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April 21, 2006

Coming Out of Silence

I recently got back from a 5-day silent retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains and it is taking a bit of time to get back to the daily or near-daily political writing habit again.  I had a lot going on as I came back – next steps in two different political projects, and then also the death of my beloved friend and the eminent birth of my lovely niece, Charity’s, first child.  But I also have a pull to hold onto some of that spaciousness from that retreat and to retain quiet time for myself. 

Do you remember, in your body and in the calm of your mind, how much more people-centered our lives were those first weeks after 9/11?  Everybody just wanted to talk about where they were and what it was like on that fateful morning.  So we sent around emails and wrote them and took time to really talk to those we loved and to perfect strangers as well. 

This week is like that for me – even in the midst of great pressures on my time.  And because my dear friend Sally died, and died in a manner somewhat unexpected to those of us who’ve been with her through it, we have all taken the time to talk and listen deeply.  It is a raw time, in the best sense, like that time after 9/11 was for all of us. 

I met a young woman on the plane, a student at the UW, coming back from San Jose and she and I and her Dad got to talking about politics.  At some point Callie asked me if I ever blogged about Buddhism and politics and I said I hadn’t figured out how to do that yet. 

However, as I return this time, I find myself not choosing to write about politics yet and not reading as intently as I customarily do in my runs around the Internet world.  I find that I don’t automatically turn on NPR in the car or the NewsHour at 6:00 if I’m home.  So, somehow, I think it is time to share a bit about how my sense of what I call Buddhism influences my politics. 

So come along with me, if you’d like, as I explore further.

Having these two great and very personal passions – politics and Buddhism – has been a challenge and yet has required me to find a bigger picture that can hold them both.  I try to balance the passion I have for taking back this country with my Buddhist sense of both non-attachment to the outcome and awareness of not wanting to think I know what the right thing is or to contribute to the violence of separation from those who believe other than I do. 

I can’t say I do a good job of balancing these interests.  I still care so much about getting our country back and I do care about sharing how much better off we are in this state run more by Democrats, and by a lot of women.  I still ache to be rid of the Republicans who are in positions of leadership in DC.  I still have such a hard time understanding points of view that seem idiotic to me. 

Now does that sound Buddhist to you?  Even if you really know nothing about Buddhism, you have to know that there is a lot of attachment in what I care about.

But I know I have moved into a calmer place about politics over the last half dozen or so years I’ve been sitting, and calmer about the times when it doesn’t come out the way I want it to.  I am more able to stay focused on my goals even in adversity.  It is my goal to do as much as I possibly can to alter the political landscape in our country and rebuild our democracy.  My sitting practice helps me remain open to the suffering, even when we cause it, and remain open to the pain of seeing things happen in this country and in the world that we really didn’t want to have happen.  It allows me to feel it more and yet have the feelings go through me.  It doesn’t remain so much as anger or guilt.  It also allows me to remain buoyant about life itself and to see the lovely human beings who are a part of making these changes that we are all seeking.   

When I was at the retreat, I had the luxury of sitting for long stretches of time looking at the hills on one side of the center and the Pajaro Valley on the other with the ocean in the distance – when they were visible through the fog and the driving rain.  It was all well organized and the staff at the retreat center was doing the cooking and the volunteers of the retreat group I was with let us know when to meditate, when our teacher was talking and we could talk with him, when to go to meals, when we had break time.  Sometimes I played hooky but always there was this spacious silence.  It was lovely to just sit, either on my chair in the meditation hall or at a window in the dorm area, and sink down into the vastness of the Universe.  Or to consider how I’ve come to build up a new identity for myself after managing to shed much of what I’d built up over previous years.  I know I am freer when identity is lighter and yet . . . it is so easy to solidify those expectations and seek the approval and recognition that go with them.  It was a humbling time in the best possible way.  And I had lots of mundane ideas or thoughts about the future or the past.  Ideas about what I need on some project or another float to the surface.  Thoughts about friends, thoughts about Sally and her family.  Complaints about my room-mates, complaints from my knees when I sat on the floor too long. 

I listened to my teacher, a very funny, quite unpretentious man who seems to be closer to the Truth than anyone I’ve personally encountered.  He talks about turning our attention to that which is awake within us, to recognizing the difference between the larger “me” that is connected to the entire fabric of consciousness and the smaller “me” of personality and patterns that each of us has developed.  He talks about truly finding the freshness of each moment and not being bound by the beliefs or ideas of last week or last year.

