My Prayer on Marathon Monday

Over the course of last week, Passover, Holy Week, Hanuman Jayanti, and the earth sky's Blood Moon all coincided (auspiciously perhaps) with the anniversary of the week that so many Bostonians suffered through last year following the attack at the Boston Marathon finish line. I don't want to compete with the prophecies. I don't want to engage in a discourse on the ways we might theologically link these holy days with my city's pained mourning (though there are ways I'm sure). I want to speak simply of some lessons I have been contemplating.

My own spiritual yearnings guided me through awe-filled, expressive silences last week, which began as I sat in the presence of the high Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, last Saturday, April 12, for a dharma talk. He spoke of moving forward after the Boston Marathon bombings that struck a year earlier on April 15, 2013.

In the Arlington Street Church sanctuary last Saturday, the Sakyong posed two questions to his sold-out audience over and over again:

"Who are we?"
"What are we?"

To some, these questions pondered too deeply may reek of unnecessary existential musing. To others, these questions may somehow carry the essential meaning of life. Regardless of where any one of us falls in terms of spiritual engagement with these questions, in the context of moving forward following atrocity, these questions emerge in one way or another for all of us as we confront our very human vulnerability and wonder how to respond to it.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

The Sakyong, in his talk, spoke of his belief in the essential goodness of each and every human being. He shared how for him this belief extends to a belief in the essential goodness of our society. We all might think, "nope, I haven't seen the essential goodness of society." And the Sakyong was no exception to this doubt. He explained that before bringing this teaching out into the world, he took an intensive personal retreat, sharing with the crowd that he began his retreat with deep intention. He joked, "I thought I better make sure."

The Sakyong's father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, shared this teaching on the essential goodness of society with the world prior to the Sakyong. One might think that to believe in this essential goodness, one must not have seen much evil or experienced much pain. Not so for Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who, born in Tibet, fled through the Himalayas to India all the while experiencing incredible violence. As the Sakyong wondered, what does it take "to lose everything but not to give up on humanity?" Imagine losing everything. Imagine life completely uprooted. Imagine traumatic memories of violence that haunt. And imagine coming out of such experiences not angry but with a belief in the essential goodness of all people and of society as a whole.

I think Boston can actually imagine this. I think that Boston experienced this last year. I think that many of us know exactly what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche have been teaching. Last year, at the Boston Marathon, whether there in person or watching on television, this community witnessed fear giving way to compassion. This community even appeared at times to be able to recognize the humanity of the two boys responsible for the attack, most notably perhaps as the surviving brother emerged from the boat in Watertown, and within minutes, was receiving medical care from first responders.

"Who are we?"
"What are we?"

We are human beings. We are a community of human beings. How can we take the experience, torturous and triumphant as it was, of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 and move forward in a way that sees the dignity and humanity of each and every person in this community? How can we move forward with a vision for bringing out the essential goodness of our society? What gets in the way?

These questions are hard to contemplate when we recognize that a daunting amount of violence penetrates the fabric of everyday life in the city of Boston and around the world. I recently read a report published on Blackstonian.com that detailed the number of shootings in Boston since the Boston Marathon last year. A minimum of 237 shootings, 35 of which ended in death, impacted our city over the course of the year. I'm left wondering how to not limit my contemplation of the Sakyong's questions to consider how we move forward following the attacks on Marathon Monday. I have many more questions than answers.

How do we move forward following incidents like the ones highlighted in the Blackstonian.com report? How do we avoid ignoring and marginalizing certain kinds of suffering? How do we avoid comparing one kind of suffering with another? With what we now know of our community's potential for compassion and unity, how can we orient ourselves for compassion and unity around all forms of violence, all kinds of pain, and all types suffering?

I bring such questions into my spiritual journey and aim to live my way into a response. If I consider just my own one life, I have witnessed personal transformation unfold in direct relation to my ability to recognize and honor the pain and suffering in my own being. I have discovered the ways that I try to push away certain kinds of pain out of fear, and in marginalizing it within my being, the pain often manifests in other ways. Through meditation, I have witnessed the ways in which I cling to my thoughts and my emotional experiences in hope of controlling them. I have learned that my own essential goodness, my worthiness, and my humanity comprise my ability to suffer with my pain and that of others and to celebrate with my abounding joy and love for all life.


Perry Dougherty is the Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation & Society of Still Harbor. She has a background in corporate training and development as well as non-profit development, communications, and management with social justice organizations. Perry brings an informed perspective on pedagogy and learning, which she studied at Washington University in St. Louis in receiving her bachelor's degree in Social Thought and Analysis with a specialization in the Sociology of Education. Perry will be ordained as an Interfaith Minister in June 2014 by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. She brings her personal interests together through her service by exploring where creative expression and narrative meet spirituality and social justice.