and learn from his reaction to the current crisis, I assume he would tell Putin what he told Bush:
“Mr. President, I think that if you could allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. […] But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you; I trust Buddha nature in you.”
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m a peaceful person.
I’m a hippie at heart, open-minded, accepting, and, sometimes, I even long so much for harmony that I avoid conflict.
Whenever I can, I choose to act from a place of compassion and love toward others.
And still, when it comes to people who purposefully inflict harm on others, especially when they hold a place of power, I feel my compassion disappear.
When I ask myself if there is someone in this world I’d wish to die, an answer comes to mind.
It shocks me, but this is the lived experience of interbeing.
As long as I wish harm on someone else, there is a George W. Bush in me. There is a Putin in me.
This makes today a good day to ask ourselves:
How can I expect peace in this world if I can’t find peace in myself?
Is there hatred in myself that I’m not willing to transform?
How am I, consciously or unconsciously, contributing to division in this world?
And today may also be a good day to remind ourselves of the power of loving-kindness, especially when directed at those who hurt us and others.
May we all be happy, peaceful, and liberated.
May we be free from all suffering.
Sending lots of love to those in fear today, especially in Ukraine.
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