SnowFlower Sun March 2024

Non-striving and Engaged Buddhism

From a Dharma talk by Celeste Robins

Non-striving is a Buddhist concept. In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thay tells us:

There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become.

Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. Most people cannot believe that just walking as though you have nowhere to go is enough. They think that striving and competing are normal and necessary.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses non-striving in this way:

Cultivating the attitudinal foundation of non-striving is challenging for many of us, yet essential to the development of mindfulness practice. In our culture, the possibility of non-striving is radical, given much of our lives are spent trying to achieve something. The word (v.) strive comes from the old French word “estrife” and means to “quarrel, dispute, resist, struggle, put up a fight, compete.” Contrary to this, in mindfulness practice the invitation is to sit and do nothing. The very thought of this notion of non-doing turns people’s noses up in disgust, conjuring up feelings of anxiety, and making even the most open-minded folks wonder how anything will get accomplished.

One accessible way to frame this discussion is simply to consider the word’s product and process. When we are striving, our primary concern is product, whereas when non-striving is present, our focus is process. When you apply this to your life, you can easily begin to see where striving takes hold. When is the last time you did something just to be there doing it, fully immersed in the moment-to-moment experience? Close your eyes and see if you can recall the frame of mind that was present while engaged in a recent activity. Gardening, watching a movie, cooking a meal, making love. You may likely find that you were heavily invested in the outcome of the event and paid little or no attention to the process as it was unfolding.

When we focus on product, we are attaching to an outcome, therefore creating the conditions for suffering to arise. For example, we may sit down for practice and decide we are going to get calm, focusing our energy on this goal. The moment we begin to feel anything other than calm, judgments arise and as a result of the attachment, we begin to experience suffering. In mindfulness meditation we cultivate our capacity to pay attention to process, witnessing the unfolding of our lives and ourselves, moment to moment. This should not be confused with indolence or lack of motivation, rather can be seen as a shift in our focus of attention.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Another supportive practice to cultivate the attitude of non-striving is to partner goals with intentions. Intentions focus on “how” we are showing up in the here and now, and allow us to align our worldly actions with our inner values, independent of outcome. For example, you may have a goal to complete a PhD program in an area of interest. Partnering this goal with the intention to be kind to yourself and others in the process keeps you in the present moment and guides you in a way that is aligned with your heart.

You may have goal-specific intentions or general intentions, both of which you can come back to, again and again, while moving towards your goals. Non-striving is a radical practice that takes patience and non-judging to cultivate. Begin by becoming familiar with the way striving feels in the body and seeing how what you feel changes when you practice non-doing.

This clear seeing will begin to loosen the grip of attachment to outcome and allow you to have more moments of flow. You may consider choosing one activity a day where you focus on process, with no concern for outcome. Stay curious and be creative! Reflect on your universal intentions as well as any intentions for specific goals and begin to integrate them into your daily life.

Do non-doing, strive for non-striving, savor the flavorless, make much of little, repay enmity with virtue; plan for difficulty when it is still easy, do the great while it is still small.” Laozi

In her book, The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul, Connie Zweig (p. 320) talks about how we can approach the suffering in the world without becoming overwhelmed, saying:

We need to be able to tune in to the cries of the world without drowning in them, getting lost in the face of intolerable suffering and wallowing in sorrow, pity, helplessness, or guilt. This process is analogous to conscious aging” in that we need to “break through our denial to face the full truth about age and create the life we want now. In the same way, we must break through our denial of the call to serve and see the whole truth: the beauty and the terror of the world, the immense possibilities and the wretched hardships. We need to hold the tension of these opposites to live in the full spectrum of reality.”

Then, in order to act, we need to attune to the inner world, to the voices within: ‘I’, drawn to that cause.” “My passion is aroused here.” “I can do something about that need.” “This injustice is the most important to me.” “I have a gift for these people.”

