I Wish You Great Heartbreak


I have no mercy for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.

~Malcolm X

Last night I watched an hour long documentary called War in the Mind. The full program is on the web so you can watch it too. It was about soldiers with PTSD and the consequences they face having participated in war. Some of the soldiers were young and newly returned, some were very old and still affected by the conflicts they participated in such as WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other places and at other times. I had an uncle who was in the Navy in the Pacific in WWII. For decades after he was a genteel alcoholic, and many years later he hung himself in his garage. No one really knew what PTSD was back then. Once you have an experience of any kind but particularly an experience of horror, you can never return to the world you thought you knew or to whoever you thought you were before. Experience is a one-way street.

This documentary stuck with me all day today. It kind of shook me up. Sometimes I enjoy being shook up or upset. Enjoy may not be the right word there…more like “do not turn away from” or accepting, although accepting is also not wholly correct since that which is causing the disruption is not something that is accepted passively and filed away. It is more accepting the fact of being shook up and the reactions that arise because of the content of the trigger. I find when I have the urge to turn away or compartmentalize “that stuff”, the content, into some corner that will allow me to be numb to it, then it is often at that time, if I allow it to continue, that a moment of recognition or connection is at hand. It is hard to be vulnerable to anything but especially to horror and other people’s pain.

These kinds of things were on my mind when I read a Twitter discussion about Islamophobia. The gist of it was Islamophobia was merely racist. That description “merely racist” is not meant to downplay the seriousness of racism, but to point out that there is more to it than that. There’s always more.

This was followed by an article in Mother Jones, America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Pelican Bay, which describes what is a monument to inhumanity where prisoners spend, literally, decades in solitary confinement. There are currently 1,500 in solitary there. Entombed alive for life. Think about that for a moment.

The reaction of people to these kinds of things is often unthinking. It goes something like “Well that’s OK because they are “enemies” or “criminals” or “illegal” or <insert dehumanizing label of your choice>”

There’s two main ways that these kinds of reductionisms are understood and dealt with. In the first instance the label is used simply to dismiss something or somebody we don’t want to deal with in any substantive way. That’s the most common. In the second instance it is a call to action. I have consciously been shifting myself into that mode over the years after being well-conditioned to using the dismissive mode. [We all are similarly conditioned.] When I find myself using labels, I consciously try to separate the behavior and the human being. I’ve used labels in a derogatory way. My set of labels include, “fascists”, “Americans”, “capitalists” and so forth. By adjusting some of my thinking, and some of my language, what I am discussing becomes fascist behavior and ideology, nationalism as an identity, capitalism as a system that influence people to act in exploitative ways, etc. It takes a lot more work to be more precise in this way but it also brings a certain amount of clarity to issues of social structure and behavior. One starts to see the bigger picture then.

So while the reductionism of labels can confine issues to small words it can also be used to see beyond them if one is willing to do the necessary work.

That was something of a digression but it underpins what I thought about after being exposed to those particular pieces of disruptive information.

On Twitter I wrote:

I don’t think Islamophobia is *only* about bigotry. There’s a whole lot of hegemony underneath it.

Also the notion of a threat of collective (Ummah) identity which intimidates those who highly value individualism above all else.

[Hegemony is] Not necessarily state sponsored. It is now more of a dominance at all costs by anyone (or generally a group)ie cultural, economic

PB [Pelican Bay] and other supermax prisons are an abomination. It’s like entombing people alive.

That doc I watched last night on soldiers with PTSD kind of shook me.

Mainly the part when some recounted looking at their "enemies" and realizing the people they killed were human.

Imagine looking at everyone dehumanized with labels like "enemy", "criminal", "illegal", etc as humans. Hearts would break.

I wish that great collective heartbreak on every person in the world.

Comment on An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

For the past few days I’ve watched the discussions of many members of the Buddhist community in the United States, Canada and Europe about events happening in Burma regarding the persecution of a particular Muslim minority. Like all situations of oppression and persecution there are many nuances and complexities that are often lost in the media. History, colonialism, geography, group loyalties, language, culture, tribalism, economics, politics and religion are some of the primary factors within such complexity.

