In December of 2014, Insight Dharma Teacher Ruth King offered this reflection to her local community, and her online audience. She has since repeated the reflection in talks, retreats, and workshops. We hope you will allow her to take you on this journey as well, for the benefit of all.
This Wednesday, I offered a dharma talk at Insight Meditation Community of Charlotte. After a 30-minute sit, we have a ritual where everyone says their name with a spacious breath. This ritual gives us a sense of connecting and belonging. As everyone finished, I offered a few names of people who are no longer with us:
Rumain Brisbon, 34, Phoenix, AZ – December 2, 2014
Tamir Rice, 12, Cleveland, OH – November 22, 2014
Akai Gurley, 28, Brooklyn, NY – November 20, 2014
Kajieme Powell, 25, St Louis, MO – August 19, 2014
Ezell Ford, 25, Los Angeles, CA – August 12, 2014
Dante Parker, 36, San Bernardino, CA – August 12, 2014
Michael Brown, 18, Ferguson, MO – August 8, 2014
John Crawford III, 22, Beavercreek, OH – August 5, 2014
Tyree Woodson, 38, Baltimore, MD – August 2, 2014
Eric Garner, 43, New York, NY, July 17, 2014
Jonathan Ferrell, 24 – Bradfield Farms, NC – September 14, 2013
I said to the group that these are just a few of the names of unarmed African American men, women, and teenagers killed by policemen over the past few months, and I’m Ruth King, their Mother.
Needless to say, it was a heartfelt evening, and it was just two years ago when I spoke about Trayvon Martin and the Epidemic of Violence. Some of you may have been touched directly by these killings, and my heart goes out to you. To join hearts, I invite all of you who are reading this to take a few moments and look at the faces on this collage. One person would have been too many. Click the image and read a short paragraph on what happened. When you are ready, reflect on these questions to feel into this pervasive suffering in black life:
- Imagine stepping into the skin of the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, or families of one of these men, boys, and women. What does that feel like?
- How might you feel if your mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter’s picture was included in the above collage? See them there as you look at that constellation.
- How would you feel if there was no indictment for the observable killing of your loved one?
- What might you feel if you were the mother or father, son or daughter of the police who did the killing?
- What are you feeling in your heart, body, and mind as you sit with this contemplation? Are you on fire? Numb? Sad? Indifferent?
- What action feels urgent? How clear are you about what to do?
- How would you feel if you had done everything humanly possible to no avail? What would you do then?
Naomi Shihab Nye writes:
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
This tender time calls for wise collective action grounded in a deep recognition of our kinship and karma. The Buddha’s teachings specialize in liberation from suffering and encourages us to take precepts — ethical codes of conduct that support harmony, self constraint, and safety in our kinship to each other. The five precepts common to laypeople are:
Abstaining from taking life
Abstaining from taking what is not offered
Abstaining from sexual misconduct
Abstaining from false or hateful speech
Abstaining from intoxicants that fog the mind and lead to carelessness
I have found that when I am not mindful of these precepts, I rob myself of the clarity and energy needed to meet the suffering of our times. While this list may not be your list, what I have found in my mindfulness practice is that it is essential to have a list as it supports self-accountability and guides action that safeguard our own hearts and our collective healing.
Courage is key in kinship and karma. Just as it is necessary to blow the whistle on Uncle Jim who is sexually abusing your sister or brother, knowing it will upset the family but in the end it is the right thing to do for all, we must also point out the violators — which may include ourselves — and transform the mental and social constructions that systemically and generationally kill and oppress human life and nature, and put a stop to it. Ideally we cultivate our heart mind so that we can do this with as much kindness and wisdom as possible, but it must be done.
We begin by being willing to look, feel, care, and act as if our life depended on our actions, because it does.
Ruth King, MA, is an international Insight meditation teacher and leadership coach. She is a guiding teacher at Insight Meditation Community of Washington, an affiliate teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and founder of the Mindful Members Practice Community in Charlotte, NC. She is the author of “Embracing the Mad Mind”, “Mindful Approaches to Cultural Competency”, “Healing Rage”, and the Mindful of Race Training Program. This post was first published on Ruth’s website, here, and is used with permission.
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