Launched by GPIW in 2008, the Contemplative Alliance is an inter-spiritual movement grounded in contemplative practices and approaches with the goal of heightening awareness and generating actions to address the critical issues of our times. We seek to accomplish this by creating an alliance of organizations and individuals from across religious, faith and worship traditions who believe that inner development is an essential element in the positive transformation of the global community.  By sharing this message, our vision is that individuals and organizations will act from a place of deep inner wisdom to advance the wellbeing of the global community. Currently the Contemplative Alliance is being organized under the auspices of the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) http://www.gpiw.org

Protect the children, new born pups, the young shoots –  every form of budding life!
Baby's Hands

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral from whose womb we all are born, whose fragrant silver hair falls long and thick.  When I reach to touch it I feel Your timeless hands caressing me as well, here, where I am, always between Your big warm arms … where I know You listen to me and so I speak to You. I have none of Your powers but, like anyone else, I can be the one to call on You and ask for help:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

I feel within me their birth and the joy of life that they bring I also feel the pain of those many who suffer … because of us, human beings. Upon this generous mother planet we have to be guardians in service to Life but it is not so yet; alone, even if I see the tears of others and mine, I am not yet able to do so much.

For this I ask You:

Beloved Great Grandmother, the Ancestral, please help the children, new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

On this beautiful mother planet are too many children, pups, seedlings, who have no protection or food or pure water — don’t have what they need to grow healthy; but even if it were only one who suffered, it would still be too many.  All life deserves protection; and even if it were only one, I pray that they can have the comfort of love, nourishment and protection from all visible or invisible dangers:

Beloved Grand and Ancestral Grandmother, please help all children, all new born pups, the young shoots — every form of budding life!

We humans have lost our common sense and have moved away from wisdom but with your help, oldest Grandma, we may come to remember what our every cell knows about love.

May we soon mature to the time when we are able, like You, to care for all forms of life, care for one another, to protect and honor the Earth with dignity and human respect for every being of Nature and for the Water, and for the Air and Fire and Space. May our thoughts, words and acts be peaceful and loving towards everyone and everything…

 EMAHO !

(Prayer by Doju Freire at the request of M. Marstrand)

 

 

 

FOR THE GLOBAL PEACE INITIATIVE OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL LEADERS

GENEVA, 5th/10th OCTOBER 2002

Kuki Gallmann

SPEAK TO THE EARTH

I come from Africa to talk for the ones who have no voice and who are always the unsung victims of any war.

I talk for the living creatures with whom we share this planet, the ones which we have abused, polluted, raped and wounded to the core.

I talk for the remaining forests and for the small lives that they protect; for the seas and oceans, for the birds and the butterflies. And for the wise elephants, patient witnesses.

I talk for the savannah and the ancient, unchangeable hills.

I talk for the springs of fresh water that give life and for the great herds that once roamed the plains.

I talk for the rare, ever more endangered people who still live close to the source of all things and who still know how to speak to the trees and the animals that make up their world. Whose knowledge, and respect of their living environment, guaranteed their own survival.

I talk for children of Kenya – the ones who live on the edge of the valley of the Great Rift, from where we human beings all come from – who have, like all world children, a right to a Future of which unsustainable development, its pollution, and creeping deforestation, is robbing them for ever.

This is our mother Africa; our mother Nature; our mother Earth.

This peace meeting was conceived a while ago, but its timing is dramatically crucial.

A few people are at this time unilaterally deciding to take measures that will unleash a monster that we shall be unable to control; that will affect us all – the entire world – and the still unborn children of our children.

A war where there will be no winners.

Whose main victim will be our planet. and the children who will inherit an unmanageable world. The children who cannot yet vote, but whose voice must be heard.

But we can do something about this because it is our planet, we uphold democracy, we vote for life and for peace and such decisions have not be taken in our name.

Margaret Mead once said:

“A group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

It was never more true.

Over forty years ago , in 1964, Carl Jung wrote:

“As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized…No voices now speak to man from stones, plants, and animals, nor does he speak to them believing they can hear. His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.”

To find again this connection with the Earth is what people need and what they must look for:

These days we realize that the true monuments, cathedrals , temples, mosques, synagogues are not man-made.

They are the ones made by the timeless hand of nature; of the divine which is infinite, and beyond, and above us.

With the giant, far too rapid steps on the world of technology, Humankind at large has lost the link to the crucial fact that we come from the Earth, we go back to the Earth and we owe the Earth respect.

We must understand that we are behaving like hooligans, destroying common property, a common heritage that does not belong to any of us as individual countries, even if physically situated in one or the other part of this planet:

Because, as Maurice Strong, the founder of UNEP once told me, “planet Earth is like a spaceship, traveling through the Universe with a limited, finite amount of natural resources, that we all share”.

If development does not go hand in hand with conservation, if we continuously find short cuts to bypass the laws that we have once made, we are all lost.

Indeed we shall be tomorrow’ fossils, and this tomorrow is not millions years from now. Extinction are real: they do not happen overnight, but what we are witnessing worldwide are signals that a global catastrophe is closer than we want to think – if, wrapped up in day-to-day, we think about it at all.

We cannot continue this trend any longer, but shall we? We must take responsibility.

Only a generation ago no one could imagine that what we had taken for granted, fresh air, clean water, predictable seasons, sufficient rains and sunshine in the Summer, a pristine natural world – could be tangibly changed in our lifetime, to show a suicidal pattern of that incredible world spread decline that our carelessness, short sided greed have brought about.

The slow death that we are inflicting to the Earth in a thousand ways generates spasms that affect us all:

Floods and droughts, famine and disease, ravage not just the valleys and the plains, the rivers and the oceans, but the cities and the villages. Global Warming and melting of glaciers, Earthquakes and hurricanes, tropical storms, unmanageable fires, are great equalizers, destroy the living forests we have forgotten the powers of.

Just look at the news: hurricanes in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Porto Rico Texas, Florida, We call them familiar names, Irma, Katia, Maria, The planet is showing its power.

We must be wise enough to remember that the Earth, the spiritual and natural world, is unconquerable and will always have the last word.

It is our responsibility to do everything we can to protect and nourish what has never been easier to destroy.

To join forces, and show the world some sense.

We need to return to simpler and more spiritual ways of life, to true values, to the conscious respect towards what surrounds us and of which we are only temporary tenants.

This is the true crusade without which there can be no peace and no future.

We must all find our journeys and our quests.

I, myself, have traveled a long way through the paths of the mind, trying to come to term with losses that seemed too hard to bear. I have been trying to fill the silence of my familiar voices, and have learnt to listen to the voice of my soul.

In the course of my journey I have learnt many lessons.

There was time, as a child in Italy, when “ I dreamed” of Africa.

My dreams became a reality when I moved to Ol ari Nyiro, a vast estate on the Laikipia Highlands of Kenya, over thirty years ago, and a nightmare when first my husband, and then my son, died tragically there.

Then, it became a vision.

In most people’s life there is, sooner or later, a moment in which one feels at a dramatic turning point. A moment of truth, when the sense of our existence and the meaning that we should give it, is suddenly startlingly clear.

