Eyes so soft

lonely

Photo by Wanda D’Onofrio

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky

Active Hope

Reflections on the book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.

For me, the connection between Active Hope and mindfulness is completely seamless, and seems vitally important at this time in the world. In our mindfulness practice, we come back time and again to our motivation for practising: the motivation for the deepest well-being of ourselves and others. And our well-being is inextricably linked with the larger world around us.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The Earth is not just our environment. We are the Earth and the Earth is us. We have always been one with the Earth…” So actively connecting with and caring for the earth that we are part of, and ‘facing the mess without going crazy’  is an essential part of this well-being in my view.

The ‘state of the world’ is something that might be tempting to turn away from as being too overwhelming, too dire to really look at or connect with – but what is mindfulness if not turning towards the places that scare us? We do this internally in our practice whenever something comes up that is uncomfortable, and we can do the same with what’s gratitudeuncomfortable and scary out there in the world, whether it’s climate disruption, depleting or resources or the fast rate with which species are going extinct and ecosystems are lost.

What I love about the Active Hope journey is that it helps connect with the strong steady ground of gratitude to start from, a trusted mindfulness practice connecting with joy, resilience and wellness. This gratitude and the vitality and strength it offers, facilitates turning towards what’s difficult with skillful exercises that honour our pain for the world. As Joanna Macy says:

“In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to ‘suffer with’ is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our ‘world as lover, world as self’.”

dandelionspiral

Spiral of the Work That Reconnects, by Dori Midnight

As is emphasised in the mindfulness training again and again, the sensitivity to pain in self, others and the world, can be the doorway to genuine compassion and meaningful action to try to relieve it. For me personally it has been so affirmative to directly experience the discovery that this pain is not the end of anything, but rather a beginning to see with new eyes, to widen our perspective. The chapters in the book relating to this seeing with new eyes, are on A Wider Sense of Self which offers a descent into the levels of our identity where there is much more connection than the usual perspective of separate individuals; A Different Story of Power looks at a shift from the domination model of power-over to the surprising potential of power-with; A Richer Experience of Community reaches into our deep connectedness with all human beings as well as with other life-forms; and A Larger View of Time,  where we stretch our imagination to planet time and connect with our ancestors as well as the future generations. And each of these themes in the book have a range of experiential exercises to dive in to, which shifts interesting thought-material to powerful personal experience. The Buddhist themes of interconnectedness and no self are tangible in these chapters, informed by Joanna’s decades long practice and deep understanding of Buddhism. In Joanna’s own words:

“The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understandings of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.

Then, ever again, we go forth into the action that calls us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme; for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. And the spiral begins again…

So finally, we take this work into direct – and mindful – action. What little thing can I do today? Which ‘fruit tree’ can I water, even if I’m not sure it will actually bear fruit in the future? And how can my mindful awareness light up unconscious habits of consuming, how can my sense of interconnection with ecosystems and people across the planet inform me in everyday choices of the food I eat, the clothes I buy, the ways I travel? As is often the case in mindfulness practice on ‘the cushion’, what is revealed by deeper looking might need a good dose of (self)compassion, which we can offer freely. Because this is not meant to be another stick to beat myself up with in guilt. It’s living my intention to be increasingly aware and as Lama Yeshe Rinpoche says, becoming a more and more ‘useful’ human being.

“There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it’s real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy it can ground us, especially when we’re scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done.”

So… let’s start with gratitude, again and again!

bird

 

Earthy mindfulness

More and more, I am finding a deepening love and concern for what is happening to our beautiful planet. The poet Reiner Maria Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows) phrased it beautifully in his Book of Hours which has been on and off my bedside table for several years now:

Dear darkening ground,
you’ve endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor—let their work
grip them another five hours, or seven,

before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!

I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they’re worthy of you and real.

And I continue to be very curious about how mindfulness can help in that quest to love the things as no one has thought to love them. It seems to me that a lot of the current climate crisis can be met by looking deeply, acting mindfully and lovingly. And so I find myself wondering… what is my place in the family of things, how am I connected to others? How can I contribute to a healthier thriving planet on a day-to-day basis? Where do my clothes come from, who has grown my food and where, what are the conditions of their lives and how is their environment treated, what resources are used to package my food and what happens to it after it has served its purpose? What are the lives of the animals like that are producing the eggs and milk I consume, and how is the animal agriculture that I’m supporting with my purchases contributing to climate change?

This topic occupies my bedside table at the moment: Stephanie Kaza’s Mindfully Green, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to the Earth, Joanna Macy’s Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy.

I find I’m having to work hard at staying connected and balanced in the midst of the amount of suffering I see when looking more deeply at the interconnectedness of all things and therefore, my contribution to it. It’s easy to fall into overwhelm and then shrink away in apathy, distraction and numbness, or flip the other way into black and white fanaticism and deadly criticism of myself and others (and it’s not hard to see how harsh criticism then flips me back into apathy). It’s taking all my mindfulness and then some, to inch towards where it hurts – while also consciously directing my gaze to the deep gratitude and my love and sheer beauty of life.

I find Joanna Macy’s wise voice a continuous inspiration and encouragement. In a short video she talks about Embracing Suffering and ends with saying in such a definite and knowing way that “despair is the covering of our love for our world, and we crack it open by speaking it so that our love can act. So the key is not being afraid of our pain for the world. Not being afraid of the world’s suffering. And if you are not afraid of it… then nothing can stop you.”

And not only can nothing stop you, but it allows you to live as Hafiz described:

One regret, dear world,
That I am determined not to have
When I am lying on my deathbed
Is that I did not kiss you enough.

Indeed!
So may we all live in a way that allows our self, our fellow beings and this precious planet we call our home to be well and flourishing…

the peace of wild things

flying
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry