OLYMPIA - Celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is oftentimes accompanied by reciting the civil rights leader's call for peace and nonviolence and the historic, melodic chants of "We Shall Overcome."
But as the rain fell Sunday afternoon, the sounding of a drum was the only noise coming from a group of about 100 people who slowly walked around Capitol Lake. While they came together in solidarity and for a common cause, there was no chanting or sign waving.
They paid tribute to King without saying a word.
Sunday marked the fourth annual silent peace walk, an event hosted by the South Puget Sound Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.
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Walkers were encouraged by Koro Kaisan Miles, a Zen priest and resident teacher at Open Gate Zendo, to meditate and reflect on how peace starts with actions and how silence is an important aspect of finding that peace.
“Until we get a better hand on what we say, the best thing to do is not say anything,” Miles said, explaining how violence is oftentimes fueled by words.
The walk, which took about an hour to complete and started and ended at Marathon Park, blends the philosophy of King and Vietnamese Zen master Tich Naht Hahn, who spoke against violence during the Vietnam War and incorporated the idea of silent, walking meditation. In 1967, King nominated Hahn for the Nobel Peace Prize, Miles said.
Being in silence together as a community actually creates peace, said Robert Lovitt, a member of the fellowship.
He pointed to the recent violence in Tucson, Ariz., saying a walk for peace serves as a counterbalance.
“We think it’s a very appropriate way to honor Dr. King’s legacy,” Lovitt said. “His efforts to work for peace and freedom need to be reflected in what we’re trying to do, which is be together as a community in silence and dignity.”
On Sunday, that community included Erika Anderson, 31, from Portland, who said the ideas of nonviolence and peace should be discussed more in the public forum.
“Not just loud and destructive talk,” she said.
She came as part of the Open Gate Zendo and has been practicing Buddhism for the past two years. She said she wanted to take part in a walking meditation.
With an umbrella in hand, 63-year-old Benjamin Higgins Jr. of Rochester explained how he heard about the walk through a flier and thought it would be a good way to celebrate King’s legacy.
“It’s important to celebrate the things that have been accomplished by his life and actions,” he said. “You don’t have to say anything, just be here. Your presence is enough.”
The long, slow walk also provided participants the opportunity to meditate. Instead of talking and letting the mind talk nonstop, walkers were told to let go of thoughts and “be in the present.”