We often compartmentalize social justice and spirituality. But love letters are a practice where I feel I can combine the two. For me, the purpose of a love letter is to cultivate understanding and compassion towards the person’s unawareness or suffering, and to also bring peace to myself by speaking out. I have found that when I remain silent about injustice, there is a subtle harm that I create in my own consciousness. It is the harm that comes from acting in way that is not in alignment with my principles: when I look away from the man on the side of the street, lying on his back; when I scurry past the elderly woman asking if someone could give her directions; or when I swerve my car into the opposite lane to avoid the beggar at the intersection.
Of course, we are all allowed a certain number of failings. But, if I’m consistently ignoring the suffering of others, one of two things happens: either I start viewing myself differently or shifting my principles. In the first instance, I might stop thinking of myself as compassionate. I feel like I’m letting myself down. On the other hand, I might stop believing that one should do those things to be compassionate. At times in my life, I’ve stopped believing in compassion altogether because when I wasn’t practicing it myself, I no longer had a framework for it. So, when we stop speaking or acting out against the larger injustices of the world, the harm is to ourselves.
Additionally, when we do speak or act, it must also be in a way that creates love and understanding if that is what we are asking for. Cornel West said, “Justice is what loves looks like in public.” So if we are asking for more love and understanding in the world, we must also know how to create it. Love letters are a way to call upon the love within ourselves and bring it into the world.
When I write a love letter, I take a few deep breaths and close my eyes to begin. I get in touch with my breath, body, and my feelings. I don’t try to argue or think about the issue from an intellectual point of view. I let myself feel the hurt and the suffering on all sides. I ask myself, “What are the causes and conditions that has led to this person’s view of the world or actions?” This helps me understand the fear, the anger, and the good intentions of those who are causing harm. Sometimes the good intentions are hard to see or imagine, but if I look deeply, I can see them in the person’s love of his mother, child, or country.
I’ve written a number of love letters, especially to our current President, his administration, and my elected officials. And I will continue to write more. Sometimes, I’ve had to revise the same letter a few times because there was still anger in my words or wording. Sometimes, those feelings have been there still when I send it, but at least I know I’ve done the best I could. I remember it’s a practice. It’s a practice of individual and social change. It’s a practice of finding the power within me—the real powers of love and compassion—so that I don’t feel apathetic or numb. It’s a practice of transforming the suffering in myself and in the world.
Here are a few examples of love letters from the past year:
Love Letter to Richard Spencer, White Supremacist
Love Letter Regarding the Dakota Pipeline
Hello Dear Assistant Secretary Owen. Sending you wishes of love and peace in this challenging situation you are facing regarding the decision of the Dakota pipeline. There are many views on both sides of this issue. But beneath those views there are certainties. In particular there is the certainty of a history that we cannot ignore. This is a history of committing great wrongs against the indigenous people of America because of greed. As a nation we still live with the consequences of these actions, because when we harm another out of greed, we harm ourselves. I ask you to please stop harming our indigenous brothers and sisters. Please give them the respect and freedom they have deserved since the beginning of this country. Please respect their sacred land. Please do not put them in further harm’s way when there could be vast and dire consequences from the potential of leaks at Lake Oahe crossing. Please respect the Standing Rock Sioux’s rights. I urge the Army Corps to look at routing alternatives. Beneath all of the views, there is a path to loving each other better.
Love Letter Regarding Anti-Immigrant Legislation to Ban Sanctuary Cities
Dear House Administration of Criminal Justice committee members,
Thank you all for your commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all people here in the state of Louisiana. I know that in our modern times, we often feel fearful about rising crime and the violence we see, and that it is a lot of responsibility for you to create laws that protect us from crime and violence. However, these laws must not be derived from fear of people who are different from us. There is no such thing as people who are different from us because we are all the same and the “rule of law” must be love and kindness. Historically, this has not been the case. Many of our immigration laws were written from a place of fear and thus our immigration system itself is a product of fear and a sense of separation.
HB 135 does not recognize that that the immigration system itself is problematic, and instead attempts to punish municipalities for their conscious efforts to not perpetuate a broken system. In doing so, HB 135 will simply perpetuate the fear, discrimination, and sense of separation that is embedded in our system. For that reason, I ask you to vote no on HB 135.
We must come together from both sides of the aisle to address the immigration system and the fears that are embedded in it to truly have a system that works for our country and embodies principles of compassion, kindness, and wise discernment. We must figure out a just and compassionate way to provide opportunities for the immigrants who come here seeking to better themselves, their families and our nation. But a “get in line” and “rule of law” mentality is not helpful when the line and the rule is unjust and broken.
Thank you for your careful reflection on this. I wish you all safety, happiness, and freedom, as we wish this for all beings.