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Quaker Practice This Month's Blog Post

Detached Compassion

What does Detached Compassion mean? Doesn’t being compassionate involve passionate caring about others? I began exploring this concept while I was in the throes of burnout. After years as a counselor, I wasn’t sure I could go on caring so much for others and neglecting myself. I was suffering from compassion fatigue, which is a common problem in helping professions.

I studied professional literature, which recommended taking time for self-care and setting better boundaries. But often I would prioritize the suffering of clients and friends over my own needs. I didn’t feel right about doing something good for myself or enjoying life while others were suffering. It seemed selfish, and I wasn’t supposed to be selfish.

I started seeing a therapist who encouraged me to be “self-full.” “You will be more effective if you give from a full bucket,” she told me. While this made sense, I still wavered in my resolve, regularly dropping my own plans to help someone in need.

I read books on gender dynamics and realized that, as a woman, I was culturally programmed to care for others above myself. Observing my family, I could clearly see where these messages had come from. This awareness helped me understand the emotional hooks which triggered my automatic responses.

I also read several Buddhist books that introduced me to the idea of detached compassion, which was new to me. Compassion is a central tenet of Buddhism, but it is not connected to martyrdom. Compassion for all living beings, including oneself, is a goal of Buddhist practice. So is detachment, which is not being attached to the passing forms and states of human existence. In other words, detachment is accepting where we are and what is happening in each moment as we move through life.

So how does one detach while being compassionate? The basic idea is to detach from the outcome, while allowing our hearts to guide us in compassionate action. This was a liberating concept I’d never considered! I realized I was very attached to the outcome of my helping and giving. I wanted clients to reach their goals, and my professional evaluations focused on this. I wanted friends and family to be happy. I wanted the world to be just and peaceful. I couldn’t rest until those outcomes were achieved, which meant I never rested.

It also meant I often took more responsibility for others and their choices than was my place. Detached compassion means we let others make their own choices and deal with their own outcomes, while still caring deeply about them. We may have to make choices in response, like setting boundaries and detaching from toxic or abusive relationships. I remind myself that others have a right to learn as they go, just like me, and while I like to help, it’s their life. I can be more helpful when I’m centered in myself and not caught up in their emotions and crises. It’s also helpful to maintain awareness that all things pass.

In my explorations on the topic of detached compassion, I have found the writings of the Dalai Lama to be particularly helpful. What I learned from him is that life is full of suffering, but it is also full of joy. He has witnessed terrible suffering, especially of his own people when China invaded Tibet. He lives in exile, and he is full of joy. How is that possible? He can detach emotionally from suffering while being compassionately present with an open heart, allowing his words and actions to be guided in each moment. His intention is to alleviate suffering; however, he is not attached to how or when this will happen. In this way, he opens space around suffering with his acceptance, so its hold can be loosened. In this spacious awareness, new possibilities arise. He also has a great sense of humor and strong faith in others.

As I absorbed the Buddhist perspectives, the possibility of being at peace with suffering arose. I learned it was my resistance to the fact of suffering which was causing my distress and leading to burnout. I began to practice being with the suffering of myself and others, while keeping my heart open. That required getting out of my head, which is my favorite place to hang out! I learned about the dance that happens between heart and head. I discovered that leading with my heart while letting go of my head’s agenda and judgments was a more skillful and joyful way to be with others. Then my head can be in service to my heart instead of the other way around.

I am still working with these lessons every day. I often forget what I learned and fall back into old patterns. When I catch myself getting hooked again into outcomes, I take a deep breath and remind myself to let go, open my heart and simply be with what is in the moment. I am a living creative process, as is everyone else. I can be deeply compassionate towards suffering and trust the process. I have learned that suffering often leads to joy given the spaciousness of acceptance and time.

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

Quakers Discuss Ukraine and the Peace Testimony

The war in Ukraine is troubling for all, but for Quakers it presents a particular dilemma:  how do we respond to a war against a sovereign nation in light of our Peace Testimony?

The Peace Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends is one of the important pillars that defines Quakerism. The Quakers, along with the Mennonites and Amish, are “Peace Churches,” religious organizations that believe peace and non-violence are the best (possibly only) way to resolve conflict. Many Quakers, historically, have resisted all forms of war and non-violence, including refusing to participate in military service and, in some cases, refusing to pay the taxes that support the military. In some cases, Quakers have been jailed for these positions; in others, Quakers have won the right to be conscientious objectors to military service and be assigned community service as an alternative.

Friends have a host of “testimonies,” shared truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years. There is no single, exclusive list of testimonies, and the testimonies are not doctrine. Instead, they are common, deeply held values that the Quakers refer to for guidance. For our Meeting, the testimonies include: Integrity, Unity, Equality, Simplicity, Peace and Community. When we talk about them, we often use queries, questions that explore why the testimonies are important yet also difficult to uphold day to day. They are not rules to abide by as much as challenges.

