The Deeper Significance of Standing Rock

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photos courtesy of John Briggs

 

Can Women Lead a Transformation in Global Consciousness?

Part One & Two

By Dena Merriam
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Dena Merriam & Ven. Mae Chee Sansanee of Thailand & young Kashmiri women, Srinagar 2015
There is perhaps no more critical undertaking now than to bring together women who have the
commitment, knowledge and vision to make a difference in bringing about the needed global transformations.  It is increasingly clear that we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the history of the world.  There are forces  pulling us forward toward the next stage in human evolution, and there are forces resisting this advance, seeking to pull us backward or at least to keep us from progressing.  In almost every region of the world, we feel this tension between a movement forward and the resistance. Even for those of us who feel the forces of advancement, it is not clear where we are going, what is the next stage in our social evolution. We know that the current systems are not working but we don’t know the new formations that are quietly arising.  This inability to put our current situation into larger context is creating anxiety.  How do we ease this tension?
I would describe the new mindset that is emerging as one based on a sense of unity –human unity and unity with the natural world – and I would describe the old mindset as one based on a sense of separateness and division. We see these forces playing out around the world.   Globalization and communications technology brought us together in the physical sense.  Now something akin to this is happening on a spiritual level.  The interfaith movement played a role in that, bringing people into much deeper spiritual exchange.  But now we have moved beyond interfaith into a new experience of spiritual unity.  In response to this new reality, retraction is also occurring – people retreating into their separateness, into known and comfortable identities.  But this retreat can only be temporary because the movement of evolution is a forward one.   
 In addition to the tension between unity and separateness, we are feeling the tension of shifting from a paradigm of domination, which has lasted for millennia and is deeply imbedded in our psyches, to one of collaboration.  The urge to dominate is based on fear and for a period in human evolution this fear was a necessity – it was self-preservation.  But it has outlived its usefulness and has now become destructive.  This shift is not a cosmetic or minor change in thinking but entails a significant growth in consciousness and involves deep systemic changes that will affect all aspects of our economic, political, social and religious life.  This shift in consciousness away from a domination mentality applies to how we interact as a human community and to how we interact with the rest of the created world.  So much of human history has been about one ethnic, national, religious or racial group seeking to dominate another, one gender seeking to dominate the other, and one species, the human species, seeking to dominate all that resides on Earth for our sole benefit.  These old mental patterns no longer serve us.  In fact, they threaten our survival.  
What we are experiencing now as a global community is the breaking down of old patterns and the beginning of the formation of new ones.  This is a painful process.  As women know, it is only by passing through the agony of labor that we give birth to new life.   This is not an easy or quick task. For an individual it takes a long time to change habits.   For a global collective, the formation of new modes of behavior could take decades,  but at least we can lay the foundations, and we do this essentially through our understanding of what is taking place and by changing our own consciousness.
If you look at what is happening in the world today, on the surface, it can seem dismal.  It almost feels like we are moving backward.  Every region is experiencing tension – conflict, human barbarity, climate changes, environmental degradation, increasing economic disparity, the list goes on and on.  In the US, on a political level we are in a state of deep polarization and paralysis. But spiritually something else is happening and a deeply unifying spiritual movement is emerging.   The spiritual landscape of the country is changing quite rapidly, and in a positive direction, because it is based on unity rather than division.  How long will it take for this to affect the political and economic life of the country – that is an unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

One Plus Seven Billion Equals One

Streetby Ellen Schaplowsky

We often find that we cannot easily give up the tendency to hold rigidly to patterns of thought built up over a long time. We are then caught up in what may be called absolute necessity. This kind of thought leaves no room at all intellectually for any other possibility, while emotionally and physically, it means we take a stance in our feelings, in our bodies, and indeed, in our whole culture, of holding back or resisting. This stance implies that under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow ourselves to give up certain things or change them.

—David Bohm, American-born quantum physicist, philosopher and neuropsychologist.

As I write this, the world population clock on www.worldodometers.info ticks away and we approach 7.35 billion human beings on our beautiful blue planet. For the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of helping Nan Lu, OMD, Grand Master of Wu Ming Qigong and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, write his most recent book Digesting the Universe, A Revolutionary Framework for Metabolism Function. It’s a major work and a comprehensive look at how our metabolism system works at the body, mind and spirit levels and reflects the greater metabolism function of the Universe.

What did I learn? You might say I didn’t sharpen my math skills. How can one plus seven billion equal one? Ah … what if this is true? If each of us could, for a second, open our minds—as physicist David Bohm advises—and step back for a moment to relinquish certain ways of thinking, if we could understand this simple equation from our heart, the world would change dramatically. We would change dramatically; the way we approach health would change dramatically. We would not be such ardent fans (or should I say slaves?) of fragmentation, separation, distinctions, analyses and reductionism. The beauty of oneness would captivate us. Instead, we would search for commonalities, for similarities not differences. We would come to see oneness as the reality of existence. We would no longer ignore the astonishing fact of our existence—we are all energy beings!

Let me relate this to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) a system that arose out of this consciousness. What many people in the West may not know is TCM is a by-product of a spiritual practice. This time-tested system did not spring from the rational minds of men or women. It did not arise from science. Nor did it come about through long centuries of trial and error. It arose out of as a profound understanding of the nature of reality through the nonconscious voyages of ancient masters in deep meditative states. These states allowed them to travel far beyond third-dimensional reality to a plane where they perceived the laws of the Universe and Nature first hand. Their practice in a time long ago and far away from ours brought them a direct knowing that recognized Qi as the animating life force of all things—the invisible, underlying fabric of our reality. Qi infuses the world with information, force, wisdom and love. In effect, the visible system of traditional Chinese medicine and its Five Element energetic framework (like all objects in our reality) emerged from its invisible source. Thousands of years later, quantum physicists arrived at a similar, but not exactly matching, destination through science. They discovered everything is energy and, in the energy field, everything is connected. Their journey to an understanding of inseparability was sparked by the insights of geniuses like Einstein and his colleagues—pioneers of early twentieth century physics.

