Spring Buds in a Time of Crisis

By Angela Fischer

Every morning, these days, we wake up to an unfolding spring, even more birds singing, new buds in the trees, more flowers blooming. And every morning we wake up to the news about the current pandemic in the world. Infection rates rising, death toll rising. More countries closing their borders, more individual restrictions in order to slow the infection rate.How do we respond? How do we respond to the birdsong, the gifts from the Earth, the beauty of life? And how do we respond to the news about the pandemic crisis? Is there something that connects both? How does this crisis affect our attitude and our spiritual practice, as it certainly affects our lives? I recently noticed that over the last few weeks I had changed my personal view every single day and realized there is and maybe must be a process, for each of us. A little ashamed about my different reactions – rather than responses, like counter-reaction to collective panic – a certain attitude emerged from a growing awareness that stayed with me: Listening, listening deeper. What are the “signs on the horizon”? What is asked from us, from me individually? Is there a deeper meaning, deeper than fear and anxiety and the attitude of “war against the virus” that we hear and sense in the world? I tried to listen to something deeper, an inner light – which is always there, whether we are aware of it or not. And others are listening too, of course, and we find out that there is a chance for us, an opportunity.

Oneness and Interconnectedness

We know, when the astronauts were seeing the planet from space for the first time, this was a shift in consciousness. There is one Earth, one planet, utterly precious. We are all interconnected on this beautiful blue marble. One destiny, one soul.But decades later we as humanity find ourselves being caught even more in a mindset of separation and domination toward the Earth, all species and each other. We would not have thought that it is, of all things, a contagious virus that becomes the space shuttle for all of us. From which we watch the planet as one organism. That teaches us that we are interconnected in ways we do not realize and have completely forgotten. Interconnected, of course, over the whole planet. Not as consumers or as global corporations, but as vulnerable human beings on a vulnerable Earth. There are two different ways to respond: We have the opportunity to decide, if we respond with love and compassion or with desires of the ego and instinctual drives, that is, with separation and division. The virus brings sickness and even death, and suffering. If we allow for the pain reaching us, instead of anxiety and despair, we will feel it in our hearts. And we are asked to respond with compassion and love. To respond with love and care requires us to witness what is happening, to face it consciously and not to ignore it. We are asked to grow up which means to be able to witness suffering and darkness without falling in collective despair and anxiety.

Awareness of the Inner World. Intuition and Inner relationship

The physical retreat and isolation which is, from a medical point of view, required from us and necessary, does not mean we are really separated.One reason of our present state of the world is that we have focused on the material world in a way that we have forgotten the immaterial, the inner worlds, and how they both, matter and spirit, belong together In other words: We as humanity have forgotten the sacred within life, within creation, within our bodies, within the body of the Earth. The light, the soul.Materialism and consumerism have eaten up and choked the sense of a nourishment for our souls and the soul of the world. It is no more part of humanities’s consciousness that we have the power and capacity to relate to the inner, invisible world and to each other, invisibly and beyond the physical plane and physical connection. As mystics we know and do experience that we can “meet in the night”. Which means, not in our physical bodies. We are not separated through space, nor through time.This inner knowing, and to live this knowing, can be awakened and affirmed in these times of quarantine. When outer borders are being closed we can begin again to open up our inner borders. And the borders we have built between the inner and outer world. We can devote ourselves again to the feminine wisdom inside of all of us that shows us how to communicate, to be in relationship to each other and to the inner worlds. Yes, we have internet (and hope it remains like this), so we luckily have non-physical possibilities to connect. So it is easy to believe that we do not need to activate intuition and our relationship to the inner worlds. Yet this does not nourish our souls in the long run, as it cannot replace meaning and light that is shared in a personal touch or smile. Also, of course, an inner connection does not “replace” a physical hug, but like a physical touch it carries love and light and gives us meaning and nourishes the soul.

