External Mindfulness: Witnessing Charleston

“… I’m free, free … and I know it … I wish everybody could be free because if we ain’t, we’re murderous…”

Please join me in a moment of silence as you read each name:
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (age 54)
Susie Jackson (87)
Ethel Lee Lance (70)
Depayne Middleton Doctor (49)
Clementa C. Pinckney (41)
Tywanza Sanders (26)
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45)
Myra Thompson (59)
Daniel Simmons (74) – survived murder scene; died in hospital
Those present and not killed were Polly Sheppard, Felicia Sanders and her five-year-old granddaughter, who survived by pretending to be dead. Reverend Pinckney’s wife and daughter were elsewhere inside the building during the shooting.

Before opening fire on members on the Bible Study group, Dylann Roof is reported to have said, “You have been kind to me, but I have to kill you.” Dylann Roof was not free; he was murderous. He had prepared his intentions for that moment years in advance and plotted the details for months. The power of entrenched hatred, which pushed aside kindness, was supported by toxic delusions: about African American people, about white people, about himself, about suffering and its conditions, and about freedom. Though we don’t share these particular delusions, we all do know how it feels to be in the grips of strong views and opinions, which cloud our minds and lead to harmful behavior.

A few days after the slayings, I was talking with a friend about the situation. He wisely pointed out that I knew Dylann Roof’s name; but, he asked, did I know the names of those killed? I didn’t. Now I do. (newspaper article)

Just as it is important in our daily mindfulness practice to be present and investigate painful feelings, so is it important for us to bring a steady heart and compassionate interest to the experiences of our external world; it serves our country and our humanity well to know the details of racism in our culture. It is essential that we know that nine African American churches have been burned since the church massacre on June 17th; and to remember that an African American Church in Massachusetts was burned in January of 2009 right after, and in direct response to, President Obama’s first inauguration. This commitment to clear seeing, externally to our personal experience as well as internally, will inform our hearts towards a compassionate solidarity: one which will support our continuing with courageous energy towards a collective freedom, a wise freedom which, like that of the families and friends of those slain in Charleston, can both forgive Dylann Roof and, at the same time, be relentless in protecting us all from the culture of hate.

A few days after the mass killing at the Emmanuel African Episcopal Church on June 17th, I heard the above variation on the lyrics of Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free,” which opens this reflection, sung by her in a live recording. The recording is played at the end of a beautiful Spirit Rock talk (given days before the murders) by Ruth King, an African American Dhamma teacher (listen here).

(See also a related talk by Gil Fronsdal, which inspired the direction of this essay.)

[nbox type=”notice”]“I choose love because the burden of hate is too heavy to carry.”  Martin Luther King[/nbox]

Consider these movements towards freedom – externally:
1) Our African American President singing a beloved spiritual written by a white man, who began to see clearly aboard a slave ship, at the funeral of Rev. Pinckney.
2) The White House lit with rainbow lights in celebration of the Supreme Court Decision supporting Gay marriage rights.

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