keep playing the long game, bodhisattvas!
keep playing the long game, bodhisattvas!
no doubt humankind has contributed to climate change. to deny this is to deny the very nature of life, of existence, which is to say that all things are interconnected and interdependent. another way to say this is that our actions affect our environment and our environment in turn affects us. this is the law of karma, of cause and effect. the seeds we plant, will grow.
but nevertheless, if a house is burning, we don’t stand around arguing that neither we nor anyone we know has started the fire as the house burns around us. it would be insanity to do so. instead, we get to work on putting the fire out.
the world is burning.
can we break our addiction to consumption?
can we find the lasting joy and peace in contentment?
can we reconnect with a sense of reverence for all life including the planet herself?
we need to. we are being called to.
will we answer?
a new favorite poem to share. this one from Rainer Maria Rilke. please read and enjoy. short comment follows ~j
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
by Rainer Maria Rilke
as the Buddhist scholar and environmentalist, Joanna Macy, has said about this poem – each of us can claim this. each of us was born from the web of life. take joy in this. no room for self-pity.
Thursday, January 10th 2013
“You are sitting on the earth and you realize that this earth deserves you and you deserve this earth. You are there—fully, personally, genuinely.”
~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
For the majority of my childhood, I grew up in Valley Center, California. It is a rural town in the northeast of San Diego County. If I had to pick one thing to be thankful for, from my childhood, it would be this – that I had the opportunity to fall in love with nature at such an early age.
Even as I write this, I feel moved to express my gratitude to my parents, yet again. What a gift it was to fill my days with hands in dirt, running through fields, sitting and watching lizards, insects, and squirrels. I was given the freedom to just sit – listening to birds in song and the wind dancing through the great oak trees. These early experiences began in me a journey of appreciation, respect, and love of nature and this tiny blue planet we call home. It was in these early experiences that I began to see the sacred, the divine. If philosophy is in the head, then Spirituality is in the heart – it is experiential. And for me, the most spiritual experiences I have had have been in the presence of nature. Nature, has for me, been a Sacrament. A window into what is Sacred, what is Divine.
I miss the days when I allowed myself such freedom. At times I long for the great oak trees, their strength, their music. So much so, that when shopping or running errands, I even find myself subconsciously picking the parking space with the tree, if there is one, rather than not. I long for these experiences for my nephews and niece. “Play outside” I remind them, maybe too often, because I know that love grows in experience and in time and space.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful – very grateful for technology in all of its embodiments. I use my iPhone, maybe too often (it’s sooooo wonderful!) I know that much of my life is dependent on computers, that I enjoy computers (they are sooooo wonderful!) But they don’t inspire my heart to sing, my hands to open – to reach out, my feet to dance, or that deep breath that I instinctively know to take when I see a vast blue sky. I like technology. But I love nature.
So I worry a bit, for my nephews and niece. Though, they too have a fondness for nature (especially the oldest), as long as they’ve known nature they have also known video games, iPods, and DVD players. Nature has so much competition. And although it is certain that all of this technology has benefitted humankind in a myriad of ways, there has been a cost – a shadow side to this great revolution.
We have in a way been distanced from nature, in very real, tangible ways. We have been distanced not only in geography as we use up land for resource and move closer to cities for work. But also in our psychology as so much of the resources nature provides are manufactured, packaged and then put on a shelf for us before we consume. This applies to almost all we purchase in the West, from materials to food. There is a distance, a disconnect that develops with a life thus lived. We forget how deeply we are connected to nature, when are so far away that we don’t see the source of what we consume, we just know the store names. We have even manipulated our religious practices, perhaps unknowingly – conveniently, in such a way to support this disconnect.
“The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise — then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.”
~ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
“…then we shall perish…”
This isn’t a judgment, it is our reality. If we are of nature, if nature is where life is to be found – then as we are distanced from nature, we are distanced from life. I see this not only in our environmental changes, but also in our psychology – our increased anxieties and depression. Not that playing in dirt will end all anxieties and depression, but feeling connected and whole would – I believe – go a long way in healing many of our wounds. In my experience, being close to nature has been a grounding force in my life. And as we find ourselves grounded in nature, we find ourselves connected to all life. To paraphrase Neil Degrasse Tyson – we are connected to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, and to the entire Universe atomically.
I think there is great reason for hope, when contemplating our future. For one thing, the Earth and nature itself is supportive of Life. The Earth has seen a lot of destruction and extinction of many species, even as it has also promoted healing from such destruction and supported the evolution of new species. The Earth and life on it, most likely, will go on. But will we? If we begin to see ourselves not only as consumers and benefactors of the Earth, but as partners and co-creators with the Earth, with nature – then yes, I think we will.