What are these laws of the Universe and Nature beyond our manmade ones? Today, most people in modern society have no idea what they are; yet, these laws affect our health and healing in a critical way. Interestingly, whether we believe these laws exist or not, when we try to go against them—the invisible, real rules of this reality—we fall out of balance in minor or major ways. For more than 2,000 years, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine have understood this truth as it’s explained in one of the oldest Chinese medical texts:

The cycle of seasons starts with spring and ends with winter.

The cycle of Yin-Yang begins with Yang and ends with Yin.

Everything must follow this natural law because it rules the life and death of all things.

If you go against this law, then disastrous things will happen.

If you follow this law, then all things will be fine.

Nei Jing (475‒221 BCE)

These laws allow each living thing to emerge into this world—to be born, grow and die, all while being inextricably connected to profound planetary seasonal and celestial changes. It seems a far cry from the way we live our hectic lives today; yet, each of us enters reality imprinted with this “rule book.” We enter in a joyful state of love and creativity. Deep within, our consciousness has a special knowing of our rightful place and spirit’s ultimate purpose. This wisdom stays with us throughout our days. That’s why many religions tell us “the answer is always within.” At a cellular level, we know we are made for good. Every species is encoded with this knowing in a grand cooperative venture.

At the subatomic level of our reality, there is only oneness. Today, modern science confirms this. Thousands of years ago, traditional Chinese medicine acted on this understanding. Ancient masters recognized separation is an illusion. If we are to grow as a species, now is a critical time to transcend this limiting view. How can we use our limited minds to grasp this unlimited concept: as individuals, we are complete in and of ourselves. Though we talk about the body, mind and spirit as separate aspects of the self, the truth is each aspect of being is inseparable. Each influences the other in our journey toward harmony and optimum health. As a human race, we are one—white, brown, red, black. There is only one race, the human one. We are also woven into oneness through a cooperative dance with every other species. We are slowly recognizing our planet and everything in it or on it is a living breathing entity to be cared for and appreciated. The Earth is complete by itself; it partners with its brothers and sisters in a whirling, swirling solar system. It joins its riches to the galaxy that is stitched into the fabric of millions, if not billions, of others like it. Consciousness, purpose and good intent is woven throughout existence. From the subatomic to the supergalatic, there is only oneness. Ancient spiritual masters encountered this oneness or Qi, as they called it. They saw that it was filled with unconditional love, consciousness and purpose. As systems large and small begin to implode around us—environmental, financial, medical, social, political—as they inevitably must, now is a good time to turn our attention toward how things are connected and inseparable and away from differentiation, separation, analysis, reductionism and perspectives that divide us further.

Field of Wild Carrot - Queen Anne's Lace

When we open our hearts (and check our crazy-busy minds at the doorstep), we may see that embracing oneness and the inextricable interrelationships that infuse our lives offers a sustainable solution—a way to truly heal and grow. Instead of pursuing a path of differentiation, maybe we will, at last, give up our ideas of separation and begin to think of ourselves as magnificent individuations of the infinite, loving energy field or All That Is. Maybe, one day, we’ll wake from our deep sleep and see one plus seven billion does equal one.

For more than 20 years, Ellen Schaplowsky has been a Wu Ming Qigong student of Grand Master Nan Lu, OMD (taoofhealing.com), and co-founder of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) World Foundation. She has co-authored his latest work, Digesting the Universe: A Revolutionary Framework for Healthy Metabolism Function, and his three other TCM books on self-care published by HarperCollins. She writes about the intersection of TCM’s body–mind–spirit framework and modern science. She also serves as conference director for the Foundation’s educational forum, Building Bridges of Integration for TCM, now in its thirteenth year. This year’s focus is “Consciousness, Oneness and Everyday Health.” More information on the Foundation’s work is at tcmworld.org, tcmconference.org and breastcancer.com.

 

You Are a Child of the Universe

Dr.-Nan-Lu1

Grand Master Nan Lu, OMD, is the country’s foremost spiritual leader, practitioner and teacher of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Read More

The Nei Jing, a classical Chinese medicine text written several thousands of years ago, states: “Men are born on the Earth, but Life itself is held in the hands of Heaven. When the Qi of Heaven and Earth harmonize, this is called a human being.” In other words, the beautiful material forms of human beings enter this reality filled with life force and Heaven’s unconditional love. Just as sure as you are the child of your mother and father, you are also a child of the Universe, created from this source and connected to it every day and forever. You’re entitled to all its gifts and the nurturing love it provides to us through Nature. We are born with everything we need to fulfill our purpose. In fact, “being” is the purpose! Experiencing this spectacular, blue planet with its cooperative framework of Nature, man and all living species is purpose. We are here in search of creativity and to fulfill our destiny. No matter who we are or what we do, we expand the heart of Universal love.

At the spiritual level, being born is a monumental achievement beyond words. We come from unconditional love; when we leave here, we return to this state of being. Arriving here, we’ve already agreed that our body will follow Universal law, that is, every living thing in this reality must be born, grow and die. Throughout our lifetime, balance and harmony in body, mind and spirit are the keys to living well. The mind’s an impressive tool, but if we’re open, our body and spirit are far better interpreters of reality. Think of it, our genetic code carries thousands of years of wisdom passed down from our ancestors. This deep knowledge is actually cellular knowledge. Our spirit exists beyond this reality but casts a shadow within it. This shadow is not your true self. Your true self is unlimited; you exist beyond the bounds of time and space. Many religions and spiritual practices tell us this. Astonishingly, modern science tells us the same thing. It says each dimension is a reflection of a higher one. Look at your own shadow. It’s not really all of you. It’s only a reflection of who you truly are. In the same way, your solid body isn’t really the whole of you either. It’s a reflection of your existence at a higher dimension.

