May 25th, 2007 at 9:20 pm (Activism, Politics, writing)
In the tarot, The Star card is often encapsulated in a single word: Hope. The Star offers a respite from the deconstruction and self-examination of Death, The Devil, The Tower. The Star reminds us of our inner strength and calls us to a higher spiritual self.
That’s why I call Maxine Hong Kingston a star in the subject of this post. I just watched her interview with Bill Moyers on PBS. She has created a community of healing through her workshop, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, a gathering of people suffering through trauma and pain, many of them veterans of Vietnam. These people have found healing and a measure of peace through writing.
Maxine and Bill discussed the transformative power of story, especially of writing our stories. One thing that she said stuck with me. By writing our stories we take the chaotic and random memories and emotions of our lives and give them shape. We create a form, and that form can then be communicated to another person. Communication creates connection creates compassion. The authors and poets featured in their anthology have used writing as healing, have saved their lives and created a place to which others can turn for hope.
MAXINE HONG KINGSTON: That what I mean is that when people share their stories and they share their hardships, that all of us will listen. We’ll help carry the burden. And so, after writing in such a way, in which we release our feelings we take the– something that happened chaotically in the past. Or it happened so subtly, that at the time, you hardly notice you’re– there’s no time to think it over.
But later, 39 years later, putting it into words, slowly– understanding one’s own feelings, and understanding the point of view of others. And shaping what happened into a form and this form is a beautiful form. The form of a story, the form of a poem — after immersing one’s self in all of that, then there comes the understanding, recognition, reconciliation.
I am awed and amazed by Maxine Hong Kingston, not only for coming through her own trauma by creating this healing community, but for her way of expressing those concepts about writing and the healing power of story. Human beings are creatures of story. We live in story, and by taking control of the story, giving it shape through our thoughtful expression, we quite literally create our worlds.
Perhaps no one short story anthology will stop a war. No single non-violent protest will end all violence forever. But by sharing ourselves, by becoming beings of peace ourselves, by baring our truths to our community, we create a small circle of peace. That circle can expand as our communities do, as our communications do, until like the ripples left by a pebble in a still pond, the circle reaches the very edge of possibility. There lies the power to change the universe.
You can watch video of the program or read a transcript (and more than just Maxine, other contributors to the anthology are interviewed and several excerpts and poems are read) at the Bill Moyers Journal website.
May 1st, 2007 at 4:22 pm (Activism, Buddhism, Politics)
I am so giddy. The Dalai Lama is one of those figures that impresses no matter where you see him, but after the big-screen viewing in Central Park, hearing him speak to a relatively small crowd in a small gymnasium was a revelation.
He is so funny. And he laughs so easily, and so often – that joy was great to see. Even when speaking of the destructive emotions that fill our world today, he held out hope for humanity’s future. His talk for the Rice Community was entitled “Tolerance and Universal Responsibility“, and like Bill Clinton, he addressed the undergraduates in particular. The world is changing as we move into the 21st century, and the people who will lead us into that new reality are learning to lead, learning their values, and learning to cope now.
He spoke about the power of compassion at the community level, which I loved. When asked about bringing change at the global level, he talked about each individual changing himself, then sharing his compassion and learning about compassion with his close circle, the they all share with their neighbors and friends to become a community, and then it grows from there, until the leaders of the day after tomorrow were raised in a compassionate society. What a great vision.
He also talked about proselytizing and conversion, which I found to very interesting – that was in response to one of the hard questions from the audience. He said that for the most part, people can be happy within their own tradition, and do not need to have a conversion experience. Some people may, on an individual basis, and that is fine, if it is what is right for them as a person, to grow and be content. But mass conversions, especially conversions driven by politics or by the almighty dollar, are simply not right. (His examples for this were Indian conversions based on political or social pressures, and Korean missionaries in Mongolia for whom each conversion was worth $15.)
For the most part, his talk centered on the ideas of global community and creating a future of peace. He also spoke, though, of the Law of Causality in Buddhism, and the idea that once certain events, man-made events, reach an emotional/spiritual/societal “boiling point”, there can be no stopping of the negative fallout. So he is not suggesting that war will simply end. (And from a natural disaster standpoint, meditation won’t disperse a hurricane, either.) There may be no way solve the current world crises without further violence, simply because force has been ingrained for so long as the proper solution. But the new generation of 21st century leaders can see a new way to relate to one another – the interconnectedness of all humanity has never been more evident. His Holiness encouraged the new leaders to think of the 21st century as the “Century of Dialogue”, allowing respectful discussion and compassionate relationships to end the automatic turn to force for global solutions.
It was an inspiring talk, and at the end, one that also left us with an example of cheerful humility. A student asked what dangers students might face in today’s world, and how they might deal with those dangers with compassion. The Dalai Lama listened to the translation, needing a few clarifications, then held his hands out, palm up, and said, “I don’t know.” He went on briefly to say that the lives of students are so different the world over, but that American students especially have such freedom to acquire knowledge that they should act on it. He lamented the censorship and bias that is found in education in totalitarian states. But then he said again, that in answer to the question, “I don’t know much about student lives. I cannot answer. It is a good way to end: I don’t know.” Then he laughed, and shrugged, and we gave him a standing ovation.