Fourth of July Reflections- A Great Nation with Great Shadows

By Larry Ward

I experience mixed feelings around the Fourth of July celebration in The United States. As a young person growing up in the US, I stayed silent about these feelings with no skill of how to interact with them. Thanks to my practice I have come to realize that maybe nothing in life is more difficult than coming home to my whole self. There is light and shadow within lurking and influencing my body, thoughts, and deeds. I am still learning how to embrace my whole self.

I awoke this morning in the cool air on the sacred ground of New Mexico.  I walk fully aware that the ground I touch is full of wonder, tears and prayers of land ancestors who have gone before and are thankfully still present. In 1994, my beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminded us, “There is a deep malaise in our society. We have to acknowledge this, especially if we want to transform it.” The great aspiration of our practice, to acknowledge our feelings of discomfort and uneasiness, is about the healing and transformation of both self and society at its deepest levels.

Individually and collectively we must overcome our fear of coming home to our whole self.  This means not only celebrating positive aspects of ourselves but also acknowledging and embracing our treachery, heartbreak, shadows and the trail of grief hidden inside each of us and flowing between us. This is a deep inner social crisis, and we must learn to acknowledge, accept and practice with it using the action of fierce love.  What we choose at this moment will ripple throughout our souls and the souls of generations to come.

I have a daily practice of mindfully scanning the news.  Every day I discover that my heart opens, smiles and breaks as I bring my full awareness to my life in America.  Lama Tsultrim Allione speaks to my experience in our society.  She states, "A collective demon can become a raging force in which individual people function like cells in the demon’s body. The monster takes on a life of its own, and individuals are carried along with it. These individuals may not even realize how they have helped to create the monster. As both history and contemporary life so tragically underscore, collective demons can lead to genocide and other horrors that ordinarily would be unimaginable.” Lama Tsultrim Illuminates our deepest individual and collective challenge.

Coming home to our whole self includes not only acknowledging and embracing demonic energies within each of us but also in healing and transforming these energies in our institutions and social patterns. Our work is to raise up our highest human qualities which these dark energies obscure, trap and devalue. Our practice of mindfulness and meditation is more than stress management as the secular notion of mindfulness often suggests. When understood and embodied, the full framework of Buddhist practice is revolutionary, transforming consciousness at its deepest levels and overcoming greed, hatred and cruelty.

In the recent words of Melvin McLeod, “Buddhism is about revolution, not reform. It is not about improving our lifestyle or easing our (individual and collective) suffering in transient or superficial ways. It is about cutting suffering at its root. That requires radical changes in who we are, the ways we act, and how we see reality. Buddhism turns everything upside down. That’s called enlightenment.

On this day please ask yourself what do you wish to be liberated from? What is your desire for your nation to be liberated from? What actions can you take to make these liberations possible?

What are you trusting in to guide and energize your life actions?

This afternoon watering the garden I was struck by the beauty and power of the orange California poppies rising up from the rocks. These self-naturalizing flowers are pointing the way forward.  I invite us all to spend the time to nourish the best of ourselves and not look outside for our approvals. We can nourish the best in ourselves and in each other no matter what our constructed labels of identity. For in the Dharma we know that we are one.