Annual Community Letter from CG Board of Directors

I am Common Ground. This simple phrase came to me as I reflected on the question “what is Common Ground doing about… social and racial injustice, about climate change, about…?”. Community members posed this question to the leadership in 2015 when 9 people were murdered at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC; and again when 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life temple in Pittsburg in 2018. When black men in our very own metropolitan community were murdered at the hands of police—Jamar Clark in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016, and George Floyd in 2020—the question “what is Common Ground doing?” rang out resoundingly.

As a community whose intention is to see clearly and open our hearts to the way things are, the state of our community—locally, nationally and globally— has caused a deep heartbreak as we face the division, hatred and ignorance that is ablaze. The demand that something has got to change—now!—resonates. And yet, many of us look outward to point to who needs to change, to challenge organizations to do something, anything, that we can stand behind. Indeed, each of us is accountable to one another to be an agent of change in some way. After all, each of us, individually, make up the organization. So, the question we can each ask ourselves, is what am I doing to enact much needed change?

The principles guiding all that we do at Common Ground remain unchanged—we exist to support the awakening of suffering beings through the development of an ethical life, the cultivation of a pure heart and quiet mind, and through a deepening of insight into the way things are. Training in this way leads to freedom from fear, attachment, and all ideas of separation.* Walking the path as practiced by our spiritual ancestors, we cultivate an open, clear, non-judging awareness and the intention to be skillful in our words and actions. We sit, steady the mind, so that in our life off the cushion we are not broken by the suffering and hatred we see in our neighbors, but are able to lean into what needs to be done with great resolve, rooted in patience and loving kindness, and a wise and fierce ardor. We practice to strengthen our devotion to walking alongside each other with interest and compassion as we wake up to the unequal, and yet interrelated, experiences of privilege and oppression in our relationships, institutions, and communities. We understand that this wise and fearless opening to the real pain and confusion in our world is a difficult and necessary process in addressing the roots of greed, hatred, and ignorance.*

We can easily become overwhelmed when we try to envision how, as an individual, we can impact system reformation. When we take this macro perspective, we can, without a doubt, lose sight of the influence we have right here, right now, in our relationships with those in our household, family, and immediate community. That it is precisely these relationships that are essential elements to broader systems change. We can trust that by stepping into the real pain and confusion that is before us, we are setting in motion real and necessary change. An honest and difficult conversation with a family member or a neighbor, without the intention to change their mind, is the precise action necessary to impact systems transformation. When we opt out of the work that is closest to us, we are opting out of the most important work right here, right now. There is nothing that any movement or organization can do to absolve us as individuals from the messy work we each must do interpersonally.

Recently a survey went out to the Common Ground community, inquiring about what support is needed for community members to feel connected and supported at this profound moment in time. What is it that you need to allow you to stand up to, speak truth to the injustice and ignorance you see in your daily life? The Board will use these survey responses as a jumping off place for our annual Board retreat in October, and already adjustments have been made to program structure to allow for more engagement and sharing with one another.

Common Ground is a place where we come to be fortified by the teachings of the Buddha so that we may step into the messiness rooted in patient and kind resolve, with genuine and honest caring. So that we may act with integrity and wisdom, not just sit, nor lay in wait for an opening or invitation to be included. We integrate the teachings in order to strengthen our capacity to respond to what is directly before us, to remain rooted in compassion in the face of a relative, neighbor or colleague whose words are hurtful and divisive, or deeply rooted in not seeing clearly.

We come to Common Ground to be in community with others who are committed to living a life of non-harming, of generous compassion and kindness, not only toward ourselves, not only when conditions are agreeable or comfortable, but to all beings, all of the time. When we struggle or falter, we have the wisdom of our beloved sangha to hold us up; not to hide behind, but to be the strength so that we may persevere.

So what is Common Ground doing? We have imagined new practice opportunities for us to continue to strengthen our resolve in this staggering era where leaders endorse hatred and violence, choosing not to honor the truth of things. What good is more sitting doing?, you might ask. It has strengthened many of you, Common Ground community members, to stand up, speak up, show up. To come together at the George Floyd memorial site in loving protest. It has brought community members together to pen a love letter to our city. It has moved community members to come together in action, to wholeheartedly participate and share with one another the trials and triumphs of showing up with an undefended heart. We are grateful that many community members continue to be able to offer generous financial support to the center, so that the center in turn is able to support community coming together in meaningful ways. This is Common Ground. I am Common Ground. You are Common Ground. We are Common Ground. Doing good from where we are.

-Stacy McClendon, Board Chair, on behalf of the Common Ground Board of Directors

*excerpted from Common Ground’s Guiding Principles and Practices

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