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Breonna Taylor was killed by police in March. The officers involved have not been arrested.
Breonna Taylor in an undated family photo. She was fatally shot in her apartment by Louisville police on March 13. | Justice for Breonna Demands for justice are widespread and only continue to grow. It has been more than 100 days since Breonna Taylor was killed by police in her own homeinLouisville, Kentucky. Thousands of protesters have chanted her name across the country, demanding justice for the EMT, who would have turned 27 on June 5. As the country is reckoning with its history of racist police violence, many advocates want to know why charges still haven’t been filed against the officers who shot her dead. Meanwhile, those who want to abolish the carceral state are rethinking what justice in the Taylor case should actually look like. Most advocates agree that another Black woman is dead because of a lack of police accountability — and something needs to change. On March 13, three officers with a no-knock warrant entered Taylor’s apartment looking for two people suspected of selling drugs, neither of whom was Taylor. The officers fired more than 20 rounds into the apartment, hitting Taylor at least eight times. After months of investigation, the Louisville Police Department (LMPD) fired officer Brett Hankison on June 23; the other two officers remain on administrative assignment. A special Kentucky prosecutor is leading an investigation into both the shooting and the department’s handling of the shooting to determine whether to charge the three officers who fired their weapons; the FBI is leading its own investigation. On June 29, the Louisville Metro Council also announced a resolution to investigate the actions of Mayor Greg Fischer and his administration surrounding Taylor’s death. The council hopes to create greater transparency around who made what decisions in the Taylor case, according to a news release. Taylor’s deathtook place amid a slate of high-profile killings of unarmed Black people — it was just three weeks after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by white vigilantes while jogging and about 10 weeks before the fatal arrest of George Floyd. The suspects involved in Arbery’s case were arrested and charged two weeks after video of the incident went viral. The four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd were fired four days after Floyd’s death, with the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck charged with murder. By contrast, not much has happened in Taylor’s case. In the meantime, Taylor’s family, alleging excessive force and gross negligence in her death, filed a lawsuit on April 27 against the officers involved in the shooting. “I want justice for her,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, told the 19th in May. “I want them to say her name. There’s no reason Breonna should be dead at all.” Police came looking for a drug suspect. Breonna Taylor ended up dead instead. On the night of March 13, Louisville police had a warrant to enter Taylor’s apartment because they believed that a suspect in a narcotics investigation was storing drugs or money or receiving packages at her home, according to USA Today. However, according to the suit filed by Taylor’s family, the man police were searching for, Jamarcus Glover, did not live in her apartment complex and had already been detained by the time officers showed up. Taylor had dated Glover two years ago, according to a family attorney, and did not maintain an active friendship with him. Police said that the three officers knocked on the door to announce themselves. But multiple neighbors say the officers neither knocked nor identified themselves, according to the family’s lawsuit. It was later uncovered that the police had been granted a no-knock warrant by a judge, which allowed them to enter Taylor’s apartment without announcing themselves. They also weren’t wearing body cams. When police arrived, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, says he woke up and believed someone was trying to break into the apartment. He fired one shot, hitting an officer in the leg. Police then fired more than 20 rounds into the apartment. Taylor died at the scene. Walker was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer and aggravated assault. Police found no drugs in the apartment, and both Taylor and Walker have no criminal history. On May 22, Kentucky prosecutors announced that they had dismissed all charges against Walker, who said he fired a shot in self-defense when he believed he and Taylor were under attack. On June 11, police released an incident report for the night Taylor was killed, but it was largely blank. Though Taylor was fatally shot, the four-page report listed her injuries as “none.” The report also stated there was no forced entry, though witnesses say the police used a battering ram to enter the apartment, according to CBS News. Meanwhile, it came to light that the officer who shot her, Hankison, had a history of misconduct allegations. He was already facing an ongoing federal lawsuit