Hindu Dharma and its Role in Global Awakening

Hindu Dharma and its Role in Global Awakening
– Retreat and Dialogue –
A program of the Global Peace Initiative of Women
March 6th–9th 2020 
in Govardhan Eco Village, India

A Reflection on the Gathering by Janani Pratap

Prithivim dharmana dhritam’ means this world is upheld by Dharma. Dharma refers to the underlying cosmic order within which everything exists in balance, harmony and equilibrium. It is also referred to as the ‘divine law’ and ‘law of being’. This divine law ensures that human life is in harmony with nature. Dharma is that which unites us all, cultivates divine love and universal peace. As human beings, we fulfill our Dharma by living in harmony with ourselves, towards others and with Mother Nature. The ultimate purpose of Dharma is to attain union of the soul with the divine. 

So, what happens when Dharma isn’t upheld? Our world today reflects a disorder of Dharma. Our economic and political structures, financial systems, our lifestyles, our relationship with Mother Earth and even our actions toward one another reflect disharmony in relationship to the ‘divine law’. 

During our two and a half day gathering from 6th to 9th March 2020, at the serene Govardhan Eco Village in the outskirts of Mumbai in India, we met to explore together the essence of Dharma in today’s world and the path to global awakening. 

 As I reflect on this gathering, the many topics that were discussed unfolded the deeper meanings of Dharma for me. One of the key topics that we talked about during the gathering was the deep pain that we carry within us and the need to free ourselves from this bondage of pain. We all carry hurt within. Some of the pain can be from past lives and some pain can also be from our ancestors that has been passed on to us. Such deep pain can become blockages for us to flow with life.  During our gathering, we together perceived that when we allow ourselves to be in a state of acknowledgment and be present in our pain, we release the baggage that we carry. Even though, the memory of the pain might never go away, being present in the pain allows us to forgive and let go. I have often asked myself – why do we have to experience pain in this world? I have come to the realization that in many ways we are here not to heal our pain, but rather our pain is here to heal us. For me, Dharma teaches us to have the capacity to be present in our own painwith non-violence and without judgment or anger. Dharma also teaches us to forgive and be compassionate. It is said that compassion is the seed of Dharma. Although I agree that it might not always be easy to practice compassion, forgiveness and non-violence, I also truly believe that these heal us and the world. I hold this essence of Dharma close to me.

Another aspect that our gathering highlighted the need and importance of the coming together of the old and the new. The old represents the wisdom, which the spiritual teachings, ancient scriptures and indigenous knowledge hold in them. The new represents current times that we are in and the know-how of today that we have. In today’s world, there seems to be a disconnect between the old and new, and this gathering reinforced the need for these two worlds to meet. We do not need to prove one superior to the other or deny one to have the other but to understand the importance of both. The coming together of these two hold the answers to many of the problems which we are facing today. The key to any wholesome change is union. I feel that to reach a union we need to free ourselves from all separation that we have created not only outside of us but more importantly within us. It is only when we come together as ONE can we fulfill our Dharma as human beings. 

We are standing at a point in human evolution where we can see that we are moving towards a global awakening and this gathering was meant to delve deeper to explore this awakening. One can see around the world that more and more people are coming together to create a new world that embraces harmony and the wellbeing of all. There is a growing collective shift in consciousness towards living in alignment with nature and recognizing the oneness that we all share.  There is immense power in such a collective effort. At the same time, the individual journey of going deeper within towards self-realization and self-healing is equally part of the global awakening. I feel that the unfolding of a global awakening and shift in consciousness lies in the understanding of our interconnectedness and, being compassionate and loving towards oneself as well as towards others. For me, the individual awakening is the essence of a global shift. The love and compassion one has for oneself is what one can give to others. When each one of us is able to have compassion and love despite our differences, then together we will be able to create the shift in consciousness that will heal us and our nature. 

These aspects of the gathering have stayed with me and I feel grateful that I could be part of it. 

I pray that may there be divine light and peace within us, and may we all be always guided by divine love and compassion. 

