Change Your Mind Day (CYMD) was an afternoon of introductory meditation practices and contemplative exercises that took place at the First Unitarian Church at 405 Washington Ave. in Albany on Saturday June 7th.

The Buddhist Peace Group was one of eleven Buddhist groups presenting at this year's event. Our presentation consisted of an exercise in which we asked the audience to split up into small groups for the purpose of expressing their thoughts, feelings, and insights on war and peace.

Following are the remarks prepared as an introduction to our group, along with the instructions for the exercise and some pictures that were taken that day.

Introducing the Buddhist Peace Group:

We represent the Buddhist Peace Group, an ad hoc group of Americans coming from various Buddhist traditions who work together in social activism to advocate the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Because our group initially formed during the build up toward the war in Iraq, we initially focused the bulk of our energy on this issue, reminding people that over 50% of the population we were bombing were children under the age of 15. Sitting in meditation as silent witnesses, we participated in various events.

We also sponsored presentations of the film Bridge to Bagdhad. This is a documentary made late last year of a conversation that took place via satellite feed between students at New York University and the University of Bagdhad. It was a candid exchange between the two groups that defied stereotypes and showed all involved as complex human beings rather than caricatures. With our sponsorship this film was shown at colleges and high schools in the Capitol region with discussions that followed. Our intent was to help address misconceptions students held and hopefully bring some understanding to a situation filled with fear and prejudice.

In addition to this you may have read in the local papers about the 24 Hour Meditation held at the Troy YWCA in the days after the war began. We set up a room there and encouraged people on all sides of the issue to join us for meditation or prayer. There was a table set up where people could share their views through writing or other creative expression and photographs of Iraqi children with a sign asking people to please hold these children in their hara or their heart. While members of the Buddhist Peace Group took turns sitting for the 24 hour period, people of all ages came in to offer everything from prayers to drawings toward a swift and peaceful resolution to the conflict. Some of these people had relatives or family members in the armed forces and found some solace in the peaceful environment we had created. Others were pro-peace and used this as a way to express their own fears and hopes about the war. One man came in and sat down in a chair for only a few minutes to offer a prayer but then came back three more times that day.

We have taken part in various demonstrations and vigils as a group and as individual members. During the Women Against War rally held at the Capitol steps shortly after the beginning of the invasion we stood up as a group and called for a moment of silence to hold all those involved, but especially the children, in our hara and our hearts, hoping to create the space for peace both in Iraq and at home. Feedback from this told us that people felt a sense of relief in that momentary calm. As individuals we try to embody peace and intervene when provocation begins between people at these events by talking quietly to some of those involved and encouraging them to allow the other individuals their perspective. We have been surprised when people don't seem to grasp the meaning or impact of their own behaviors and gratified that so many people seem to respond positively to our presence. We also walked with JunSun from Ballston Spa to the peace vigil in Saratoga, holding up pictures of Iraqi children hoping again to remind those around us of the innocent children who were so often the victims of our aggression.

In the near future we hope to begin a study group that will read both conservative ideology and the liberal perspective on current issues, and study the Patriot Act as well. We encourage people from all perspectives on these issues to join us in an attempt to promote an atmosphere where people can share their views and remain open to hearing opposing views from those around them. Through this we hope to encourage a broader understanding for ourselves and others of the problems facing today's world. We hope to move toward the solution of these problems by first finding a way to build bridges between those of us who disagree. Even within our small group we have had plenty of opportunities to work on this process.

We also intend to offer a 'Meditation in Inter-Action' workshop in the near future. Further information about these activities will appear on our Upcoming Events page.

In keeping with our mission to create peaceful resolution to conflict, members of our group, despite at times vehement differences of opinion, give each other the space to be heard, and more importantly, to feel the heart of the other's differing opinion. In our meetings we use consensus and strive to keep open to all views expressed so that we may learn not only about others but about ourselves. We endeavor as a group to find what it means to engage in this work through our Buddhist practice, to allow our actions to be informed by the stillness of meditation.

Instructions for Today's Exercise:

What we would like to offer today is a brief exercise that we hope you find both fun and thought provoking. If you look around you will see five people with pictures of children's faces that they are holding above their head. When I'm done giving instructions we ask that you divide into groups at each one of these pictures, whichever is closest to you, but feel free to join another group if one
seems less crowded than yours. At each of these stations you'll see a big sheet of paper and copies of a photograph. Please take a moment to quietly view the photo, taking note of your reactions to it, your thoughts and your feelings, even your physical reactions. When you feel ready, please come forward and write or draw about your reactions on the paper. When everyone is through, your group will then talk about the experience. Above all else, we ask that you stay aware not only of your own reactions to the photo but also to take note of and remain open to other people's reactions as well. Through this we hope you experience a taste of the way we strive to interact with each other in the group and also what we try to bring into our social action.

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