at the time of Taylor’s death in which Kendrick Wilson accused Hankison of “harassing suspects with unnecessary arrests and planting drugs on them,” according to USA Today. Wilson alleges that Hankison targeted him and arrested him three times in a two-year period. After Taylor’s death, claims of sexual assault surfaced, too, with at least two women coming forward in early June to allege that Hankison assaulted them. In both allegations, which are similar to one another, Hankison offered the women rides home after they had been drinking at local bars. In one case, Hankison allegedly followed the woman into her home and assaulted her while she was unconscious. In the other case, Hankison reportedly made sexual advances toward the woman while she sat in his unmarked car, including rubbing her thighs and kissing her face. On June 23, he was fired. LMPD posted Hankison’s termination letter on Twitter, which stated Hankison “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life when you wantonly and blindly fired ten (10) rounds into the apartment of Breonna Taylor…” The letter also stated Hankison violated the department’s protocol on use of deadly force when he shot through a patio door and window that was covered. This prevented him from determining whether there was an immediate threat or innocent people present; some of the bullets even traveled to a neighbor’s apartment where three people were endangered, according to the letter. Hankison has appealed his termination. The other two officers who fired rounds that night, John Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, remain on the force and have been placed on administrative reassignment. The case is still under independent investigation with Kentucky’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, who has said he will not provide additional details or a timeline for the investigation. Protests are ongoing, and calls for justice in the investigation continue In May, Benjamin Crump, the Taylor family’s attorney, argued that the killings of Black women have tended to receive less media attention than the deaths of Black men. “They’re killing our sisters just like they’re killing our brothers, but for whatever reason, we have not given our sisters the same attention that we have given to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald,” he told the 19th. “Breonna’s name should be known by everybody in America who said those other names, because she was in her own home, doing absolutely nothing wrong.” Protests where the crowds chant, “Say her name, Breonna Taylor,” have attempted to reverse the lack of attention.In 2015, activists around the country demonstrated and used the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to women who had lost their lives, including Gabriella Nevarez, Michelle Cusseaux, and Alexia Christian, as Jenée Desmond-Harris reported for Vox at the time. The death of Sandra Bland in jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop also drew national attention to the impact of police brutality and racism on Black women’s lives. Around the country, activists organized marches and signed petitions on Taylor’s June 5 birthday, saying she should’ve been alive to see the day. In Louisville, protesters have gathered in Breonna Taylor’s name to protest police brutality in a number of demonstrations since May. After a protest-imposed curfew onMay 31, law enforcement shot and killed David McAtee, 53, a local restaurant owner. Following his death, Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad was fired, though it is still unclear exactly who shot McAtee, Vox’s Anna North reported. While there have been other changes in the police department since Taylor’s death — on June 11 the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants — advocates, activists, and celebrities are asking why the three officers involved in Taylor’s killing haven’t been arrested. On June 14, Beyoncé wrote an open letter to Kentucky’s attorney general, demanding that criminal charges be brought against the three officers to “show the value of a Black woman’s life.” She also asked that the office bring greater transparency to the investigation. At a June 18 press conference, Cameron — the first Black attorney general in Kentucky and a former legal counsel for Sen. Mitch McConnell — emphasized that the investigation is ongoing, without giving any specific details. “To all those involved in this case, you have my commitment that our office is undertaking a thorough and fair investigation,” he said. “This is also a commitment that I’m making to the Louisville community, which has suffered tremendously in the days since March 13.” Cameron was also the first Republican attorney general elected in the state, according to the New York Times, on a platform that backed Trump and some of the president’s signature efforts, like building a border wall.He has criticized some of protesters’ demands, including the call to defund the police. “Radical rhetoric and calls to ‘defund the police’ threaten public safety and only serve to divide us further, rather than bringing us together,” he said in a press