In the weeks before the April visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Seattle for the five-day Seeds of Compassion event, protests and violent crackdowns in Tibet grabbed attention around the world. At a meeting of the SOC Interspiritual Committee with Lama Tenzin Dhonden, discussion arose about how, or even if, it is possible to feel compassion for the Chinese responsible for such repression. A remarkable moment occurred when one of those present offered another point of view, beginning by saying, “I am Chinese…”
Over the course of her twelve years in the U.S., Spring Cheng, the woman who opened the conversation, has followed a spiritual path to become a healer, influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Taoism. Her spiritual quest has drawn her close to the Tibetan communities, both inside China and in Seattle. After traveling in ethnically Tibetan regions of China, she and her husband Tao founded Mystic Trails, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving as a bridge between Chinese and U.S. communities.
With support from others involved with Seeds of Compassion, The Compassionate Listening Project, and Global Citizen Journey, Spring and Tao explored the possibility of bringing Chinese and Tibetans together in dialogue. They named the project “Seattle Listens.” Andrea Cohen and Susan Partnow, experienced trainers in Compassionate Listening techniques, agreed to help. Their reflections follow.
The initial group of Westerners who assembled soon realized that the complexity and sensitivity of the situation called for ‘slowing down to the speed of wisdom.’ We discovered that the Chinese community is harboring tremendous bitterness towards "Westerners" regarding controversies sparked by the Tibet event.
Spring described the sense of marginalization, demonization and humiliation many Chinese living in the U.S. experience, exacerbated by recent media coverage about tainted toys and food, human rights violations, and negative press about the Olympics. We decided that before we could ask the Chinese community to engage with Tibetans, they would need to be heard by Westerners.
We offered an evening of brief training to most of the Western listeners –and several attended one of our Basic Intensive two-day trainings. We explained the process to all listeners: asking them to actively hold a safe, respectful space; allowing the more trained listeners to offer some reflection; and follow that with a round of deep appreciation. We agreed the Chinese-Western dialogues, above all else, would be about trust and relationship building. Spring and her husband Tao invited people to attend, and ten courageous Chinese people accepted.
On a clear night on the shores of Lake Washington, a group of twenty people – half Chinese and half Westerners- came together to listen to each other.
We began the evening with a simple ice breaker: everyone marked a map of the world to show where they and/or their grandparents were born. Then we each said one thing about this as we introduced ourselves. Spring then opened the evening, sharing deeply some of her personal story – powerfully setting the tone for being vulnerable and trusting.
Susan and Andrea then facilitated the listening after explaining the process and getting everyone’s agreement to simple guidelines. We asked each of the Chinese participants to respond to a few carefully crafted questions – one at a time, using a talking object. Each person shared openly and deeply. We learned about what people deeply cared about and about their anger and frustration at the media’s characterization of China and the conflict. We discovered surprising areas of commonality as well as respect for our differences.
We could not have imagined the magic of the evening, We shared food, listened and sang together – and felt enlivened by what seemed to be a seminal opportunity to re-connect the disparate pieces of our human family. The next session is being planned to include more dialogue and exchange between the Chinese and Westerners. We are heartened to be taking this journey on the road to Chinese-Tibetan dialogue - and to see the seeds of the work we care so much about bear new fruit.
Contributors: Andrea Partnow, Susan Cohen, Julie Welch.
Raku sculpture/photo: Anita Feng.