Asato Ma Sad Gamaya

Lead me from the unreal (worldliness) to the real (eternal self)

Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya

Lead me from darkness (of ignorance) to the light (of knowledge)

Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya

Lead me from death (limitation) to immortality (liberation)

Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi

Om Peace Peace Peace

Essential Conversations, Brooklyn, NY 2020

We met for brunch on a freezing cold Saturday morning in Brooklyn. This was back in February, when we could still gather together at a table, meet face to face, and spend time in each other’s presence. There was this feeling in the room of being with family. As we talked, some of the themes that came up were around spirituality being commercialized. How mindfulness is a thing now, but what does that mean without a spiritual foundation? How spiritual communities are often homogeneous and do not seek to understand why or to actively welcome diversity. We also explored ideas around wellness, self-care, and how to stay sane when you are on call 24/7. There were a lot of shared experiences, laughter, and even tears.

The idea was simple. We wanted to bring together a small group of spiritual teachers and practitioners to share their stories with each other. To break bread, connect, and talk about the things that matter most to them.

Thank you for being the beautiful, courageous souls that we have the privilege to support and be with. Leslie Booker, Adam Bucko, Justin von Bujdoss, Allegra Lovejoy, Gopal Patel, Monique Schubert, and NaRon Tillman. Thank you for your work and for being part of a new generation of spiritual teachers and practitioners who are doing things a bit differently. Thank you for helping to remind us, our traditions, and our communities, that spirituality is for everyone, equally, and completely. Thank you for your willingness to be uncomfortable for the sake of truth and positive transformation. Thank you for being of service to humanity. Thank you. 

Essential Conversations is a new program by the Global Peace Initiative of Women. The intention is to create a safe space as well as a brave space, where people can connect and collaborate. To bring together individuals who seek to be of service to others, and to find ways to support and amplify their gifts.

Request for Blessings and Help

by Rev. Doju Dinajara Freire

I Honor the Cosmic Harmony. I bow before you and invoke your blessing. 

Oh Mother,

Oh Father,

Oh Sacred Space of Non-Separation

The time has come to be transformed and to transform all things for the better

The time for humility has come, offering us a way to learn, to see as well as to listen

The time has come for true awareness of the interconnection of all 

In this time, we humans face an army of crowned microorganisms very capable of bringing upon us inconceivable and unprecedented burdens

In this time, their power throws humanity into an unknown vortex of evolutionary intensity, filled with risks and pain, uncertainty and fear. But equally it brings unspoken precious and excellent gifts such as the awakening in us to respect all Life, respect for Mother Earth, and for every human being and our own role within the cosmic game we are all a part of.

In this time, today, these numerous microscopic crowns frighten and swiftly annihilate many thousands of human lives, but also annihilates our ignorance and pride, the arrogance we held of thinking we are in control and wasting what does not belong to us.

In this time, now, while we are fragile and completely stripped of illusory certainties, rest in the finality, in the Time that makes us stop and the Space that reveals our fragility and human unity.

Oh Mother,

Oh Father,

Oh Sacred Space of Non-Separation

We need blessings and help because the lesson is difficult and the timing is perfect. 

We do not want to make mistakes! 

We cannot make mistakes!

The present and future of our loved ones and everyone has already changed and we cannot doubt it!

Please help us to proceed in a sane and healthy manner, help us put the army of the crowned virus to rest — our brothers who are also sons of Mother Earth — their extraordinary effort, towards which I feel compassion, is immense and painful!

Please be a Light for everyone – Humanity and crowned virus – showing us the way so that we may complete the evolutionary transformation that the universe is forcing upon us, and the rest can disperse their heavy load without doing further damage!

May this frightening vortex become the the dance of vitality instead!

May the deceased follow in peace and rest assured by the Love to which we entrust them!

May those who heal and save lives in hospitals be blessed forever!

May the survivors never forget that we have been allowed to go on – transformed into more conscious and better human beings than before!


On the occasion of the 2020 pandemic inflicted by the coronavirus on humans on the planet.

