Meeting the world’s deep hunger

First appeared as blog post by Jane Negrych for the Weekly Challenge blog from the Mindfulness Association

After Jane wrote about The Final Straw challenge on creating and cultivating an ‘outer’ practice,  she thought it might be a good idea to change up the format of our challenge this week and record a conversation between me and her on ‘outer’ practice and how we might start moving towards Engaged Mindfulness…

 

click here to watch

 

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There is a song…

song
There’s a song that wants to sing itself through us.
We just got to be available.
Maybe the song that is to be sung through us, is
the most beautiful requiem for an irreplaceable
planet or maybe it’s a song of joyous rebirth
as we create a new culture
that doesn’t destroy its world.
But in any case, there’s absolutely no excuse
for our making our passionate love for our world
dependent on what we think of its degree of health,
whether we think it’s going to go on forever.
Those are just thoughts anyway.
But this moment you’re alive,
so you can just dial up
the magic of that
at any time.

– Joanna Macy

The final straw

Blog post by Jane Negrych for the Weekly Challenge blog from the Mindfulness Association

A few days ago, I was speaking with my dear friend and colleague Kristine Janson about straws. Yes, you read that right: straws. Kristine had asked me if I used straws and I didn’t think that I used straws, but then when I really thought about it, I realised that I actually use straws all the time.

Whenever I go to my local coffee shop and order a smoothie, I am given a straw. Or when my children order slushes (which in the summer is ALL the time), they get the fattest straws possible. And lately on my drive home from teaching, I have been stopping for a chocolate milkshake and I drink that milkshake with a STRAW. In my head this is my weekly act of self kindness 😉

However, while this is an act of self-kindness for Jane, is it an act of kindness for the planet?

Well, my conversation with Kristine reminded me that it’s not. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are 500 million straws used per DAY!!! And what happens to those straws? They just sit there and pollute. They do not biodegrade. In fact, according to Jackie Nunez who wrote “The Sipping Point”, every piece of plastic ever made is still in our environment in some capacity (for full article click here).

ac9f0b6d-straws-for-blog

When I thought about this, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I mean we are talking about straws. If this one teeny tiny item could cause so much havoc for our earth, what other mindless consumption habits do I have?

Kristine and I spoke about this overwhelm and of ways in which we can engage and act to counter mindless consumption in ways that do not feel like we are being completely engulfed and dragged down by the enormity of the issue: the destruction of our environment at the hands of humans. How can we move forward in a way that is helpful, but also in a way that one can maintain a sense of hope?

One thing that Kristine has taken on is some advice from the late Akong Rinpoche, past Abbot and Founder of Samye Ling. In the film ‘Akong – a Remarkable Life’, Akong Rinpoche talks about the importance of not just practising for ourselves and our own benefit, but also of acting in society. He calls this acting in society ‘outer’ practice, to complement our ‘inner’ practice of meditation. Akong Rinpoche did much charity work with one of his project being ROKPA, an international relief organisation that is represented in 17 countries world wide! His ‘outer’ practice was robust.

Kristine has been focusing her ‘outer’ practice of environmental issues. She’s been inspired by the work of Joanna Macy, the eco philosopher and author of “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy”, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh, who considers and encourages mindful consumption in a way that honours all generations. His teachings stress the interconnection between all living beings, and in his book “For a Future to Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life”, he states that “[w]e have to eat, drink, consume, but if we do it unmindfully, we may destroy our bodies and our consciousness, showing ingratitude toward our ancestors, our parents, and future generations”. Therefore, it is no surprise that these principles have come together to shape and influence Kristine’s teaching practice; and in 2018, she will be co- leading (with Fay Adams) a course on Engaged Mindfulness, or a course that helps mindfulness practitioners really develop their own ‘outer’ practice in a way that does not overwhelm, rather nurtures and supports well-being (for more information on the Engaged Mindfulness course, please click here).

In the meantime, I have decided to give up using plastic straws and I have pledged to continue to find small ways in which I continue to transform my consumption from mindless to mindful. So this week’s challenge is to find your own small modification to your consumption habits that might help nourish rather than deplete, not only you but this planet!

God speaks to each of us as he makes us

mistymorning

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

 

– Reiner Maria Rilke, transl. Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows
Book of Hours, I 59

I go among trees

tree

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Wendell Berry

 

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

 

Verses for Environmental Practice

spiders-web-2Waking up in the morning
I vow with all beings
to be ready for sparks of the Dharma
from flowers or children or birds.

Sitting alone in zazen
I vow with all beings
to remember I’m sitting together
with mountains, children, and bears.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When I stroll around in the city
I vow with all beings
to notice how lichen and grasses
never give up in despair.

Watching a spider at work
I vow with all beings
to cherish the web of the universe:
touch one point and everything moves.

Preparing the garden for seeds
I vow with all beings
to nurture the soil to be fertile
each spring for the next 1000 years.

When people praise me for something
I vow with all beings
to return to my vegetable garden
and give credit where credit is due.

With tropical forests in danger
I vow with all beings
to raise hell with the people responsible
and slash my consumption of trees.

With resources scarcer and scarcer
I vow with all beings
to consider the law of proportion:
my have is another’s have-not.

Watching gardeners label their plants
I vow with all beings
to practice the old horticulture
and let plants identify me.

Hearing the crickets at night
I vow with all beings
to keep my practice as simple –
just over and over again.

Falling asleep at last
I vow with all beings
to enjoy the dark and the silence
and rest in the vast unknown.

By Robert Aitken. Published in Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism, ed. Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2000), 471-473.a

In Praise of the Earth

cairn

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

John O’Donohue

 

 

The Shambhala Warrior Mind-Training

by John Wigham/Akuppa

· Firmly establish your intention to live your life for the healing of the world. Be conscious of it, honour it, nurture it every day.

· Be fully present in our time. Find the courage to breathe in the suffering of the world. Allow peace and healing to breathe out through you in return.

· Do not meet power on its own terms. See through to its real nature – mind and heart made. Lead your response from that level.

· Simplify. Clear away the dead wood in your life. Look for the heartwood and give it the first call on your time, the best of your energy.

· Put down the leaden burden of saving the world alone. Join with others of like mind. Align yourself with the forces of resolution.

· Hold in a single vision, in the same thought, the transformation of yourself and the transformation of the world. Live your life around that edge, always keeping it in sight.

· As a bird flies on two wings, balance outer activity with inner sustenance.

· Following your heart, realise your gifts. Cultivate them with diligence to offer knowledge and skill to the world.

· Train in non-violence of body, speech and mind. With great patience to yourself, learn to make beautiful each action, word and thought.

· In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.

· Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.

· Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.

· When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.

· Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.

· Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.

· Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.

· Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.

· Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.

· When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.
When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.

· In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!

warriorbravery

Painting by Miriam Davis