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.
“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
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
meets with many young ecologists and activists out in the field restoring the
damage we have collectively done to nature. It can be emotionally difficult at
times for the individual and one must often draw on inner reserves of spiritual
strength to continue.
Riddhi Shah wrote to us recently, exhausted and feeling defeated at the disparity she saw in one drought stricken area of India where temperatures of 45C left three villages facing severe water shortages. ‘It was stressful and exhausting trying to bring attention to local authorities’ and urging corporate leaders to put their spare money in these places. She pressed on seeking to find the local business leaders who understand the gravity and urgency of the situation, knowing that children drinking water from contaminated wells are in grave danger.
just don’t understand the gravity of the situation.”
returning to the villages, Riddhi met with the village heads in the district.
She also assembled the younger members of those communities. Since she wrote to
us a month ago disheartened by what she saw, she has worked hard to understand
the situation, the cultural sensitivities and now has organized a
‘super-active’ group of villagers who are working on a model project. The
project aims to increase the ground water retention and raise the water table.
women and children are spending every free minute digging swales, trenches,
ditches and channels to collect and store rain water. It has brought together
the whole community who are now planting new trees and caring for the ones that
are there. A local prosperous land owner who manages a vineyard took notice of
these efforts and has offered to lend support in some way. Riddhi has invited
corporations to help and now has a pledge of $25,000 to support the project.
thought you would like this story of how one young woman helped to mobilize a
rural community to bring back their life giving water and forest cover again.
Across the world young people are engaging in Earth repair and restoration and
there are many opportunities for each us to seek them out and assist
them. Commitment and devotion can bring about real change.
part of the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change Program GPIW will be sharing
more stories about young people restoring the natural world.
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
lithosphere (Earth crust and upper mantle)
atmosphere (air in and above soil)
hydrosphere (water below, in, and above soil)
biosphere (living organisms)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
In a world becoming increasingly engrossed in technology and consumption, it is essential to bring people out of isolation and instead back to community. The living Earth sustains its inhabitants, including humans, who can still become grounded in place and regain inherent, vital connections despite certain obstacles of the modern age.
Situated among the bush growth of the Koreelah Forest, the community at Peace Valley center their work around such goals. They envision their site as an opportunity for place-making and regenerative, healing work between people, other beings of nature, and the land.Peace Valley was established to address a growing need for natural spaces of solace and reflection for urban dwellers. Joy Foley, the founder, began the Australian bush retreat at Bindarrabi Community, a developing ecovillage on a piece of their common land. After several phases of building, expanding, and fortifying their structures, Peace Valley now functions as a camp and event center. It continues to host volunteers and guests who engage in practices of simple living and shared activities such as meditation, gardening, walks, and swimming.
By putting the idea of “gift economy” into practice, no one is excluded on a financial basis from enjoying the Peace Valley bush retreat area. Among the restorative permaculture onsite, Peace Valley is also working to set up an edible grove of native Australian trees, as they believe in “growing trees to grow people.” The indigenous tree and plant propagation of flora such as hoop pine, silky oak, and acacia seed is one of several efforts to maintain indigenous biodiversity in the region, in addition to removing invasive plant species.Foley recalls the “deep calling to reforest, revegetate, reconnect, and simply be in love with nature, with life, and with the earth” that “strengthened in me.”
It is vital to promote access to the natural world, especially for those who are the furthest removed from it. In particular, as young people grow up more and more enclosed in artificial and technological surroundings, we must find ways to overcome the distance from our shared home and its abundance of gifts and wonder. The ability to receive the gifts that nature, as well as others, in our innermost selves, all have to offer, is what sustains life and gives so much purpose.
Sita is a beloved figure for Hindus around the world, as well as for non-Hindus throughout Southeast Asia. But the message of her life extends beyond these audiences and bears universal import, particularly relevant for the modern age when a new understanding of feminine wisdom and leadership is needed, and when we are facing an unprecedented ecological crisis. Mata Sita and Sri Ram were instrumental in setting the foundation for a new civilization during a time of transition from one era, or yuga, to another. We stand at a similar time in history, where we are experiencing the passing of one era and intuitively feel the birthing of another, as yet unknown. One thing seems certain, however, that the new society we are striving for must be ecologically-based. There is great value in looking to lessons of the past in order to move forward.
During Sita’s time on earth, humanity was beginning to shift from a nature-based way of life toward greater material development. Many concepts were implanted in the collective mind at that time that guided the subsequent development of human civilization. We have now reached the pinnacle of this development and are reaping the results of our abuse of earth’s resources—its land, water, and air. To survive as a human community, we will need to incorporate into our lives a new-found appreciation, respect, and love for the natural world, a love that was exemplified in the life of Mata Sita.
