Being the Change
By LIAM PHILLIPS LINDSAY, Deputy Editor
As we’ve been compiling this issue of the Sun,
what started as a niggling little question, an unbidden irritant
really, has been inexorably inching into the forefront of my thoughts.
It’s there when I go to sleep and when I wake up. When I pass a homeless
person on the street. When I catch a flicker of confusion or fear in
someone’s eyes. When I pop into the present moment and look directly
with an open heart.
I can't shake it: What am I doing to make the world a better place?
would be gratifying to be able to say I have a good answer, but I don't
— not yet anyway. What I do have, gleaned from the wise ways of the
Dalai Lama and the words and deeds of the other inspiring people
presented on these pages, is a growing collection of signposts that
point the way to creating a more compassionate society, one that offers a
balm to suffering and engenders hope.
troubled New Jersey city of Newark is not the first place I would think
of as a source of motivation. Neither is Oakland, the gritty city
across the bay from San Francisco. But that was before senior writer
Barry Boyce informed me in our feature “Making Peace in America’s
Cities” that people in those towns are ignoring seemingly impossible
odds to tackle problems head-on—courageously, selflessly, and, perhaps
most important, mindfully.
learned a new phrase from Cory Booker, the 41-year-old mayor of Newark
who is working tirelessly to take back the city from drugs and gangs,
and it lit me up like the unexpected flash of a strobe in a shaving
mirror: “sedentary agitation.” Maybe you’ve heard it before, but I
hadn’t. It means, Booker says, “being regularly upset by all that you
see but not getting up and doing anything about it.” Suddenly, I saw
myself and every aspect of my life differently. I didn’t like what I
saw—thirty-five years in the hard news business had left me, sadly,
hardened and sitting on my hands within a shell of studied indifference.
That realization broke open my heart in a way that nothing had before.
What am I doing to make the world a better place?
kind of sneaked up on me. I’d been poring over Stephan Talty’s “The
Making of a Spiritual Hero,” a portrayal of the Dalai Lama’s early life
in Tibet and his emergence onto the world stage, and recalling His
Holiness emphasizing at a teaching I attended in Montreal in the early
nineties that we must develop inner peace before we could achieve outer
peace. He’d spoken then about the need for “inner disarmament” before we
could bring about world peace. As well, I’d been reflecting on the
clarity of Sharon Salzberg’s “Real Happiness” meditation program, and
the mindfulness and compassion that contemplative practice gives us.
my pump was primed by the time I encountered Mayor Booker and the cage
of “sedentary agitation.” The tears flowed and watered the seed of
resolve. I recalled having heard about this maverick politician named
Cory Booker in the 9/11 era. I was living at the time in Jersey City,
just a shot away from Newark—where the Dalai Lama is headlining the
mid-May peace education summit that is exploring ways to bring positive
change to the systemic woes of urban America. Back when Booker was a
councilman and mayoral hopeful, had journalistic cynicism blinded me to
the streetwise spirituality of his stands?
there is Virginia Jones, a fearless activist for the disadvantaged.
When she was in her seventies, Booker was just beginning his efforts to
bring peace to Newark and she showed him the ropes. I’ll leave it to you
to read about her, as well as Earl Best, known as the Street Doctor,
and, over in Oakland, the likes of Jon Oda, Amani Carey-Simms, Rhonda
Magee, Laurie Grossman, Richard Shankman, Megan Cowan… All real people
doing very real things to make a difference in the lives of others,
giving people a leg up on the front lines.
can’t all go to the peacemakers summit. But we can follow the examples
set by these inspiring people, and we can adapt strategies that emerge
from the Newark symposium to the needs of our own communities. We can
look within and reach out—right where we live. We can be the change. We
can ask ourselves the straightforward question: What am I doing to make the world a better place? And we can answer it—with compassion in action.