This was for me the time in which I looked down at the open, dead eyes of my son, and there I saw reflected the sky, and the sun, and the hills and the leaves of the tree above us.

The world had come to an end for me only.

The world – Nature – went on as ever.

The sky in Emanuele’s eyes, was the sky of Africa. This was the key.

In the weeks that followed I walked alone along the valleys and Savannah of my home in Laikipia, and one evening I stood looking down at the cliffs of the Great Rift, at endless vistas of volcanoes and hills and lakes.

There was something awesome and sacred in its majestic beauty, the ineffable feeling of being in a cathedral of the spirit, which could absorb my grief, and everyone’s grief, into a healing and transforming embrace.

Something that went beyond life and beyond death, because it was eternal.

In that moment I saw myself in the years to come becoming involved in the great movement to do something about our planet: the great quest, the final crusade to actively preserve and restore the natural world.

I had the intuition that to ensure its survival was more important than anything else, and making a positive difference to the environment and to the living creatures within it, with the means at my disposal, became my quest, and my mission.

I understood that what we call death is only the end of a stage, it does not need to be the end of a relationship with someone we have loved.

As a mother I had felt as if nothing would ever again heal my wounds: but I had been wrong: what remained was the magic of Africa, the purity of the landscape, its natural peace and tolerance, the aristocratic elegance of the African animals, the compassion and gentleness of the people.

All this was healing, inspiring, worth the sacrifice.

It went beyond life, and beyond death, because it was eternal.

I understood that what really mattered in the end was to have learnt that lesson, and accepted what I could not change, while concentrating on changing what I could.

Like many of the militants in the environmental crusade throughout the world, I deeply felt “the immense longing not just to protect, but to rejuvenate the Earth.”

I understood that the real voyage of discovery does not consist in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

So I started The Gallmann Memorial Foundation, which deals with preservation of natural resources, sustainable and creative use of the environment, education and community service.

I saw that one can make a difference in the outside world if one can make a difference for oneself.

And recalled the words of Chief Seattle:

“The earth is our mother.

What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.

All things are connected like the blood that unites us all.

Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it.

Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.’

And the words of the Prophet:

“Speak to the Earth, and it shall teach thee. ”

Let’s hope we can learn.

A prayer composed by Rev. Doju Dinajara Freire

Honoring The Lineage of The Ancestral Feminine

Oh Great Ancestral Mother,
Of my Grandmothers, and of all Mothers,
That with love have nursed their own,
That have taken care of my mother, daughter, and all my children,
As well as my sisters, aunts, cousins, and friends,

Women both known and unknown,
The kindhearted and the malicious alike,
That have taken care of those who know how to pacify
To be serene and happy and rejoice sincerely for others and themselves,
And those who are unable to do so, prisoners of their own suffering – mental and otherwise – that blurs the light of their hearts,

That have likewise taken care of my grandparents,
My father, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends,
Men both known and unknown,
The kindhearted and the malicious alike,
Those who know how to offer protection,
To be serene and happy and to sincerely rejoice for others and themselves,
And those who are unable to do so as prisoners of their own suffering – mental and otherwise – that blurs the light of their hearts,

Great Ancestral Mother who always cares equally
For all animals and plants, forests, mountains and caves,
Rocks and crystals, water, air, fire,
All beauty and all food,
For the body and for the spirit of all of us,
Your daughters and children,

I invoke you, and I invoke all mothers,
My mothers and relatives,
Please show me yourselves, luminous, here and now!
May You be blessed and honored by me and all beings
At every moment and everywhere in life!

I bow and touch the Earth, as a witness to my heart and my love for beings,
Learned from You and from the ancestors of my mothers, and fathers,
As you taught me to pay respect to Life!
Speak to me about You,
About you all,
Please tell me what you want me to know,
Now my listening has grown deeper,
I can feel your warmth in the eloquent silence of the Earth.
I am here.

 

Yoga As A Peace Practice

A Curriculum for Our Times

By Jana Long, E-RYT, C-IAYT 
Executive Director & Co-founder
Black Yoga Teachers, Alliance, Inc.

Read More

by Dena Merriam

It was difficult to watch and remain silent as recent news in India has shown us how our popular culture and the media has come to use the word “ guru” with great frivolity, at the detriment to all of us.  To reduce India’s great spiritual traditions by casting shadows on this word is a disservice to seekers everywhere.  Even in spiritual circles, all too many today seek to become a guru.  It would do us well to reflect on the meaning of the word and the responsibilities it entails.  The root meaning of “guru” is to lead from darkness to light; in other words, one who has the ability to lead the student to full awakening to one’s true nature.   A person may have spiritual attainment and still not have the ability to lead the student to self-realization.  A guru is one who can take on the karma of a student if that will help the student advance; a feat not many are able or willing to undertake!  The guru can even take on collective karma to relieve world suffering.  The only goal of the guru is to awaken those still lost in pain and ignorance.  There is no other motive – not building an institution, not amassing followers and a big bank account – there is no “I” left to desire any of it.

As long as there is any ego seeking to be adored, how can one be a true guru?  As long as there is any action that strays from Dharma, how can one be a true guru?  The best way to help society develop its discrimination is for the public voices, including the media, to distinguish through its choice of words as to who is the true guru, and who is rather a charismatic public figure, an entertainer, mind trainer, etc.  

It is sad to see anyone take advantage of people’s material deprivations, their hopes and  disappointments in life, but it is extremely important to clearly distinguish such figures from those who provide true spiritual guidance.

 Let us not stand silently by when the word that has been applied to the greatest among us for millennia is now being so debased.

 

Ladakhi School girls at Mahabodhi Center

Ladakhi school children at Mahabodi Intl. Meditation Center              photo: Hiromi Niimi

 

It was more than 30 years ago that Swami Nirvanananda, an Italian student of agriculture and music, traveled to Puri, India, after having read the book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda. A book that transformed his life’s direction with Guru Yogananda Paramahansa serving as an inspiration and inner teacher. In India he met Father Marian, a survivor of the Nazi death camp of Dachau, who had started a village for lepers. Touched by the work of Father Marian and all that he witnessed in India, Swami followed his heart and embarked on a project to build a school for the children of the lepers’ families; even if the children were themselves healthy, they were not allowed to attend a normal school. This was the beginning of the Beatrix School and a life long journey that continues to this day – a journey of bringing education, simple needs and food to thousands of children in need through his Shanti Puri Friends Foundation

Following the completion of his first school, it was not long before more and more children asked to attend the Beatrix School – there was such a need and none of the children in the area had access to schooling. They were well aware that even a basic education offered them the chance at a decent life. After a few years a larger school was constructed that could take children from kindergarten up to the tenth class. Currently more than 900 children are studying there. Beyond academics, the schools are also rooted in spiritual principles with the children beginning each day with half an hour of yoga and meditation. This program of bringing in silence and movement had an immediate impact on the children, bringing a clarity that enhanced their learning abilities. The benefits extended through to their families and on into the whole community.

