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Dharma Connect: Justice Starts with Peace

War begins when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily -- in minor ways and then in serious, major ways, such as hatred and prejudice -- whenever we feel uncomfortable. It's so sad, really, because our motivation in hardening our hearts is to find some kind of ease, some kind of freedom from the distress we're feeling. Pema Chodron

The news of the not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman's trial in the death of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin brought out strong emotions for millions of people. President Obama called for calm in the wake of the verdict and the protests that sprung up around the country.

How do people who perceive a grievous injustice has been done stay calm? And is that, in fact, the wise thing to do in the face of injustice?

Pema Chodron answers both in "Practicing Peace in Times of War."

First, the how:

-- Rather than lashing out, pause. Feel what you are feeling -- anger, upset, a desire for vengeance, hatred. Don't think about how you should feel; just feel it. Emotions are energy, and there is no correct or incorrect emotion -- there just is emotion. Feel where that is in your body -- is your stomach churning? Are your hands clenched? Is your thought tight, your eyes burning with tears?

-- Let go of all the labels and all the stories. For now, don't think about justice or right and wrong. Just sit with the feeling. Observe it. Is there a change in intensity? Does it ebb and flow? Does it move? You may feel like you have to move, have to talk, have to yell, but you don't. It's uncomfortable, but it won't kill you. No one dies from feeling a feeling, only from what they may do to try to make it go away. Pema calls it "compassionate abiding"

-- Let the energy settle down. Then clarity can emerge. And you can act wisely instead of acting out.

As long as we keep strengthening our anger and self-righteous with our thoughts and our words and our actions, they will never go away. Instead, we become experts at perfecting our habits of hard-heartedness, our own particular brand of rigid heart and closed mind. Pema Chodron

Why should we do this? Hatred never defeats hatred, the Buddha said. A line from a song by The Mountain Goats runs through my mind: When the house goes up in flames, no one emerges triumphantly from it.

But the best explanation I heard came from an African-American woman who spoke during the time for sharing at the Unitarian-Universalist meetinghouse I attended on Sunday:

May this open our hearts and minds to creative ways to work with this situation.



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It troubles me to see how this event has caused people to harden their hearts and views. I think if we jump into judgment--judgment of the situation, of people, of a system, a culture, a rule, process, or law--we miss the opportunity to see things as they are. In particular, we have a system that sees justice being done by having a jury of citizens decide unanimously (in this case) whether or not the evidence presented was enough to prove without a doubt someone has committed a crime. President Obama said, "We are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken." To sit with this situation without judging, doing what Pema Chodron suggested above, and opening our hearts and minds to whatever feelings are emerging within us may help us see the situation with a clarity that benefits all living beings. We may find that we have room to benefit beings in ways that we did not expect--that have nothing to do with what our first judgmental thoughts led us to believe was the right thing.

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