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Sep 02
Community Articles, International Programs
Overwhelm as a Path to Peace

Photo courtesy of Michael Levy.

Photo courtesy of Michael Levy.

Bob Pressnell writes about Cultivating a Community of Kindness, a contemplative retreat for leaders in Shambhala.

Everyone knows the experience of kindness, but can it be learned? Can it be taught in the frame of a day-long program? And beyond that, can kindness be practiced in the sometimes overwhelming context of sangha and daily life? As we’re reminded, without kindness there is no way of Shambhala.

The success of our community, and its future, is going to depend heavily on the visible and ‘feelable’ kindness that is in our mandala.
– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, 2009

Acharya Eve Rosenthal and Shastri Charlene Leung, the Shambhala Diversity Working Group chair, recently co-taught a day-long program for Shambhala leaders regarding cultivating a culture of kindness in our mandala. Acharya Rosenthal told us the three-point arc of this leadership workshop is to contemplate kindness to self and other, to commit to kindness, and to make a plan. Eve and Charlene led a series of contemplative, kinesthetic, and communication exercises based on the view that “the seed of kindness is a willingness to stay with one’s own state of mind and interaction with others rather than move away.” When working with others, Eve said, we usually dive in, move back or space out.

During the morning we practiced “compassionate abiding” which began with contemplating not only the deeper meaning of kindness but also intense states of mind that do not necessarily feel kind. Through this practice, we developed trust in our ability to use negative states as a path to kindness and friendliness. Second, we did a Tai chi exercise of moving with a piece of paper held by the back of two people’s palms without wrinkling or dropping the paper. Think it’s easy? Yet, working with others is a dance, the give and take of kindness, and it’s fun! Third, we practiced speaking, listening and silence with a rotating succession of partners standing in outer and inner circles of five people each. The challenge is to hold one’s mind and progressively open one’s ears, one’s speech, and one’s eyes and face to others. You have to be there!

If somebody is aggressive, you don’t have to reject them, you can accept their fear.

There’s only two states: open and closed. There is no path without noticing whether you’re open or closed.

In the afternoon, to strengthen and sustain the practice of “compassionate abiding”, we each committed to a time in the next two weeks when we planned to “hold the space” in anticipation of a challenging situation (i.e. staffing open house; writing a controversial piece for our newsletter; meeting with an alienated student). Then each of us “requested” a debriefing and another group member “offered” to hold that debriefing space; and together the pair “committed” to following through.

The power was in extending the day, because when we anticipate a future encounter, we hold the encounter in advance, knowing there will be a follow-up debrief to discuss how it was to “practice kindness” in community, and how we cradled our own fear in the processIn making a plan and following through: contemplate the motivation, not the procrastination.

Notice kindness – open, feel, trust your intuition; be willing to say (or not) the difficult.

All participants whom I checked-in with had followed up on their plan. Additionally, Charlene has suggested holding quarterly “Cultivating a Community of Kindness” practice days in Northern California for leadership and general sangha.

Bob Pressnell

Bob Pressnell

We can be doing a lot of things right when it comes to programs, but if there is not a feeling of kindness, nothing is really going to stick. As a community based on basic goodness, if somehow we do not exude kindness to other beings, all the posters will be in vain.
– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, 2009

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2 responses to “ Overwhelm as a Path to Peace ”
  1. Sue Gilman
    Sep 27, 2010

    Thanks for this. Such a fun topic. I will be teaching a staff class on this subject at Karme Choling next month and this will be most helpful.

  2. Jackie Muse
    Sep 4, 2010

    I am interested in more of these kinds of programs. Any plans coming from Shambhala International P&E for regional programming on Cultivating Kindness? This would be a great addition to Way of Shambhala II.

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