After the success of the Beatrix School, Swami opened other schools near Puri, in India. One at a fishermen’s village, and three other schools in more remote areas of Orissa. Those schools are solely for girls, being the most disadvantaged among the children. One school was built to offer handicapped girls an education alongside much needed physical therapy and rehabilitation. Another school was created to give shelter and educate homeless girls who had been living on the street. With nurturance and care a human being can flourish. Many of these girls are now married, have become mothers themselves and living normal lives.

In 2016 Swami Nirvananada joined GPIW and members of the Contemplative Alliance on a ten day journey to Ladakh in Kashmir. On a three day visit to the Mahabodhi Center, Swami was moved by the many children and elderly that Bhikkhu Sangasena, a Buddhist monk, was caring for there. The Mahabodhi community was in need of housing for more girls to be able to attend school and this prompted Swami Nirvanananda to send support for the construction of a hostel for two hundred additional girls who would not  otherwise have the chance to be schooled, many of them living in remote villages in Ladakh.

It’s remarkable that all this work could be accomplished by chanting devotional music all over the world. For more than 30 years Swami has been traveling across the globe, sharing his songs of love and devotion with many while collecting donations for these schools. He was gifted with a beautiful voice for a reason — and an ability to write melodies that move the soul. He might sing in English, Italian, German or Sanskrit but the real language that comes through is that of love.

Some may think that the measure of a life is: “How much did you love?” But truly the only question is: “How many souls did you make happy?” We are responsible for spreading joy and peace in this world becoming the humble instruments of Divine Will. ~ Swami Nirvanananda

Swami Nirvanananda 1

 

IMG_3716

by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee & Hilary Hart

SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY:

THE PRACTICE OF SIMPLICITY

The ceaseless demands of today’s world so easily fill up our days. With our smart phones and computer screens we often remain caught on the surface of our lives, amidst the noise and chatter that continually distract us, that stops us from being rooted in our true nature. Unaware we are drowned deeper and deeper in a culture of soulless materialism. There is a vital need to return to simplicity, to create an inner and outer space that allows for a real connection to what is sacred.

In response I find it more and more important to have outer activities that can connect us to what is more natural and help us live in relationship to the deep root of our being, and in an awareness of the moment which alone can give real meaning to our everyday existence. Over the years I have developed a number of simple practices that bring together action and a quality of mindfulness, or deepening awareness, that can nourish our lives in hidden ways. These activities, like mindful walking, cooking with love and attention, can reconnect us with the web of life, our natural interconnection with life in its beauty and wonder. They can help us “declutter” our outer life and instead become rooted in what is simple and real. One of these practices, which combines action with mindfulness, is simplicity.

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings
in the world.

 Lao Tsu

Simplicity

The boat people of Southeast Asia, the Moken, have few possessions. They can only carry what they need in their small boats. They also have no word in their language for “worry.” But when the tsunami came, they were attentive and watchful of the water; they saw the sea first come high on the beach and then recede far out. They remembered their stories, their myths of what happens to the seas, and so took their boats into deep water and survived the tsunami. The local fishermen did not survive; their boats were destroyed. They did not watch, they were not attentive.17

How can we be fully attentive when our lives are cluttered with so many possessions, so many attachments, so many desires? Will we have time to remember the stories, to watch and move our little boat to deeper waters? Or will we be like the local fisherman, inattentive to the need of the moment, sunk by the tsunami of materialism? We live in a culture in which we are constantly bombarded, our attention distracted, no longer just by the “ten thousand things” of the ancient world, but by ten million things. Everything is demanding our attention, wanting us to consume, to buy, to spend our money and our time. And we do not even know the depths and subtleties of this web of consumerism, its powers of deception.

How can we create a space of clarity, of attentiveness? How can we return to what is essential? How can we remember what really matters, what gives meaning and substance to our daily lives? How can we return to a simplicity of life that honors the simplicity of our essential nature, that gives space for the sacred?

First, we have to acknowledge that our whole culture is caught in the grip of unnecessary desires and recognize the poison of accumulation for what it is. We are conditioned and pressured to want more and more—this is the myth of continual economic progress. This myth has become a monster destroying our ecosystem, taking our money and our life energy. It has polluted our consciousness with its slogans and jingles, designed to distort, to manipulate. And we do not even know the power of its dark magic, how much it has us in its grip, feeding us false promises of a better life, assuring us that “things go better” with the purchase of a product. It has saturated every corner of our culture. We are pressured to consume packaged food and even packaged spirituality. We no longer know the ingredients of our lives.

Second, we have to have the strength to say “no.” To go against this toxic flow, to resist the power of its empty promises and the corporations behind them, we have to regain an essential simplicity, return to what we need rather than what we think we want. Only then can we begin to hear the music of life, be attentive to the inner and outer need of the Earth. Only then can we become alive with what is sacred and true.

Third, we have to learn to discriminate, to clear our inner and outer clutter. In the classical love story of Eros and Psyche, one of Psyche’s almost impossible tasks is to sort a huge pile of seeds. Like Psyche, we have to sort the many things in our life; we have to make conscious what is of value, what we really need.18 Discrimination is never an easy task. But as Psyche is aided in her task by some willing ants, we too have help, in the form of an instinctual wisdom, a quiet quality, that is present to us if we are paying attention. And it becomes easier after time and practice. As we clear more space in our inner and outer lives, we become more attuned to what is necessary, more aware of the deceptions and false promises of unnecessary “stuff.” We see more clearly how our possessions take more than just space, they also take our attention.

Personally I love the old Taoist ways, the ways of the hermits whose spirituality and nature were blended together, their poems a flock of wild geese crossing high in the sky. They lived an essential simplicity that speaks to my soul: their possessions one robe and one bowl, the decoration of their mountain hut “the moon at the window.” I have tried to recapture this simplicity in my life, but today we seem to need so many things just to get by. Again and again I have tried to empty my room, especially when I was younger. But family life demanded more and more possessions—many more than needed by a hermit in a hut—though my children would still complain that I threw out too many things.

So over the years I have tried instead to keep an inner simplicity, an empty space in as many moments of the day as is possible. Now I am getting older, once again I feel the tug of this other landscape, a longing for a small cottage and rain-swept hills—maybe the beautiful and bleak Scottish highlands I knew as a child. But my life remains full, though more with people than possessions. So I keep this simplicity as an inner secret, an emptiness that I crave.

Still I have to be careful. I use modern technology: a computer, the Internet, and I love listening to music on an iPod. All around me I feel consumerism and its dark web of desires that so easily entangles us, more than we realize. And often it is not enough to clear out the physical clutter in our homes; we need also to bring a simplicity to how we spend our time, how we use our attention—to be mindful in how we live.

The practice of meditation and mindfulness can clear the clutter of our minds. A few trips to the goodwill or charity store can clear the clutter from our homes. And then continual attention is needed so that the currents of accumulation do not fill the empty space we have created.