Of these, the Peace Testimony is one of the most difficult. Reno Friends recently met online to discuss the war in Ukraine through the prism of the Peace Testimony. What we discovered – even in our small community of like-minded people deeply troubled by the war – was a range of opinion.

Some Quakers said they considered the Peace Testimony absolute, that there are no exceptions. Others focused on efforts to find a better way, through non-violence and diplomacy and refusal to engage. But the Ukraine war raises troubling questions:  if a nation is attacked in an unprovoked invasion, does it not have the right to defend itself? If the Peace Testimony is absolute, is there never a “good war?” The war against Ukraine spookily conjures images of similar atrocities and destruction from WWII, which is part of the horror of it. Was it wrong to fight the Nazis, we wondered. This triggered other questions: if a Quaker agrees with the American effort to send guns and military equipment to Ukraine, does that violate the Peace Testimony? How do we feel about family members who have fought – at great personal cost – in past wars, not to mention those serving in our current military? Sometimes our conversation also touched on personal scenarios in which the Peace Testimony raises harrowing possibilities: Should a Quaker defend their own wife or child if they are attacked? Should a Quaker let someone kill them during a mugging, or should they fight back? Should a Quaker carry a gun? It is easy for such questions to discomfit and divide us.

To lead us back, one Reno Friend pointed out that the Peace Testimony is about trying to find alternatives to violence. It takes effort, creativity, patience, and an eye on the long game, to come up with the combination of diplomacy and sanctions and humanitarian relief that can stem the tide of war. She also pointed out that the Peace Testimony need not divide us, as it is fundamental in Quakerism that each person needs to exercise their own discernment to understand how they will live each testimony. One shared the story that when William Penn asked Quaker founder George Fox if he should stop wearing his sword, Fox replied “Wear it (the sword) as long as thou canst.” It turns out this story may be more myth than fact, but it captures Fox’s advice that, to answer the question, Penn should examine his own heart.

Bringing us all back to our own hearts, another Friend said we should also listen to the pain and confusion we are all experiencing over this awful war. Modern media and courageous reporting bring images and stories and horrors to life on our screens every day, and it is hard on our souls. We need to be patient with our own confusion, and take time to examine our own convictions. We also talked about ways to help, focusing on communicating with national leaders, supporting humanitarian efforts, and continuing to talk about the importance of peace and non-violence as goals and strategies. As one said: “We may struggle to uphold the Peace Testimony, but we should all keep working at it.”

By Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Categories
Quaker Testimonies

The Quaker Peace Testimony

(from the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice)

We utterly deny all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole  world.… The spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with  outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for kingdoms of this world.” – George Fox, declaration to Charles II, 1660, Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

“A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” –  William Penn, 1693; Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

Categories
Quaker World

Quakers Acting on Climate Change

Climate change is not just about melting ice caps, worsening droughts and rising sea levels. While it is clearly a crisis for the environment, it is also a crisis for people. In fact, some experts consider climate change just as serious a moral issue as it is an environmental issue, and one that could have severe social and economic consequences.

Pope Francis released an encyclical in 2015 that served as a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the papal statement said. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

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Quaker Practice

New Year Messages from My Redwood Retreat

Sometime last summer, I hit a wall. My Light sputtered and I felt exhausted and depressed. I think it was Pivot Fatigue–a condition caused by too many changes and adaptations brought on by Covid, and then by our relentless wildfire season. Add to that the growing needs of our elders, which had also changed our lives considerably.

In a moment of despair, I was inspired to search for a place to retreat from the world and retore myself. I immediately thought of the California Redwoods and found myself on Airbnb searching for a cabin amongst the trees. I found a small gem and booked it immediately for early November. It was a magical spot in the forest, near the state park and my favorite trails through the majestic giants. I stayed for 5 nights–hiking; meditating; reflecting; journaling; listening to Spirit; napping; practicing yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi; dancing; and playing my wood flute.

I was frightened to go. I had received a very clear message from Spirit that I was not allowed to bring any of my books. I had never done a retreat without my books! What was I going to do with all that time by myself? Would I go mad?

Spirit was relentless. You spend too much time with the words and experiences of others and look to them for your answers. They are within you. Go and listen quietly.

I brought a notebook and pen with me and wrote what came through from the Beyond That is Within (another of my names for Spirit). As we begin this new year, I was led to share the highlights of what I heard and experienced.

As I walked through the forest, I was struck by its beautiful perfection. It is a jumble of new life growing out of death and decay, feeding lovely fungi that eat and transform wood that then grows new trees, ferns, and other plants. It is constantly renewing itself in an endless, intricate dance. Some trees are burned all the way through their centers and yet they still stand strong and vibrant, green boughs reaching for the blue sky and new children sprouting at their feet.

I remember asking for forgiveness for humanity and the destruction we are causing to the natural world and I received this message:  You and your species are as wondrous a creation as this forest.