(Prayer written by Doju Dinajara Freire by the kind request of Kesang Marstrand)

Three Questions with Ali Ahmad Felhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ali Ahmad Felhi. Architect, author, and Sufi adept

Peace is Not Boring

by Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on COP 25

by Dena Merriam

Since 2009 The Global Peace Initiative of Women has been attending the annual UN COP (climate change)  meetings and has seen the gradual shift from a language of prevention to one of adaptation: how will the human community adapt to potential scenarios that lie ahead and can we avoid the worst of these possible outcomes?  The calls from scientists become more urgent as each year new data is uncovered and governments fail to take the necessary steps for transitioning to a carbon neutral world. This year, at COP 25 in Madrid, the goal of the official meeting was to resolve article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with carbon markets, the trading and off setting of carbon emissions — a complicated matter with many opposing views.

One story we heard was of a certain large corporation planting a pine forest in Patagonia, Argentina to offset its carbon emissions in a distant part of the world.  While this may on the surface seem like a good thing, the land, which had previously been accessible to the indigenous people of that region, was now off limits, and the trees planted were not native to the area, and so there was much local opposition. In a panel with indigenous leaders from various parts of the world, the leaders pleaded to have a voice on article 6 as often it is their communities that are most affected. As one indigenous leader from Kenya said, “we need nature-based resilience actions and not market-based actions.”

At sessions devoted to the cryosphere (ice and glaciers) we discovered how much scientists still do not understand and how much more research is needed.  We learned that the last time earth’s atmosphere had the co2 levels of today was 3.5 million years ago when global temperatures were about 3 degrees Celsius higher. We also learned there is much at stake with even a half a degree further increase in temperature.  The threshold for big ice loss in the Antarctica ice sheet is 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would cause sea levels to rise 4 meters (approximately 12 feet) by 2100. A rise of 2 degrees would lead to a 10 meter (30 feet) increase by 2500. In terms of human casualties, the difference between 1.5 degree (Celsius) rise and 2 degrees is 150 million human deaths, and with each half degree this loss is multiplied.  Even with the current modest rise in temperatures (about 1-degree Celsius), indigenous leaders testified to the big changes they are seeing in agricultural cycles and the need for adaptation. As one scientist claimed, the longer we delay, the more likely we will see long term irreversible climate conditions. Another stressed that a long-term whole-economy view is essential, and a full transformation is needed across all sectors of society.

Of all the regions, Europe seems to have progressed the most.  We heard from a German official that their government will have phased out all coal by 2038.  There are still 20,000 coal workers in Germany, and they are being brought into the transition process so they can gain the skills needed for new jobs.  When comparing this to the conversations about coal in the US, it was sad to realize how much precious time is being lost. At this point, Europe may be the only region to meet the Paris Agreement target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As one speaker said, there is increasing risk of the goals of the Paris Agreement slipping out of reach, and those goals were modest at best. 

There has been increasing focus of what is being called “climate grief” and this was evident among the many young people who participated this year. The fact that there is already so much biodiversity loss and that there are so many unknowns about the future is causing fear, anxiety and anger among young activists. Again, this year there was tension between the small island nations, for whom climate change is a current not future crisis, and the wealthier nations who are unwilling to make commitments that may impact their economies.

One striking feature of this and all COP meetings is how they tend to be human-focused.  Yet, we are far from the only species who will suffer from the climate crisis and ensuing ecological decline, and yet all discussions revolved around how we humans will be affected.  But if we are not willing to act to save our fellow humans, those most vulnerable, it is unlikely we will act to spare the whales or any other species.

There were bright spots to the meeting.  Because Chile was co-chair of the summit, there was a large delegation from Latin America in the civil society section, and many indigenous representatives who spoke of earth’s ecosystem, with us humans only being one part.  On one panel with indigenous leaders, a speaker from Kenya was asked what it means to be indigenous. He replied, “being indigenous, to me, is about the right to self-determination, the right to shape initiatives to self-determine who I want to be.”    Another of the speakers said, “we are fed up with tokenism. While it is politically incorrect not to recognize indigenous knowledge at the policy level, it has not translated to practical action on the ground. We need equitable partnerships.”

