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  Compassionate Communication

(In Our Practice, Winter 2005)

By Cheri Huber

The October Day of Mediation and Prayer was many things for me, as I project it was for everyone there. It was great fun, it was exciting, it was a massive amount of work... but above all else, for me, it was proof.

As far back as I can remember, I have been aware of possibility, though throughout much of my life I didn’t recognize that awareness for what it was. I suspect that fact had a lot to do with how much I suffered in my early years as I struggled to reconcile what I was being taught (sharing, caring about others, fairness), with the cruelty I was seeing around me. Why, when it was so obvious that it didn’t need to be that way, would people live in extravagant excess as others starved? Why would people want to take something (land, resources, even life) from another, knowing how much they themselves treasure that thing? How could people withhold necessities such as food and healthcare from children? How could people be willing to let someone else’s child live in poverty, lack of opportunity, even danger, when they were desperate to keep their own child safe from those things? I simply could not understand why people chose to inflict needless pain and suffering on themselves and others when it is so clearly possible—not to mention easier and more pleasant—to make the caring and sharing choice we learned in childhood.

With awareness practice I came to understand that not everyone is fortunate enough to see that the way the world works--which the Buddha identified as greed, hate, and delusion--is only one possibility. I slowly realized that people were not, in fact, simply cruel and hateful, but that many truly didn’t see an alternative to “survive at all costs.” Even people who did not appear to need to worry about their survival seemed to view every moment of life as a do or die situation in which they must prevail. Cooperation, sharing, concern for others, realizing we all experience life exactly the same is threatening to a human being conditioned to view the world as hostile.

As we get older, as we “grow up,” it’s assumed we will understand that our early childhood conditioning to share and be kind and say please and thank you is not something we actually practice in the “real” world. Oh, we’re meant to do the best we can, of course, especially with those close to us, but, no, it’s just not realistic to try to be that way with everyone! It’s silly to think we could. It’s childish.

Well, I’m here to tell any part of you who is falling for that line of hooey that what you’re falling for is exactly that! And I have proof.

On the weekend of the Day of Meditation and Prayer for Peace I had the great honor and privilege of spending three days with people who seemed to have no information at all about how one needs to be in the “real” world. In the early hours of Friday morning vehicles and people began to roll in. Some of these people had been working toward this day for weeks, some for months. Many hours had been spent getting ready for this event and folks hit the ground running.

Throughout the next three before-dawn-into-the-wee-hours days I never once heard an unkind word or witnessed an unkind act from any of those people. Rather, I was the recipient of and witness to countless exchanges filled with kindness, sensitivity, generosity, and willingness. People whom I know were exhausted because they had been working far harder than I had for much longer just kept showing up to do more and always with a smile. Even people who informed us in advance that they fully intended to be cranky just weren’t. It’s not exactly that we were a well-oiled machine--though we were close--it’s that we were a kind machine.

For three days I watched people go beyond what they believed possible for themselves. I witnessed people finding depths of compassion and strength they did not know they had. I watched worry lines disappear from faces and saw bodies standing up straighter as anxiety was replaced by confidence. Long days of transforming a mammoth building into a garden of peace for a group of strangers to enjoy brought a spring to every step.

The wisdom of the world would say this is impossible. You can’t pull off something like that without hard feelings, bruised egos, bitterness and resentment. More hooey.

But, if you weren’t there, don’t take my word for it. Put the date of our second annual Day of Meditation and Prayer for Peace on your calendar and join us. Bring your family and friends to sit back and enjoy what is provided for them, but you volunteer. When the weekend is over, this is what I guarantee: The next time the voices start in with their, “You can’t do that...” your sure and certain response to them will be, “That’s hooey.”

Oh, and if you are one of those “can’t wait, gotta jump right in” impetuous types, just let us know. We’re always up to something fun, and to paraphrase  the t-shirt, there’s no reason to postpone joy.

Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber