Politics & Culture

Illustration by K.T. Tierney

Practice, Resilience, and Compassion in the Time of COVID-19

In this collection on the COVID-19 pandemic, authors share reflections on the personal and political in this time of global uncertainty and suffering. We invited authors to consider the following questions in their writing: How are you showing up for the pandemic? What are you doing to practice calm and clarity? How are you staying grounded in the midst of groundlessness and sudden shifts in routine? How can we negotiate safety and mutual aid? How can we practice compassion and helping others at this time? How do we make sense of this monumental crisis? How are you relating to ways the pandemic’s effects are mapping onto the injustices and inequities of our society? Their responses, which we will publish successively in the coming days, speak to personal experience and social calamity, to profound injustice and the possibility of something else. Check back here or follow The Arrow on social media as we publish new pieces. Contents Finding Ground, Making Sense, and Getting Simple by Kelsey Blackwell Facing Pandemic, Finding Ground by David Kahane Toilet Paper as …

Cutting Through Spiritual Puritanism

In the West it is difficult for the Dharma to take root. The soil is not fertile. The good and evil, fire and brimstone logic of puritanism has dried the ground and permeated our cultural and political institutions.1 Western Buddhists often lament this situation, claiming to hold a superior, subtler view that sees the emptiness of phenomena and transcends the misguided dualisms of puritanism and its modern offspring.2 Yet when crisis strikes—when the proverbial Buddhist rug is torn from its restful place beneath our feet—more than a few Western Buddhists forget their cherished dharmic view. Although some of the fire-and-brimstone eccentricities of puritanism have long since faded from mainstream discourse, the fundamental logic of good and evil—with no middle ground—remains a powerful cultural force in politics, media, and literature. Buddhist practitioners in the West, who have been steeped since birth in a society of rigid categories of good and evil and Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle,3 cannot escape their puritan conditioning, which rears its head in thoughts, feelings, and pronouncements in reaction to crisis. …

Images associated with four subjectivities

Losing Our Confidence: Four Subjectivities of the Present

In May 2015 a group of young people from Europe, Mexico, and the United States came together in Mexico City and Pátzcuaro, Michoacán for the Ziji Collective Leadership Retreat. The Ziji Collective “is a global network of inspired young people, dedicated to the…radical view that human beings and society are fundamentally good,” and the work of creating “a society that is uplifted, caring, gentle, and wakeful.” In this pursuit, local Ziji groups “work through the practice of meditation; through the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and wisdom; and through collective action.” Although we came from different places, we connected through our shared experience as young people facing an uncertain future of climate change, debt, limited options for rewarding stable work, disappearing free time, technology and media disconnecting us from each other and our bodies, surrounded by overt and subtle forms of violence. We explored ways to support each other across borders by initiating collaboration and establishing communities of practice. Over enchiladas in Pátzcuaro’s busy square and during contemplative walks in the gardens of the Casa Werma retreat …

Contemplative Empowerment and Social Change

    Cover design by Alicia Brown   Download Individual Articles Below Editor’s Introduction We are pleased to share with you our first peer-reviewed collection, embodying The Arrow’s mission to create a space for rigorous, scholarly investigation of the relationship between contemplative practice and teachings on the one hand and issues of politics, economics, ecology, and activism on the other. With this issue, we break new ground in the field of contemplative studies by examining directly the ways in which mindfulness practices and contemplative teachings can be put in service of responsible citizenship, social justice, and social transformation. With the commodification of mindfulness and yoga continuing apace, and with most scholarly research on these practices still focusing on their individual benefits—psychological and physiological—we are thrilled to publish this first peer-reviewed issue, featuring articles that bring the political relevance of such practices and teachings into relief. In “Good-for-Nothing Practice and the Art of Paradox: The Exemplary Citzenship of Ta-Nehisi Coates,” Dean Mathiowetz explores meditation as one method that may help people to embody qualities essential to …

The Four Immeasurables: Heart Practices for Challenging Times

Many in the United States and around the world experienced the US Presidential election as a kind of political earthquake, the initial shock at its center disruptive to our sense of safety and mutual trust, and as it radiates outward, altering the larger political landscape. While the particulars are unknown, many of us find ourselves deeply concerned—even experiencing anxiety—about the implications of a Trump presidency for ourselves and for the people and causes to which we are devoted. We search for a way to hold this moment, one that validates our real concerns without getting overwhelmed by them. Quite rightly, in this moment of suffering, many of us turn towards the teachings of the Dharma for solace, insight and some indication of a way forward. In my own practice, I began to reflect on the Dharma principle of equanimity, particularly in the context of the Brahma Viharas or “four immeasurables,” not only to provide guidance but also to energize and inspire my response to moments such as these.1 Heart Alchemy The Brahma Viharas were offered …

