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Changing the Way we Participate

saturday1Imagining Peace Conference
Malcolm X College, Chicago
April 27, 2013

by Debra Hiers, Shambhala Times Reporter
photos by Erlina Sinaga

There was a great sense of purpose and witness to this day of Imagining Peace hosted by the Chicago Shambhala Center at Malcolm X College. Everyone present seemed ready to engage the process of deep listening and attending to the personal stories and accounts of senseless acts of violence, especially in the neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago. We heard many heartbreaking stories of how violence had made neighborhoods unsafe, ripped apart families, and stolen away the innocence of youth. Everyone wants to live a more peaceful existence, to be happy and cared for. Sometimes there are just a lot of obstacles to getting there.

Acharya Adam Lobel, in his introductory remarks, pointed out that since Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche established the Shambhala teachings fifty years ago, we’ve been teaching meditation as a means to cultivating peace. “The bigger vision,” he said, “is to look at our society and ask what it would take for a peaceful society to exist – a just, peaceful, awake society.”

saturday3This conference gave us the opportunity to come together in a collaborative manner and experience peace with each other in a safe setting. While we come from different backgrounds and life experiences, we also have many things in common. As Acharya Lobel offered, “We all share incredible trust in human goodness, that human heart is at the center of what we are doing today.”

One of the partnering groups at the conference was the Goodman Theatre. Presenting together were Willa Taylor, director of the Education and Community Engagement Department, teaching artist Bobby Biedrzycri, and Brandi Lee and Kyle Johnson of the Goodman Youth Arts Council. They all led a group of us in experiential theater exercises from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.

saturday4Boal was a Brazilian theatre director and cultural activist who saw theatre as a means for social transformation. During the morning session we engaged in a number of movement exercises which had a similarity to some of the Mudra Space Awareness exercises taught in Shambhala. We had a clearly defined space to move around in, and we walked about moving into empty spaces, aware of one another’s presence. One part of the experience was to spend a few minutes looking intently into the eyes of a partner, then moving through the space keeping an eye on that partner. The exercises gradually brought us into a sense of community with each other and worked to establish a base of trust.

We then moved into creating vignettes, based on freeze poses. This form of Image Theatre is based on human response to a word, and each actor responds to that word with a pose, building a vignette. Then another word is announced, and alternate actors “tap in,” that is they take the place of an actor in the first vignette, transforming the pose to fit the second word. At the end of the day we presented this work to the full conference, using the words “violence” and “peace”.

saturday5Willa Taylor asked the audience members to share a word describing their response to each vignette. One audience member said empathy, and explained that just seeing the tableau of violence made him feel the tension present, and when it shifted to peace he felt a sense of empathy because he was able to relate to the transformation that had taken place. “The work of making peace in a violent world,” said Taylor, “requires that we all be actors in making peace.” This kind of theatre is powerful and transformative. It shows us how we can change those images of violence that we see every day, by showing up differently, by changing the ways we participate.

Shambhala Times is delighted to share these “live reports” from the Imagining Peace weekend. Stay tuned for more articles brought to you by the hard work of a team of live reporters, including Debra Hiers, Claudine Mininni, Gretchen Neve, and Aarti Tejuja, and with the support of David Schreier.

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Debra Hiers
is a freelance writer, poet, and musician living in Atlanta, GA. She has been a member of Shambhala since 1997.

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