Our small delegation of spiritual teachers held a session with two other NGOs — Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association and Sustaining all Life – on the theme of Reclaiming Sacred Earth.  For us it was a continuation of the many dialogues we have been organizing around the world on the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change, which focus on the shifts in mindset needed to help us address the climate and ecological crisis. We speak about awakening love for the earth, for the rivers and oceans, mountains and forests, plant and animal life and coming to see them as living beings, not commodities to be traded and abused.  As one of our speakers Swami Atmarupananda from the US said, “If we silence our minds, we begin to experience a unity that is holy, the sense that the earth is a living conscious being. That is a reality….. it is only when we begin a real process of inner transformation that we can begin to solve the problem of climate change. The solution is inside of us.” Another speaker, the Buddhist teacher Ricardo Toledo from Argentina expressed, “Something has to die for something to be born.  Our destructive way of life must die. The civilization that is dying is a paradigm of separation and superiority.” A certain way of thinking and living must die for a more ecological and spiritually aware way of being to be born.

One of our speakers from Greece spoke about how she moved from the rural area to the city to bring her connection with nature there.  “I heard the voice of nature calling me to the city. Part of the sacred is to be alert, to see where I must be. It’s not what we do but how we do it.   We have to ask, am I fully present.” It is the consciousness we bring to the climate crisis that will make the difference.

We deeply believe only a change in consciousness will enable humankind to evolve into a new partnership with earth’s community of life, one of respect, appreciation and gratitude.  Despite the frustration and despair these meetings can evoke, we continue to attend in the hope that we as a human community will come together to act out of love for the earth and gratitude for all she gives to each and every form of life.

Three Questions with NaRon Tillman

NaRon Tillman, Pastor of One Ministries and Mindfulness Coach

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

We can reconnect with our deeper selves through focused Spiritual practice. This can include things such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, and a variation of connecting with mentors that are purposed to guide you in these practices. 

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

I feel my connection to earth by being mindful of our connectivity. I live this out by teaching these truths to my children, congregation, and others that I come into connection with. 

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

The Scripture teaches the followers of Christ teaching ”Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I believe that if we did this then we would remove the impulse to be greedy and possessive. By caring about others, not just our families or people that think like us, we position ourselves to transform our local communities and then our world. This happens in one community at a time. 

NaRon Tillman, Pastor of One Ministries and Mindfulness Coach. 

Reflections on Village Life in Uganda or The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change

by Robert Kugonza

“When I try to reflect on the meaning of the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change what comes to mind are the things that are not seen, that are not the most talked about or thought of by our leaders and people. There is something more quiet and under the surface that needs to be brought into the light. Mother Earth is definitely grieving and in her grieving she reacts or retaliates to show us this grief. The floods we see today in places where they never used to occur. Droughts are lasting longer than in the past. Our forefathers — my parents, would tell us exactly the day, in a year, in a month when the rains would come and believe me they would come. Everyone prepared their seeds for planting and the next day everyone would be ready and out in their gardens sowing. I have seen the change in my lifetime. I remember the forests where we once walked to gather dry branches for the fire or the clear running river where we would go to fetch water. I will never forget the sense of community in the sharing of harvests with everyone in the village, where no one would go without squash or pumpkins. There was a harmony that existed in the community that is no longer present.” ~ Robert Kugonza, Uganda

Delegate to COP22 Marrakech, Inner Dimensions of Climate Change gathering

Green hills of Uganda

We were in touch with Robert recently and he wrote us more about life in the village. 

YES, the village indeed,  where harmony still has a place, where care, concern and love for one another still exist. Where respect for elders and good regard for the young ones are values in practice. Where you witness real passion and love in those greeting you. Where even with challenges of poverty, reduced forest cover and climate change and lesser food productivity, people still share the little they have. Where no view is obstructed by walls or enclosures, where sounds and vision travel freely, interaction is easy, even from a reasonable distance without mobile phones people will still call each other – the organic way. The birds sing, the roosters crow and the gentle rustle of the cow, her moos blending with the bleating of the goats and sheep. What harmonized music of nature you can hear.