I was aghast! How could that be true?

You are part of the Creation, unfolding Itself endlessly like this forest. You are a young species with much to learn. You are learning. Be patient with yourselves. Allow yourselves to be taught by Nature, to be transformed.

But we are killing nature, I argued.

You cannot kill Nature. Creation is endlessly resilient, like these redwoods, like you. Everything changes and transforms. Yes, you are changing the biosphere into something new. And you are learning through this process.

But species are dying, landscapes are forever changed!

Look around and within you. Everything is always dying and changing, including yourself. Yet from the decay, new life is born. Always new life. Embrace the changes, learn how to dance with Nature, remember we are all connected and nothing ever really dies. It just changes form.

I realized with sudden clarity how judgmental I have been of myself and all of humanity. As the days went by, my heart softened towards us all. We have a role to play in how creation unfolds on this planet. I determined to return to my life and allow Nature to teach me how to dance with Her, how to care for Her and cherish Her as part of myself. We are all intertwined in this magnificent Creation.

Meditation on the Redwoods

Be rooted in the Earth

Reach for the sky

Open your heartwood

Be fireproof

Create

Decay

Die

Give Birth to New Life

Repeat

I was encouraged to be present in each moment, not elsewhere in my head, to embrace what is so without thinking it “should be” something other than what it is. Along that same line, I was also encouraged to embrace myself as I am, while also honoring that I am continuously growing and changing like all that surrounds me. It is perfectly unfolding. My OCD/Perfectionist self was definitely challenged by Spirit during this retreat!

I heard this message:  BE more; DO less.

I spent time taking stock of what I am doing that dims my Light and feels like a “should”. I resolved to make changes to my schedule and open up more space to BE, to listen deeply more often.

One of the joys I discovered about halfway through the retreat was that I was having fun and it was effortlessly delightful! All this fear I’d had of being stuck with myself for a week vanished. I realized I still had the same ability I’d had as a child to get lost in nature and keep myself company.

Heaven is right here under your nose, open your eyes and see it.

I have a tendency to look for what I am seeking other than where I am standing and living. Repeatedly, I am directed to grow where I am planted and realize the beauty right here and now. I’m sure these redwoods understand this wisdom and are trying to transmit it to me!

The purpose of your existence is to give and receive LOVE.

I could feel that love was in the forest, connecting all the amazing life forms to each other in a symbiotic dance, and that I was also part of this dance. I was challenged to see that it is the same when I am in the human world.

Life goes on. It adapts, transforms, changes forms, but it always goes on. You are part of the Creative, Holy Spirit which goes forever on, creating the next manifestation. Rest in that, trust, and then do the next loving thing in the moment, led by the Inner Light which is ever part of the Great Light.

Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting

Categories
Quaker Practice

Speaking in Silent Worship

Quakers are known for gathering to worship in silence, and yet they also gather to hear the many voices of God. Instead of a prepared sermon or liturgy, Quakers worship through “vocal ministry,” messages offered out of the silence by those who feel moved to speak.

Categories
Meeting Community

The Simple Meeting

Reno Friends recently gathered on Zoom in the sacred space of a Worship Sharing to tell each other what we all believed was most important about our Meeting. The pandemic spun us away from one another, and yet – through the efforts of many – we kept our community alive and busy by holding meetings, spiritual discussions, brown bag lunches, and even a Christmas party, all online. We learned to use Zoom, and figured out (through herculean efforts by our tech team) how to hold hybrid worship: in-person and online at the same time. We met outside for a holiday cookie-exchange, and even worshipped from the relative quiet of our shady garden on summer days.

Categories
Meeting Community

Leadership in Quaker Meetings

It is Nominating season again, the time of year when our Quaker community tries to identify those who will serve as clerks and leaders of the Meeting in the coming year. Which raises an interesting question: What does it mean to be a leader in a Quaker Meeting?     Technically, there are no leaders in unprogrammed Quaker Meetings, such as Reno Friends. Everyone is equal, and no one is in charge. But if there are no leaders, how does a Meeting organize to get its work done? How do Quakers determine how to worship, how to manage their programming and finances, or how to grow?

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Quaker Practice

Sin and the Arrow

When I was in college, I had the great fortune to take a class on the Old Testament from a rabbi. It gave me a different perspective on these texts that I had been raised with and on life in general.

Categories
Quaker Practice

The Genesis of Embodying the Light

I teach a Qigong/Tai Chi/Yoga class for Reno Friends three times a month and was recently asked how I came to this practice and what it means to me. I thought a blog post would be the perfect way to answer that question.

I have been practicing yoga since 2008 and Qigong/Tai Chi since 2014. I came to these practices after injuries and during rehabilitation. You might say I discovered them after breaking myself repeatedly. In Western culture, we are programmed to push ourselves to attain physical goals and fitness. Like many people, I was able to do this in my youth, but as I aged, this strategy was no longer working!