For the Earth, With the Earth

You might have seen the satellite views, the before and after pictures. Clear skies over China after weeks of dealing with the Corona crisis. We have been choking the Earth with our CO2 emissions as a result of our way of life, our consumerism and materialism. The greater awareness of a “climate crisis” (which is an understatement, because it is more than a crisis) did not lead to the acceptance of the need to fundamentally change our way of life. To step back from our consumerism and ever growing economy, the so-called “freedom” to take an airplane whenever we want, and to live more simply. Green economy yes, green technology, yes, but please no change of life, no renunciation. No politician dares to speak about this, even a green one, it is just completely unpopular. But suddenly, humans are prepared to renounce this life- style. We can witness, it is possible! Even if the main cause of our willingness to step back from superficial pleasures that distract us, as bars and clubs in cities close down, and to refrain from holidays flying all over the planet, even if the cause might be fear of being contaminated and getting sick, we see and watch, for the first time, it is possible. The chance is: If we are able to transform that fear into a deeper feeling of care and love for the Earth and each other, we could be able to transition to another way of life.We have the chance to listen to the birds again, to be thankful for what the Earth is giving us. There is more space in our lives to do so, as the usual noise slows down. And if more of us can return to experiences like this, pathways could open to relate to the inner light, to the soul. We can again listen to the Earth herself.If at this moment we do not cover the Earth with a dense veil of collective fear and despair and even more growing egoism (nationalism), we can be able to listen to her voice, the voice of the Earth that at the moment is being carried by some air to breathe. It is only a very small gap, a small opportunity, a door that is open for a very short moment.

Solitude as a Vast Space for Light

For centuries solitude was reserved for monks and hermits, and a few people in contemporary spiritual environments. Solitude does not have a place in modern life,except for her shadow brother called loneliness. But solitude is different from loneliness. In a noisy and too busy world, we have unlearned to be in solitude, we are even afraid of it and tend to run away from it. Now countless people in the world, on the entire planet, are forced to retreat to their homes and to stay there in more or less solitude. After the first shock in the wake of something completely unusual, we can realize there is a space that opens up. There is air to breathe. Whereas the outer space is constricted, the inner space expands and widens. The heart has a chance to be listened to. The body has a chance to be listened to. So do our dreams in the night, our reflections on our lives.And if we have children and they need to stay at home, due to shut downs of schools, they too have the chance that we really listen to them. Yes, it is not easy to change our daily routine, and it is a big challenge for families, single parents especially, for people who still need to work in service to public health and services of general interest, and also a challenge for many people who are artists or self-employed to maintain their living. Those difficulties cannot just be removed. Nor can we avoid the worries about loved ones who might be sick or the grief of losing those who might die. And yet we can live our daily life now from another place inside, from that vast, spacious place that offers a certain light, a meaning of life. In solitude we have space to pray, to meditate, to sing and play, to cook our meals with love. To care for others. We can get a taste of a new (and ancient) way of life, sustainable inwardly and outwardly. We can breathe as well as the Earth can breathe. From this space that is given to us at the moment, from love and care, healing can be born. There is always an individual choice.


Angela Fischer

The Sacred Feminine for Life

Three Questions with Ali Ahmad Felhi

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature? 

I think the answer is in the question posed: stating that we need to (re)connect with our deeper selves presupposes the preliminary existence of a ‘connection’ to an essential nature, and that this connection was ‘lost’. This reading imposes a specific chronology of first an authentic, created, primary human truth, then a moment of loss, and finally a phase of recovering. To use a more platonic terminology, What we are required to adopt here is a simple act of ‘remembrance’. The truth to be remembered is a simple one: there is nothing in you to be known, you only exist in the other, and if there is a reconnection to be made, it is not through an inquisitive look towards yourself but through a loving gaze towards those surrounding you.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth? 

Earth is an interesting word because of its modern polysemy. Earth goes from the cosmic level to indicate the planet itself, to also describe a little handful of mud or sometimes simply a color or a perfume. with this multiplicity of uses, the ‘spiritual’ meaning of the word has been eroded ( to remain within the same lexical field). The scientific modern hijack of language makes it difficult today to understand earth as a ‘spiritual matter.’ And I think we are very much in need today of a ‘re-spiritualization’ of earth ( we are, should we remind ourselves, at the brink of an ecological catastrophe). For that matter, the Abrahamic use of earth is interesting. The three monotheist traditions understand it as the origin of all life (Quran describes humans as made of mud) but they also consider it as the perfect locus of death (these traditions requiring their adepts to burry their dead in the ground). Earth is where all starts ( the cosmic material constituting humans is brought from earth) and where all returns ( dead bodies come back to what they have all always been; dust). Monotheisms offer a perspective where earth is the Locus of both the ‘eternal return’ and of the ‘eternal restoration”. Earth, in that understanding leaves the realm of the ‘commodity’ and enters the sphere of the sacred. and it is this linguistic and conceptual sacralization of earth that will, I think, start a new and much needed ‘ecological imaginary.’