And this is why I see reason to hope. Even as over time, we have strayed away from the connected – grounded practices of indigenous and native culture, and from the ancient earth/nature-based spiritual traditions, there is now a resurgence and the beginnings of such awareness and (I believe) a rich desire to reconnect.
I believe we are beginning a new age, a return to nature as Sacrament. I see it in the new movement of integrated contemplative Christianity (which is, perhaps, actually a return to a more original – less corporate Christianity) and also in Engaged Buddhism, a term of which Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “was created to restore the true meaning of Buddhism.” And perhaps, our brothers and sisters from the indigenous, native and nature-based spiritualities will lead the way. I think those of us not from these traditions, would do well to listen and learn from their reverence for and relationship with nature.
One of the most iconic images of The Buddha, is of him sitting under the bodhi tree, his left hand palm up on his lap, his right hand touching the Earth. It is said that on the night of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment and realization of being The Buddha, he was attacked by the demon, Mara. Mara, proud and jealous, challenged Siddhartha’s right to sit there, claiming enlightenment to be his. Mara’s soldiers shouted out, bearing witness to Mara’s great accomplishments and right to be there. When Mara then asked Siddhartha, “Who bears witness for you?” Siddhartha sitting there, calm and grounded, reached out with his right hand and touched the Earth, at which point the Earth itself answered, “I bear witness.” It is at this point that Mara disappears and as the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha realized his enlightenment and becomes The Buddha.
The Earth has indeed been bearing witness for us, for all life, as long as it has existed. It is now, perhaps, our time to return the favor. It is our time to return to nature as Sacrament. And it is up to each of us to find the practice that best helps us to do so.
I have a practice I do every morning as part of my meditation. It is a practice I do to realign myself – to remind myself of my connection to all Life. I use the mantra “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om”. Om is said to be the primordial sound of Life itself and Shanti means “peace”. Sitting, I place both hands on my heart. I allow myself to feel my heart beating as I breathe in and breathe out. I then while breathing in, with both hands over my heart, say in my mind, “Om”. In between the breath, I say in my mind, “Shanti Shanti Shanti”. As the breath leaves my body, I say in my mind again, “Om”. I repeat this with one hand on my heart and one hand touching the Earth. I then repeat it a third time with one hand on my heart and one hand resting in space.
I then end this practice with hands together, as I bow my head in reverence and gratitude to Life. I have started my day establishing first, a wish for peace within my own heart, that I may have peace and be an instrument of peace for the world. Then a wish for peace to all who share this ground, this Earth with me. And then a wish for peace to all who breathe this same air and share this same space with me. And finally a bow to ALL of it. Then as I go about my day, I try to recognize the Divine in all I see, greeting Nature as a relative rather than stranger, as part of me rather than an other, as Brother Sun and Sister Moon, as St. Francis would say.
I think it is imperative that we all find a way to do this. Not only is it necessary for our survival, it is necessary for knowing who we are. So when out and about take some time to sit and watch the ocean, to lay in some grass watching clouds move across the sky, look out at the vast canopy of night – dotted with light as you hold your lover’s hand, to hug a tree, or talk to ants marching. Connecting with Nature is connecting with You.
In the teaching of The Buddha and the flower, it is said that The Buddha near the end of his life gathered his disciples near a pond. The Buddha, in silence, reached deep into the pond. From deep within the mud, The Buddha, pulled up a lotus flower by the root and held it before them. He did not utter a word. Just silence, save perhaps for the drops of water descending to the ground below. The disciples did not know what to think. The Buddha showed the flower to each of them in silence and each of them, in turn, shared what they thought was the meaning of this image – this lesson.
The Buddha moved from disciple to disciple, still in silence, eventually gazing upon his disciple Mahakasyapa. At the sight of the flower, Mahakasyapa smiled and began to laugh! The Buddha handed the lotus to his disciple and finally spoke. He said, “What can be said I have said to you. And what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakasyapa.” It is at this point that Mahakasyapa became The Buddha’s successor.
So…it’s a flower, you may say. And of course you wouldn’t be wrong. We see flowers all the time. We see them cramped in pots, dancing in fields. We see fake ones masquerading in homes, always vibrant in color if not a bit dusty. We give them to friends grieving and to lovers in celebration of the love in our hearts. Sometimes in our busy bustle we don’t notice them underfoot, crushed in our hustle. Sometimes, though, the world seems to all but stop as one catches our glance and captures our breath.
But have you seen the Universe in a single flower?
Take a moment and reflect on this notion…
It really is quite scandalous, if you give this thought its due. We are used to labeling things, ideas, thoughts in such a way that brings us an illusion of protection from mystery…Reality. The Buddha holds up a flower, we say to ourselves, “Oh, nice flower…moving on.” We busy ourselves with tasks, we feed our emotional storylines by replaying them over and over again in our minds. We want to feel useful, we want to feel important, because for some reason we have forgotten or just can’t believe that we already are. We have forgotten or just can’t believe that the entirety of the Universe lives within a single flower…lives within us.
