In Difficult Times

view of water through sculpture
Nadia Colburn // October 28, 2023 // 1 Comments

It's beautiful here in Cambridge—peak fall! The sky is blue, and the leaves are brilliant. So much splendor. And at the same time, around the world, there is so much deep suffering.

view of water through sculpture


Like many of you, I'm deeply saddened and horrified by the news from Israel and Gaza.

I'm ethnically Jewish, so this struggle is closer to my heart than others. I have Jewish friends who have lost loved ones already in Israel and also Palestinian friends who have lost loved ones. I want to cry out against the violence. I mourn all the innocent lives lost—and the ramping up of violence.

As many of you know, I'm a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist who, because of his peace activism, was exiled from Vietnam.

It can be hard to understand that advocating for peace is not advocating for one side or the other but instead advocating for a vision of non-violence in which the lives of innocent civilians—women, children, men—on both sides are more important than "positions." 

As a pacifist, as someone aware of the long-lasting intergenerational wounds of trauma, and as someone awake to the beauty of all that is around us, I mourn all the lost opportunities to work towards real peace and long to raise my voice for re-imaged possibilities.

I also believe that the escalation of violence is not only morally wrong and devastating for the innocent Palestinians civilians caught up in the violence, but also pragmatically damaging for Israel, Jews, America, democracy, and our humanity. Peace is not just altruistic; it's in our best interest.

I know there are people on both sides who think peace is naive. But peace does not mean we condone actions or pretend we live a fairy tale. I believe it takes real bravery to advocate for peace—not by me, far away, but for people on the front lines.

In these times of such loss and devastation, language seems insufficient—how do we speak of trauma? This is why we turn to poetry.

In my Poetry of Attention class, we explore the relationship between the words on the page in the poems we read and write and our actions in the world: what does it mean to pay close attention and see the world around us as sacred, and how does that affect our actions? And what does it mean to continue to trust in and deepen and speak from that vision even if it is, largely, not heard?

The poet W.H. Auden, writing in 1939, at the start of World War Two, famously said, "poetry makes nothing happen." But he also wrote in the same poem that poetry is a "way of happening." People often quote these lines, and I think of them again now: from a spiritual context, our speech is not a doing but a way of happening in our own hearts, in our own vision, in what we want to keep alive, especially at those times when it seems the world around us has lost its vision.

Whether it is public or private suffering, we find ourselves in a world that often seems mad. But inside our hearts, in our mouths, we can speak from a place of alignment and clarity.

In that spirit, I want to offer a few resources that might be helpful in these—or any—difficult times. I'm also aware that many people are undergoing other challenges, losses, stresses. I hope this might offer some support.

This is my favorite metta meditation, a prayer of lovingkindness that starts with offering love to oneself and then offers it in wider and wider circles until it encircles the whole world. In this post, I offer both the meditation and a series of writing prompts around it. Access the meditation and prompts here.

my favorite metta meditation

I hope you'll enjoy it.

This short video from the New York Times sums up well, I think, the absurdity of this moment and what is lost when we demand that others take sides: watch the video here.

And this is an essay about nonviolence I wrote almost ten years ago, in 2015, after my first ten-day silent Vipassana retreat. When I got back, there had been terrorist attacks in Paris, and in the essay, I addressed the mistaken impulse to respond to violence with more violence. The attacks were right before the conference that would lead to the Paris Agreement for the climate, and I wrote about how important it was for us, as a world, not to be distracted by the violence but rather to come together for collective action to save lives. That is all the more true now. Read the essay here.

Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, two people who have witnessed unspeakable violence, remind us that peace and love are available even in the most difficult situations. I offer you and this prayer:

May you feel protected and safe.
May you feel contented and pleased.
May your physical body support you with ease.
May your life unfold smoothly with ease.
May your light shine unobstructed with ease.

with love,
Nadia

Enter your text here...

  • Thank you for expressing what I also feel deeply. Peace is not an easy option, advocating and making it happen is really hard, especially when force is presented yet again as the only way possible to resolve conflict…

    May peace be our daily challenge
    May peace happen in our hearts first
    May we make peace with everyone
    Let’s make peace happen

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Enjoyed this article?

    Find more great content here:

    Free Workshop: Writing as Practice

    Outside my window, as I'm writing this post, the birds are singing!Sometimes, ...

    Read More
    Make Your Story a Gift (And FREE Class!)

    After a wonderful few weeks of traveling on my book tour, I'm ...

    Read More
    What to Do with Difficult Stories–and Why!

    I’m writing from Colorado where Eric has flown out to meet me. ...

    Read More
    Free Workshop: Writing as Practice

    Outside my window, as I'm writing this post, the birds are singing!Sometimes, ...

    Read More
    Make Your Story a Gift (And FREE Class!)

    After a wonderful few weeks of traveling on my book tour, I'm ...

    Read More
    What to Do with Difficult Stories–and Why!

    I’m writing from Colorado where Eric has flown out to meet me. ...

    Read More
    On Love

    Wednesday was Valentine's Day, so I wanted to share some thoughts on ...

    Read More
    >