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

I don’t think it is possible to do it within the current structures. A system built around an intensive commodification of human relations and an emphasis on ‘competition’ as the major social engine cannot be more compassionate. Today, it sadly appears that the only way for the existing system to be more compassionate is to transform ‘compassion’ into a commodifiable item ( Buy a Starbucks cup of coffee and we will help the Colombian lady in the picture have a better life ). You then buy a brief and joyful moment of good conscience with your espresso. Placebo. A radical, all encompassing and revolutionary reconstruction of our social relations is, I think what is needed. What I am stating here is not meant to be sheer nihilism. I just wanted to recenter the ‘political battle’ within the humanitarian project. The noble act of compassionately helping the other should also be paralleled with a healthy struggle against existing political systems that reveal themselves to be an obstacle to a more compassionate world.

Ali Ahmad Felhi. Architect, author, and Sufi adept

Peace is Not Boring

by Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

I am fortunate to travel and meet with many interesting people. One subject I often discuss with those I meet is our common wish for greater peace and harmony in our lives.  It seems like a rather obvious statement to make – who wouldn’t want to be happy and be free from conflict?

I am surprised though, that while some claim that they seek peace in their lives there are others who tell me they prefer the challenges, without which they feel life would be boring. They tell me conflict gives their lives meaning. I have found this view to be so prevalent that I think it would be beneficial to take a moment and reflect on whether this statement is true or not.

Many regard peace as being a state of relaxation or a calmness. It is often understood in a relative way, as being absent of action, that which is present when we are not engaged with something else. It is still, quiet and non-confrontative. In other words, even though it feels nice, if you were to spend all your time in this sort of peaceful stupor, you’d end up either asleep or very bored.

I feel this understanding of peace is limited and misses a fundamental point. Peace is not something that you do. It is something that you are. It is your primordial nature. That nature is not a mere absence of doing, but instead an essence of bliss that pervades each and every moment of our existence.  The experience of such bliss is not boring, but is in fact invigorating, rejuvenating and inspiring.

Most importantly though, such blissful peace means that no matter what situation you may find yourself in, there is no reason to suffer. You can be living a fully engaged life, working with people and helping them in whatever way you can, and at no point do you ever need to feel sorrow, anxiety, fear or depression. Who needs confusion and anger? None of this is necessary for you to live a meaningful life.

In the Kalachakra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, reality is non-dualistic in nature and cannot be defined by relative terms of ‘this’ or ‘that’. Within the infinite sphere of reality, all qualities exist in co-emergence, free from limitation. While we may temporarily experience only a tiny fraction of our true nature, Buddhists believe we each have the innate capacity to reveal its complete and perfect truth. We call this capacity “buddha-nature”.

Buddha-nature binds us together as a single universal family. Rich or poor, big or small, male or female—no matter who you may be, we all possess buddha-nature. Regardless of the spiritual path that you have chosen to follow, if that path is rooted in this deeper truth it will provide the means to reveal an aspect of your inner true nature.

Recognizing that some paths are more suited to specific types of minds, there is no need for us to take extreme positions that hold one path as superior. Instead, we endeavor to cultivate an attitude of mutual respect toward one another, an attitude that values the diversity expressed within our societies. This unbiased view will allow us to create conditions where peace and harmony can thrive.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society. At such a time, not only will we come to know the profound peace that lies within each of us, but our actions will naturally express peace.

 When we train the mind through the practice of meditation, we learn to relax the body while maintain a lucid state of awareness. A tiny taste of bliss begins to grow becoming stronger and stronger.

