We’re in trouble here. Help us wake up. Open our hearts and minds to the ways in which we are creating this suffering so we may take wise action that will stop this. ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer
I woke up this morning to the news of another mass shooting. This kind of violence is on the rise and it’s very clear who is responsible, both in terms of who is doing the shooting and who is instigating the violence, as well as who is providing the means necessary for the level of harm being done. Another kind of violence happened at the voting polls – voter suppression in particular, along with the continued effort by many white people to protect their privilege, (in some cases successfully).
When things like this happen, there is always a call to action. Actually, the step before is usually the pointing of fingers, the placing of blame, and sometimes that happens without any clarity about what to do next. It all has me thinking about the Buddhist concept of upaya, which translates as “expedient or skillful means,” which basically means any activity that helps others realize enlightenment, action applied with wisdom and compassion that is appropriate to the time, place, and audience.
Of course, before we can activate skillful means, we must first cultivate a foundation of wisdom and compassion. We must be in a place of stability and sanity in order to know what right action would be, to understand what in this particular case and moment would be true, kind, necessary, and helpful. I confess, I’m not very good at this. Especially when I am so filled with grief and rage about the injustice and harm I see happening. Most days I either want to burn it all down, or I want to stay home, curled up in bed with my dogs, and most of the time I have no idea what the right thing to do might be — fight, flight, or freeze.
I did a quick Google search this morning on “skillful means,” and found this great article, Skillful Means: The Buddhist Teaching on How to Share Your Wisdom – Part 1. The author begins by pointing out that “even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share.” This reminds me of how Desiree Adaway urges us to direct our efforts towards those who are “teachable, reachable, and ready.” This is hard for me, as I’ve already mentioned. When I see harm being done, anyone generating suffering, I want to step in immediately and fix it. There have been times when my method unfortunately hasn’t been effective, and quite possibly added to the hurt.
And yet this serves to illustrate this important point, referenced in the article I linked to above, that we first have to work with “how to ascertain truth for yourself, holding that truth with humility, making sure you’re not actually being self-serving as you set about trying to change others, and setting aside your own defensiveness and pettiness when you do so.” Part 2 of this article covers three issues that further complicate the process once we cultivate a state of wisdom and compassion and are ready to act with skill: what to do when people aren’t ready for the truth, what to do when people don’t get it, and what to do when people don’t care. Part 3 covers what to do when people can’t change all at once and what to do when people respond by attacking. The final installment ends by sharing this perspective:
No matter how awful someone is behaving, we believe there is some will toward goodness and wisdom within them. Human beings act with selfishness and aggression because of their ignorance. Selfishness and aggression lead to suffering for self and others. No one likes to suffer, and we aren’t immune to the suffering of others, so eventually we’ll be so miserable, we’ll look for another way, and move toward wisdom.
It’s just so much to hold, make space for, isn’t it? I won’t give up if you don’t.