Get off your cushion and get involved
Try giving to a political cause you believe in with the same spirit of selfless generosity with which you would give to a mendicant monk. Unfortunately, as we have been finding out, money makes a huge difference in the outcome of elections. Organizations like MoveOn.org are putting money to good use for the cause of democracy and peace. What is it worth to you, in dollars, to see the environmental, international, and social-service policies of this country change? Don't think that what you can give is too small; many small gifts add up. And why not give more than you ever expected to give? Whatever happens, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried.
4. Read and Write.
Educate yourself about the issues. It's traditional for Buddhists to study the sutras, or teachings. We can find sutras not only in the Pali canon but in stones and grasses, as the thirteenth-century Zen master Eihei Dogen tells us, and today we can find sutras in alternative media sources. As Buddhists we try to see things as they are. The mainstream news media don't show us things as they are, but rather things as the powers-that-be would like us to believe they are. We need to reach out to other sources of information. There are many excellent news sources among the alternative media. Try reading The Nation, listening to Pacifica Radio, or going online to FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, www.fair.org).It·s particularly instructive for Americans to read news media from other countries. This will help you see how narrow in scope is the news reporting that we get in the United States. I have found it educational to go to the British newspaper The Guardian at www.guardian.co.uk, and I recommend that you stretch your mind, as I did mine, at the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera, at http://english.aljazeera.net/english. It's not the voice of terrorism, after all.
As you educate yourself, you will have more confidence. Write a letter to the editor, or write an Op-Ed piece, stating your views about important issues that are not being addressed. And do so without a mind.ofhatred.
5. Listen and Talk to People You Don't Agree With
If you have friends or relatives with whom you disagree about such things as the war in Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be painful. Practice deep listening: Listen without arguing, and try to hear what the other is really saying, remembering that, as Buddha pointed out, all beings wish to be happy and avoid suffering. A Buddhist practices nonattachment to views. If we human beings are going to stick around on this earth, we need to learn to get along not just with the people who share our views, but also, and more to the point, with the people who get our goat. And remember—we get their goat, too.
Learn Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a model developed by Marshall Rosenberg (see "Say It Right," Tricycle, Winter 2002), which fosters respect and empathy even under difficult conditions. Attend a workshop, or get a trainer to come to your group. The skills learned in NVC can be helpful in talking about the coming election with people who are undecided about whom to vote for. See the website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication: www.cnvc.org, and Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Remember, we are all related and interconnected, whether we like each other or not, present administration not excepted.
6. Share the Good News. Celebrate the Positive. Thank Your Elected Representatives When They Act With Courage.
As Shantideva writes in The Bodhisattva's Way of Life,
Praise all who speak the truth,
And say, "Your words are excellent."
And when you notice others acting well,
Encourage them in terms of warm approval.
There is good news from time to time, and we need to hear it. Protect yourself and your mind from too much negativity. Not turning away from suffering doesn't mean wallowing in the horror of it all. Use mindfulness practice to notice how you feel when you are reading the paper or watching TV, and if you find yourself falling into despair, find a way to transform it. Limit the amount of time or change the time of day when you follow the news. Trade neck and shoulder rubs with a partner while you watch TV. Give yourself the assignment of finding at least one piece of good news in the daily paper (for example, today: "Thousands of Democracy Supporters March in Hong Kong"). Keep your elected representatives' phone numbers handy, and follow up your daily news intake with a phone call about whatever seems most important.
You need to take care of yourself and your energy so that you can act for peace. Read and be inspired by Rebecca Solnit's new book on activism, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.