Not to Hate the Haters

Sunrise, Ferry Beach

Sunrise at Ferry Beach, ME. Photo by Karen Swanson

“Killing another person is not an act of freedom but an act of great despair and great ignorance; it will not bring freedom or peace.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh


tremble at the rod,


are fearful of death.

Drawing the parallel to


neither kill nor get others to kill.



tremble at the rod,


hold their life dear.

Drawing the parallel to


neither kill nor get others to kill. ~Dhammapada 129-130

“Nonviolence is not a set of techniques that we can learn with our intellect. Nonviolent action is born naturally, from compassion, lucidity and understanding within yourself.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

I returned from the Order of Interbeing retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery to read about Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in California. Yet again, we see violence, hatred, and ignorance made lethal by the availability of weapons in the US. The rise of acceptability of white supremacy and the normalization of racism has me deeply concerned and sometimes afraid. While it is nothing new, there has always been suspicion, dominance, and distrust, it seems that the world is turning backward and forgetting. We are forgetting the atrocities of genocide, the deaths of millions in Cambodia, Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, in the concentration camps of Europe and the ethnic cleansing of Native Peoples on the Great Plains of America. Right now, there is the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people by the government of Myanmar, the most religious Buddhist country in the world. There are no simple and quick answers to hatred and violence. When we see how long it has taken to create these states of separation and ignorance, we know these institutions will take a long while to dismantle.

More than ever we can clearly see the need to transform society—and society is made of individuals who will either adopt the populist views or not. Reactivity and intolerance can grow to become dangerous and powerful destructive forces if tended and especially when communities support the idea of separation and belief in an enemy. This enemy image creates a rationale for attack and persecution. Thich Nhat Hanh tells us “our enemy is never another person; our enemy is the wrong perception and suffering within him, within her.” In truth, the enemy is our untransformed anger, judgment, fear, and illusion of separateness that drives humans to do violence to others in the belief that they will be safe, have enough, and even have peace and happiness through violence.

We know that domination does not eradicate hatred but adds resentment and anger and fuels what it seeks to eradicate. Telling someone they are wrong, trafficking in shame and judgment will not lead to change. Real willingness to change comes from an unprotected heart that feels safe enough to admit mistake. Polarization and division, winning and conquering others only leads to violence. We know this. The hardest work is what we resist—to see the humanness is those we see as enemy, to listen to our own broken hearts and not respond with hatred and judgment. We can listen to the world that cries for help, and hear the need for understanding, for safety, and care. This is the teaching of the Buddha, of Jesus and the Prophets, to treat the one who is caught in the delusion of separateness as a friend. True change comes only when one is connected to their full humanity.

An excerpt from the Third Mindfulness Training of the Order of Interbeing reads, “We will learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue.” This is a radically different path to engagement. We condemn the violence that takes lives, the greed that deprives others of opportunities to live and the delusion that believes that separation is real and that one type of people has greater value than others. This we condemn, but we also see that we are the people caught in these views as well. We are part of them and to transform them, we must begin with ourselves. We are all co-creating each other. We are all responsible. My only encouragement is to check your heart and mind. Who are you telling yourself it’s ok to hate? Can we see the longing for consideration, justice, trust, and safety that fuels our judgments? When we can bring compassion to our own minds and care for the anger, discrimination, and separation that is alive in ourselves, we can heal our own broken hearts. When we do this, we are already healing the world.

Please be gentle with your suffering witnessing the pain and division in the world. Here is a link to a letter you may like to read. It is about reading the news mindfully by Order of Interbeing member and Sociology/ Global Studies Professor, Matthew Williams. He speaks about using the news as a practice to deepen our desire to relieve suffering in others and as an opportunity to recognize and transform our own reactivity and suffering.