And beyond the clutter of thoughts and things, we also have to watch that we are not caught in constant activity, our culture’s emphasis on endless “doing” rather than “being.” We need space in order to watch, to listen, to walk, to breathe—to be present. The Tao Te Ching teaches the value of not doing:

Less and less is done until nothing is done,

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

Through a quality of emptiness we can access a deeper rhythm than the surface jangle of constant activity. We used to be held by the rhythms of the seasons and the soil. Now we have to struggle to return to a rhythm and a space that are not toxic with consumption, that belong to the seasons of the sacred, where life still flows true to its essential nature. Simplicity, patience, and compassion can guide and keep us inwardly aligned. Gradually we can once again listen to the Earth, to Her wisdom and beauty; we can feel the beating of both Her heart and ours. We can feel again the deep belonging that allows us to be present in every moment, not as a practice but a simple state of being. We can remember why we are here.

Simplicity PRACTICE

Simplicity is the essence of life. The word itself comes from the Latin simplex, meaning uncompounded or composed of a single part. Simple things reflect this essential nature, which belongs to everything in creation. When we honor the simple things of life, we bring ourselves back to this oneness, our true Home.

All the practices in this book are a return to simplicity. Breathing, walking, growing food, cooking … these are the “chop wood, carry water” of our day. If we honor what is essential in our lives, we connect with the life force that runs free of the dramas of our individual and collective psyche. Here we are connected and responsive.

Begin by giving extra attention to your simple daily activities, like rising from bed and putting two feet on the floor. Pause there. You are awake; you are alive. Take note of how you feel in your body, and how your feet touch the floor. Be aware as you move towards the bathroom, towards the kitchen and the coffee or tea. Be grateful for water in the sink, for oranges that made your juice, for milk in your tea. Drink slowly. Appreciate your food. Appreciate your family, the sun coming in the window, the beauty you see in your partner or children. Simplicity reveals itself through slowness, in quiet moments when you can see, feel, taste, touch. Take time during the day to stop rushing. Move through the day with respect and openness.

Take an honest inventory of your life. Look at the things you have that take up time and psychic space. Look at your activities and commitments. What of these things do you actually need? Which are habits and entanglements that take up space and weigh you down? Which reflect your real values, feed your soul, touch you with love? Do you need or just want that new thing, that new activity, that has caught your eye? For a short time, try going without some of the things of your life. Maybe you don’t need them after all.

Let nature teach you. In nature, we are students of simplicity. The way a tree grows towards the sun, the way a cat stretches beside the fire, the way the seasons come round again and again without fail, can teach the simplicity of what is. The essential nature of our own lives—the cycle of birth, death, suffering and joy, and even liberation—also reflects this simplicity. We might make our lives complicated by how we relate to these—fighting death, avoiding suffering, searching for freedom and happiness—but that is our superimposed experience, not what is. Look for ways to attune to the natural simplicity of life that underlies the complications of our human experience.

Bring yourself back again and again to what is simple, to what does not change over time, to what shines steady through the fog. Ask yourself, do we need more than these things? Do we need more than the beauty of a crab apple tree in spring, a warm house in the winter, the way water sounds flowing through a stream, a cup of tea with friends? Do we need more in our lives than love?

Practicing simplicity doesn’t mean giving away all our things, quitting our demanding jobs, and moving to a mountain hut or living off the grid. It simply means being very honest about what we value within our lives, what sustains us, brings us joy and meaning, and devoting ourselves to those activities, people, or things. While we might end up having fewer possessions or changing some of our habits, simplicity compels a return, not a rejection—a seeing through and within, rather than looking somewhere else. When we live from a place of simplicity we naturally find we need less, and instead are more open to life.

Don’t be afraid of simplicity. It can feel stark and empty because it is free of psychological complexity and the coverings of accumulated need and desire. But our attention and our genuine response—awe, gratitude, appreciation, and respect—help transform that starkness into the richest of human experiences.

 __________________________________________

  1. Before the 2005 tsunami that caused so much loss of life, the nomadic Moken sailors who live among the islands in the Andaman Sea, off Myanmar (Burma), recognized the signs of the coming disaster in the dolphins and other fish suddenly swimming to deeper water. So they too took their boats further from the shore and rode out the waves, unlike the Burmese fishermen who were not attentive to the signs of nature but stayed close to shore where they perished as their boats were wrecked by the tsunami. The Moken said of the Burmese fishermen, “They were collecting squid, they were not looking at anything. They saw nothing, they looked at nothing. They don’t know how to look.”
  2. In this love story of classical mythology, Aphrodite gives Psyche a series of seemingly impossible tasks. In She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, Robert Johnson gives a simple and profound interpretation of this story in relation to feminine psychology.

 Adapted from Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life. www.spiritualecology.org © 2017 The Golden Sufi Center, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee & Hilary Hart.

 Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a spiritual teacher and author, Hilary Hart is an author with a focus on women and feminine consciousness.

 

 

 

bob-maat-2

There are saints who walk among us and we don’t even know them. Perhaps they choose their anonymity, working without the fanfare and distraction that prominence and fame can bring. They are often disguised, hidden as ordinary persons, working quietly in places of need. Every tradition has them. Here I will tell you about one of the lesser-known saints, a former Jesuit monk named Bob who had spent the last 37 years of his life in Cambodia.

Bob ended up in Cambodia on a whim and a bet, made whilst sharing a cold beer with a fellow Jesuit brother.  They had been watching a news report on the refugee camps in Cambodia. Under the cruel regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s almost a third of Cambodia’s people were killed or died, and camps were now burgeoning with the traumatized survivors of the darkest period in Cambodian history. These two young monks, who were also trained as health care workers, looked at one another and one said to the other, “Wanna bet we can be there within a week?”

The rest of the story I heard from Bob himself. In order to meet him, we were told, we had to send a hand-written letter to a post office box in Bangkok. Bob had no phone, and he didn’t use a computer. He lived in Cambodia but would walk to Thailand to fetch his mail, which meant that our letter might not reach him for months. He used the money he saved on bus or train fare to buy soap for prisoners in Phnom Penh’s prisons where he sometimes served as a translator. Our desire and curiosity to meet him intensified.

Bob worked in the refugee camps for years among starved and weakened survivors of torture and forced labor. Over years he tended to thousands who had TB, mysterious fevers and infections, all made worse by the heat and moisture of a tropical jungle and a people who were hungry and full of sorrow. Many had lost limbs from the land mines that lay buried in fields throughout the country. He worked himself to exhaustion, and even got the shit kicked out of him by Thai soldiers on Valentine’s Day, he chuckled once.

Bob eventually left the despair of those camps and decided to stay on in Cambodia to come to know the people of this land better. He moved in with a family of rice farmers. He lived as they did, planting rice, barefoot in the water paddies, sleeping on straw mats, eating simply and very little. “Not an easy life,” he told me.

A year later, Bob met one of Cambodia’s great Buddhist monks, Maha Ghosananda. A deep friendship of mutual respect developed and they came up with a tender-hearted idea. They would lead a walk for peace throughout the countryside announcing to villagers that peace had finally come. These walks, often attracting hundreds or even thousands, began to take place annually. Healing was needed, and bearing witness to the suffering of a people can help them to heal.

Years later, his monk’s cloak and Jesuit way of life long faded away, he was left only with the grief and love that burns away any outer identification, the experiences in life that melt away the last remnants of pride or self-centeredness. He is humble. He also loves to laugh and has a sharp wit and a wild, kind sense of humor. In a recent letter, he wrote that he needed funds for some monks to put a roof on their library. He added a PS: “Bank robbers welcome, we can be discreet”!