An effective technique to develop this skill is to lie flat with the head slightly raised on a pillow. Let the arms rest naturally to the sides so that your shoulders drop down. Legs should lay relaxed.  With the eyes closed, become aware of the breath flowing in and out. With each out breath, relax the body, releasing all tension. Then, with each in-breath, arouse the mind slightly by paying attention to the sensations in the body. Alternate like this for however long you like. Exhaling, relax. Inhaling, paying attention. It is the combination of the two—relaxed but vividly aware—that will help us find the balance we need.

Something as simple as watching one’s breath can become the doorway to a much deeper sense of peace. As you come to connect with aspects of your buddha-nature, that nature begins to permeate more and more of your experience. When you are just starting to train, you will find the peace of mind will eventually carry over into the periods between sessions. This begins a process of bringing harmony into every aspect of your life.

These two—peace and harmony—are ultimately inseparable. We each have the ability to make such a practice a personal priority. We create the cause for peace to arise in our mind and when we know true peace we interact harmoniously with others and help them discover peace in their own experience. In this way, the world will change one mind at a time.

Three Questions with Judy Lief

Acarya Judy Lief, Buddhist teacher and author

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature?

Our true nature, our inner depth, is a thread that runs through all of our experiences, from the most mundane to the most profound.  It can be discovered in the midst of our ordinary everyday activities. It is always possible to connect with this deeper reality; we can do so at this very moment.  

In the midst of the busyness, distractions, and pressures of life, it is easy to lose this connection. We may have glimpses, but they are unstable. However, our link to something deeper can be nourished and restored. We can reconnect again and again, repeatedly bringing ourselves back to that deeper level of trust within ourselves. We can engage in the provocative, dynamic process of returning—and then returning again.  

It is so simple: stop, remember, connect.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth?   

To feel and live such a connection, each day I try to make time to get out of my head and step back from the ongoing plans and concerns of the moment. I come back to my body at a very simple level.  Sensing, feeling, experiencing. I touch in with the reality of aging and dying and the passage of time. I feel grateful for the support of the body, its pleasures and its pains.

I go outside and look up at the sky.  It is so vast and inconceivable. Somehow, looking at the stars and planets or the blue sky brings me back to my connection with the earth. I feel held by gravity, grounded and simple. 

Stopping and looking in this way opens my connection to fellow living beings, humans, plants, animals. I recognize my placement in the structure of life, as an animal, a mammal, a sapiens, a planet Earth dweller.  That recognition is so pure, so simple and literal. Ironically, when I stay with the simplicity and don’t try to overlay either a scientific or a spiritual interpretation, a feeling of awe and sacredness arises naturally and spontaneously.

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

We can begin close to home, by doing the work of self-examination.  How deeply do we know ourselves and our capacities? How honest are we about our limitations? Given who we are, what is the best we can offer to help shape a sane and compassionate world? In the Buddhist tradition, the first challenge is quite modest: it is to do no harm. We may not be able to fix things, but we can at least not add to the chaos. We can reduce harm. That is the bottom line. 

It is hard to accept our flaws and limitations, but when we do so, we become more accepting of others and more able to work with flawed structures and institutions.  At Naropa University, this is described as “meeting the world as it is and changing it for the better.” 

We can’t fix everything, but we have countless opportunities to make a difference.  We make choices all the time, and those choices have impact. 

The world needs help. Every gesture of kindness and compassion, small or large, has force. Your circumstances may be quite constrained, and you may have few resources, but you can still do something. If you relate to whatever you do through the lens of compassion, you will be able to make a difference.

There are so many things wrong, so much entrenched injustice, so much needless suffering. It is easy to be overwhelmed. But we are called to engage, to be willing to get messy. How to begin? We have to start somewhere. In response, the advice I have found most helpful is: If you have the circumstances or ability to do something about a problem, don’t hesitate or cop out, but get involved. However, if you do not have the right skills or strength to help, just let it go. Appreciate what you can do and don’t dwell on what you can’t. You need to be realistic:  help where you can, and don’t get bogged down in despair at all the problems you cannot fix.  


3 Questions with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature?

There are many ways to reconnect with our essential nature. Any spiritual practice, prayer or meditation, that takes us beneath the surface of our daily life, beneath the clutter of the mind and the demands of the outer world, can be a place of reconnection, a place where we can rest inwardly and be nourished by the deeper roots of our being. And if we need an added ingredient to help us in this work, silence is most valuable, especially in today’s world where noise surrounds us more and more. To learn to be present in an inner and outer silence is a doorway to what is real within ourselves and in the world around us.