release on June 24. Wake Forest Law professor Ronald Wright,who specializes in the work of criminal prosecutors,told Vox that Cameron’s comments regarding defunding the police are worth watching because they are relevant to how Cameron handles the case. “If he starts to sound like an advocate for law enforcement, voicing broad support for police officers and defending them in general terms, that would make me wonder if he can evaluate charges fairly in this case,” Wright said. “It is tough to convince the public that you will hold the police accountable for their wrongdoing if you never find anything to criticize in their work.” Why there haven’t been arrests in the case so far Wright told Vox in May that in officer-involved shooting cases like Taylor’s, the length of time the prosecutor takes to bring forth charges should not necessarily be the issue. Rather, people should question and examine what the prosecutor does during their investigation. “I don’t really fault prosecutors for taking their time, gathering the facts, being thorough. The timing doesn’t really bother me as much as the amount of effort. If what you’re doing is you’re not doing anything and you’re stalling, and you don’t really intend to press the case as hard as you would press any shooting in your district, then that’s a problem,” Wright told Vox. Since these cases are especially difficult to win at trial, Wright pointed out, prosecutors must take the time to build a really strong case. “The delay could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether they are putting in the effort into building a great case,” he said. In the high-profile Baltimore police custody death of Freddie Gray, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby arrested the three officers involved just days after Gray’s death and charged them with offenses including second-degree “depraved heart” murder and manslaughter. All three officers in the case were acquitted. “It may have been that it would have been better to go a little slower and get more evidence for charges after some delay,” Wright told Vox. Many advocates, however, point to the speed at which arrests came in the Arbery and Floyd cases —and the fact that years-long delays in Eric Garner’s case still didn’t lead to justice.Garner died in July 2014 after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a banned chokehold. One day before the five-year anniversary of Garner’s death in July 2019, federal prosecutors announced they would not bring charges against Pantaleo. The NYPD fired Pantaleo in August 2019, more than five years after Garner’s death. And in the three cases above there were videos of the incidents. Wright said that even with footage, cases against police officers are difficult to prosecute. Videos do represent extra proof — a form of evidence Taylor’s case lacks. The influence of police unions, which have come under criticism from activists and protesters during the unrest, may also contribute to delays. As Vox’s Dylan Matthews reported, police unions have become engrossed in preventing the discipline of officers who kill unarmed Black people: In local cases, this attitude has translated to a defense of officers who kill or wound innocent civilians. The Louisville Metro Police Department [had first] been limited to just announcing its “intention” to fire Brett Hankison, a detective who shot his gun 10 times during the raid that killed Breonna Taylor, rather than actually firing him outright. This limitation is largely because of the city’s contract with the police union, which gives Hankison multiple opportunities to appeal. He is first allowed a “pretermination hearing” with counsel, and then, once terminated, an appeal to the police merit board, of which Hankison himself is a member. In May, the Louisville police union also demanded an apology from Louisville council member Jessica Green, who called Taylor’s boyfriend a hero after he was charged with shooting Mattingly the night Taylor was killed. “Calling someone that shot an on-duty police officer, in the performance of official duties, a hero is a slap in the face,” said Ryan Nichols, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614. Green said she would not apologize. But Wright said that Hankison’s firing does offer a clue to how a criminal case could swing. That the LMPD found that he showed “extreme indifference to the value of human life” when he “wantonly and blindly” fired 10 rounds into the apartment means there’s a chance for a conviction if a jury were to find the same conclusion. “If a jury in a criminal trial were to reach the same conclusions after hearing the facts, they could properly convict him of a lesser version of homicide,” Wright told Vox. At the recent press conference,Cameron refused to discuss any potential roadblocks, stating that “an investigation of this magnitude, when done correctly, requires time and patience.” He added, “To those across the country we have heard from with cards, emails, and letters, and calls, who are asking us to complete the investigation as soon as possible — we hear you and we are working around the clock to follow the law to the truth.” Defunding the Louisville police and its ties to justice for Taylor Amid a growing call to “defund” or “abolish the police,” there are others advocating for justice who view the calls to arrest officers as taking away from the larger goal of dismantling the system. According to anti-criminalization organizer Mariame Kaba, director of the anti youth incarceration grassroots organization Project NIA, celebrating charges for officers signals our dependence on a criminal justice system that was created to uphold white supremacy. “To transform a death-making system, our expectations have to be much higher,” she wrote last month in the New York Times. “Celebrating charges is like celebrating bread crumbs. ... I understand why people do it, but I think according great significance to charges misses the point and it also freezes people in place. It has the effect of demobilizing collective action.” Kaba explained that justice is not just closing down police departments but making them obsolete. “The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers,” she wrote. But on June 25, the Louisville Metro Council approved a budget that wouldn’t even begin to defund LMPD. The new spending plan will merely “require police to put the money toward recruiting a more diverse force, additional training and exploring co-responder models that could send behavioral health professionals on calls with officers,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Funding will also be directed to a civilian review board that will oversee LMPD, following the 24-1 vote. Black Lives Matter demanded that more money be shifted to community services. Today Metro Council votes on the 20-21 Budget. 49% is allocated to @lmpd and corrections. Demand better for our communities! When we say #defundpolice there is a clear vision of what is possible. give money directly to community #DefendBlackLife— BLM Louisville (@BLMLouisville) June 25, 2020 On the same day the budget was approved, a crowd of more than 500 demonstrators, including activists, community members, and celebrities, gathered on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Louisville for a #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor rally, according to the Louisville Courier-Post. Activist Tamika Mallory emphasized the need to keep calling for justice and accountability in Taylor’s case. “I’m sure we all understand that Breonna Taylor is everywhere,” she said. “The issue of Black women being killed and our voices being too low is a problem.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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On Buddhism and Blackness
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (center) and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh (right) attend a news conference in Chicago on May 31, 1966. | manhhai via CC BY Black activism and Buddhist mindfulness share a fascinating history — and future. Valerie Brown is positioned at the intersection of two traditions that can be very helpful to us all right now. She’s a Black woman who’s involved in racial justice work, and she’s a Buddhist teacher who shows people how to use mindfulness to navigate life’s challenges —challenges like, say, a pandemic, a huge economic collapse, racial injustice, and social unrest. For 20 years, Brown had a high-powered career as a lawyer and lobbyist. Then she radically shifted the focus of her attention to Buddhism. She learned at the feet of the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and was ordained as a mindfulness teacher. I recently spoke with Brown for Future Perfect’s new limited-series podcast, The Way Through, which is all about mining the world’s rich philosophical and spiritual traditions for guidance that can help us through these challenging times. We talked about the fascinating historical connections between Buddhist practice and Black activism. She explained how we can use mindfulness not just to soothe us as individuals, but also to tackle broader racial inequality today. And she shared some classic Buddhist mindfulness training, which she recently helped rewrite through a racial justice lens. We know the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately taking Black lives, and for Brown, that’s deeply personal: Her brother died of presumed Covid-19 just a few months ago. You can hear our entire conversation in the podcast here. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows. Subscribe to Future Perfect: The Way Through on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. Sigal Samuel Valerie, tell me a bit about yourself and how you became interested in Buddhist meditation. You didn’t grow up with it, right? Valerie Brown I grew up in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn. And I grew up with a lot of poverty. My mother was a maid in the Hotel Manhattan and my dad was a tailor in the Bowery. We grew up on public assistance. Early on, there was quite a bit of violence. My dad left. And then when I was 16, my mother passed away. I became an independent student at 18, meaning I had no parental supervision and no parental support. But I got really lucky. I got a job at Burger King. So I worked, went to City University, and made my way out, running to undergraduate school and graduate school and the big, important job as a lobbyist and lawyer. In 1995, I attended a public talk given by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The talk was at the Riverside Church, down the street from my brother’s apartment, so I just walked down. And everything that Thich Nhat Hanh was saying was the opposite of how I was living my life. I was this very type A, aggressive, bunker-mentality, hard-as-nails person, just running from tremendous internalized oppression and internalized racism. And I walked out of the talk thinking: That guy! Who is that guy? That day touched something, a spark in me. And I started to practice meditation. Sigal Samuel So once you got interested in Buddhism, you began going on retreats and training as a meditator and then as a meditation teacher. What was the experience like for you? Valerie Brown Over time, I gradually began to change. I started practicing this particular meditation called metta, or loving-kindness, where you hold a sense of friendship for yourself and then for the people you like. And then for the people you actually don’t know. And then for people maybe you’re not so cool with, maybe even people you hate. And then for everybody, all beings everywhere. So I started practicing this and I decided, Okay, let me actually practice this at work when I’m in the halls of Congress. Now I’m a Black woman, with dark skin, with dreadlocks, talking to a very conservative person who may be white from quite a racially segregated area. What I would do when I’m in that conversation with such a person — who, on one level, my mind perceives to be the opposite of me — is, I turn to my breathing. And I would just notice how I’m breathing and feel my feet on the floor and I’d say these words to myself: Soften. Soften. Soften. My whole body would start softening. And then what I noticed is that instead of trying to persuade the other person — because this is the job of the lobbyist, to be persuasive — I would switch that. I would take sincere and genuine interest in understanding that other person first. Even if I believed that that person was way far out on the opposite end of how I feel. I would ask the person: Tell me more. Help me understand. How are you doing, really? I wouldn’t open my mouth until it could come out sincere. And what happened then was that other person softened up. The dynamic between us became relational rather than adversarial. That was a form of mindfulness that was interpersonal. That was being peace, conveying peace. Sigal Samuel These days you do a lot of racial justice work. And a lot of people might think Black activism and Buddhist mindfulness are two completely separate traditions that have nothing to do with one another. But actually, there was a very special friendship between two of their leaders: your teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. In the 1960s, they had a blossoming friendship that also had political ramifications. Can you tell me a bit about that relationship? Valerie Brown Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh shared a real passion for nonviolent, peaceful liberation of all people. One of the most beautiful things I’ve been reading about Dr. King and the great civil rights leaders of the 1963 Birmingham movement is that they said they were acting for the benefit of all people — even the police who set the dogs on them, who abused them. Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. King met at a press conference in 1966. They were united by the civil rights movement and their struggles for liberation. In 1967, Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. They met again [that year] at a conference in Geneva. And then there’s a lovely story. Dr. King was at a hotel. They were set to meet, but Thich Nhat Hanh was late for the appointment. Dr. King had a plate of food for him. And he kept it warm. Thich Nhat Hanh has written about that very tiny moment, which may seem insignificant, but you can just sense the personhood in the connection of the two people, heart to heart. Here you have these great leaders who could not only attend to these massive political movements of their time, but could also focus on the very moment, the very humanness of care for another person. Sigal Samuel It does sound like they connected on a really human intimate level. And I know that this originally started because Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a letter to Dr. King in 1965, asking him to please help advocate for ending the Vietnam War. And Dr. King was getting a lot of pushback from people around him saying not to get involved in this because he was already dealing with a lot and this wasn’t his business. And Dr. King said, “For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that. I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns.” He decided to get involved in advocating againstthe Vietnam War. And so there was actually this very political dimension to this spiritual