He still hangs out with the Buddhist monks, volunteering at a monastic university in a northern province. He teaches them English, but mostly he does the cleaning. The school can’t afford a janitor, he says.

Bob is no longer interested in religion. He wears a t-shirt, simple cotton pants, and the flip-flops, a size too small, of a wandering ascetic. The Sufi poetry of Rumi is what he reads, or he sits in silence, which is his preferred mode of communicating. There is something about his eyes. So much has been stripped away, that only the empty space in his big heart is present, making room for a mystical love to move freely to where it is needed.

His tall and slender frame, fair skinned and hair burnt blond by the Cambodian sun, can still be seen walking along the roads of Cambodia. He carries a simple bag with all his possessions slung over his bony shoulders. Now in his sixties, he sometimes accepts a ride. He told me a truck picked him up one day.  The overjoyed driver was close to tears. “Remember me? You gave me some soap when I was a kid back in the camps.” 

 By Marianne Marstrand. Originally published by Creator at WeWork

(Some of you have asked how to send a contribution to Bob for him to pass on to people in need in Cambodia  – if you wish to do that please write us at info@gpiw.org. Very little goes a long way there.)

bob-maat-1

standing-rock-teepee

“We are not protesters, we are protectors of the water.”

“Prayer is more powerful than any man-made law…Mother earth is calling out to all of us who can pray.” ~ Water protector at Standing Rock

In the last few days the country received the news that the Obama administration has put a stop to the construction of the Dakota pipeline, and will seek alternative routes that do not invade the sacred Sioux lands or threaten their water supply. Many see this as a victory for the tribes who stood their ground.  A victory it is, but a victory of far greater significance than the rerouting of a pipeline. Far more was taking place at Standing Rock than what appeared to be the story.  What follows are excerpts from a report by John Briggs, who along with other members of the Contemplative Alliance visited Standing Rock.

 ***

Robert Toth, John Briggs, and Tiokasin Ghosthorse traveled October 5-11 to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Since the spring of 2016 members of over 300 tribes from the US and around the world have come to Standing Rock as “Water Protectors” to stop a crude oil pipeline slated to run beneath the Missouri River immediately upstream of several Sioux reservations. The travelers represented the Contemplative Alliance, an inter-spiritual movement based on the premise that inner spiritual work can change the course of things and significantly impact the external world. This belief was in clear evidence at Standing Rock where for many months thousands engaged in prayer, meditation and sacred ceremonies around the clock in order to protect the sacred lands and waterways.  Indeed it was this prayer energy and Mother Earth’s response that led to the successful retreat of the Dakota pipeline.

The Lakota word for “white man” is Wasi’chu (Wa SHE choo). Wasi’chu means literally, “takes too much.” Early in our visit to Standing Rock, our colleague, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, tells us the Wasi’chu story. He says that at a time when the Europeans arrived, a starving immigrant showed up in a Lakota camp. Nutrient rich tallow fat from the sacred buffalo was drying on racks in the sun. Without asking, the man seized and consumed all the tallow that he saw hanging there. Tiokasin tells us, “He didn’t leave any for anyone else. The Lakota had never observed that behavior before.” So the Lakota word for “white man” describes this takes-too-much behavior and attitude–a manifestation of his thought process–not his skin color. The term Wasi’chu applies to any non-native.

The “takes too much” behavior of the Wasi’chu encapsulates metaphorically what the Standing Rock movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is about. As the indigenous peoples of North America come together and pray–creating an historic movement to prevent Wasi’chu’s latest desecration of nature–they illuminate a profound difference between the everyday holistic consciousness that has guided indigenous peoples since Paleolithic times, and the everyday aggressively anthropocentric (human-centered) consciousness that has led to our contemporary world. The visit to Standing Rock that Bob, Tiokasin, and myself made for five days in early October 2016, provided us with an unsettling glimpse into the mirror that the first peoples have been holding up to us since first contact. That mirror provided an enlightening perspective on how indigenous peoples view our Wasi’chu consciousness.

Native Peoples understand, with an anguish that we don’t feel, that the Wasi’chu form of human-centered, or anthropocentric, consciousness has conjured up idea-things such as profit, ownership, domination, salvation, information, knowledge, the mainstream media (with its limited attention span), and the vast empire of science and technology. Wasi’chu consciousness has commoditized nature, leading to the oil extraction technology and corporate profit dogmas that drive the Dakota Access Pipeline to the brink of completing $ 3.8 billion line intended to carry toxic shale sands crude oil underneath the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock reservation.

standing-rock-encampment

We learn from Tiokasin that in the Lakota’s earth-mind way of thinking (and experiencing), water is a living being. Beings, Tiokasin says, “are not objective or subjective,” whether the Lakota are talking about the beings we call animals, plants, rocks, or water. Mother Earth is not made of things but of beings. The being of water is the First Consciousness of Mother Earth. This First Consciousness means “the awareness of the movement that sustains life.” Water provides a “shining mirror to the universe, its transparency offers a model and a path to creation.” Water, Mni, he says can be translated as “that which carries the feeling between you and me” –and the “you” and “me”–and the “you” and “me” are not just humans: trees, sky, wind. Mni also translates as “mother’s milk” or a “mother’s breast.” This is earth-mind thinking. The Lakota are calling attention to water in a way that makes you feel water as you and as your connection to Mother Earth.

For many of the first peoples drawn to Standing Rock, the central issue is not the environment as an organic assemblage of objects, as it is something profoundly spiritual.

For many of the first peoples drawn to Standing Rock, the central issue is not the environment as an organic assemblage of objects, as it is something profoundly spiritual, an issue of human consciousness and purpose in the mystery of life, an issue of solidarity with one’s relatives: the water, the buffalo, the hawks, the grass, the wind, the hills and the countless beings that cohabit the earth along with the individual, collective and ancestral spirits of the human tribe, the last tribe of beings to appear on this earth, and still the most ignorant.

We arrive at Standing Rock to observe, experience, and acknowledge the earth-mind spirit, if we can find it, in addition to offering our support to the practical effort to stop the pipeline.

The brief meeting with Starkey [Lakota elder] alerts us to a truth that will become abundantly clear as the week wears on: What the first peoples bring to this moment in history is a spiritual awareness of the earth that indigenous cultures (including about 500 extant tribes in the US alone) have kept vibrantly alive for 10,000-20,000 years and that has no parallel in the consciousness of the dominant anthropocentric society. The earth-mind is a spirituality of reciprocity and obligation to the natural world in all its manifestations–a spirituality of intimate, holistic relationship with other beings. Mitakuye Oyasin [literally, “my relatives you all are”] is the central expression of this spirituality: we are all related, all beings, animate and inanimate, are related.

Our speculation is that when early humans roamed the world, maybe even when they were still evolving, they naturally possessed the anthropocentric mode of consciousness that allowed them to invite new technology and navigate their terrain by engaging it as objects. At the same time, their holistic earth-mind mode of consciousness kept them in touch with all their relations, with the understanding that the Buffalo they chased and killed was not actually an object; it was a being, a spirit, a relationship, a gift for their own existence so that they could enjoy the blessings of life.

Standing Rock seems to be a proving ground for a process that some here term the “de-colonization” of Native people’s consciousness. Simply put, de-colonization means scraping away the anthropocentric thinking encrusted on the earth-mind by the forced education of generations of Native Americans; many were removed from their parents’ homes, forbidden to use their native language, restricted or forbidden to engage in their religious ceremonies, propagandized into the anthropocentric ideas of ownership, economic advancement (the American Dream, or as Starkey might put it, the American Illusion) and conditioned to the American ideals of ambition, evaluation, and status, and the supreme importance of the self and ego. All of that overlay obscures the earth-mind and leaves people born into Native cultures with sicknesses difficult to heal.

Simply put, de-colonization means scraping away the anthropocentric thinking encrusted on the earth-mind by the forced education of generations of Native Americans.

One level of de-colonization seems to involve resetting the relationships among the tribes, a coming together over the deep roots of Indigenous spirituality.

“When you have peace with Earth, she is the ultimate consciousness. She is the first consciousness. She is the sanity. She is the intelligence…Why aren’t we asking her, can we go to war? Why aren’t we asking her, can I build here? Why aren’t we asking her, can I take your water? We are not doing that because we’re assuming that that one god said this was built for you.” ~ Tiokasin Ghosthorse

 From the Native perspective, Standing Rock is a spiritual action, Mitakuye Oyasin, not a political action. Because for the first peoples, spirituality means relating with the earth, our anthropocentric, human-centered consciousness doesn’t provide us with the language that can adequately describe it, we should probably first accept that the Indigenous peoples simply think and feel differently than we Wasi’chu do about what we rather blandly call the environment.

standing-rock-flags

Flags from the more than 300 tribes that joined in actions at Standing Rock

Prayer

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the woman who started the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline by allowing land she owns to become the site of the Sacred Stones camp, said “the camps that have grown up near Cannon Ball, North Dakota are about “healing and empowerment of the people. I see song and dance and sharing and families and children. So much more is happening there than what we we’re allowed [to see] with the press right now.” “Did you see where I live? Oh, my god, it is so beautiful. I mean every day the buffalo are out there. The eagles are out there. I love my river.”

“Every breath in our body is a prayer. You are a prayer answered by our ancestors.” ~ Woman water protector at Standing Rock.

Linda Black Elk (Catawba Nation) is an ethnobotanist, restoration ecologist and instructor at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Reservation. She has been present at the movement since its start on April 1, 2016 on Ladonna’s property.  “Over and over, people come to the camp and then they leave camp and they say to me that they miss it. My soul wants to be there. Because it’s so positive. I think a big part of it is unity.  “We are seeing the tribes—and not just the native people, our allies—coming together. It’s just so beautiful to witness. Because we are the peaceful revolution. We are working to heal all these past wounds of mother earth, also of ourselves, our souls.  She says, “The other day there were folks from a country near southern Africa and they were playing their drums. It’s not just Lakota drums, it’s drums from all over the world that are coming and singing and praying for the planet. This is the center of the universe right now.”

 Prayer — ceremony and ritual — is communitarian. When there is a disturbance in the balance, when Earth is traumatized and grieving, her Spirit calls out to all beings to pray with her, and those who pray hear her and come, bringing their spirit to the place of her pain. Their presence is their prayer and the connection of their spirit to the spirit of the place, and all who are present there makes it difficult to leave it until balance is restored. That is the calling of the Natives gathered at Standing Rock. The prayerful response at Standing Rock confronts the destructive spirit driving the construction of the pipeline to bring it back into balance. Until the spiritual balance is restored, the physical destruction continues.

When we hear Indigenous people say that they are standing at Standing Rock “to protect the water” we think of their heroic action as one opposing the modern day consumer culture and protecting a fundamental environmental resource. But the truth is they are protecting something more fundamental than that. They are protecting the spirit of earth, which includes the human spirit. They’re doing their job as humans.

This is the deeper significance of what has been taking place at Standing Rock.

This report comprises extracts from a full report by John Briggs.

All photos courtesy of John Briggs

 

Part One & Two

By Dena Merriam
TSDS7161

Dena Merriam & Ven. Mae Chee Sansanee of Thailand & young Kashmiri women, Srinagar 2015

There is perhaps no more critical undertaking now than to bring together women who have the
commitment, knowledge and vision to make a difference in bringing about the needed global transformations.  It is increasingly clear that we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the history of the world.  There are forces  pulling us forward toward the next stage in human evolution, and there are forces resisting this advance, seeking to pull us backward or at least to keep us from progressing.  In almost every region of the world, we feel this tension between a movement forward and the resistance. Even for those of us who feel the forces of advancement, it is not clear where we are going, what is the next stage in our social evolution. We know that the current systems are not working but we don’t know the new formations that are quietly arising.  This inability to put our current situation into larger context is creating anxiety.  How do we ease this tension?
I would describe the new mindset that is emerging as one based on a sense of unity –human unity and unity with the natural world – and I would describe the old mindset as one based on a sense of separateness and division. We see these forces playing out around the world.   Globalization and communications technology brought us together in the physical sense.  Now something akin to this is happening on a spiritual level.  The interfaith movement played a role in that, bringing people into much deeper spiritual exchange.  But now we have moved beyond interfaith into a new experience of spiritual unity.  In response to this new reality, retraction is also occurring – people retreating into their separateness, into known and comfortable identities.  But this retreat can only be temporary because the movement of evolution is a forward one.   
 In addition to the tension between unity and separateness, we are feeling the tension of shifting from a paradigm of domination, which has lasted for millennia and is deeply imbedded in our psyches, to one of collaboration.  The urge to dominate is based on fear and for a period in human evolution this fear was a necessity – it was self-preservation.  But it has outlived its usefulness and has now become destructive.  This shift is not a cosmetic or minor change in thinking but entails a significant growth in consciousness and involves deep systemic changes that will affect all aspects of our economic, political, social and religious life.  This shift in consciousness away from a domination mentality applies to how we interact as a human community and to how we interact with the rest of the created world.  So much of human history has been about one ethnic, national, religious or racial group seeking to dominate another, one gender seeking to dominate the other, and one species, the human species, seeking to dominate all that resides on Earth for our sole benefit.  These old mental patterns no longer serve us.  In fact, they threaten our survival.  
What we are experiencing now as a global community is the breaking down of old patterns and the beginning of the formation of new ones.  This is a painful process.  As women know, it is only by passing through the agony of labor that we give birth to new life.   This is not an easy or quick task. For an individual it takes a long time to change habits.   For a global collective, the formation of new modes of behavior could take decades,  but at least we can lay the foundations, and we do this essentially through our understanding of what is taking place and by changing our own consciousness.
If you look at what is happening in the world today, on the surface, it can seem dismal.  It almost feels like we are moving backward.  Every region is experiencing tension – conflict, human barbarity, climate changes, environmental degradation, increasing economic disparity, the list goes on and on.  In the US, on a political level we are in a state of deep polarization and paralysis. But spiritually something else is happening and a deeply unifying spiritual movement is emerging.   The spiritual landscape of the country is changing quite rapidly, and in a positive direction, because it is based on unity rather than division.  How long will it take for this to affect the political and economic life of the country – that is an unknown.

