RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Arizona

The Power of Words to Harm and to Heal: In the Wake of Tragedy in Arizona

Posted on


Hundreds gather for a vigil at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Jan 8, 2011. (AP / Ross D. Franklin)

Cross-posted from The Liberated Life Project

Since yesterday’s terrible and tragic shootings in Arizona, I have found myself searching for some way to understand what happened and to ascertain what, if any, action might be skillful at this time.

Words are very powerful. It is words (and the thoughts and feelings behind them) that have created an environment of fear and hatred which permeates many levels of the United States, from politics to the media we ingest to the way we move through our daily lives. Words in some way contributed to yesterday’s event and to poisoning the mind of an already disturbed young man.

Like many of you, perhaps, I’ve been seeking some healing words over the past day. This morning I came across some writing from Marianne Williamson and it’s the first time since yesterday I’ve felt myself settle into a place deeper than my own fear and anger. I feel that Marianne’s words are so important that I want to share them in full with you here today:



by Marianne Williamson

“Bullets can’t stop love,” said Arizona official Steve Farley today, claiming that Arizona will be better for having gone through the trauma and tragedy of this day.

America is looking deeply at itself right now, and we have desperately needed to do that. Vigils are being held all over the state of Arizona, and on invisible planes we know that miracles are happening because of it. Hearts are softening; sanity is returning. People are remembering that all of us are human, and all of us are infinitely valuable. A deranged young man merely reflected the insanity of our current political discourse, and as the saying goes, “every problem comes bearing its own solution.” It has taken a tragedy like this to make us all take a deep breath.

All of us are praying for Congresswoman Giffords and the others who were shot today. But let’s put feet to our prayers, as well. Wherever we are and whoever we are, we can participate in de-escalating the violence of our society by de-escalating the violence in our hearts. Whoever we haven’t forgiven, tonight let’s simply do it. Whoever we’re thinking about with anger, tonight is the night to let it go. And to whatever extent we haven’t been a powerful voice for love in our own lives, let’s commit tonight to stepping up our game. Life is a serious business, and to whatever extent we haven’t been playing it seriously, let tonight be the night when we awaken from our stupor and decide to be a player in the healing of our world.

Among other things, let’s look deeply at how easy it is for deranged people to get guns not only in Arizona, but in other places in our country as well. If you feel this isn’t right — that it isn’t safe for us or for our children — then know the only way we will override the resistance of the National Rifle Association is if we ourselves get involved in the effort. The NRA is right that guns don’t kill people — that people do. But with so many unstable people out there, there is no rational reason for us to make it so easy for them.

May those who died in today’s massacre rest in peace. They have done what they came to do this lifetime, and it is time for them to sleep.

But for the rest of us, it is time to wake up. To pray yes, but also to act. To think deeply, but also to speak powerfully. To feel concern, but also to act with courage. God’s blessing doesn’t just mean that He does something for us; it also means that He does something through us. And now is the time to let Him. God bless Arizona, God bless America and God bless us all.

July 29: Buddhist Love Delegation in New Mexico (and a lot of background story)

Posted on

This Thursday evening, July 29, I’ll be joining with my friend Russ Russell, a Zen priest with the Desert Mirror sangha, to offer a Buddhist presence at the Interfaith Vigil for Immigration Reform in Albuquerque. If any of you reading this are in or near Albuquerque, I hope you’ll join us. Send me an email at maia [at] and we’ll figure out how to find each other.

If you’ve been reading The Jizo Chronicles for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about the situation in Arizona ever since the passage of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant bill. This Thursday, the bill goes into effect, which is the reason for the interfaith vigil (as well as a much larger event in Phoenix).

Why does this matter to me so much? I’ve been wondering about that. You know how some issues just grab us and won’t let go, but they don’t have that same effect on other people? This seems to be one of them. I’ve been blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing about this, proposing the idea of a Buddhist “Love” Delegation to Phoenix, and a few people responded. But for the most part it doesn’t seem to touch the same nerve in other (mostly white) people that I know.

Then I remembered Mrs. Sanchez. I grew up in Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles. I went to a small Catholic school where I was in the minority – a good 75% of my class was Chicano/a, and I was one of the few white girls. My best friend was Pattie Sanchez and most weekends I would hang out at Pattie’s house. Mrs. Sanchez introduced me to tamales and enchiladas, and watched over me just like I was Pattie’s sister. The Sanchez’s celebrated every milestone along with me and my parents… from First Communions to graduations to family births and family deaths. Their house was really my second home, and they were my family. Mrs. Sanchez was like my second mom.