So it is very interesting to come back.  I attend a retreat like this every six – nine months.  And it is always a fascinating re-entry.  There is nothing like being away from the daily news to feel the tedious nature of the compulsion to know everything – to think about who will replace Scotty McClellan, to try to ascertain what Karl Rove’s change in position means for the November elections, or even to cheer the news that Al Gore is preparing for a larger campaign on global climate change that might lead to his candidacy in 2008. 

I know that in a few days I will want to know more of these events and will want to put them in perspective.   In the meantime I want to take that bit of silence that I’ve managed to hang onto and consider what’s valuable about my political passion from that place. 

What I love about the blog writing I do is that I get to hear about and share what individual people are doing toward building community and making the world a better place while they enjoy themselves doing it.  It might be my friend, LueRachelle, who talks with such joy about the African-American Kenyan “cultural reconnection project” or my friend Noemie’s wonderful IWF-sponsored “Back to the Roots” project that she and I and several others are working on.  Yoram, an occasional contributor here, bills himself as “the world’s only stand-up comedian” and consistently does comedy fundraising for worthy organizations.  My old friend, Craig, sings with the Seattle Peace Chorus, which I’ll be writing about shortly.  It is my way of helping to knit together this fabric of caring for each other that underpins our progressive values.

I also enjoy interviewing our great Democratic leaders in this state so people can know more about who they are and what a really good job they do for us.  If we had good Republican leaders I would consider interviewing them as well but I don’t hear about that rare breed.  If you go to our Interview section you will find interviews with Chris Gregoire, Lisa Brown, Jay Inslee, Ron Sims, Deb Wallace, Mike Sells and others.  During the election season I interview candidates and I also interview the people who head up the non-Party progressive organizations, people like Dean Nielsen of Progressive Majority, David Roth of SEIU 775, and others.  I like meeting these people and finding out what they do and I hope others enjoy finding out about them as well. 

I also like to keep track of what is happening larger picture-wise at the national level, especially with the rebuilding of the Democratic and progressive movements.  For me this includes becoming more effective in articulating the value of progressive policies and in getting creative in presenting the reality-based world, as well as the details that let us know if that is working.  For me this is focusing on the bigger Democratic Party needs, the needs we have to make the Democratic Party most effective, more articulate, more powerfully able to stand for what we truly believe about how people ought to be cared for in our society and in our country’s interactions with the rest of the world. 

So I nudge people to take part in the parts of the rebuilding of our democracy that interest them.  I nudge them to join us Democrats in listening to our neighbors about their needs and interests and talking to them about Democratic values.

All these things are important to me and fit both my passion about politics and my pull to touch the vastness of our Universe that is larger than any of the political world that I write about or work towards.

Now, we resume our normal programming with allowances for additional Buddhist-like rambling occasionally.  And now that I have written about how I think about politics and Buddhism together, I get to challenge Callie to write about her political passions for us as well.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 21, 2006 at 10:57 AM in Miscellany | Permalink


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Lynn, I work with Jerome Armstrong at Mark Warner's Forward Together PAC. Please shoot me an email, I've been trying to get ahold of you all week. thanks

Posted by: Nate Wilcox | Apr 21, 2006 2:57:42 PM

Welcome back.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | Apr 21, 2006 3:34:03 PM


Thanks. I've been talking up your idea about having citizens write up legislation to folks I meet. I'll put something up here as it goes along.

Posted by: Lynn | Apr 21, 2006 3:39:06 PM

Welcome back, Lynn. Hopefully someday I'll learn to a little of the perspective and lack of attachment you've gained over the years. Until then, I'm a total politics nut and stay up till 2 every election night...

Posted by: Ben | Apr 22, 2006 3:00:29 PM

I have a configuration of drupal sketched out in my head that I think would work. Categories of blog entries with a way for people to keep in touch with their ideas via email.

The major block is webspace, which I'm hoping we can find someone (or some group) to pony up for.

Oh yeah, and we need a posse to moderate the conversation.

Posted by: Emmett O'Connell | Apr 22, 2006 3:32:06 PM

Sometimes silence is the wisest course.

Posted by: Raw Data | Apr 22, 2006 9:35:50 PM

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