 This unifying spiritual movement, which is emerging around the world,  is drawing upon our many faith traditions.  It is not negating our difference but rather it is using this diversity as a unifying force. Instead of dividing people,  the world’s incredible religious diversity can and should unify people of all faiths.   The premise for this is to embrace the “other” rather than to feel threatened by it. The old competitive pattern of judging which religion is right or superior is discarded, replaced by a new thought pattern of appreciating the special gifts of the “other.”    The old pattern of seeking to convert others to our way of thinking is replaced by a celebration of the “other.”  This shift will occur when we move away from the fear-based domination way of thinking.
Just as we must evolve beyond our need to dominate other groups of people,  we must evolve beyond the need to dominate the natural world.   This will give rise to a newborn sense of love for the Earth and Her vast communities of life, and the feeling that we must do all we can to protect Earth’s precious life forms.  The climate crisis presents a great challenge to the human community but also a great opportunity to change the way we view the Earth and to come together as a global society.  We can choose which direction we will take, greater unity, or greater division.  I believe the forces of unity are stronger and will eventually pull us forward.  
 
I travel continually and I see these feelings shared by people around the world, regardless of culture or region.   It is an undercurrent but one that is growing and will soon have enough momentum to trigger change – a sudden change in a positive direction.  There is no denying that we are up against formidable structures that resist change.  I believe women have a great role to play in guiding the human community through this transition, in building this momentum, but to do this we must fully come into our feminine awareness.  Before going into what this feminine awareness is, I want to share a bit of my history and how I founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women to provide a global platform for the spiritual contributions of women.

I began working in the interfaith world nearly 20 years ago when I was invited to help organize a large religious summit at the United Nations headquarters in NY for the millennial year, the year 2000.  The then Secretary- General of the United Nations, His Excellency Kofi Annan, consented to the organization of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, to be held in

A few incidents occurred during the process of organizing the summit that deeply affected me. The Secretary General’s office had put together an advisory council from the United Nations, and we kept them informed and updated on how things were progressing.  One woman on the council, an under-secretary general of the UN, was particularly concerned about having women religious leaders participate in the Summit.  I was unaware of any problem in this regard, and so began to seek out women religious leaders.
I was seated at a dinner at Oxford, England with a group of religious leaders when I happened to mention to the man seated next to me that we were having trouble finding women religious leaders for the Summit at the UN.  I was only trying to make dinner conversation, but he reacted strongly to my remark and asked in a rather stern voice,   “Why do you need women religious leaders?”  When he saw the surprise on my face, he added, “take my advice and stay away from that issue or you might find that nobody will come to your summit.”  That was in 1999.
 
We had difficulty finding women religious leaders and so we compensated by finding women public figures.  I was not happy with this solution, but I was still in a learning phase.  Much of our time during the organization of the Summit was involved in dealing with political issues – like the fact that the Dalai Lama could not be invited to the United Nations because China would object, and the response from some prominent religious leaders who said they would not come if the Dalai Lama was not invited.  So the gender issue got lost amid the political negotiations.
On the opening day, as we were waiting for the religious leaders to enter the General Assembly Hall to begin their prayers, we encountered another gender crisis.  A prominent monk was to open the prayers, but he wasn’t permitted by his particular order to come in close contact with any woman, and there was a Buddhist nun, the only woman in a delegation of about a dozen Thai Buddhist monks, who was seated near the entrance where he was to enter.  I was told she had to be moved, and when I asked why, the response came, “because she is a woman.”  A number of people on our staff had tried to get her to move, but she didn’t understand English and refused to be separated from the monks of her delegation.  The clock was ticking and we had to begin, and so I was told that I had to move her.  It was a difficult moment for me.  But when I went up to her and took her hand, she smiled and followed me. The crisis was solved but it left a deep imprint in my mind.  Later when the Thai delegation came to greet me, I apologized to her, and we became fast friends.  Ven. Mae Chee Sansanee became  one of the founding co-chairs of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.
There were very few women religious leaders at the Summit, and they were not happy.  They requested a follow-up Summit specifically for women religious leaders.  We went back to the Secretary-General’s office and he agreed, suggesting that we hold it at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  Work began with the religious communities in Geneva, and the first response that I received was, “we don’t want your American feminism here.  We don’t have women religious leaders.”  I was again taken aback, because I never thought of this work as a feminist matter, and I began to wonder why this issue was threatening to so many.  In order to get around the subject of women religious leaders, the Geneva community suggested we change the title of our event from “The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders” to “The Role of Women in the Faith Communities.”  I refused to give up on the idea of women religious leaders, and so began the difficult process of bringing this vision to fruition.   
 
In 2002, we managed to bring over 500 women leaders, mostly from the religious communities but also some from business and government, from over 75 countries to the Palais des Nations. Whereas there were many political issues and much competitiveness at the 2000 world peace summit in New York, there were no politics at the Geneva Summit.  It was a far greater success.  We had no thought of forming an organization out of this gathering, but we immediately received requests to come to conflict areas and help organize peace dialogues, and so The Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders was born.   We later shortened the name to The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW).
un-group

Photo: Jonah Sutherland

We spent our first five years organizing dialogues with those in conflict and post-conflict areas ––  including Israel and Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and between India and Pakistan.   The dialogues were initially with women, and then young leaders, then both male and female religious leaders, and finally a mix of everyone.  What was distinctive about these dialogues is that they were shaped and led by a diverse group of women religious leaders, always balanced between East and West.  So we brought Buddhist nuns and women swamis to meet with the group from Sudan, Iraq and other conflict areas.  This had a tremendously positive impact as it opened the participants to the wider world and they saw the role women can play in other cultures.

When the Global Peace Initiative of Women was established in 2002, it was the only global interfaith organization founded and led by women.  Soon after other interfaith groups began to notice and develop special women’s programs.  But in my mind this missed the whole point.  Separate chapters or programs designed for women would not compensate for the lack of women’s participation in the leadership.  What we wanted to convey was that women must be empowered to shape and lead the interfaith and religious movements, along with men.  Without a true partnership,  only token changes would take place.  I cannot count the number of times when I have been invited to speak on a panel to find myself as the only woman speaker.  It is daunting to have to represent my entire gender!    Not surprisingly, the absence of women’s voice in the religious and interfaith world continues today. Just a few months back there was a major global interfaith gathering.  I was pleased to hear that for the first time they held a pre-conference one-day’s women’s summit.  But at the official opening of the event, during the opening plenary session,  among the array of men on the stage, I am told there was not one woman.  I don’t allow myself to be discouraged, but after 20 years of trying to make this point…..