Looking back to the time when humanity was beginning to divorce itself from nature and to cultivate more of a separate, individual identity will help us understand the pitfalls of this separateness in consciousness. Seeing ourselves as disconnected from nature has given mankind the false impression that we can control nature and recklessly deplete it, discounting the rights of other life forms and ignoring our interdependent relationship.
One cannot go backward in time, nor would one want to. The goal is to incorporate the wisdom and knowledge of the past into the developments and scientific advances of today. We can learn again how to care for and love the earth and all her communities of life. There is much that Mata Sita can teach us if we invoke her. She and Sri Ram are living presences, not just historical figures, still very much engaged with the lives of those who turn to them. During the life journey of Mata Sita and Sri Ram, each assumed roles that were different but equal in importance. Neither could achieve their life’s mission without the other. Their lives exemplify a balance of the masculine and feminine qualities and energies, despite how patriarchal forces have tried to shape the Ramayana narrative to suit later social norms. If we recapture something of life during the higher ages we can see the story with new eyes and perceive the inner dynamic that drove the outer narrative. Remembering the harmony that existed during the higher ages will help us re-calibrate our society so that it honors the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine, both of which are needed to help restore balance to our society and to the earth.
The ambiance of the room grew cozier — harmonious as we listened to the soft vocals and compositions of Rasa Javedani who had written the fitting words to the melodies that were then sung by Shakeel Shaan and myself. The audience of old friends grew emotional in the atmosphere and we found it hard to hold back tears. The song we chose to sing that night was one to express our love for the friends gathered that day, the friends who had left the Kashmir valley three decades back. Today I welcomed them for the first time on their return to their home of Kashmir.
It took twenty-eight years for such an historic reunion to happen. We had spent our teens together, enjoying school and college life and now we had the chance to recollect a time that we remembered as being full of joy, unaware of the divisive atmosphere that was brewing and which we in our innocence could not foresee.
The turmoil that erupted in Kashmir was sudden and spontaneous and with fewer communication vehicles in those days our group couldn’t contact each other. Unfavorable conditions of the time forced many Kashmiri families (Pundit, Muslim and Sikh) to migrate far from their homes. It was ten years before we were able to trace one another after this abrupt departure, all that while yearning to reconnect, especially to be together again in the homeland. The idea to come together was sparked by a phone call and Rajesh Raina and I were determined to make it happen.
Even now as the situation in Kashmir is still ripe with violence and strife, such simple happenings as the reunion of a group of friends raises hope for others, hope of peace in the valley. We must be able to imagine peace, to remember what it feels like.
We were inspired by a youth initiative in Kashmir called Ripples. It was an idea that came from the wish to see peace in my valley once again. We believe that by bringing together those who longed for peace it will awaken the memories of a time when this vast area was the meeting ground of different spiritual traditions and people lived together harmoniously. We want this feeling to spread. Along this journey we met with the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a network of peacemakers led by women working for harmony and reconciliation. These women had been organizing and facilitating similar interactions and meetings between divided communities for many years and they took a deep interest in Kashmir after their first visit. It reignited some hope in me and we began to work together, mostly with young people, helping them create spaces of expression for their development. They had grown up amidst tension and conflict and had to know there was another way. We organized programs together with GPIW and invited some of these aspiring youth to come and dialogue with us and ask them what it takes to become true community leaders.
Although there had been many peace efforts by various organizations over the years, we felt our reunion was unique — at the very least it was an emotional one. Some of those who had migrated were scared to return, imagining their old homeland will feel unfamiliar and the people harsh with them. To their surprise they experienced the same love and affection from their friends in the valley as in the past. During our days together we visited old favorite places, ate our traditional Kashmiri foods, danced and sang. We sailed on Dal Lake for which Srinagar is famous. When it was time to take leave it was with tearful and moist eyes, visibly expressing the admission of their wrong perception about the reality. The truth is that the majority of the people of Kashmir still keep alive the real Kashmiriyat pluralistic values of simple and harmonious living.
In the Sufi spirit of friendship, the lyrics to the songs were intended to evoke the love and affection in our hearts… “oh friends your place and your glimpses are in our eyes always and your space is always here, which you have to fill by coming back to your homeland!
These feelings lingered as everyone left. They left knowing that the Kashmir of their youth had not died and there was hope for a future without violence and fear.
Whales were very much on my mind. I had just returned from a dialogue in Japan that included a discussion on the impact of pollution and climate change on the communities of life in the oceans and was preparing to go to Poland for the United Nations Climate Conference. I had also just read an article on how the US administration had just approved the use of sonic cannons to find oil and gas reserves in the Atlantic, up and down the coast, a devastating decision for marine life. My heart ached for what these animals would now have to endure.