So I think at some sub-conscious level I’ve been holding Pattie and Mrs. Sanchez and so many of the other people I grew up with in my heart as I’ve been reading about SB 1070 and the likely consequences of it. As I wrote in an earlier post, I feel impassioned to speak out about SB 1070 because:

  • It’s mean-spirited… the opposite of lovingkindness.
  • It’s a massive display of white privilege. The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion.” What exactly does that mean? If you have brown skin, you’re a suspect. Hey, how about me? I might be an illegal German/Slovenian immigrant. But would anyone ever think of that? Bingo. Racial profiling.
  • It will create a climate of distrust, and will almost certainly prevent people from reporting crimes to the police out of fear of being deported.
  • It’s redundant… the federal government is already responsible for enforcing immigration laws (for better or worse). The way I see it, even if you think that the immigration system in this country needs a major overhaul, this bill is still offensive and injust. (See this excellent interview with Rev. James Ishmael Ford, a Zen priest and a Unitarian Universalist minister, for his take on the bill.)

I’ve had to go through my own process to discern how to respond to this issue, and I want to share some of it with you because I think it’s a good illustration of socially engaged Buddhist practice, at least I understand it.

My first thought was to head to Phoenix on July 29 to join the Day of Non-Compliance there. But I struggled with this plan. There were a lot of factors to consider – it would be a big trip to take in terms of time and money, not to mention the carbon footprint. I thought perhaps I could take the train from Santa Fe to Flagstaff and then get a bus down to Phoenix. All of this felt like pushing against the river, especially in light of the fact that just a few days later, I need to be on full-duty for our core training time in the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program.

But I was willing to do this even if it felt like it was a big stretch. Then I looked at my ego… how much did I want to be in Phoenix, perhaps participating in civil disobedience, simply to satisfy my identity as “an engaged Buddhist”? I’m not immune to having a big ego and being righteous.

But then again, on the other hand, it truly did feel important to offer solidarity to people in Arizona who will be affected by this bill.

Every day of the past month I’ve gone back and forth with this, not being able to fully commit to going but also not being able to decide it was out of the question. Only in the last week did I finally become clear that I wouldn’t go to Phoenix but would instead make a donation to support Alto Arizona, the group that is doing much of the organizing around this day and immigrant rights.

The day after I made the donation, I saw the news about the Albuquerque vigil on July 29 via Twitter. Finally, the “appropriate response” took shape. Albuquerque is much closer to home – only an hour away. This was a way to take action that felt more sustainable in terms of time, money, my own energy level, and travel. I emailed Russ and she responded back almost immediately that she would join me.

Activist movements are often filled with people who are martyrs to a cause, and with the expectation that we should be martyrs to a cause or we’re not really doing anything worthwhile. I’m not sure this belief system really helps a situation. It’s not that I think we should never get out of our comfort zone… in fact I’m sure that if we don’t, no real change occurs and we never challenge our own ideas of power.

But I also believe that we need to find ways to take action that generate joy and connection, not further suffering. This, to me, is what is at the heart of socially engaged Buddhism.

I have no idea if I got it “right” on this one, but I am looking forward to being in Albuquerque this Thursday night with my dharma friend and “standing on the side of love,” as the Unitarian Universalists put it. Maybe we’ll see you there.

Where is the Love? (aka: Meet Me in Arizona)

Posted on

To my knowledge (which is limited), the word “love” doesn’t show up very often in Buddhist suttas and teachings, at least not in the way you see it over and over again in the teachings of Jesus. Which may be why people get the impression that Buddhism is primarily a cerebral exercise. The prevalent use of the word “mindfulness” just reinforces that notion. I was recently at a meeting where someone suggested that a better word might be “heartful-ness” – because what’s really happening if we practice deeply is that our heart awakens and we respond to the world from that place.

(A semantic note: Part of the problem here is a cultural/linguistic one. Western modes of thought and language tend to reify dualism. As you may know, the Chinese word shin [xin] means “heart-mind.” There’s a wonderful article by Shohaku Okumura on this word and its Japanese parallel kokoro here on the Buddhadharma website.)

Which brings me to Arizona.

Arizona needs a lot of love right now. Over the past few months, the state has passed a couple of bills that make it pretty difficult to be a Latino/a living in that state and not feel that you are despised and unwanted. First came SB 1070. Less than a month later, the governor signed another bill that limited the teaching of ethnic studies classes in public schools. And on top of that, the state’s education department started to mandate re-assignments of teachers who it was deemed didn’t speak English well enough or who had an accent. (See how some Stanford University professors responded to this.)

A number of people are responding by organizing a Summer of Human Rights in Arizona. One of my favorites is the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign from the Unitarian Universalists. One of those UUs is also a Zen priest – James Ishmael Ford. Danny Fisher did a great interview with Ford which you can read here.

So how about it, dharma sisters and brothers – who would like to join me in a Summer of Love in Arizona? Let’s practice the dharma in a big-hearted way. Since I’m in New Mexico and Arizona is my neighbor, I’m thinking of going to Phoenix on July 29 for a Day of Non-Compliance (the day SB 1070 goes into effect). Perhaps we can get a Buddhist Love Delegation organized, similar to what a number of us did in Washington D.C. in 2005 and 2007 (see photos here and this past Jizo Chronicles post).

We’ve got one month. Anybody else interested? Let me know and let’s see what we can cook up.

And by the way – I’m also following up to find out more about the potential Buddhist group that’s going to the Gulf states to respond to the oil spill. I’ll be writing again soon with details on that.


%d bloggers like this: