New York City — September 11-12, 2001
The devastation of this day is staggering beyond measure.
We have all heard the radio, watched the television with our mouths gaping in disbelief, our hearts wrenching in despair. We have heard talk of resolve and determination. Plans for justice and retaliation. Unanswerable questions being asked and unimaginable events being lived.
The fact is that as a culture and as a people, we are not equipped emotionally, psychically and spiritually to manage the magnitude of this tragedy in our minds. We have, mercifully, lived for so long under the dark shroud of ignorance to the scope of our vulnerability.
I want to encourage you all, first and foremost, to be still. To listen to your heartbeat. To be silent. To breathe. If you listen deeply, it is the voice of sanity and compassion that you will find there. It is the voice that will remind you of your connection with all beings.
Yes, you are connected with the untold hundreds, possible thousands of unknowing people that lost their lives instantly in the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes.
You are connected with the undoubtedly horrified passengers and crew of the airplanes turned into weapons of mass destruction.
You are connected with the brave rescue workers, firemen, police officers that willingly ran into flaming buildings as others poured out, only to have two of the world’s largest structures of steel, glass and concrete fall in on them along with the countless victims trying desperately to escape.
You are connected to the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, nephews and cousins of all those people. To their teachers, their coworkers, their friends and their lovers that must carry an unthinkable burden forth.
And you are also connected with the men or women that, with frightening calculation, walked onto the planes of four major airlines, knowing that they would pilot their own deaths and take the lives of innocent people on their journey.
We cannot close our eyes or our hearts to not one of those people. We cannot close our minds to the unbearable truth of the consequences of our actions. Of creating, perpetuating and sitting on the sidelines of a culture that passes off violence as a reasonable tool to achieve peace. Of doling out so-called justice only to those who are not in our favor. Those who do not say the right things, have the right color, were not born into the right caste, worship the right gods and live the right lives. Our unbalanced sense of justice is increasingly available on behalf of only those who can afford it or offer enough benefit in exchange. Most of us sat idly by, comfortable that our distance made us safe.
Now how many additional lives do we need to see taken to make us feel truly secure? What punishment will feel like it is enough?
It is tempting to find oneself taking aim at a nameable group and pulling the trigger of anger. Which is why now, more than any other moment in our history, we must make the most courageous effort, take the hardest step towards living in an altogether different way.
If we are lulled into seeing the people that have committed this desperate act and the people that will surely pay with their lives in any act of retaliation as separate, different, Others that are not a reflection of the darkest parts of our own selves, we will lose this crucial opportunity. We will lose the window to a realization of ourselves as more compassionate, more thoughtful, more fully connected with the events of our world, and thus more responsible. This bears repeating: if we continue to refuse to take personal responsibility for the cause and conditions: for the oppression, the inequity, the sheer unnatural imbalance of our existence, we will never witness an end to this.
So I implore you to not allow your inexpressible confusion, sorrow, helplessness and fear to numb you into turning over your agency. Do not let your desire for a new illusion of personal safety, of “freedom” to give license to further violence.
Our military may be “powerful and prepared” but are we? Are we prepared to, with fierce determination, with the strength bestowed by personal realization, insist that we will no longer let violence be perpetuated in our names, in the name of justice, and most cruelly, in the name of peace?
We must band ourselves and our hearts together to put an end to the cycle of violence that we now know we are not immune from. We must put an end to the wars being waged against our humanity and become warriors for the common cause of peace.
We are desperate to have the answers to every question, to always know what to do and how to respond. It is obvious that there is so much that we don’t, but what we do know is that the way it has been done is not working. You have permission to turn off your TVs and radios and simply feel your pain.
You have permission to not know.
It is easy to see ourselves as good and well-wishing when the fabric of our very being is not called into question. But can we be open and honest about who we really are, about the evil acts we are capable of conceiving while staring in the face of our own remarkable frailty? And can we use that to change?
We need to find peace in our own hearts first.
Many people find their ways to spiritual paths, to personal paths of transformation when the ground they always knew to be there falls out from underneath them. The ground has fallen out beneath us America. Let us all find the wisdom to see this unspeakable tragedy as a doorway to meaningful change, as a precursor to collective transformation. If we do not accept this challenge, if we are not brave and unrelenting in our demand, but instead cower behind the “quiet, unyielding” and clearly insatiable, emotion of anger, the loss of thousands of lives will not be merely unspeakable, they will be in vain.
A meditation, prayer, affirmation for our humanity:
“May all beings be granted with the strength, determination and wisdom to extinguish anger and reject violence as a way.
May we seek, find and fully realize the love and compassion that already lives within us and allow them to permeate our every action.
May we exercise the precious gift of choice and the capacity to change that makes us uniquely human and is the only true path to freedom. “
copyright MMI. angel Kyodo williams. all rights reserved.
Note: This essay first appeared September 2001 in connection with the events of September 11, 2001 and its expected and most unfortunately fulfilled aftermath. It was widely distributed online. The final prayer subsequently became the Warrior Spirit Prayer, the signature prayer of the New Dharma Community, a transformative practice community founded by williams, now based in Berkeley CA and with circles forming in cities throughout the US.
If any good at all comes of it, may that benefit be extended to ALL my relations. —aKw
angel Kyodo williams, the changeangel, is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change. she posts, tweets &
blogs on all things change. permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with contact information intact.