Child of Universe

No matter which way we choose to look at ourselves, we each exist, connected one to another, in the invisible energy field. Here inseparability is the only reality. Our body, mind and spirit are one. All seven billion of us on this Earth are one as well. In our world, we use our mental faculties to puzzle out many things that are beyond reason. If we only rely on our five senses, we miss experiencing Oneness and the amazing energy beings we are. There is, however, a special sixth sense we are born with that connects us to the Universal love of All That Is, or however you name or connect with this higher power. The sixth sense communicates to us through intuition, dreams and nonconsciousness states. In the deepest way, you are a child of the Universe—always connected to its love and light. Each of your cells vibrates with creative energy. Can you look at your life with happiness and joy knowing you are the unique harmonization of Heaven and Earth?

This post originaly appeared on InspireMeToday

Grand Master Nan Lu recently published a new book entitled Digesting the Universe: A Revolutionary Framework for Healthy Metabolism Function (Tao of Healing, 2016)

www.tcmworld.org

www.taoofhealing.com

 

 

The Invisible Beauty

by Doju Dinajara Freire
Earth, our old and wise mother, is most beautiful.
Life, of which together with Gaia we are part and expression, is most beautiful.
We are immersed in a treasure ineffable and of a mystery so transparent that we almost can’t see it.
Ol ari Nyiro
Ol ari Nyiro, Gallmann Conservancy, Laikipia, Kenya – photo by Doju. D. Freire

For almost five billion years the Earth has welcomed and enabled the living systems that make life possible.

Ancient and beautiful Gaia is the oldest living organism, a vital and powerful force far beyond what we can see or understand with mere human perception. Wherever we are on the planet, each day brings us into direct relationship with her, and from her we are embraced and nourished.  Even our ancestors — all were born and fed by Gaia’s generosity and by the light of the sun.

Through this ancient line of human evolution we are naturally connected to the body of the Earth and her heart, just as we are connected to all beings — the many other species which she hosts. Since time immemorial she has transmitted her wisdom to all living creatures just as the mothers do with children, generation after generation. Among all the species that exist we are the last to arrive, and like children we are still unable to appreciate Gaia’s sweeping simultaneous expression of inclusivity that is in benefit to the whole.

Despite the thousands of years of human presence on Earth, our juvenile behavior causes a great deal of trouble and brings suffering not only to ourselves, but to other species and the planet. We don’t even have the ability to live together in harmony yet.  Selfishly we seek to control and exploit everything to our advantage; the life of plants, the water, animals of every kind, from insects to fish and mammals and even other human beings, believing we are separate and independent from it all. Within this illusion of separation we are blinded by ignorance and greed.

In our immaturity, although we know that we all breathe the same air and drink the same waters, are fed of the same soil, of an Earth that is round not flat, a sphere in an ancestral dance through an interdependent and infinite cosmos.  Yet believing ourselves all powerful we claim the right to own and manage everything in nature. Audaciously we claim the place of a more evolved species. Full of desire for power,  enslaved by our emotions, we find ourselves anchored to selfishness, asserting control of everything even if the damage we do is evident all around.

 

Ol ari Nyiro, Banda's Gallmann Conservancy, Laikipia, Kenya - photo by Alice Kohler
Ol ari Nyiro, Gallmann Conservancy, Laikipia, Kenya – photo by Alice Kohler

When we are confronted with the reality of the facts and information on the state of the planet that circulates the globe at great speed, shouldn’t our understanding be that we must wake up?  Realize that the time to mature has come and that time is now and the place is right here, where each of us breathe moment by moment.

Even so, despite this collective spiritual underdevelopment, we find we are in a great momentum of positive change and there are enough individuals whose spiritual maturity is such that they can offer support at this time — in this evolutionary wave in which we find ourselves. But still that does not give us enough skill or wisdom to embody the next evolutionary step of the future — no longer as Homo Sapiens but as Homo Spiritualis.

So how do we abandon the old to make room for the new, both in nature and in ourselves?

How do we befriend ourselves in a deeper way, for I believe, it is in this profound state where we find the space and opening to sincerely befriend others, where we can step into service for all. This is the ancient teaching of Gaia.

And at just the right moment, to leave behind what has outlived its time, and in this space recognize the new. This dynamic is not always easy but it is essential and will lead us to grow spiritually and will give us a vision with a depth of transparency to reflect the mystery of which we are a part and should honor.

For this, time is needed, and often in solitude, because the intensity of this highly creative process requires utmost care and a state of total surrender.

Feeding bird at the Bandas. Gallman Conservancy, Laikipia, Kenya - photo by Alice Kohler
Feeding bird at Bandas. Gallmann Conservancy, Laikipia, Kenya. Photo by Alice Kohler

It’s painful to realize that we are slow to evolve as a human community knowing that the fundamental changes that are necessary are needed immediately.  We have what it takes but still we are lacking in the capability.

Personally I feel tremendous pain, a sorrow that can border on outrage – that we are not yet able to recognize and respect the beauty of life. How sad to note that we are incapable of equanimity or respect for life in its innumerable and myriad forms. Respect for our human brothers and sisters, for our relatives the animals, our relatives the seeds, respect for our home and Mother Earth. How is it that we are so immature? My pain turns to despair when I see the limits of what I can do to help. What can a tiny grain of sand do in the midst of an ocean? Why can’t we free ourselves from our greed and just live in peace?