Open Up, Lean In, Stay With: Contemplative Practices in Uncertain Times

In the Tibetan calendar, 2016 was the year of the Fire Monkey: raw, turbulent, tempestuous—a year of personal strife unfolding in tandem with social unrest and political upheaval. Permeating my own experience of 2016 was a visceral sense of being wrenched in two directions: to dive in fully to the fire of this unrest, and simultaneously to withdraw from it, to shut down, to block out the pain. I suspect I am not alone in such ambivalence: In the face of overwhelming suffering—from the personal to the societal, from shouting at the family dinner table to the bombings in Aleppo—our human impulse is to fight or flee. And when each of these options seems hopeless, we may freeze, paralyzed. How do we confront our situation? How do we move through fear and paralysis and remain awake to the pain (as well as the beauty) of our reality? In Buddhist teachings and practice, I read three relevant refrains: open up, lean in, and stay with. First, the teachings advise that with a heart of courage, we …

Interrogating the Nature of Identity in an Age of Rising Nationalism

With nationalist and populist waves washing over the globe, many of us within the contemplative world may be feeling upset and disappointed. We might be asking ourselves how nativist and xenophobic sentiments can have such popular support, particularly given the dangerous historical precedents of these trends. While these reactions can be justified, simply dismissing the changes we are witnessing as misguided and ignorant would miss the point. In particular, many citizens in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are acting out of a sense of anxiety about their identities in a rapidly changing world riven by global capitalism’s savage inequities. What might wisdom traditions tell us about issues of identity? According to Buddhist philosophy, for instance, we are part of a world of dependent origination where all phenomena are inter-related and ephemeral; ultimately identity is about the realization of anatta (anātman), or “no-self.” In other words, the common egoic sense of identity to which we cling is a fiction. Similarly, yogic philosophy shares with Buddhism the concept of māyā (illusion), such …

The Thousand Eyes of Knowing and Action

While it may pacify our confusion to look at wisdom traditions as prescriptive “medicine” for our suffering times, we must also take care to begin to understand, personally, our inner relationship to power, authority, and knowledge. No system of knowing, however privileged, is unchallengeable, extrinsically justifiable, and intrinsically meaningful to everyone. In fact, a hard pill to swallow is how one person’s meaning can be utterly meaningless to another. Nevertheless, wisdom traditions give us an alternative to reductive answers. Through practices like meditation, we step onto a lifelong path of cultivating what might be called an inner reconnaissance, a dynamic exchange of outward noticing and inward “re-knowing.” This is a process in which we are invited to connect to a kind of displaced and flexible site of human wisdom and agency that does not simply replicate the dynamics of control and privilege, self-doubt and impotency. This human agency arises, I suspect, in a portal that opens up when solidification between self and world is softened. To meet the world in this way is also to …

Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement

There is a social change parable that powerfully illustrates the vital connection between contemplative practice and social change: There was once a village located next to a river. One day, during a break from her chores, a villager spotted a baby coursing down the river, struggling to stay afloat. As she waded into the water to save the child, the villager noticed that two other babies had already streamed by. She cried out to her fellow villagers who joined her in the rescue effort. But babies continued to appear. The village quickly organized itself to save the struggling children. After hours of endless work two villagers broke away from the group and began running away. The other townspeople called out to them: “Why are you leaving? We need you here to save these babies!” The two villagers bellowed back: “We’re heading upstream to find out who is throwing them in the river!” This story demonstrates the importance of simultaneously attending to the many injustices that shape our world (fishing babies out of the water), while …

Post-Election Forum

In December 2016, we invited authors and readers to participate in a post-election forum in response to the question: What guidance and skillful means can wisdom traditions and contemplative practices provide for addressing pressing issues of systemic suffering in the face of mounting obstacles? On the eve of the inauguration, we are excited to publish five reflections on this question. Contents Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement by James Rowe The Thousand Eyes of Knowing and Action by Lisa Maloof Interrogating the Nature of Identity in an Age of Rising Nationalism by Ajit Pyati Open Up, Lean In, Stay With: Contemplative Practices in Uncertain Times by Jessica A. Stern The Four Immeasurables: Heart Practices for Challenging Times by Kristin Barker