It was suggested that a statement from this self-assembled Buddhist group be forthcoming on the issue.

I am one who thinks stating one’s position on an issue is a good idea, particularly if that issue involves oppression and asymmetrical power relationships. A few concerns cropped up for me initially, in that it can be a delicate thing for a primarily well-off, primarily white, primarily male group to condemn events in which they are not directly involved half-way around the world. You know what I mean…imperialism and all that jazz.

Fortunately initial impulses gave way to broader context and more reasoned thought and the document signed and released covered the broader spectrum of Islamophobia in general. It also did not focus exclusively on events in Asia but brought some amount of cultural self-scrutiny along with it.

This is a good joint effort and kudos to the group for taking a public position.

The document is available here:

An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

Mindful war

Who knew that US military personnel were using mindfulness techniques in the field of intelligence work (aka spycraft) and elsewhere?

This article, Global Intelligence Gate: From Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to the Stratfor Corporation from WL Central, which deals with Wikileaks related news appeared recently.

It’s not only for the sake of relieving PTSD  or anything quite so compassionate. It’s more like how to keep your shit together when you’re waterboarding someone.

Why would mindfulness be useful in spycraft? One of the leading providers of this type of mindfulness training is The Mind Fitness Training Institute. They provide an 8 week course for “existing groups”. No it’s not your average warm and fuzzy retreat.

From The Mind Fitness Training Institute website:

With mindful attention, we can directly perceive an experience without the filter of biases and judgments that often accompany our thoughts about an experience.

That’s an interesting and accurate statement. To be able to just engage in an experience without filters can be a remarkable experience. Quashing that pesky conscience, home of moral judgments could also be quite remarkable. In some circumstances one might even go so far as to induce psychopathic behavior. Imagine a fighting force trained in that manner. Pretty horrific.

Now consider the context.

Mindfulness as an inoculation against PTSD sounds like a good idea. It might help prevent some of the veteran’s suicides, the numbers of which have increased dramatically in recent years.

The reading list in this program is quite extensive and wide ranging, from 

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face
stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacorte Press.

Begley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new science reveals our
extraordinary potential to transform ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books.


Asken, M. J. & Grossman, D. (2010). Warrior mindset: Mental toughness skills for a nation’s
peacekeepers. Milstadt, IL: Warrior Science Publications.

Grossman, D. (1995). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society.
Boston: Little, Brown.

Well if the Norwegian mass murderer can use meditation to help him kill better why can’t the US Army use a little mindfulness for the same thing?

Anders Behring Breivik used meditation to kill – he’s not the first

Ideas of Peace

ideas about world peace are not world peace

from this video:

The description and additional comments from YouTube:

Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-2004) was one of the greatest Zen teachers of the 20th-century. And he always taught about world peace. But one day, a student of his, who was deeply involved in peace-work and social justice issues, said to the Master, "I think that working for social justice should precede my work in meditation. So, I won’t meditate until we have become closer to world peace." Zen Master Seung Sahn replied, "World peace is not possible." After a pause of a few moments, he continued, "Also it’s not necessary."

Hyon Gak Sunim is an American-born Zen monk who received inga, or "formal authorization to teach," by Zen Master Seung Sahn in a public ceremony in August 2001. In this talk, Hyon Gak Sunim "riffs" on his Teacher’s startling insight to the real meaning of meditation and world peace. He improvises, as a commentary, on his Teacher’s view that "world peace" and the struggle for social justice — the most important social and political issues of our time, and things of great and searing urgency in these times of oligarchs and international financial control by the few — should not be "required" or "expected" by one who sets insight into the nature of self as their goal.

If "world peace" and the struggle for social justice are predicated on thinking and philosophy alone — on conceptual critiques and analyses with no interior looking, or meditation — then they can be just another form of opposites’ thinking. To truly bring world peace, as Zen Master Seung Sahn emphasized, we must all look deeply inside, find our original "root," our True Nature, which all beings share, and then act from THAT to bring acts of love and compassion to this world. THAT is the true meaning of "think globally, act locally." There is nothing more local than our own original nature, which connects us to the infinite web of all life.

Once I’ve absorbed this a bit more I’ll maybe add some commentary. Or not.

By NellaLou Tagged