Visiting with wise elders

Our village is a place where Mother Earth has the liberty to show all the mothered, her ability to love, to care, to provide and to sustain. But increasingly, the new generations do not know how to care for her in return. Unfortunately each passing day, especially for the young ones, they become more intoxicated and fall for the illusion of so called ‘development and modernity’, ways that are not in tandem with living harmoniously with Nature.  It saddens me and my heart bleeds seeing these trends of development and the people who are heartless in their treatment of nature and each other. All of these conditions led me to choose the name for my organization; Friends with Environment in Development (FED). Our focus and passion through FED is to making the local, regional, national and the world realize that the elders in local communities who are still with us are an incredible and incomparable rich resource.  They hold the richness of unlimited knowledge that this young generation needs to tap into before these elders depart. The elders hold a knowledge not between walls and exclusive of others, but a knowledge unlimited. They hold the wisdom of how to live in harmony with Nature – our Mother the Earth, and the knowledge of how to live with one another accommodatingly.  

To learn more of the work of Robert Kuganza or Friends with Environment in Development, you can write to him here: kugonzarobert@gmail.com

Three Questions with Dena Merriam

Dena Merriam, founder, Global Peace Initiative of Women

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

All day long, and all night, our mind is busy with thoughts, plans, desires and memories. We are so engrossed in these thoughts that we begin to identify with them.  To connect to our deeper Self, our true nature, we must still the mind and free ourselves from its busyness. Only when the mind calms down and becomes like a clear still lake, can we tap our essential nature and realize who we truly are. For me, the surest way to still the mind is through meditation; not casual or brief meditation, but long, deep meditation. One must give the mind time to release itself. But there are other ways to access this stillness. Nature is also a doorway to the Self.  Sitting by a river, gazing up at a sacred mountain, walking with the beings of the trees, these are also ways to put aside the mind and be in our essential nature. We then realize they are no different from us, and we are no different from them. We are all expressions of the one consciousness, the one life energy.

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

I am a river girl and so the surest way for me to feel oneness with nature is to sit by a river and listen to her quiet wisdom. Rivers speak to us, often guiding us and helping us find solutions to our problems. But they speak from inside and so one must be very quiet and receptive to hear. I also love to stand or walk barefoot on the earth and to feel her healing currents pass through my body. I love to feel the strength of mountains and breathe in deeply the fresh forest air. Trees and all plant life give us the air we need, and we give them the air they need. This life-giving exchange bonds us to them and so we must make time to honor the tree and plant beings. We deprive ourselves when we fail to connect deeply with earth and all her wonderful expressions.  So for me, it is taking time to love and honor all that earth is.

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

The structures must begin to change because they were born of an earlier, less conscious era, and we have moved on from that time. But change can come gradually and so we slowly have to insert more caring into the way our society is organized. To bring about change, we have to look into the causes of the current disfunction. We must look into why we as a society are so unhealthy, why people don’t have satisfying jobs, decent places to live, why there is so much unhappiness. We will find that one answer that comes up again and again is that we have divorced ourselves from the earth, from nature. We are unhealthy because of the processed and tainted food we eat, the toxins in the water, the chemicals we have put into the environment, the stress we submit ourselves to. We live in concrete jungles with little fresh air, no access to the healing currents of the earth. Even people in suburban or rural areas are for the most part cut off from the healing elements of the natural world because it is also a mindset. We must change the way we interact with nature. Compassion arises when we bring these healing elements back into our lives – urban farming, urban forests, undammed rivers, time to be with nature and oneself. Connecting to nature opens the heart and then one is able to connect more deeply with fellow human beings. When we ourselves are healed, we can extend our hearts to others. So we must begin, collectively as a human community, by cleansing the soil, the water and the air of the toxins we have poured into them. In doing so we will also cleanse our hearts. It is the hearts and minds of people that must change before we see change in our institutional structures.

Dena Merriam is the founder and convener of the Global Peace Initiative of Women. She is the author of, “My Journey Through Time: A Spiritual Memoir of Life, Death, and Rebirth”, and most recently, “The Untold Story of Sita: An Empowering Tale For Our Time”.

Sacred Soil

by Shephali Patel

Photo: Aya Okawa

The Birth of Soil

Soil is born from the cycle of life and death. Soil is about 50% air and water, 45% minerals, and 5% organic matter. Soil mineral is formed from the wearing of bedrock that is birthed from core of the earth. This weathering takes thousands of years and much of our present day agricultural soils are more than 10,000 years old. But before there was an Earth, there was just universe.