And as our world appears to spin more and more out of balance—temperatures and sea levels rising, species depleted—there is a pressing need to return to a this deep place, a place of belonging where real healing and transformation can take place. Returning to our essential self we may find a balance resurfacing from deep within, a balance that reconnects and restores us, and also allows us to contribute in unseen ways.

One of Carl Jung’s favorite stories was “The Rainmaker,” in which a world out of balance, in a time of drought and suffering, was healed not through activity, but through a rainmaker retiring to a hut in silence. Three days later the rain came and the drought was over. When he was asked how he brought the rain, he replied, “Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came.”
If we are to participate creatively in these toxic times, to bring rain to a land where the inner and outer wells have run dry, first we need to be present “in another country where things are in order.” And this “other country” is not so far away, but can be found in the Earth beneath our feet, and in the space between the in-breath and the out-breath where the soul is present. But first we need to reconnect, to return to this place of balance. And the simplest way is through stillness and silence.
Silence draws us inward, away from the clutter and distractions of our outer life, to the deeper roots of our being. Here our soul nourishes us, here we can be replenished, and here we can help replenish our world. The Earth is dying from the ravages of our culture, of our materialistic nightmare which pollutes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and starves our soul from its natural connection to the sacred. In the silence we can drink deeply of the waters of life that are still pure, we can commune with the primal forces of nature, we can return to what is sacred and essential to our life and to the life of the Earth.
Here in this “other country” the air is not toxic, and the miasma of today’s world in this post-truth era is not blurring our vision. The laugher of children rings true. Stillness is here, and the seasons are in balance. Every in-breath and out-breath is sacred. The breath, the soul, the Earth and its seasons, are linked together, nourished by each other. It is a time to heal.
Sitting here beside my window I look out onto the wetlands. I watch the tides rise and fall, the sun red in the morning, sometimes breaking through the mist. Traffic may pass on the road just beneath me, the early morning milk truck, but the silence remains. As I get older I am less and less drawn to activity, more of me remains in stillness, sensing the Earth, watching the birds at my birdfeeder—I love the woodpecker with his bright red crest. Now it is springtime, apple and cherry blossoms already carpeting the ground.

How do you feel and live your connection to the Earth?

