Friday, July 07, 2006

BPF Gathering: The Workshops

It was really hard to choose from the workshops. Anchalee of the refugee work had one called Strengthening Our Global Connections. At the same time I could choose one on Prison Dharma, led by BPF's staff for that program, Michael, and Alan Senauke, spiritual advisor to BPF. I would go to that one as much for Alan's presence as for the subject. At the last moment I chose to go to one I'd already decided against, because of my intention for the weekend. Since I wished to help others take joy in their interconnections, I realized the best thing for me to do would not be some new, intriguing subject, but something that I would be likely to bring back and use here at home. A few year years ago I was there when the group synergy led Maia (before she was director) to come up with the Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism. Before I reflected, it seemed as though this would be review. When I made it not about me, but what I could share, this was obviously what I needed to do. The bulk of my work lies in creating community...I'm not likely to find the time to follow up on Prison Dharma or global connections. Going to those might be educational, but they would be a distraction.

I came out of that workshop excited to bring it back home. Maia and Jesse (board member) said they'd presented the Mandala to chapters before, but never as a workshop. I couldn't imagine it any other way. Drawing my own Mandala, engaging it and sharing my engaged dharma with another gave it a focus for me that merely knowing about it hadn't. Also, my Seattle compadres were in the workshop, and during one part we were encouraged to form into groups according to region, and talk about actions we've participated in that had been a positive experience. We emerged determined to fortify our chapter connections and our friendship. Viki and I both felt there needed to be a fifth segment to the Mandala: cultivating or serving as a conduit. We both felt so much of the work we do is just that, cultivating community and peace and just letting what wants to happen, happen. And personally, the question for our personal mandala, "What's missing?" gave me a clear answer: more zazen.

I'd already considered Viki a mentor, but found myself really drawn to Denis as well. As one of the opening ritual Directions, he'd expressed some uncertainty over his piece of it. Actually, they all did a little. It had come together so perfectly, in my exuberance I'd gone to each of them and asked for a hug, because I could. In my usual experience of Buddhist retreats, there is no eye contact, and definitely no hugs. Well, not until the last day and we let our hair down. Later, Denis found me and asked for a hug.

Again, I had a dilemma for the afternoon workshop. Alan Senauke's "Dharma of Martin Luther King Jr.", or "Fundraising Inside Out: Relating to Money with Joy, Equanimity, and Courage." I can only hope I have a chance again to hear Alan talk of MLK's Dharma. I don't need to raise a whole lot of money, but the little that I do has been like pulling teeth, so I went to the fundraising one. This actually turned out to be quite an inspiring workshop (as did Alan's) and throughout the weekend people were referring back to one or the other. Kristi developed this model as a consultant because as a fundraiser, she herself had cringed at the way traditional fundraising went against her core values. For example, creating classifications of membership encourages stratification, which goes against a core value of equality. Or when money buys access to seating or clubs or inner circles, it encourages homogeneity when a core value is diversity. She gave the vibrant example of Maya Angelou receiving some award and reading a poem, and all the people in front surrounding her were white. She mentioned Lynne Twist several times: Soul of Money. I'm going to have to check it out just to find the poem by Tagore that Kristi said was in there. It brought me to tears. This workshop certainly has me thinking about changing the way we ask for money in our membership brochure, but it also brings a thread of articulating core values that I want to bring back to my core members (and determined to get those core members to come forward).

Saturday morning we had one more workshop. Again I had the chance to attend Anchalee's global connections. I was also intrigued by the one on the Department of Peace campaign, but I just had to go to the one presented by Aidan Delgado, Buddhist Conscientious Objector. Earlier he had given a talk in which he told his story: enlisting on the morning of 9/11; beginning to realize during basic training that this wasn't for him; starting a Buddhist practice; Abu Ghraib; putting his gun down; having his armor taken away. He told us what we know publicly is only a small piece of it. What happened over there, all over not just Abu Ghraib, was so bad that he saw people go one of two ways: they either got more deeply spiritual, or they got incredibly hateful and cruel. He told us that while he was made a pariah...he had to stay there during the year his CO status was decided...while it was really bad, it wasn't as bad as the deep pain in his heart when he'd held the gun that was pointed at Iraqis. See Alternet interview with Aidan here. This 24 year old was quite self-possessed and a good speaker, partly because he's spoken hundreds of times at colleges and some high schools. Friday night he'd been gratified to hear from me, a long-time practitioner, that I can feel like I'm not doing enough zazen. It had taken me a long time to realize this for myself, but it was easy to see he needed to hear what I told him: "You will do what you need to do when you need to do it."

To wind up his speech he told us he had some practical ideas that we could do, and he would talk about that in his workshop. There was no doubt I wanted to attend this workshop. I am hungry for something to do that doesn't feel like I was just spinning my wheels. When our videographer suggested we could continue to film Aidan if the workshop stayed in that room, a quick group decision confirmed we wanted that. (Audio and video may be available sometime soon at the BPF website.)

Aidan began the workshop with an analysis of peace work as it exists, and how that relates to the enlistment and deployment process. There is a downward curve in numbers of soldiers: say a million enlist, slightly less make it through basic training, less again are deployed, slightly less come back home and of those, many are disaffected, and of those disillusioned soldiers, only a few hundred become involved in peace groups, and only a few, like Aidan, become prominent spokespeople. Basically he outlined a strategic plan, and for once in these several years I've been actively working for peace, I feel like I've come across something that could work.

Aidan said we have a lot of activists going after the recruitment numbers, and that's good. Anti-recruitment (Aidan would prefer we said "honest recruitment" because recruiters make promises that are never filled all the time) is working, recruiters are not making their goals. But there are two key areas that are ignored by us. There are many enlistees that realize their mistake in that first week or two of basic training. If they could, they would get out. What they don't know is that they can. They are told they will be arrested, but they are not usually told they can still change their mind. They don't know all their rights, and the military isn't going to volunteer information. We could find ways to do that.

Another weak time for the military, strong for peace workers, is that time when soldiers are first deployed. Like Aidan, they may know in their hearts this is the wrong thing for them to do, but they are stuck. Again, that's not true, but it is a difficult process to achieve Conscientious Objector status. To succeed, a soldier needs skills s/he may not have, such as good writing skills, and being persuasive. It is at that point too, that Aidan said we could be most effective in getting information to the soldiers about their rights and about the GI Rights Hotline, and even helping them put all their ducks in a row by volunteering for the GI Rights Hotline. We could send the soldiers mailings, care packages, include some simple information, some hotline numbers. This had me very excited. This is something so simple and so concrete that we could do as religious communities, as chapters of BPF. If we could help even one soldier get out of the insanity, it would be worth it. Aidan has promised he will write up the process on how to go about sending care packages.

A weak point for us peace workers is a culture gap. There may be many soldiers returning from deployment that are for peace, but they don't get involved because, as Aidan said, "We are freaks." The military is ritualistic and formal, and he said it "could be frightening to come to a drum circle." Some of us chuckled, thinking of the very ritualistic and formal Zen. (Claude AnShin Thomas is doing good work there.) We can't just plan an event and invite veterans and wonder why they don't come. Then there's the gap of pro-peace but uninvolved vets. They may need some skills training so they are better able to become public spokespersons, more regional, not necessarily national like Aidan. A strong message I heard from Aidan is that we need to meet the soldiers where they are at. All too often, and I agree, progressives cannot help but wax holy on how bad war itself is, violence itself is, social injustice itself is. If we cannot meet an anti-war returning vet where he is, it is no wonder the perception persists among soldiers that if you're anti-war, you're anti-them. It is not very peaceful to hold ourselves apart, and I have found this to be a critical flaw in the peace movement: everyone must have their specific critical pet issue represented. When veterans return with PTSD, with doubts about the war, with confusing reactions to their own homes and families, they don't need to be lectured about "abolishing the military". Number one, they need skills to find peace within themselves, and two, they need to find an outlet for their convictions that honors the skills they do have, or want to have.

Still to come: open space technology and closing.

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