In these difficult times it’s easy for people to become depressed. It takes strength to act in a positive way in this time of despair and grief – holding firm to the human values of trust, goodness, common sense in the midst of so much suffering so that we don’t lose hope. I have found myself wishing to withdraw from society, my spirit calling me into silence. I remember as a child being attracted to a way of living that would be willing give up something if it allowed for an opening of the heart.

More and more I am longing to live for the spirit, with fewer possessions and distractions, free myself from the madness I see around the world today. Tears flow warm while my words have no more power and somehow I know that we must still offer our help, accepting that the present is not the time to retreat, but to remain engaged and offer oneself in service to life. There is a goodness in dedicating ourselves with humility and gratitude. Each of us bring gifts and possibilities, qualities within that can come to fruition. Not expecting reward we can act trusting in the grace and the fortuitous randomness of life, for we are all vehicles for Life.

As I rise each morning I am grateful for the deep love that blesses each of us, day after day. I try to remain in a silence that directs me to see each tiny leaf, every cloud, the song of the bird, the raindrops, the highest mountain peaks down to the depths of the sea. The light of the moon.  The cosmos takes care of all, including me and my incapacity. All that remains is the spiritual beauty of Gaia and of every being, this transparent silence revealing what cannot be explained.

Doju Dinajara Freire

doju@sanrin.it

DOJO ZEN SANRIN – www.sanrin.it  – Italy

 

               

 

            

 

 

 

 

A Talk Given on Wall Street

by Swami Atmarupananda

On June 6, 2012, a meeting was held on Wall Street in New York City to discuss “Re-envisioning Prosperity”, organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women / Contemplative Alliance. Almost 70 people were invited, including financiers, investors, economists, intellectuals, representatives from the activist movement known as Occupy Wall Street, and a select group of religious leaders from different faiths known as the Contemplative Alliance. Swami Atmarupananda was one of three religious leaders asked to open the meeting with a short talk to set a tone for the ensuing day-long discussion. Below is the substance of what he said, adapted for suitability as an article.

Contemplative Alliance Baltimore
Swami Atmarupananda (right) with friends from the Contemplative Alliance, Acarya Judy Lief and Bhante Buddharakita

 

I would like to begin by asking, what am I doing here, addressing such a distinguished gathering of economic thinkers and economic actors? [Laughter] I have never attended a formal class on economics or finance; I have no money to invest and therefore am not involved as an actor in the financial world. What, indeed, can I contribute?

Worse yet, I’m a contemplative, dedicated to leading a spiritual life, and thus, according to common opinion, I’m hopelessly impractical. No, had I any sense, I should have refused when Dena Merriam asked me to open today’s discussion.

But I didn’t say no. Let me explain why.

First of all, it isn’t true that contemplatives are by nature impractical. An important member of the business community here in New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s was a man named Mr Francis Leggett, who was a major innovator in the wholesale grocery business. He was a wealthy man of the time, and a friend of a famous Hindu monk from India named Swami Vivekananda. Mr Leggett was once asked why a hard-nosed businessman like himself should be friends with an oriental mystic, and he replied, “Because I have never met anyone with more common sense.”

Nor is it true that a contemplative has no connection to the interests of economists and financiers. Where does our economic system come from? Our financial system? Wall Street? They aren’t in the air, natural products of the earth or water. They come from human beings, from inside human beings, from the inside out. All human institutions, human civilization, culture, sciences, arts, come from inside the human mind and heart, manifesting outside. And it is the human mind and heart that is the special field of research for the contemplative; not the surface, but the deep mind, the deep heart, the very roots of human existence.

And further, the true contemplative is in search of experiential reality, not theories or concepts. A prominent modern belief—and it’s nothing more than a belief—is that reality is what you make of it: there’s no such thing as reality itself. If that’s true, then we are all prisoners of our own concepts and illusions. The contemplative’s experience, however, is that there is reality, there is truth beyond his or her concepts and projections.

So the contemplative seeks deep in the human heart and mind, the same place from which all human activities proceed, all drives, all needs, all aspirations. But the contemplative seeks to go deeper, to an experiential reality which is prior to needs and drives and aspirations and activities.

What is found there? Certain truths, a couple of which I want to share with you before I turn the conference over to those who know much more than I about the actual workings of the economy.

First, one finds at a deep level of our being a remarkable freedom. A freedom that gives us a sense of inner inviolability, of timelessness, adamantine in quality, unaffected by the waves of action and reaction in the world.

One also discovers a sense of connection, connection to everyone and everything—an apparent contradiction, where we go inward to find connection with the outer; but it is a fact replicated in the experience of countless inner travellers over thousands of years around the world.

And then there is the apparent contradiction between freedom and connection. Freedom we think of as “freedom from”—freedom from people telling me what to do, freedom from things I don’t like, freedom from duty and expectations, freedom from all botherations (and most people and most circumstances we experience as botherations). Yet “connection” means connection to others, to the world, to everything that seems to deprive us of freedom. But the contemplative begins to experience both of these—freedom and connection—at a deep level, where they are joined, where they are expressions of the same thing, which can best be described as love.

What does this have to do with us gathered here today? A great deal, actually.

A deep inner freedom translates at the level of ordinary human activity to the freedom to choose the motivations of my actions, and to choose my reactions to circumstances. That means I need not be a slave of old patterns of behaviour, a slave of habitual reactions to situations. And so this deep sense of freedom paradoxically makes me more responsible for my actions. I can begin to take responsibility for my actions, and therefore I begin to make the effort, out of a sense of freedom.

And a deep sense of connection to everything makes me feel a sense of loving responsibility toward others. “Responsibility” is not the right word, being heavy, connoting something forced, and guilt-based. Simply love for others, the desire for the best for others. That, combined with the freedom that allows me to take responsibility for my actions, radically changes my relationship to the world in a wonderful, positive way, difficult at times, but eventually liberating, joyful.