The universe was originally composed primarily of the lighter atomic elements hydrogen and helium. The rest of the heavier elements, including carbon and oxygen, were fused in the hearts of the giant floating nuclear reactors we call stars. When a massive star is dying, it becomes hotter and hotter; its pressure-fueled expansion culminating in a violent explosion, a supernova. These massive explosions blow the heavier elements in the star’s core out into space, where they are incorporated into the formation of other planets, moons, and stars. The minerals within and on the earth come from stars that died when the universe was young. All living matter on Earth is composed of this ancient debris. And stars are still dying and exploding. Every year, 40,000 tons of cosmic dust rains down upon us, erasing all validity of human-conceived borders. This cosmic dust settles everywhere, particularly in our soil. The chemical elements in the cosmic dust are taken up by plants, which are then eaten by us. Our bodies are constantly being rebuilt and nourished by dying stars.

The Life of Soil

Soil is a living entity. It is composed of a thin skin over the surface of the earth called the pedosphere. The pedosphere exists as the interface of:

  • lithosphere (Earth crust and upper mantle)
  • atmosphere (air in and above soil)
  • hydrosphere (water below, in, and above soil)
  • biosphere (living organisms)

The pedosphere can exist only when there is dynamic interconnection among all forms of life and its supporting mediums. Soil, the pedosphere, is a revolving sphere at the heart of interlaced cycles of life.

Soil is not just a living body, but also a place. Soil is a physical meeting place for the key processes that support life. It is a physical place where we can experience living interconnection. Within the 50% of air and water and 45% of mineral that comprises soil, lives the 5% of organic matter in various stages of death–living, dead, and very dead. All three are inextricably linked in a biogeochemical process of nutrient and element cycling across land, sea, and air; where everything is transformed, consumed, and shared all at once. The consumption and excretion of the dead frees up nutrients and molecules needed to fuel life. Communication and sharing among plant, microbes, and fungi manages and moves these elements. This is the foundation for all ecosystem health. The process requires such a diversity and density of life that there can be over a billion living organisms in just one teaspoon of soil–only a small fraction of which we have identified. These billion organisms and plant parts are part of the only 20% of organic matter that is alive.

To be able to understand the existence of soil is to understand that so much precision, symbiosis, and harmony goes into supporting just 1% of the solid living earth. That understanding is a call to remembrance– that we are loved like that.

The Death of Soil

With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

We are loved like that. And there we go, 93% stardust and magic, walking around both alien and native at once, in constant calculation of what belongs. Building walls and guns against what doesn’t. And many times what doesn’t belong are the living beings we don’t understand and can’t see. The grace that moves invisibly through our lives. When we breathe in the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae, serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain increase. The bacteria makes us feel calm and happy. That pleasing sweet, metallic scent of the earth after it rains is released by soil actinobacteria. Seventy-eight percent of the top 150 prescription drugs in the U.S. and 70% of all new drugs are derived from plants and soil-dwelling microfauna. With one spray of noxious pesticide, one extra pound of synthetic fertilizer, and another round of unrelenting tillage, we can unintentionally wipe out all future hopes for joy, health, and the tiny friends we have co-evolved with for millennia.

Most of the times, what doesn’t belong are living beings we can see and don’t want to understand. Our soil is soaked through with the blood of the wolves that scared us but kept rivers and forests healthy. The soil is glutted with the murdered bodies of entire civilizations of people who knew it first and best. Only to have its insides then persistently gutted to resurrect the dead in their ghostly forms of coal and oil. Scientists say that more carbon resides in the soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Soil is all skin, thin and naked, absorbing our sins. Yet, despite the abuse, she is still holding her breath for us while we are stuck in this deranged wetiko dream. But you can’t hold your breath for long, when the air is being stamped out of you. Under that dark skin I can hear a muffled “I can’t breathe” that pushes through the sidewalks and reverberates in the streets.