In my daily life there are two practices that help me to reconnect with the Earth and Her sacred nature, walking and prayer.
I have always loved to walk early in the morning, to sense the Earth at the beginning of a day, to feel Her pulse, Her beauty and magic, before thoughts and demands clutter my day. Waking early, I have a hot cup of tea, meditate in silence, and then, as soon as the first light comes, I walk down the hill to the road beside the wetlands where I live. Sometimes the frost is sparkling around me, sometimes the water is clouded with fog, an egret appearing white against the reeds. This is another time of silent meditation, walking, breathing, feeling the Earth. I try to be as empty as possible, just to be present in the half-light, aware of what is around me. Prayer, meditation, presence, awareness – these are just words for a practice that immerses me in a mystery we call nature. Here the sacred speaks to me in its own language, and I try to listen.
Now I live beside the wetlands, and the tidal water is part of this meeting, this communion. Other times, in other landscapes, it has been rivers and streams, the sounds of waterfowls’ wings, the dawn rising across meadows. Or in forests, a different bird chorus, animals skittering across the path, a deer and her young. Always it is a listening awareness, a deep receptivity to what is around me, an honoring of a world other than people. It is a remembrance of what is essential, elemental, and its nourishment carries me through the day. It is a return to the sacred, sensed and felt, without words or thoughts – a primal consciousness as if of the first day.
This is a practice that has been with me since my teens – when I first started to meditate I also needed to walk. It was not taught or learned, but came as a need, a way to be, an antidote to much of the world around me – a world of people and problems, demands and desires. When one foot follows the other and the day has hardly begun, it seems these demands cannot touch me, as if I am immersed in something simpler, more essential. Placing each foot on the earth is a practice, but a practice that comes from my own roots, not a book or a teacher. Later I came to hear it called “walking in a sacred manner,” and it is sacred, a return to what is sacred. But it also is deeper or more primal than any purpose. Nature speaks to me and I listen. Nature calls and something deep within me responds, and I just need to give it space. I am part of a life far greater than any ‘me’.
The Earth gives us sustenance: the air we breathe, the food we eat. She is generous in so many ways, even as we forget Her and abuse Her. But there is also this deeper nourishment, this invisible, intangible giving. My early morning walk is a communion – if I am receptive, it is a wine drunk deeply. It comes through Her landscape, moss dripping from the trees, white and pink blossoms welcoming spring, the cry of a sea bird. Those first rays of sunrise are always a blessing. I do not understand this with my mind, but my soul feels it, needs it. Once again we are back at the beginning, in that elemental world we never truly leave. Our present culture may have forgotten it, disowned it, covered it over, may pretend we no longer need this communion, but my soul and my feet know otherwise. This is the landscape of the soul as much as it is the wetlands stretching towards the ocean. But it is also any landscape we walk. A walk on city streets is made of the same elements: feet touching ground, the rhythm of walking, breathing, the same sky overhead, the wind touching the face.
I would like to say it is easy, but so often I have to remember to reconnect, to empty the clutter of the coming day from my mind, my everyday thoughts. I have to stay in a place of awareness, sense my feet, feel the air, listen. I have to remember that I am not separate but part of everything around me. I have to push aside this great myth of separation, the great untruth. We are the air we breathe, the earth we touch, the same one life, alive in so many ways. We are the Earth awakening in the early morning, just as we are the buds breaking into color in the spring. To be fully alive is to feel how we are part of this embracing mystery. My morning walk is a remembrance, a reconnection, experienced in the body and felt in the soul.
My own morning walk is in many ways a prayer. In prayer there is a meeting: I meet and bow before the One in Its many colors, sounds, and smells. Of course, many mornings I forget and take my own thoughts with me on my walk. But then I am reminded—hearing the waterfowl call across the water, glimpsing the sun through the fog—and I awake from myself and see more clearly—the colors, the sounds, the beauty, the Divine. Once more I am attuned to how “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
I feel that there is a specially pressing need at this time to bring our heart’s witness to this natural world we live in. Our world is starving, dying from a lack of the sacred, and human beings have always been mediators between the worlds, linking matter and spirit, the visible and invisible. Our witness, our prayers, can help awaken the sacred that is within creation.
And there is another form of prayer that touches me deeply at this time of the Earth’s distress. With our own heart we can pray for the Earth, just as we pray for another person, for a sick relative or friend. It helps first to acknowledge that She is not “unfeeling matter” but a living being that has given us life, and to open our heart to Her suffering: the physical suffering we see in the dying species and polluted waters, the deeper suffering of our collective disregard for Her soul and sacred nature. And then from this depth of feeling, and a deep love for the Earth, I place the whole Earth in my heart and offer Her to God, to the Creator, to my own Beloved. It is a simple and powerful way of remembering the Earth in my prayers, an offering of love.
We each have our own way to pray, the way we cry out in our need and longing, the way we listen to the quiet voice or to the deepening silence of the Divine, the way we open our hearts to the Earth. There are so many ways to pray for and with creation, to listen within and include the Earth in our spiritual practice. Watching the simple wonder of a dawn can be a prayer in itself. Or when we hear the chorus of birds in the morning we may sense that deeper joy of life and awake to its divine nature, while at night the stars can remind us of what is infinite and eternal within us and within the world. In whatever way we are drawn to wonder or pray, what matters is always the attitude we bring to this intimate exchange: whether our prayers are heartfelt rather than just a mental repetition. It is always through the heart that our prayers are heard. Do we really feel the suffering of the Earth, sense Her need, hear the cry of the Earth? Do we feel this connection with creation, how we are a part of this beautiful and suffering being? Then our prayers are alive, a living stream that flows from our heart. Then every step, every touch, will be a prayer for the Earth, a remembrance of what is sacred. We are a part of the Earth calling to Her Creator, crying in Her time of need.

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures?

There is a world waiting to be born, a world founded upon cooperation rather than competition, a world that honors all of life in its diversity and wonder. A compassionate world in which we return to what is simple and essential and remember the “Original Instructions” given to our ancestors and held by Indigenous Wisdom Keepers—“how to get long with all of creation.” And this world that seems so different to the broken structures of today’s divisive and exploitative culture, is not so far away. It is a world seen through the eyes, the consciousness of oneness, rather than the consciousness of separation. It is a simple shift from “me” to “we.”

Oneness holds the essential vision that we are one living, interconnected ecosystem—a living Earth that supports and nourishes all of its inhabitants. If we acknowledge and honor this simple reality, we can begin to participate in the vital work of healing our fractured and ravaged world and embrace a living unity that is our human heritage. This is the opportunity that is being offered to us, even as its dark twin is constellating the dynamics of nationalism, tribalism, isolationism, and all the other regressive forces that try to divide us.
Oneness is not a metaphysical idea but something essential and ordinary. It is in every breath, in the wing-beat of every butterfly, in every piece of garbage left on city streets. This oneness is life—life no longer experienced solely through the fragmented vision of the ego, through the distortions of our culture, but known within the heart, felt in the soul. This oneness is the heartbeat of life. It is for each of us to live and celebrate this oneness, to participate in its beauty and wonder. And through our awareness, and actions born of this awareness, we can help to reconnect our world with its original nature.
There are many ways to experience and participate in this living oneness. But if I have learned anything after half a century of spiritual practice, it is the power of love. Love comes in so many forms and expressions. There are the simple acts of loving kindness towards friends and family, members of our community, or strangers. Love reaches across boundaries, expressing what is most essential and human: what unites rather than divides. “Small things with great love,” are more potent and powerful than we realize, because they reconnect us with the spiritual roots of life and its transformative and healing energies. Because life is an expression of love, each act of love is a participation and gift to the whole.
Cooking a meal with love and care, listening to another’s troubles with an open heart, touching your lover’s body with tenderness, or going deep in prayer until you merge in love’s infinite ocean—in all these acts, we live the love that unites us. And through our loving, we nourish life in unseen ways.
And at this time of ecological crisis, as we are tearing apart the fragile web of life, there is a vital need for us to love the Earth, to bring her into our hearts and prayers. We have a spiritual as well as a physical responsibility for ‘our common home,’ and she is calling out to us, crying for our help and healing. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:
Real change will only happen when we fall in love with our planet. Only love can show us how to live in harmony with nature and with each other and save us from the devastating effects of environmental destruction and climate change.
We need to reawaken to the power of love in the world. It is our love for the Earth that will heal what we have desecrated, that will guide us through this wasteland and help us to bring light back into our darkening world. Love links us all together in the most mysterious ways, and love can guide our hearts and hands. The central note of love is oneness. Love speaks the language of oneness, of unity rather than separation.
Love can open us to our deep participation in the life of the whole; it can teach us once again how to listen to life, feel life’s heartbeat, sense its soul. It can open us to the sacred within all of creation and can reconnect us with our primal knowing that the Divine is present in everything—in every breath, every stone, every animate and inanimate thing. In the oneness of love, everything is included, and everything is sacred.
And from there, we can begin to respond. We cannot return to the simplicity of an indigenous lifestyle, but when we let love guide us we can become more aware of the oneness of life and recognize that how we are and what we do at an individual level affects the global environment, both outer and inner. We can learn how to live in a more sustainable way, according to a deeper understanding of sustainability that rests on an acknowledgment of the sacred within creation. We can live more simply, saying no to unnecessary material things in our outer lives. We can also work inwardly to heal the spiritual imbalance in the world. Our individual conscious awareness of the sacred within creation reconnects the split between spirit and matter within our own soul, and also—because we are so much more a part of the spiritual body of the Earth than we realize—within the soul of the world.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love draws us back to love, love uncovers love, love makes us whole, and love takes us Home. In the depths of the soul we are loved by God. This is the deepest secret of being human, the bond of love that is at the core of our being and belongs to all that exists. And the more we live this love, the more we give ourself to this mystery that is both human and divine, the more fully we participate in life as it really is, in its wonder and moment by moment revelation.
Love and care—care for each other, care for the Earth—are the simplest and most valuable human qualities. And love belongs to oneness. We know this in our human relationships, how love draws us closer, and in its most intimate moments we can experience physical union with another. It can also awaken us to the awareness that we are one human family, even as our rulers become more authoritarian, our politics more divisive. And on the deepest level, love can reconnect us with our essential unity with all of life, with the Earth herself.
The Earth is a living oneness born from love, being remade by love each instant. And we can be part of its spiritual transformation, its awakening. The Earth is waiting and needing our participation. It has been wounded by our greed and exploitation, and by our forgetfulness of its sacred nature. It needs us to remember and reconnect, to live the oneness that is our true nature. And love is the simplest key to this oneness, this remembrance. Love is the most ordinary, simplest, and most direct way to uncover what is real—the innermost secrets of life. It is at the root of all that exists, as well as in every bud breaking open at springtime, every fruit ripening in fall.
Love will remind us that we are a part of life—that we belong to each other and to this living, suffering planet. Love will reconnect us to the sacred ways known to our ancestors, as well as awaken us to new ways to be with each other and the Earth. We just need to say, “Yes,” to this mystery within our own hearts, to open to the link of love that unites us all, that is woven into the web of life. And then we will uncover the love affair that is life itself and hear the song of unity as it comes alive in our hearts and the heart of the world.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D. is a Sufi teacher and author. In recent years the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of global crisis, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness More recently he has written about the feminine, and the emerging subject of Spiritual Ecology. (www.workingwithoneness.org). He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, and featured on the Global Spirit Series shown on PBS. His most recent book is Including the Earth in Our Prayers.