How is this related to economics and finance? Intimately.

You, whether you are thinkers or actors, have a tremendous responsibility. Tremendous, because as Peter Parker tells his Uncle Ben in Batman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And you here have great power. Decisions you make help people or hurt them, even devastate them, as happened in 2008, largely through misguided and greedy actors in the real estate and financial sectors. The welfare of millions—vulnerable people, the elderly, the sick, the poor, those who have no alternative but to trust the system—is dependent upon you.

Responsibility to others. The US Supreme Court may say that a corporation’s responsibility is simply to enhance value for the stockholders, but that is much worse than nonsense, it is poisonous. Because it is a decision of the Supreme Court, it may stand in a court of law, but it doesn’t reflect the way life actually works. Whether we want it so or not, we are responsible to others: it’s the way the universe is built, because all this infinite diversity we see out here is founded on a deep inner connection, I would even say a deep inner unity, but at least connection, a connectedness that can be demonstrated scientifically, psychologically, morally, and spiritually. It isn’t a matter of belief, and that’s why simply ignoring it doesn’t work: what you do to others comes back to you. Not for some New Age touchy-feely reason, but because the outer world is intimately connected to you in experiential fact.

So I close by saying that many of you, perhaps all of you, are here today because you are sensitive to the welfare of others. Otherwise you wouldn’t waste time on a meeting like this. But the present financial system, and the even larger economic system, will last only if this understanding, this sensitivity becomes widespread within it. Otherwise the system is on its way out, not today, but in ten years, maybe, or fifty years, certainly less than a hundred years. And if the system breaks irreparably because people didn’t learn to care for others, then the breaking will be devastating to countless people, causing untold suffering. The only long term hope is learning to adjust the financial system to the way the universe is actually built, the way it actually works. This is no time for denial, and there is no time to delay. This is the raison d’etre of the Contemplative Alliance, why it was called into being, to be a voice for human concerns as illumined from the contemplative perspective.

Thank you.

 

To be published sometime in 2016 in the Prabuddha Bharata, a monthly journal published from India.

Forty days after the Paris Climate Conference

 

Gaia“We are called to return to the root of our being where the sacred is born. Then, standing in both the inner and outer worlds, we will find our self to be part of the momentous synchronicity of life giving birth to itself.”

 —Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

 

Reflections and Experiences   by Angela Fischer

IMG_1515
Panel with Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Angela Fischer, Swami Atmarupananda, Rev. Richard Cizik

 

In listening to each other’s experiences we recognize that we are all different. We perceive the worlds through different colors while truth shines through the veils of every single experience and yet is beyond them – it just is. There is subjectivity and a relativity to all experiences, those of the outer worlds as well as those of the inner worlds, the visible and invisible. And still there is much more than we can ever imagine that we can listen to, that speaks to us. I share here a fragment of a personal experience. May it serve to fill in a little piece in this great kaleidoscope.

As I write down these reflections it’s been forty days since a group of nearly 20 people – spiritual teachers, young leaders, and contemplatives from different spiritual traditions and regions of the world came to Paris. As a delegation of the Global Peace Initiative of Women we joined many NGOs and civil society leaders from around the world at COP 21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We gathered to share and discuss spiritual perspectives on climate change and give attention to its inner dimension. This included an afternoon event at the Climate Generations Area with a panel of faith leaders, contemplatives and young activists.

Unlike the outer events that were well documented, I would like to share some of my inner experiences from our time in Paris – experiences perceived by the heart.

We all have these experiences, but, as we all know too well, the inner worlds that are invisible to our outer eyes have become covered and obscured from our human perception in today’s world. It is difficult to even speak of the inner world as it has been so neglected and is no longer valued in our culture. And as feeling is not valued as much as thinking, and as we define ourselves more through doing rather than being, by sharing inner experiences we are always taking a certain risk of being misunderstood or – depending on the audience – even risk a response of doubt or disrespect. Perhaps one of the reasons we rarely dare share them.

Angela Fischer

Yet as it was important to us as a group to offer a unique contribution to this event, an emphasis on the inner dimensions of climate change, approaching the question as to the roots as well as solutions from an inner perspective, so I feel that speaking about inner experiences along with what we were outwardly engaged in might round off the picture.

During my first morning in Paris, several hours before we were to sit at a Tibetan temple to pray for the Earth, I strolled with my husband in the Jardin du Luxembourg, situated close to our hotel. We walked among trees, flowerbeds and statues, among people enjoying their Sunday morning sports and families who were out to walk like us. I wanted to greet the place, the Earth here, which I always do, silently, when I travel and my feet first touch the ground of a new place. It is similar to showing our respect when we enter the house of a friend we visit, like taking off our shoes and thanking our host for being welcomed as a guest. And as we came to Paris for a climate conference, I felt a particular need to feel the Earth in Paris, not only in the beauty of her buildings and cathedrals, but first in a spot of nature.

Elm

 

Sometimes, in an initial greeting, there is a response, in the form of a feeling or a sense of the spirit of the place. I can feel being welcomed by the Earth through a particular fragrance in the air or a special tree that draws my attention. This Sunday morning in Paris it was a sudden cry that cut into my thoughts and abruptly took me straight into a different realm of perception. It woke me up. I was drawn into a deeper awareness and immediately knew this was a response and it was a call at the same time.

Instinctively I turned and looked up toward the treetops, high above where the cry had come from. I spotted an exotic and colourful bird, definitely not native to Europe. Perched on a branch it cried out three times, first a cry to draw my attention, then two more times, a strange and piercing call before it flew off. I wondered if it was a formerly caged bird from a far off continent that had escaped its cage, and now lost was searching for a place to stay in this unknown and chilly winter landscape. No one else seemed to notice it, though this cry was very loud and unusual.