May we all trust our light,


wake up


The Patient Flower of Transformation



The First Daffodil, photo by Celia

“Change is a continuous process. You cannot assess it with the static yardstick of a limited time frame. When a seed is sown into the ground, you cannot immediately see the plant. You have to be patient. With time, it grows into a large tree. And then the flowers bloom, and only then can the fruits be plucked.” ~Mamata Banerjee

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!” ~Mehmet Murat ildan

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

Dear Friends,

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy spring. Today, the grass actually looks green; there’s a mist of new green leaves on the underbrush in the woods, and the daylight stretches beyond dinnertime. The red flowers of the maples are turning the hills red and spring has settled in. Spring more than any other season is a period of change. The land is transformed, and we are too. We change our clothes, our attitudes, and begin to live more in the outdoors. We can see change clearly in the spring and we want to see change in our own lives as well.

Last fall, a friend and I planted over 100 daffodils lining my driveway. Halfway through April, I counted five emerging sprouts. That was it. I was disappointed that my efforts were for nothing and some mysterious blight had destroyed my daffodil crop. I told my friend about my doubts, and she said, “You’re two weeks behind everyone else. Patience.” But I didn’t want patience; I wanted what I saw in other people’s gardens—a bunch of great looking daffodils. It occurred to me that this daffodil conundrum was just like life. We put in effort with our practice, we fertilize and plan, but sometimes our efforts don’t manifest the way we want them too. Sometimes our daffodils don’t appear on schedule.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with achievement in everything we do. We do things to bring about results, to get better, to have peace, and change things. Improvement invades our hobbies; we need to become a better painter, singer, or have a beautiful garden. We don’t usually just do things because we enjoy them, and they are a wholesome way to spend time. A lack of measurable progress in our practice can bring on an attack of doubt, worsened by the undeniable happiness killer—comparison.

Forest and Lily.jpg

Our spiritual progress is distinctly personal—it may not look like anyone else’s. While others may be engaging in heroic actions, volunteering at clinics in war zones and traveling to give aid to those in conflicts, our path may look quiet and mundane. Sometimes we need to look deeply to see what is happening in our lives. It is hard to remember how we were before practice. It can be helpful to have a close friend or kind family member remind us. Occasionally my husband tells me, “you’re so much nicer now.” And although I understand that he appreciates how the practice is making a difference in my life, I also wonder, how awful was I before?

We may not see the ways calming the body and mind, and bringing mindful awareness to our thoughts, words, and actions are making a difference. If we turn our attention to how we interact with others, we may notice distinct marks of change. Do we have more patience and understanding with the service folks who are on the other end of the phone or the drivers in other cars? One of the best barometers of our practice is our relationships with our family, friends, and coworkers. Have we transformed our own suffering enough to make a happy life? Are we in conflict with others, or able to express our authentic truth without blaming and judging? When we consider the whole of our lives, our interactions and being each day, what one word comes to mind? Is our attitude one of service and compassion or competition and defense? What are we bringing to ourselves and to the world each day?

This week on the driveway, I started to see more green shoots poking up. Now there are buds and my doubts have vanished. Buds become flowers. It’s the natural progression, the same way practicing centering our hearts and minds brings us peace and clarity. These things go together. Sometimes that progress is difficult to see, and our gardens may not look as beautiful as our neighbors, but if we practice and continue, it is unavoidable. We change. Today you may like to sit for a while and bring gratitude to yourself for your commitment to practicing, gratitude for the ways in which you’ve been diligent and worked to transform fear, judgment, and suffering in your life. This progress is truly a celebration, even if it’s only a single flower.

May we all trust our light,


The flower is made of non flower elements

                                    special thanks to David Nelson for sharing this photo!

Radical Choice


Waterfall, Photo by Rick Errichetti

“During the Vietnam War I didn’t want to pay taxes that would be used to bomb villages, so I gave money to charity and lived on a poverty income. That was one of the best things I ever did.”

~Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

~Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“’Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself.’” We must not forget that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of pacification. In the calm and placid atmosphere of the Buddha’s teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of removing hatred, jealousy and violence from our mind.”

~Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera

Dear Friends,

It’s tax season and many of us are fuming and grumbling that taxes are one area of life where there is no choice. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication recognized he had a choice about paying taxes. For most of us, it would seem radical to cut back our income so we don’t support violence and live in alignment with our values—but for some folks, it is a real possibility. Another radical was the Buddha whose teaching was all about choice: choice about what we believe, what we do, and the choice to remember that we are actually responsible for our thoughts, speech, and actions.