After many years of advocating for a greater role for women in interfaith work, we began to realize that the gender issue was deeply embedded in our theologies, and without addressing theology, it would be hard to achieve true gender balance. So we organized a larger conference in India in 2008 on the theme of the Divine Feminine – the female aspect of Divinity.  Most people would acknowledge that the Divine has no gender, and yet in institutional religious life the Divine is always referred to as male – the Father – at least among the Abrahamic faiths.  Hinduism is an exception.  In India, it is far more common to refer to the Divine as the Mother, rather than the Father, and in fact this is what drew me to India when I was young.  The Mother relationship seems far more intimate and loving.

women-faith-leaders-retreat-master-sheng-yen

The conference that we organized on the Divine Feminine was revolutionary in many ways. One of our Co-chairs is a prominent and courageous Catholic nun from the US, who is very committed to women’s issues.  She was speaking at our conference in India and even for her, it was a stretch to talk about the Divine as Mother.  She approached me and said, “Dena, I don’t know if I can do this.  I have a theological problem with it.”She was clearly anxious.  I replied, “address the theme as you see fit.”Well, it forced her to do some deep reflection and she spoke beautifully on the Mother aspect of the Divine.   Since that conference, for years after, she spoke on the theme of the Divine Feminine – the Mother qualities of the Ultimate Reality.  Now, of course, there are many books and talks on this subject.

People would ask me why it was important to tackle the gender issue theologically. It has to do with deep subconscious feelings about oneself, feelings of which we may not even be aware.  I remember seeing a study some years ago that determined the one feeling most common among women across the world, regardless of income, education, status in society, etc. is that they don’t feel their voices are heard.  Women don’t feel that they have a voice.  If our concept of the All Knowing, the All Powerful, the All Beneficent Divine is male, than the female is subordinate, of lesser value.  But if this Divine power has both female and male aspects– there is gender balance, and this can serve as an inspiration and model for the rest of us.

Our inability to see the feminine aspects of the Divine has led to great gender imbalance, which affects so much about our world – from our economy to our social, political and religious structures.

What would the world look like if we could truly awaken the feminine wisdom and restore Her to Her rightful place?

For my generation, the challenge for women was to be able to rise to the top of their professions – to be heads of businesses, governments, etc., to break the glass ceiling. There was no talk at that time of what type of leadership would be natural for women.  There was no talk of the need for a transformation in our institutions.  Women were meant to just fit in and follow the mold.

I was born into a secular business family. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and both became successful business women. I was less interested in business and more interested in literature and religion.   But after my divorce I had to go into the family business to support my sons.  I was told, and have been repeatedly told over the years, to cut my hair so I would look more businesslike.  I was told to stop wearing flowing skirts and to take up suits.  In other words to succeed in business, I had to fit into the male mold. Many women of my generation have had this experience.  If you wanted to succeed in business, politics and even religion, you had to downplay your female attributes.  This was very unfortunate because the very attributes that can bring about creative change were being dismissed and seen as a disadvantage.

So what are the qualities of the feminine? What is feminine wisdom and how can it help us address the challenges we face?

A few months ago we invited a delegation of spiritual teachers, men and women, to the UN Climate Summit in Paris to speak about the spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis. The formal negotiations were on ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. We were astounded that there was little mention of the spiritual perspective of climate crisis. We are causing an untold number of species to go extinct, killing how many millions of trees, destroying our soil through chemical inputs, and the list goes on – and we take no responsibility for this destruction?  We have brought spiritual teachers to most of the UN climate summits to speak about the moral dimensions of the issue, and increasingly the women in our gatherings are sharing dreams where the Earth, in a much weakened state, addresses them.  According to them, the soul of the Earth is crying out.  I have also heard this cry.  It is interesting to me that it is mostly the women who are hearing this.  Why is that?

Women are deeply connected to life. We have an intuitive knowing of that which gives and supports life.    Since the beginning of time our bodies and minds have been programmed for this.  We function from a space where we know the interconnections of life, this vast web, one part supporting every other.  That is, if we are tuned in to our feminine wisdom, if we have not repressed that aspect of our being in order to fit in to the prevailing mold.

And if we are more connected to life, we are more connected to Earth and the natural forces, because they are the systems that support life. So, more of us can hear the cry of the Earth now, the cry of the rivers and forests – all of which have been so degraded due to a domination mentality.    Rather that respecting and caring for these living forces of nature, we have abused them to the point that many of our ecosystems are dying.

The violence against the Earth and the suppression of women come from the same source – from a mindset that rationalizes the right to domination.   To restore the Earth, we must restore women.  To restore women to our rightful place, we must restore nature to its rightful place.  We must honor the natural world for its own intrinsic value rather than its monetary benefit.

In the Eastern or Dharma religious traditions, the feminine energy is considered to be the transformative power, the energy that brings change. There is the understanding in the East that the Ultimate Reality, the Divine, has both a masculine and feminine aspect.  One might say that the masculine maintains the universe, keeps everything functioning, but the feminine force drives it forward, providing the transformations that bring about new life.  This would apply both at the macrocosmic as well as the micro level, in the greater scheme of things and also in the movements of everyday life.

It is this evolutionary force, this driving forward that we very much need now to move us into a new global consciousness – which is intuitive, inclusive, non-hierarchical, more compassionate and balanced.

It is not only women who have access to this feminine force. We have found in our work that many men resonate with this energy, more than some women.   Ultimately, just as the Divine can be considered to have both a male and female aspect, so do we all.  What is desperately needed now to move the world out of its conflict, tension, and destructive tendencies, is to allow for the feminine wisdom to come forward.

img_3577

Gathering of the Women’s Partnership for Peace in the Middle East, Oslo, 2003 – Photo by Nancy Bundt

 

As long as the female is repressed, the world will be greatly out of balance, and imbalance creates tension and destruction. As long as the Earth is abused, the same will be true.  A similar imbalance would occur if the feminine forces were to overpower the male.  It is balance that is so essential, and this balance will help us move beyond the paradigm of fear, domination and division to one of greater collaboration, trust and unity.  Some of the themes that I have discussed may be obvious, and some are quite subtle.  This is because the issues that we face in our societies and globally reflect deeper shifts that have to do with larger movements of time.  The changes we seek may not manifest for centuries, but the only thing we can be sure of is that change will come.  Yet we must stay focused on the specifics of what we can do now.  What can we do as women in our everyday lives to help foster change?

I think the most important task for us now is to connect to our intuitive nature, and to begin to question what are the life-supporting actions and positions that we can take that will bring balance to our societies – not further polarization, not anger and distrust, but greater unity. Ultimately the greatest change will come about not through any action but through our changed consciousness. That is where true transformation begins.

Can we ourselves outgrow the fear and domination mentality and not see the “other” — be it the religious, ethnic or racial other – as in any way inferior?    Can we know ourselves to be an intrinsic part of the interconnected whole, not apart from it, but one with it?  Can we evoke the feeling of love for the Earth and truly see Her as a Mother?  Can we speak to Her and hear Her response? Can we feel our connection to the plant and animal worlds and know that they have as much right to life as we do?  Can we look beyond our limited time frame and know that we are providing the foundation for changes that may be decades, even centuries ahead, changes that we may never see but that will benefit our grandchildren?  Can we believe that if we ourselves overcome the consciousness of division, separation and domination that perhaps our grandchildren will know a more peaceful, balanced, inclusive and compassionate world?  This belief is what inspires my work.