A tremendous feeling of someone lost filled my heart. A bird is a symbol of the soul – that inherent part of each of us that has wings to fly and is not bound by gravity or limitations. It is free and belongs to the infinite sky. I felt the soul of the world, of which we are all a part, like a bird that is lost, estranged in a cold environment and unable to find its way. It felt an urgent call, the Earth was signalling for my attention. I could sense it in the cry of the bird calling us to relate to the Earth as a soul, as a sacred being whose divine essence and origin we have almost forgotten — a soul astray calling to us to include this relationship, this love and remembrance in all that we were here to do at this conference. This experience, with a language other than words and explanations used the symbolic world which can take us effortlessly into the realm of divine presence. I was thankfully made more present and attentive than I had been before.

As I followed the reports and watched what was taking place at the conference I realized that most participants, sincere and willing to make a difference to contribute to change for the planet with great effort, were nevertheless mostly concerned about themselves, about humanity. It seemed so much to be about what we as humans are doing, what we are thinking, what concepts we develop, how we are acting, and how we could be rescued. But what about the Earth herself? Was the Earth really present, even though there was much talk and action related to the planet? Did we feel the Earth as a being, with her anguish, her yearning to be related to? As a being that is made of light like us, that connects us all, that nourishes us, that we are a part of? Did we listen?

IMG_1071 - Version 3

From a political perspective, the final outcome was a success —also due to much engagement of indigenous and environmental groups who gave a foundational energy to it — so much so that eventually they came to an agreement that all nations could sign. This process called for a tremendous amount of energy, and the many who worked and put their heart into this deserve our great respect. One could argue that — although the agreements on the necessary outer actions to be taken are far from sufficient — but since an agreement of all parties was a first priority aim, there was little or no space left for other concerns such as inviting in the presence of the Earth. To come to this consensus was work enough. However, if we look deeper things do not work in this way and are not as linear as we are accustomed to thinking. Could it not be the other way around? Is it that our approach is mainly from our human perspective, human centred, focusing on our own limited goals, and because it excludes the “presence” of the Earth that we need so much energy for agreements, so much effort to overcome our greed and competitiveness and antagonistic demands. I am convinced that if we had included the Earth, to which we are all interrelated and connected, and allowed her to be present in us, felt her suffering, acknowledged the light that we share with her, we would have spared much energy that we put into negotiations about our human needs and could have seen results far more easily.

Ashaninka tribal leaders - Peru
Ashaninka leaders – Peru               Photo Eliane Fernandes

The Earth was present. But she was not much present in the perception of the people–not present in a relationship. Shortly after returning home from the gathering I wrote to a friend, ” All the time in Paris my focus partly was on feeling the Earth, staying in close contact, listening to her soul – underneath the asphalt and the concrete, underneath the ceaseless talking and speeches and chatting, within the walls, the stones, the dirt, the numberless cars and traffic jams, and under the hopes and the dispair, the busyness, the talks and negotiations, the agitation and rage and the suffering. And she was there. She was waiting. She gave her love. I felt the Earth communicating her presence to me, her longing, her waiting. This was very touching”.

Climate Generations Area COP21 Paris

There was one experience in particular of this presence that left a deep imprint in my heart. It was when we walked with a small group of friends through the “ Climate Generations Area,” the space for civil society and NGOs that had been set up in a huge airplane hangar, where we were scheduled to have our panel discussion the next day. It was a crowded place with many events going on at the same time, noisy, chaotic, filled not only with exhibitions, talk and exclamations, but with the countless thoughts, emotions and the sorrows of people. It was like a big fair. Places like this are often difficult for me, and usually I am completely focused on coping with the overstimulation. But here in the midst of this noise and chaos there was suddenly a great silence in me. I turned my attention inwards and there was the Earth. She was here in this place, even though no one noticed. I listened. She conveyed not through words but again more through a feeling, how much she loves us – despite everything. In this place of so much action, of thinking, of outer engagement, far away from stillness was the depth and silence of the Earth’s love. It was as if she said, “I am here, I am so much waiting for you. Where are you? ” She was waiting for us to relate to her.

 

A second time when I felt the love of the Earth so fully was when our group went to pay respects at the memorial site for the victims of the Paris shootings. At Place de la République we prayed silently while some offered moving chants from the Lakota, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian traditions. Even from across the street as we approached the memorial I could feel waves of love flowing through me and everything surrounding me, through all people, through stone and concrete, through a stray cat as well as the mild breeze of the early evening. The memorial site welcomed us as a place of sadness, of tears— and as a place of tremendous love. The grief of so many before us had been transformed into love, and this could be felt easily, but there was more to this love. I had the physical sensation of a love that rose from beneath my feet from the depths of the ground through the Earth flowing warmly to my heart.

Also here I felt the love of the Earth.

 In this place where I sensed a violent rupture in the fabric of life, a deep wound that caused much grief and suffering, not only here but also in many other places of the world, I felt a tremendous love at the same time. The intensity of this love came from the Earth herself. I felt it in the cells of my body. I thought that it must be heart breaking and heart opening at the same time for many people who come here. In the midst of this great sadness I was left in awe at the wonder of this limitless love that is just present, prepared to transform and heal if we really opened to it.

The search for solutions to the crisis of our planet, and to climate change, is in large part based on suffering and deep wounds. It is not only we humans who suffer; it is the planet who suffers. Our planet Earth is being attacked every day, the Earth is being raped and plundered, violated and depleted on a daily basis. Humanity has forgotten the Earth is sacred, long forgotten this sacred relationship. The Earth suffers at this loss of relationship, and more and more, I hear people who tell me they hear the cries of the Earth.

To acknowledge this suffering is a first step in transforming it into love — a first step to access the tremendous love that is there waiting for us.

Winter trees

How can we do this? We can allow for space, listen to the Earth, relate to her and allow her to relate to us— and to feel. Feeling belongs to love. Without feeling, without acknowledging the pain, without feeling the grief, there is no love. When we allow for it, the suffering can be transformed, and then the love can flow into it.

At that moment when I felt the suffering as well as the love, the clarity and simplicity of what we all know but so often forget was deeply affirmed: there are no real solutions without love. No negotiations will be possible, will be fruitful and lasting if love is not present; not only love for our human fellow beings, but love for the Earth.

We all know that we need love and need to love. Great teachers of all traditions have stressed the importance of love and of relating to the Earth. We like to hear this, it gives comfort to the heart, we can agree so easily. And yet, while these teachings guide us and point us in the direction of where we need to go we must, in the end, go on our own two feet. We need to live the love, live it in our beating heart, coursing through our blood, pulsating in our cells. We must feel the pain and the joy and the heartbreak that comes with love and relationship. And sometimes it is also helpful to listen to each other so we don’t only understand it in an abstract way, but experience the love with the Earth concretely, how it speaks to us, how it touches us, what it feels like when the suffering is included. I am always moved listening to someone who experienced this relationship, this love. It reconnects us.

In beautiful and manifold ways all the friends on our panel stressed, explicit or implicit, from their different perspectives and traditions how important and crucial love is, when we are referring to the inner dimension of climate change. With gratitude I listened to the presentation holding the spark of hope in my heart and a prayer that the energy of love in these messages may spread everywhere, to the Earth and to those who were sitting day and night in the midst of negotiations for an agreement by the nations of this earth.

It is sad to realize that many of the decisions, politically as well as personally, are made out of fear. The need for action as a response to climate change is often emphasized through arguments of threat: “We are in danger. We are threatened to not survive.” We fear weather catastrophes, we fear the climate refugees, we fear hunger or those who are hungry. We act out of fear and fear divides and separates. What might happen if we were motivated not by fear but by love, not by separation or division, but by a sense of oneness?

Shoshies Bilder 288 copy

Of course it would have been naive to expect all decision makers to fall in love with the Earth immediately or motivations changed instantly. But it is not naive to hope – acknowledging the oneness and interconnectedness of life – that by activating the feeling quality in our hearts of love for and from the Earth, recognizing Earth as a living and sacred being, could have added something to the whole and the whole of the process. By connecting with her light from the light within us could become an interwoven part of the way we work as humans, now and in the future and may bring about effect.

Which kind of effect—that of course, we will never know, as it is not in our hands, as it is not about us. Life remains a great mystery that we cannot plan for nor limit or define. We leave our prayers and experiences to that which goes far beyond ourselves. We leave it to love. We leave it to the great mystery of love. We offer it to God.

Angela Fischer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithful must lead the break from fossil fuels

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Column: Faithful must lead the break from fossil fuels

CLIMATE CHANGE MAKING THE PARIS AGREEMENT A REALITY

By Rev. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

This past week I joined a group of 17 interfaith leaders and more than 30,000 delegates and media at COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Bourget outside of Paris, to witness whether 195 countries could find consensus on a plan to reduce their planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The answer is now clear – an historic agreement was reached.

According to the Woods Hole Research Center, “The good news is that nothing like this has happened before (have 196 countries ever agreed to anything?). The bad news: the Paris commitments are largely non-binding, but they are a good start.”

The agreement will push countries to pursue efforts to: Limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience;

Allow finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resistant development. This was a big win for climate change activists; President Obama, who pushed hard for an agreement; and religious leaders such as Pope Francis and millions of citizens who have worked hard for so long to get us to this point. It’s a big win for Planet Earth and all future generations.

Let’s face it–we as a nation are addicts to fossil fuels like oil and gas. Breaking this addiction and moving to renewables such as wind and solar is happening, but way too slowly. We should see the Paris agreement as an opportunity to envision a new way of seeing the world. “Without a vision the people perish,” say the Scriptures. As our case is new, so we must see the country anew,” Abraham Lincoln declared in 1962. “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Ask the residents of the West and Southwest whether the drought doesn’t require a new mind-set. The Colorado River already drying up will be down 10 percent flow by mid-century. Ask the victims of more intense and powerful hurricanes, such as Katrina and Sandy, whether we can ignore the science of climate change. Our illusion of human supremacy over climate change will not make it go away. As said before, you can’t bribe or bully Mother Nature. But we can mitigate and adapt to that which we are producing by our use and abuse of fossil fuels–climate chaos.

Accepting a new vision–seriously shifting to renewables and getting off fossil fuels–will help us disenthrall from old illusions.

Nevertheless, a vision for change without a workable strategy is an hallucination. The Paris agreement is the best strategy yet for solving a planetary emergency. And the best advocates for endorsing and implementing the agreement lies with the world’s faith communities–the four largest religions being Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist with more than 76 percent of the people on the planet–all acting in ways that reflect their deepest values of stewardship, concern for the poor and protection of natural resources.

Cop 21 meetings, housed in a refurbished airport hanger outside Paris, included exhibits for “green” advocacy organizations to help move 7 billion people and counting toward environmental sustainability. All well and good. But incentives, or other rewards and punishments, are easily forgotten when the pressure of living the status quo with existing consumption patterns, reasserts itself.

Midweek at COP 21, our group of religious leaders from every continent held a “Faith and Climate Change” session on how to move fellow believers to this vision. Adam Bucko, a Gen-X Christian born in Poland and now an American citizen, sporting knee-length dreadlocks and a commitment to a “new monasticism,” called getting off our carbon addiction “impossible except through a spiritual revolution.”

He’s right, but we’re not yet there as a society. Now too many of us are like the elderly man driving down the highway who turns to his wife and says, “Honey, my hand-to-eye coordination is not good and my eyesight is even worse, but thank God I can drive!” Some of our leaders who oppose the Paris agreement are like the couple blindly driving the country and planet into great peril.

Bold leadership is needed in this new era. Someone who has watched these COP events for many years is Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. I ran into him in the Green Zone and asked for a prediction.  He prophetically said that “the one community with the clout to make COP21 pronouncements a reality are the world’s faith communities.”

They can’t be silent, however. One image that stands out to me from COP 21 was a group of young people all standing in a row, mouths taped shut, with a sign declaring: “Don’t Bracket our [Future].” In other words, don’t silence us or others from speaking the truth.

The same goes for confronting politicians. Conservative columnist David Brooks has written that “on this [climate ] issue the GOP resembles a Soviet dictatorship–a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation. “We need to make it possible for these GOP officials to come out of the closet.

Voters, particularly in conservative religious communities, can do this by no longer giving them political cover. We see changes already. Conservatives who support clean energy initiatives are freer to accept climate change because they’re already contributing to the solution. It’s framed as an issue of liberty to choose a cleaner source of energy rather than a belief in rising temperatures.

With Christmas and the New Year nearly here, we should chart a new course and define a new era. Just remember, if you’ve never changed your mind about something, pinch yourself, you may be dead. Not literally, just intellectually or spiritually. Let’s be the leaders we were meant to be.

We pride ourselves as Americans in being the leaders for the rest of the world. May it be so on climate change.

This article was originally posted to Fredericksburg.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Unfortunate Secularizing of a Sacred Practice: Meditation

Meditation in a Japanese Garden

The Unfortunate Secularizing of a Sacred Practice: Meditation

by Dena Merriam

There is growing debate within the spiritual community about the pros and cons of secularizing meditation practices. In order to reach more people – and generate more money — these sacred practices are being reduced to a means of stress reduction and mental focus. At GPIW and the Contemplative Alliance we have long warned about the downside of this trend. A recent op ed in The New York Times entitled “Can We End the Meditation Madness,” expressed all that we have feared. If meditation is no more than a stress reduction technique, why not go for a jog, or a swim, or take a glass of wine. The author argues that there are many activities as effective at relaxing the mind. He misses the whole point. Meditation was never intended as a stress reduction practice! It is being misused and misappropriated by commercial enterprises, the whole money-making mindfulness training industry that has developed. How sad that our society has come to abuse practices that have been developed over the millennia for attaining deeper realization of the Self, of shedding all that is non-essential and coming to know one’s true nature, the ultimate reality of all that is. It is time that spiritual communities step forward to reclaim the true purpose and goal of all meditative and contemplative practices. It is not time to “end the meditation madness,” because we should all be filled with a madness, an urgency to know the truth. But it is time to end the secularization, commercialization and misuse of these sacred gifts. Let us state once and for all, if you want to reduce stress in life, you can find many activities to help you achieve this end. But if you are compelled to understand the nature of life and to know who you truly are, meditation can surely lead you deeper into that journey.

The State of the Earth is Our Most Pressing Concern

by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Aster

The world is not a problem to be solved; it is a living being to which we belong. The world is part of our own self and we are a part of its suffering wholeness. Until we go to the root of our image of separateness, there can be no healing. And the deepest part of our separateness from creation lies in our forgetfulness of its sacred nature, which is also our own sacred nature.

The state of the Earth is our most pressing concern. Our present ecological crisis is the greatest man-made disaster this planet has ever faced: the signs of global imbalance, climate change, and species depletion are all around us. The Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh calls these signs “the bells of mindfulness” calling us to be attentive, to wake up and listen. The Earth needs our attention—it needs us to help heal its body, damaged by our exploitation, and also its soul, wounded by our desecration, our forgetfulness of its sacred nature. We can no longer afford to ravage the Earth with our collective nightmare of consumerism, poisoning the soil and the soul of the world.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Our response to this crisis has been mainly within the arena of science, politics, and economics. But Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Praise Be to You: On Care for our Common Home, has helped to highlight the relationship between spirituality and ecology and to bring this understanding into the mainstream. The ecological crisis is, at its root, a spiritual and moral problem. As Pope Francis stated: “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself.”
Science can show us the physical symptoms of a deep global imbalance, of a civilization no longer sustainable—and economic models illustrate how painfully this affects the poorest among us. But it is our sense of being separate from the Earth that has allowed us to abuse it. If we held the Earth as sacred, as part of the living oneness to which we belong, could we treat it in this way—would we pollute its rivers, kill off its species? Forgetfulness is a most potent poison, enabling our desires to destroy what is most precious. We need to remember that the Earth is whole as well as holy, and then, from a deepening sense of relatedness, we can engage in the vital work of “care for our common home.”

The Earth needs both physical and spiritual attention and awareness, our acts and prayers, our hands and hearts. Life is a self-sustaining organic whole of which we are a part, and once we reconnect with this whole we can find a different way to live—one that is not based upon a need for continual distraction and the illusions of material fulfillment, but rather a way to live that is sustaining for the whole. And this way to live in harmony with all of creation has at its core a remembrance, an awareness, of the sacred nature of creation, which is also our own sacred nature.
Hearing the cry of the Earth we are drawn together from all corners of the world, from different religions and spiritual paths. And in response we bring the single voice of our love for the Earth. May we remember our role as guardians of the Earth, custodian of its sacred ways, and return once again to live in harmony with its natural rhythms and laws.

Statement by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee for COP21 Paris Climate Talks 2015
http://www.spiritualecology.org