The Soul of Soil

The soil teaches that we are loved. And also where we fail in loving back. When I first learned to read the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, I learned to read it in two weeks and by the third week the pages in the brand-new book began to inexplicably disintegrate without being touched, and the book immediately looked like it was over one-hundred years old. The tiny pieces of pages would fall into the ground whenever I picked it up or carried it in my bag. Even tightly wrapped in its cloth covering. Pieces so tiny and thin that they would disappear into the ground and become part of it so that I couldn’t find them again. This is how I first realized that the Word lives in the soil.

Every day I go to the farm and take my familiar position. Kneeling down on one knee, head bowed down to work, I run my fingers through the dirt, combing through its pages. The wisdom of the soil starts with what I can see and then speaks to me about the Mystery that I can’t see with my eyes. Transplanting young plants, I follow their roots as they are embraced and gently clothed in soil. I know that though I cannot see it there is an orbit of bacteria and fungi protecting and communing with the plant. There are thin strands of mycorrhizae with fingers gently wrapped around plant roots, radiating out into all directions to forage for nutrients and relay messages that these roots cannot quite stretch far enough to reach. The unfolding drama of the living attracts more life –nematodes and protozoa, which then attract other nematodes and arthropods, which call out larger invertebrates, etc. Orbits expanding out like ripples in the water. The echo of the infinite taking shape. Beyond the field, the trees sport roots wrapped in mycelium connecting and communicating with the entire forest through an organic internet far more effective, intricate, and complex than our own–making all things whole and together even as they stand separate. I am again reminded that our salvation and spirituality lies in our interconnection. And that I am both whole already and at the same time always in a state of becoming whole by learning how to revere what is holy. The soil is calling for me to reimagine how I pray and love back–together, connected, sharing.

Next to the row of new transplants, an uncovered row of planted seeds looks like a mala unhooked and laid down on the ground. The cultivation of my devotion and awareness has always belonged inside the soil. So does my redemption. When I pull my hands from the dirt, they are stained in life, death, sacrifice, happiness, and healing. The compost is where I begin to take real responsibility for my existence and actions on this planet. I mark my penance with the work of my hands, turning and spinning that garbage until I help make medicine. Help, because it’s not me making anything. I am just learning from the masters; from that 1% of living, moving soil. It is their living and dying and love-making that produces a heat that transforms garbage into black gold. These tiny, unseen, unloved beings possess the power of alchemy. To make it truly medicine for all, the decomposing organic matter has to rest at a continuous temperature of at least 131º F for a minimum of three days at the core of the pile. So, even in this pile of trash and cast-offs, it is deep in the heart that the transformation and healing takes place. I have to make sure every square centimeter gets to spend some time resting in the cocoon of its own heart. Only then can it be applied to the open wounds of the earth and taken in through the open wounds of mouth, eyes, nose, ears, and skin. Composting works hand-in-hand with time. The time it takes to hopefully learn that in order to heal my insides, I have to be able to heal what is outside of me too. And to heal what is outside of me, I need to learn how to heal myself.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Word follows me inside, embedded into the creases of my fingers. Writing organic matter on the board, scribbling it into my notes, seeing it in books–the words organic matter inevitably morph into OM. All of existence conspired to culminate and begin in OM. In a world where the OM is stripped away what do we have left?

The gift of our lives comes up through the core of the earth and, bursting forth from the core of stars, right into the blazing core of our souls, if we let it. Which means all ground is sacred ground no matter what or where. It is we humans who decide when it is not sacred when we choose to desecrate it. When something is sacred we don’t want to or need to trade it in for a Plan B on Mars or carbon credits. We will protect and sacrifice for this home that is living body, place, teacher, and sanctuary. A temple to pour our love, suffering, gratitude, and remorse into. A place where we learn to breathe together again and slowly open our eyes to all of our gifts and their fundamental nature. That they are grace and miracle and love in a more-than-human world. That they cannot be possessed and that their value increases with how much we cherish them and offer them to others. That our greatest contribution as a species is to humbly know everything as Gift and, with dignity, surrender, and awe to practice upholding “sacredness” so that we are not complicit in stripping away the OM of the world.

It is somehow easier to see that the Mystery lives in everything when you are nose to ground. So I go back outside. I kneel once more, putting hand to ground so that it is soil pressed against soil in prayer. We live in holy times.

This essay was originally printed in Parabola Magazine, Fall 2017