friendship between these two leaders. I think that’s interesting to note, because people sometimes think about Buddhism as quite disconnected from politics. But Thich Nhat Han was anything but. Valerie Brown Thich Nhat Han coined the term “engaged Buddhism.” This goes back to the Vietnam War. As a young monastic with other monks and nuns in Vietnam, there were choices. They could have stayed in the monastery and prayed. Or they could have taken themselves out of the monastery and engaged with the suffering of the people in the streets. In the case of Thich Nhat Hanh and many of the people at that time, they made a conscious decision which cost them dearly — their lives, their own affiliation with the political people in Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh was isolated [and exiled]. He was not able to return to Vietnam for decades because of his outspoken activism. So we have in this extraordinary human being the footprint of how to engage in nonviolent, peaceful action for the benefit of all beings. Sigal Samuel Let’s fast forward to today. We’re now facing a global pandemic, and we know it’s disproportionately taking Black lives. At the same time, we’re seeing this massive upswell of support for Black lives. Given what you’ve said about engaged Buddhism, how do you think Buddhist teachings and racial justice work can support each other right now? Valerie Brown What I would say is Black justice is justice for all people. Thich Nhat Hanh has coined the term “interbeing.” Interbeing, meaning that we are interconnected. When a Black person is able to obtain justice and peace, all people are going to benefit. And so it’s an illusion to think that somehow the white suburban person in the Midwest is separate from that Black transgender woman in Brooklyn, New York. That would be a mistake. We are connected. What happens in Wuhan, China, affects people in San Francisco. Sigal Samuel Yes, I think the pandemic has really proven this interbeing concept to be true. I don’t just mean in some abstract spiritual sense, but in a very scientific, epidemiological sense. Interbeing comes up in a new version of the Five Mindfulness Trainings that you recently co-authored. These are words that are often recited in Buddhist circles, and they’re designed to make us more mindful of things like our consumption. But your version reframes all those trainings through the lens of racial justice. Can you give me a little snippet of the trainings that feels meaningful to you? Valerie Brown Here’s a little part. This is the third contemplation. “I am committed to looking tenderly at my suffering, knowing that I am not separate from others, and that the seeds of suffering contain the seeds of joy. I am not afraid of bold love that fosters justice and belonging. And tender love that seeks peace and connection. I cherish myself and my suffering without discrimination. I cherish this body and mind as an act of healing for myself and for others. I cherish this breath. I cherish this moment. I cherish the liberation of all beings.” Sigal Samuel Beautiful. Thank you. You mentioned this idea that without suffering you can’t have joy, that suffering contains the seeds of joy. And I know that is something Thich Nhat Hanh says often. He says the phrase, “No mud, no lotus.” If you don’t have the mud, you can’t have the beautiful flower that grows out of it. But I want to talk about this in the context of the pandemic and the protests. On both the Covid-19 front and the racism front, which are interconnected, there is so much suffering. Honestly, how do you find seeds of joy in that? Valerie Brown The best way I can explain this is through my brother Trevor. Trevor died on February 21 in New York City. He was on the ventilator and probably on the beginning wave of Covid-19. I had a lot of suffering to see him die. It was very difficult for me. But one of the things that I realized in his online memorial is that the reason that I was grieving so much and felt so sad was because the love was so deep. If he wasn’t meaningful for me, if I didn’t have that love, if it wasn’t valuable, I probably wouldn’t be suffering. But it was. I lost something valuable, something meaningful. And so we’re fighting, peacefully, nonviolently, for something that is very important. And that is freedom and liberation and justice for a world that everyone can belong to. That’s a good thing. Sigal Samuel First of all, I’m really sorry to hear about your brother. And it’s amazing to me that you are able to, just a few months later, realize that the seed of beauty in this is that if there wasn’t such preciousness here, you wouldn’t have felt such grief. You also just mentioned that you’re fighting nonviolently for this cause that is really important and hopeful. I want to pick up on that thread of nonviolence. Dr. King said, “Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the instruments of love.” I don’t know about you, but as a queer woman of color, I find it hard to do that sometimes. Can you talk a bit more about how we can keep feelings of bitterness and anger from overwhelming us when we see injustice? And I’m also