Re-Discovering Mata Sita and Her Relevance Today

Sita Image 1

By Dena Merriam

Sita is a beloved figure for Hindus around the world, as well as for non-Hindus throughout Southeast Asia. But the message of her life extends beyond these audiences and bears universal import, particularly relevant for the modern age when a new understanding of feminine wisdom and leadership is needed, and when we are facing an unprecedented ecological crisis. Mata Sita and Sri Ram were instrumental in setting the foundation for a new civilization during a time of transition from one era, or yuga, to another. We stand at a similar time in history, where we are experiencing the passing of one era and intuitively feel the birthing of another, as yet unknown. One thing seems certain, however, that the new society we are striving for must be ecologically-based. There is great value in looking to lessons of the past in order to move forward.

During Sita’s time on earth, humanity was beginning to shift from a nature-based way of life toward greater material development. Many concepts were implanted in the collective mind at that time that guided the subsequent development of human civilization. We have now reached the pinnacle of this development and are reaping the results of our abuse of earth’s resources—its land, water, and air. To survive as a human community, we will need to incorporate into our lives a new-found appreciation, respect, and love for the natural world, a love that was exemplified in the life of Mata Sita.

Looking back to the time when humanity was beginning to divorce itself from nature and to cultivate more of a separate, individual identity will help us understand the pitfalls of this separateness in consciousness. Seeing ourselves as disconnected from nature has given mankind the false impression that we can control nature and recklessly deplete it, discounting the rights of other life forms and ignoring our interdependent relationship.

One cannot go backward in time, nor would one want to. The goal is to incorporate the wisdom and knowledge of the past into the developments and scientific advances of today. We can learn again how to care for and love the earth and all her communities of life.  There is much that Mata Sita can teach us if we invoke her. She and Sri Ram are living presences, not just historical figures, still very much engaged with the lives of those who turn to them. During the life journey of Mata Sita and Sri Ram, each assumed roles that were different but equal in importance. Neither could achieve their life’s mission without the other. Their lives exemplify a balance of the masculine and feminine qualities and energies, despite how patriarchal forces have tried to shape the Ramayana narrative to suit later social norms.  If we recapture something of life during the higher ages we can see the story with new eyes and perceive the inner dynamic that drove the outer narrative. Remembering the harmony that existed during the higher ages will help us re-calibrate our society so that it honors the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine, both of which are needed to help restore balance to our society and to the earth.

 

A Prayer for the Children of the World

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)

 

 

 

Honoring The Lineage of The Ancestral Feminine

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.

 

Who is the True Guru?

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.

 

Simplicity

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.