As Ghandi put it, ‘Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion really means.’” Connie Zweig

Zweig echoed Jack Kornfield who said:

Do not believe that meditation and contemplation are the fulfillment of the Buddhist Path. Inner peace, freedom and joy develop only when paired with the outer teachings of virtue, respect and mutual care.” Jack Kornfield

This is not about red or blue, it is about standing up for the most basic of human principles, for moral action and the prevention of harm. It is embodying Dharma amidst the troubles of the world. … You have been training for this for a long time. With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart. You have learned emptiness and interdependence. Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage, wisdom and compassion to the world.” Jack Kornfield

Engaged Buddhism: Practice in Action

by Susan O’Leary

I have phone banked, door knocked, contributed to campaigns, and held fundraisers for candidates. In 2008 and 2016, I managed the Democratic Party campaign offices in downtown Madison so that the organizers could focus on their work, and I saw firsthand what happens when people come together around political action. It was truly inspiring to check in hundreds of volunteers in the last days of the electoral campaigns – people who didn’t know each other but over days created community, working together for a common purpose and the common good.

These experiences and the importance of my practice to me are reasons I volunteer with Engaged Buddhist Election Retreats and why I helped lead their letter-writing sessions in 2020 and 2022.  It brings my practice to engaging politically and feeling a part of national sangha in doing so.  It is deeply moving to write to voters about the election, knowing that at that very same moment practitioners in Maine, Pennsylvania, Alabama, New Mexico, California, and many other states are following their breath and writing along with me. I am looking forward to working with Engaged Buddhists in their online and in-person days this year in Wisconsin.

Since 2020, 14 SnowFlowers have volunteered with Engaged Buddhist Election Retreat as a way of combining our commitment to democracy with our Buddhist practice.  13 friends from Madison sister sanghas have also joined us in this.  

Engaged Buddhist Election Retreat is a national organization that recognizes the importance of Wisconsin in elections and is focusing on Wisconsin in 2024.  

Volunteering with them is an inspiring and simple way to feel part of community and know you are making a difference.

Here are Engaged Buddhists Election Retreat’s plans for this year as described on their website:

Fundraising for the Movement Voter Project.  On Sunday afternoon May 19, we’ll hold a hybrid Sit for Democracy event in Oakland (and on zoom) to raise funds for the Movement Voter Project.  In 2020 and 2022 we raised $45,000 to support grassroots Get Out the Vote organizers in swing states.  This year we’ll broaden our network of support by asking each participant to seek sponsors from among their family and friends. 

Postcard Writing.  We will be holding half-day retreats online throughout the summer and fall to encourage voters in swing states to vote.  We’ll be using the same retreat format we used in 2020 and 2022, with periods of meditation, a dharma talk, and writing to voters.

Meditation action at the Republican National Convention, Milwaukee, July 15-18.  We’ll bear witness by sitting together in meditation outside the Republican National Convention in support of peace, choice, climate, and democracy.

Voter Registration Retreats.  In California and Wisconsin, we will hold one-day voter registration retreats in the months leading up to the election, especially in key Congressional districts.

In-Person Election GOTV Retreats.  In Nevada and Wisconsin, we will be organizing residential retreats during the two weeks leading up to the election:  these will follow a traditional retreat format, with mornings sitting in meditation, service, dharma talks and shared meals — and afternoons walking precincts to Get Out the Vote.

Please join us this year in practice.

For more information, email info@electionretreat.org.

Please email Susan Schwaab (susan.schwaab@yahoo.com) or Danielle Thai (ddthai5121@gmail.com) if you would like to share your experience with Engaged Buddhist practice in a future newsletter.

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Tuesday Night Sit: Time: 07:00 PM

Meet in person at the Friends Meeting House at 1704 Roberts Court (two blocks north of Trader Joe’s and a block west of Monroe Street). Please do not attend if you have any symptoms of illness. You can also join via Zoom.

 Wednesday Afternoon Sit: Time: 1:30 PM

Location varies, see email announcement.

 Friday Night Sit: Time 7:00 PM via Zoom

 Sunday Morning Zoom Sit: Time 10:00 AM via Zoom

Sunday Morning In-person Sit: Time 10:00 AM

Edgewood College, 959 Edgewood College Dr, Madison, WI 53711 – Anderson Auditorium (Predolin Hall). Once inside the main entrance, there will be signs and one of us will be there to help guide you to the Nona McGreal Room, which is on the 3rd Floor. There is an elevator.

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