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
by Chief Tamale Bwoya, Kingdom of Buganda
This year I decided to retreat along the bank of the River Nile, to connect and communicate with the conventional energies that travel and circle the planet.
River Nile originates from Lake Victoria in East Africa and travels to the Mediterranean Sea before it joins the Atlantic ocean. From there it circles the planet and returns to Africa by conventional means. All along this journey it carries much wisdom and holds the secrets of the planet.
I was prompted to retreat along the Nile by the visit I had to the River Rhine in Europe, where I was invited to attend as a special delegate to the UN Climate Change Summit COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. I was there as a spiritual mentor and facilitator of a program organized by GPIW called the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change, a retreat and dialogue for young ecologists from Europe.
At the United Nations portion of the program, I heard nature complaining that her voice was not effectively represented, and her wishes and desires were not included in the resolutions. I believe that the UN secretariat should endeavor to invite more wisdom keepers from different parts of the world and prepare a special forum for them to share-out what nature tells them should be done to solve the climate crisis, and the future of life. However, I was gratified by the effort made by the industrial nations to reduce carbon emissions and to examine several other environmental dangers.
On the part of Europe, nature revealed that the European spirituality has the most comprehensive data base for nearly everything on earth. It’s on record that the social events, political decisions, and the scientific discoveries that took place on the European continent, greatly changed and transformed the planet in the past and in present times. As revealed by nature, Europe’s responsibility is the spirituality governing space, and Africa’s responsibility is the spirituality governing the land. Space symbolizes Europe’s energetic nature in a light, intelligent, fast and radiant spiritual system, which are qualities that give it a transformative value. Therefore, because of its transformative potential, Europe will be a key player in the new eco- evolution and transformation, hence Europe should work hard to reconcile and rehabilitate its ecological mistakes and to groom able and competent spiritual leaders to face new ecological challenges.
Lack of able and competent spiritual leadership is the greatest problem humanity faces. The divisions and competition reigning within the spiritual world and their desire to dominate and control man, has disabled man to unite and to solve the ecological demands required of him. Many communities today that passed through colonization had faced spiritual manipulations or social indoctrination of their cultures and values and now find it extremely difficult to identify their sacred spiritual chiefs. In this regard, some “unidentified” chiefs are completely lost/hidden to the society, while others that are recognized are classified with witchcraft or evilness and need to be protected from discrimination.
The way to overcome this problem is for the different traditional leadership at community or regional levels to collaborate so that the cosmic energies of oneness and conscious awakening can work together to reactivate the healing energies in nature, in order to awaken the sacred leadership that disappeared in the past to rise again in those communities. The community leadership we see in many indigenous communities today are either elected or appointed or inherited leadership, but the world needs sacred value holders – the men and women with the ability to tap into the secrets of nature and hence protect and guide their communities and the world. But because of the fear held by the civil and religious leaders of losing their social influence and leadership status, they are using their positions now to suppress and demonize the very leadership the world needs due to the ecological demands of the time. New measures should be taken to formalize matters of nature instead of leaving the big questions about natural systems and manifestations to be answered by civil or religious personnel who may not be the legitimate representatives and wisdom holders of these natural systems.
The manifestation of the new ecological evolution appears to rise through the young people, but it’s our collective responsibility, young and old, to reconcile the past with the present eco-systems as fast as possible, so as to reduce the magnitude of calamities that befall man through natural disasters for his lack of ecological action and disobedience to supreme nature.
New revelations given to Chief Tamale Bwoya
In my retreat meditation, I received the following messages from Supreme Nature:
“People should follow the messages I share regarding the environmental problems on the planet. If science is the cause of the ecological destruction, I will reverse it.”
“I have given several messages of warning and guidance to mankind, but people have chosen to challenge these.”
“I will weaken the greater nations and raise weaker ones so as to neutralize supremacy.”
More secrets about the upcoming ecological evolution were revealed as below:
An introduction of new values into life on Earth, as old ones are being gradually withdrawn. The new measures will limit human authority and pressure mankind to accede to the requirements of nature. For example, man will not have the power to manipulate the new ecological concepts for economic, social or political gain. There will be a new spiritual energy present that will shift our ambitions and enhance human consciousness toward a more positive and higher purpose of life. (These new conceptual values seemed to give Mother Earth some relief, because in my visions, I saw her tears dry out. This transformative action according to Nature is already gradually taking place).
Life did not originate here on Earth it was transferred from elsewhere in the cosmos due to ecological circumstances. It is revealed that since the time life emerged on Earth, it has undergone three fundamental ecological evolutions: T
1.This first evolution did not take place on Earth, but took place in the spiritual realms.
2. The second evolution saw the introduction of physical life on Earth. While life on Earth has undergone different states of social and ecological developments, the conceptual values of Nature have remained the same.
3. The third evolution is the one we are currently in. The first and second evolutions will be evaluated for trial. Both spiritual and physical life will be cross examined. Harmful actions will be condemned and any values that led to the manipulation of life will be withdrawn and higher values introduced into life.
According to observations of the ecological developments and the spiritual evaluation of climate actions taken on earth per continent, Nature indicates that Asia will rise up as a world power and will take up the ecological obligations to lead the planet through this third evolution. However, Europe will be a major ally because of its great contributions in the second evolution. Africa and South America will make strong economic and social partnerships. Finally, Nature calls on the chiefs to become more practical. To come out of their hiding places and explore the magnificence and completeness in which the world was created. The cosmos has multi-dimensional applications that are untapped and are needed to help heal the planet. It is only the sacred spiritual chiefs that have access to these mysteries from Nature.
Mother Earth is calling on you, as her tears are drying up in the hope of the new ecological transformation. The introduction of new values will require the help of the sacred chiefs to oversee and guide the world into conscious science, politics, social and economic policies that humanity and nature need for ecological sustainability.
As the big nations endeavor to reduce carbon emissions and other industrial dangers on their own continents, the same programs should extend to other vulnerable continents. We now see pharmaceutical and big industries closing down in the industrialized continents only to be transferred to the continents supportive of ecological work. We are making the same mistake because the equation remains exactly the same everywhere on the planet. No matter where the environmental danger is placed, whether in Africa, Asia or in Europe. We should help other continents cultivate their own development that is aligned with their ecological values instead of suffocating new wisdom and civilization that is rising up on these continents that is supportive and sustainable for all of life. Nature said, “This world was put into the hands of the chiefs” – this was the revelation given to me by Nature in Laikipia, Kenya in 2012. Please endeavor to open the social barriers because the duty to govern the world was mandated to you, Spiritual Chiefs, by the Divine Authority. Life was not created in the institutional spaces defined by places of worship but in the wilderness, in nature, in the forests and the mountains themselves. Therefore, come out of the institutions to receive the creative wisdom and instructions that you will need to move into the new evolution on Earth.
Peace be to you all.
Chief Tamale Bwoya
Buganda Kingdom, East Africa
Protect the children, new born pups, the young shoots – every form of budding life!
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…
(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
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.
A Curriculum for Our Times
By Jana Long, E-RYT, C-IAYT
Executive Director & Co-founder
Black Yoga Teachers, Alliance, Inc.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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 email@example.com. Very little goes a long way there.)
“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.
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.
Flags from the more than 300 tribes that joined in actions at Standing Rock
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