Most of us have been raised in a culture of “have to” and “should,” and taught to believe we do not have a choice because the more choiceless we are the more compliant we are. This is true on the collective and personal level. In our relationships we may believe we are powerless to change our habits, We may believe our thoughts; I can’t stop getting mad, that’s how I was raised, or No one cares what I think. I’ve learned to shut up and not make waves. When we abnegate our choice, we are giving away the power to create our own lives. In reality, we make choices all the time. Sometimes it is simpler to be a victim— because choice means that we have responsibility. Choice means we are accountable for our behavior, our thoughts, our speech, and our actions.

One of the areas that we have the most choice about is how we will perceive another. We can come from a reactive place where we return fire for fire, but this is not what the Buddha taught. In Buddhism, the purity and kindness of one’s mind is the highest treasure. How we perceive and how we treat others is a choice. We are the architects and owners of the anger and hatred in us. If we choose to train ourselves to be free from anger and ill will, no unkind act can provoke us.

In the Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw The Buddha told his followers that they should guard their minds to hold onto kindness, even in the event that they are sawed apart by bandits, “…we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love.” For most of us, training ourselves to hold onto a mind imbued with love even to the point of death seems impossible and even foolish. It certainly is a huge shift from our habit of reactivity that meets threat and violence with equal force.


An example of this call to radical responsibility is seen in an article from  Tricycle magazine which recounts when the Dalai Lama’s “former chant master now severely crippled from many years of torture and imprisonment, [was] asked about the greatest danger he faced during incarceration. [He replied] ‘The danger of losing compassion for the Chinese guards and torturers.” Most of us thankfully will not be tested with extreme violence, but we will likely encounter unkind words. In this area, we also have a distinct choice of our response.

When we are the recipient of unkind and harsh words the Buddha counseled, “In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will … abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.” (MN 21). Mindfulness gives us the awareness to recognize the possibility of choice.

For most of us, holding onto a beautifully free and kind mind while we are being berated, hearing hate speech, or being physically or verbally assaulted is advanced practice. This is the training of Nonviolence, and the example of Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ. A small way to begin on the path of non-reactivity and remembering choice is using a pause. The pause is an essential tool to re-align our bodies and minds with our true intentions. A simple space of three breaths can help. With the first breath, we can inhale and feel tension in the body, as we exhale, we can release tightness and fear from the body. With the second inhale, we can be present for our thoughts and the activity of our mind. As we exhale, we can remember that it’s ok to feel our feelings without letting them push us into acting. With the third inhale, we can be present for our true intention and as we exhale remind ourselves that we are worthy of our care and have a choice about our behavior.

Stopping and breathing may not give us the outcome we want, but it can help create more space and open our minds to choices that we can’t see when the mind is reactive and tight. Stopping and breathing can help us to see that the one we believe is the enemy is actually the one who is giving us the opportunity to become free.

May we all trust our light,


Relax your body

The Care and Feeding of Intention


Biddeford, ME, Photo by Celia

“The quality or purity of any spiritual practice is determined by the individual’s intention and motivation.” ~ H.H. The Dalai Lama

“If you were at the end of your life looking back, what would matter about today?”  ~Tara Brach

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”  ~Mahatma Gandhi


Dear Friends,

More than twenty years ago, I was driving home from a writing class late at night. After years of creating my own business and being someone in the eyes of the world, I was overworked and unhappy and looking to change directions. I was searching for my path that would keep me from falling into the sea of nothingness, where I would flounder and let my life ebb away in meaningless flailing towards a new identity. The class was my floatation device. I remember that very unpleasant fear that if I gave up what I knew, even with all its stress and pain, reaching towards the unknown would be a worse—some sort of soulless, bland existence. Without putting a name to it, I was looking for something bigger than my business, bigger than my own self, I was looking for an intention.