So, how do we get there? How do we see the Universe in a flower, in us? How do we open our eyes to such union, or what we call in Buddhism – Interdependence?
We get there, perhaps better yet – we arrive to where we already are – through Mindfulness…through living mindfully.
The best place to begin living mindfully is within us. We start with ourselves. Most of the time we are living in a fractured way, our mind lost in thoughts of past and future, while our bodies struggle in the present. So, we begin with our breath. We stop and we observe our breath. Breathing, for the most of us, is an involuntary happening. Our bodies operate this function without our having to think about it or attempt at controlling it. So, in this practice we are not actively breathing, rather we are just letting the breath happen and following it. As we breathe in, we are aware of what this feels like in our bodies; the air flowing through our nostrils, our chest rising in expansion to allow space. As we breathe out, we are aware of our chest descending back into itself, and the warmth of the air as it exits. We can even say to ourselves, “breathing in” as we breathe in, and “breathing out” as we breathe out. Sometimes this only holds our attention for a moment and then we are off and running away again with our thoughts – that school assignment, that project at work, the friendship on the rocks, or the one who holds our hearts. We are distracted by positive thought as well, sometimes even wonderful – creative – inspired thoughts that can be beneficial. This practice, however, is about staying with the breath. Why? Because there is a very practical, quite delightful, and truly beneficial miracle that happens when we stop and become aware of our breathing…we unite our minds with our bodies. When we do this, we are present, we are whole, and Being. Not caught up in worry, not caught up in drama, in thought or emotion. Simply Being. Not that there is anything wrong with thought or emotion. They are…however, they are not us. Yet, we so readily define ourselves with these…I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m happy, I’m an artist, I’m a Buddhist. So, return to your breath. Return to the present where your body and mind are truly home. This is our ground, our anchor in a stormy sea…better yet, our life jacket allowing us to flow with the River.
This is mindfulness, this is mindful living. To have mind and body in union, connected and fully present. To be awake in this moment. This has a very practical, mundane (if there is such a thing) benefit as well. Science is now documenting the benefits of mindfulness and mindful living. Reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and related diseases are being documented as benefits to this practice.
But from a mystical and spiritual perspective – this is what allows us to Be. This is what starts to open our hearts and minds so that we see more than a flower. We see the sun that gave love with its warmth, we see the rain that quenched its thirst, the soil that fed it, the wind or bee that dropped it to a waiting, nurturing Earth. Neil Degrasse Tyson has said, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” When we are able to see this, and trust me in time you will, then every bush is burning and we can hear the voice of what we call Divine everywhere…not least of all, within your heart. The Universe within you. And when we begin to see the Universe – life fully Itself – within us, we begin to see it within our neighbor next door, the person we are in conflict with, our lover, the dog barking, the ants tasking, the worm burrowing, the tree changing color, the sun giving way to the moon.
We need this reconnection for our survival. We need this re-unification for the health of world. We need this restoration to who we already are, for the awakening of our souls. We need humans to once again remember that we are human Beings. And before mindful living can be mistaken for passivity, may I ask you – Is there anything more active than being fully engaged with all of who you are, offering all of who you are to the present moment? This is mindful living, this is enlightenment.
a letter to Aurora…
to all those who are suffering from this horrific tragedy in Aurora, our prayers are with you. to all those who are suffering from their own personal tragedies in this life, our prayers are with you. we are connected in our suffering, in our pain, in our confusion as to how such violence can occur. we are connected in these dark moments of life, where our hearts break and our minds spin with emotion, we are connected in our sense of loss as life seems to have lost all that is good.
it is important to feel these emotions, to sit with these emotions. to be where we are at, to grieve. so many of us, in our confusion, our pain, our anger are running from this horrible event. it isn’t easy to sit with tragedy, to be awake with suffering. it is far easier (and even feels good to have some brief relief) to blame. to blame the existence of guns, to blame a broken system, to blame a single individual who has forgotten what it means to be human, to be connected in life and love. and there too, we connect. we connect into groups with missions and we feel some brief relief as we find a place to place our anger, our pain, our suffering…forgetting our truer connection, that we are One.
but there is another way we are connected. we are connected in our Light, in our Love, in Life.
so as we sit in this darkness, in this night of tragedy and pain, let us look to Aurora itself. Aurora means “dawn”…the coming of day. that sacred, beautiful time when the night moves from twilight to day.
there is pain here. there is confusion and anger. but, my friends, there is also hope. the day will come again and with it the sun, shining bright the light of love and life. the Light that lives in all of us – both passed and still present, and the Love that connects us – whether we have passed or are present, whatever may come.
wishing peace and freedom from suffering for us all.
namaste ~ j
Friday, July 20th 2012