wondering, maybe sometimes anger isn’t a bad thing? Maybe it can sometimes be a useful, galvanizing force to push us to fight for justice? Valerie Brown It’s an important question. Anger can feel quite impulsive and fiery and seductive. It can feed the energy of violence. And so the first thing I’d say is that in the sutras, the Buddha refers to the mind as like a storehouse of seeds. So there’s a seed of anger. A seed of fear. A seed of hope. And depending upon our thoughts or words or actions, these seeds get activated. You get cut off in traffic? Boom. The seed of anger gets watered or activated. You have a lovely conversation with a dear friend? The seed of gratitude gets nourished. Part of taking good care of emotion, of hate in particular, is number one, to recognize when it’s activated. Can’t do much if you’re unaware. After that recognition is to calm ourselves through what we have that’s a constant. That’s our own breathing. With time and with practice, we can use the breath to calm ourselves down. Not suppressing, not denying, not calling it disappointment when it’s actually rage. To be very clear, this is rage. And then breathing with that. Taking very good care of that energy. What I’ve come to understand is that that bitterness is a constriction in the heart. It actually makes me smaller. And so the invitation is to play in a bigger space. And the bigger space is love, is compassion. We are called into that bigger space. And we’re up for it. Sigal Samuel I’ve got to be honest. For me, to move from rage to love, that’s a tall order. But what you’re saying reminds me of this old Buddhist sutra, the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. One thing it says in that sutra is if someone is being unkind they’re probably suffering a lot. Maybe if I can remember that, it could help spark a bit of compassion in me for that person and maybe help me move the needle a bit from rage to love. Another thing that sutra says is that the way we choose to direct our attention is crucial. If someone is acting with unkind words or unkind behaviors, we can choose to focus our attention on what they’re doing that’s unkind. But the sutra says to try to actually redirect your attention to what in this person is kind, is good. Valerie Brown It reminds me of a calligraphy that Thich Nhat Hanh has that says, “Are you sure?” I can walk around with very fixed ideas, very attached to my own views. And so one of my deepest spiritual practices is to ask myself, Am I sure? What are my perceptions, assumptions, beliefs, and what is the lineage of all that? Where did that come from? How am I attached to it? That kind of loosens things up. That mindset — I’ve got this idea, maybe I’m right, maybe I’m not right — that allows for whatever the suffering is, whatever the aversion is, to have some flexibility. Sigal Samuel In addition to this phrase, “Are you sure?”, one of the phrases I hear most often in the Buddhist context is this concept of taking refuge. I want to talk about refuge in the current moment, where we’re all dealing with a lot of stress and suffering. If all one is after is a temporary refuge from suffering, there is a term for that trap: spiritual materialism, where you’re just getting into meditation because you want some temporary material benefit or attainment. I wonder if you could tell us what you think is a better way to understand taking refuge. How can we use these practices in a way that’s not selfish but is engaged with the broader ethical and political issues we’re all seeing right now? Valerie Brown Taking refuge is really important, especially at this time when there’s so much upheaval. And that may feel like a really grand thing to say, to “take refuge.” But that can be as simple as taking refuge in this moment. Recognizing that I can breathe, I am alive, I can make a difference, I can contribute. That’s taking refuge. That’s not a small thing. There’s countless people who cannot do that. The other thing I would say to the spiritual materialism point is that one of the foundations of mindfulness is ethics. There is an ethical component of it. Often, in the United States, you see mindfulness sold in these packages that are all about focus, attention. It’s so that I can do more, so I can get the promotion, so I can buy the car or whatever. Right? I even hear, as I say this, a kind of cynicism in myself. And I want to even question that, my own belief around that. But I would say that I’ve seen a lot of that materialism myself. It’s sad because there is such a critical component of mindfulness that is about the prosocial good. We’re not only generating happiness within ourselves. We want to share that with other people. We are quite good, particularly as Americans, at pursuing materialism, pursuing happiness. Not so good at generating it within ourselves and sharing that with other people. And so the basis for the whole practice is about creating a more peaceful society, a more compassionate society. This is something that we really cannot lose sight of. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. 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