I don’t remember the radio show I was listening to that night, but the topic was about creating a framework for your life—it was nothing new in the world, but new to me. Listening, the interviewees gave examples of big intentions. For example, if your life’s work was to bring beauty to the world, you could garden, paint, write a book, raise a child, become an environmental activist, all things in line with your intention, or life’s purpose. Up to that point, my life’s goal as a designer was to make enough money to live and to be respected—which was something I could not control. The respect and recognition I longed for would come from outside myself and gauging my worth according to my approval rating effectively gave away all my own power for happiness. I could see in my writing class that I was merely transferring this small goal to another discipline. My life’s work was not money or fame; it needed to transcend myself. As the poet, David Whyte writes, “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anyone or anything that doesn’t bring you alive is too small for you.” What I recognized was that I had mistaken the smallness of a goal for the intention of a lifetime.

There is a knowing in the body that resonates with a true intention. You can feel it—guaranteed.  Getting 10,000 followers for your blog or find that one perfect partner and living a fairytale romance is not a true intention, but a mark of achievement. This is common in our culture that looks to financial success and power as the worthy aims of our lives. When we assign ourselves a task—even a noble one, such as raising children or reversing climate change, we can tend to focus on the outcome and transfer our habits of busyness and achieving onto a more wholesome scaffolding—but we can still be tied to our judgment and evaluations of how well we are accomplishing, still caught in desire for rewards and praise and lose touch with what connects us to our larger and more selfless nature.

A true intention must also be large enough to hold everyone we encounter, including ourselves. I can’t be passionate about clean water and air and ignore the suffering in my relationships that pollute my own life—that is not integrating my intention. My intention to be a presence of care for others must also encompass myself and my family. An intention to be peace cannot thrive in a house where there is fighting and hurt. Intentions do not overlook any relationship, any moment; they are a magical size that can enfold all experiences and conditions of life.

Daffodil Buddhas

The Buddha is recorded as saying that all mindstates and mental qualities require food. In the Food Discourse, Ahara Sutta, SN 46.5, the Buddha described the nutriments that feed both the “skillful and unskillful, blameworthy and blameless, gross and refined.” There is a type of attention that feeds the desires of greed, anger, and the belief that I am separate from the world, and there is that the food that feeds the intentions that connect me to the truth of living in the temporary housing of a body that is part of a much larger interrelated world. The food the Buddha spoke of is the “appropriate attention” to the goodness that is arising and sensitivity to the experience of the wholesome when it is manifesting. Through attention to how we are already living in alignment without our intentions—and using this experience as our food to create energy and persistence, we nurture our own goodness and commitment through appreciating our own efforts. In short—we strengthen our own commitment through experiencing our own good heart.

For a while now, I have had the intention to be a presence of care in each moment, for myself and others. This is a big intention and one that can sound theoretical and live in the mind. When we commit to our intention, there is an inquiry into sustaining it—giving it the necessary nutriments to keep it alive. We also notice what starves our intention. In my experience, there is nothing so deadly as time pressure to make me forget my true purpose.

When we are rushing and filled with deadlines, the world can become very small. We forget we are connected to others. In my life, I know that more I am rushing, when others are an obstacle instead of an opportunity, I lose my intention. Intention is made of Attention. One simple thing I do each day is to recall my intention. When the Buddha used the word remembering, sati [mindfulness], his message was that through remembering the path to liberation and the four steps leading out of suffering, we all could become ennobled. Our worth was not determined by birth, but through the goodness of our actions, our thoughts, and words…and the way we made ourselves noble was by remembering how much choice and power we do have over our habitual thoughts and actions. So, remembering our larger intention is a daily practice.

Peace activist and Buddhist teacher Donald Rothberg suggests writing out intention on a piece of paper and looking at it before a meeting or having a difficult conversation. Some days, I have written my intention on my arm in pen and am contemplating a tattoo, but things keep changing, don’t they? This week you may want to consider your larger intention in the world. Ask yourself, what is the thing that brings me alive? Leaning back into the gifts of the ancestors, the kindness we have received in our lives, the wisdom teachings, what do we want to continue and bring forth into the future to bless ours and other’s lives? How do we make our beautiful dreams into the scaffolding of our lives? If your intention is to bring healing to the world, how are you manifesting that towards yourself? Towards this moment? Are we willing to nourish our intention with appreciation for the moments that our intention is manifesting? Aligning our work, and our life with our truth and intention that can infuse the whole of our lives with purpose and the nourishment of appreciation gives us strength to continue.

May we all trust our light,