While on route to Poland, I had a dream, one of those dreams that is more vision than dream. I saw myself standing by the window in my Manhattan apartment looking out over the East River when I saw a beautiful large whale quietly and speedily swim up the river until it stopped just in front of my building and stared up at me. All I could do was whisper, “I see you. I hear you.”
This was the dream that followed me to Poland and haunted me as I walked through the hallways of the conference wondering how to bring the voices of the ocean into a meeting that would help determine whether life in the ocean lived or died. There was one session on oceans, which I did attend, but sadly it made no mention of the whales, the dolphins and other marine life. The main message to come out of that panel of marine experts was that the scientific organizations studying the oceans are now cooperating, whereas they had previously been working in their own silos. Well, a good first step, but the audience was not satisfied. When a member of the audience pressed them on why more action was not being taken, the response was that action will only come from the bottom up, not from the top down. The UN can do its studies, bring the best scientific minds and data to the fore, present the predictive models, and then — and then, if the governments don’t act, there is not much more these officials can do. All they can do is warn, which is what the United Nations Secretary General just did when he flew to Poland to try to encourage some progress. If we don’t act, we are on a suicidal mission, he said. At the same time, UN officials continue to appeal to civil society, which is why they let so many of us into these annual climate conferences. Again and again we are encouraged to pressure our governments toward concrete and meaningful action. In the US, for the time being, that means at the local level – our state and city governments that are part of the “we’re still in” movement.
A few months ago, I attended the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and there much time was devoted to oceans. The presenters shared that too little attention and funding has been applied to researching the oceans, and in fact we understand very little about them — not very comforting. But one thing was made clear — the oceans determine the climate. If the oceans die, we die. Human life depends on the health of the oceans, and the oceans now are not very healthy.
So there was the dream, and the warning, and the positives and negatives of COP 24. Whatever is decided at the end of this climate conference, we will know that the responsibility partially rests on our shoulders. We must speak now not only for the human species, but for all who inhabit our precious planet.
I will remember the whale who appeared and appealed to me. I will continue to see and to listen.
Elizabeth Asch is an artist and animal communicator who has been working with Earth’s ancient species—the whales, elephants, and horses, among others in the animal kingdom—studied with the highly regarded animal communicator, Anna Breytenbach. According to Breytenbach, human and animal communication is not only possible, but also ought to be encouraged as a method of reestablishing the bonds between humanity and other living beings. If people would approach animals to confer with them from a position of respect and mutual acknowledgement as beings who share in this state of existence and in this place (Earth) as a home, perhaps we could reconnect, mend, and cooperate in the fundamental ties between all diverse life.
Below, Elizabeth Asch shares a written reflection from an expedition to the waters of the Caribbean island of Dominica where she swam with the largest mammals in the world—whales.
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Picture a battered, 30’ motorboat on a vast, flat sea, hot sun and blue sky overhead. Several miles distant is the small Caribbean island of Dominica, whose mountains hold the only visible clouds at their peaks. Motor turned off, all six men aboard hold one hand up to shade their eyes while scanning the horizon for the white spouts of water which signal a surfacing whale. Not knowing if I will recognize such a plume, never having seen one in person anyhow, I instead use my internal body radar; while tuning in to my instincts, I slowly turn my body to see if I can feel a pull in any particular direction. A feeling in the pit of my gut tells me to stop and I too raise my hand to my eyes to see, and sure enough there it is. Two of the men see it too and, pointing arm extended, shout “Blow!”
Today is Day 3 of our nine-day expedition. I am accompanying three researchers whose life mission is to decode the clicking language of dolphins and whales. These three passionate men travel the world to record and film sperm whales, or as they are known in French cachalots, the largest of the hunting whales. The size of a city bus, or even a double-bus, the cachalot swims from the surface down to eight thousand foot depth. I learned to free dive in order to take this trip and the deepest I have gone is a mere 65 feet.
Before leaving I offered to write an article telling what the cachalots have to say about peace for my friends at GPIW. The last couple of days though, I have just been getting to know the whales and their beautiful home. Until this trip, elephants were the largest animal I have played with and I remain impressed by their size and the vastness of the landscape in which they live. The endless, blue ocean home of the cachalot is a whole new world for me and I’m still adapting.
I connect with a large male I call Bruno. One good place to start a conversation with a fellow predator mammal is eating, so he has been showing me food and hunting. He shows me a nearby ledge in a cold, mostly dark part of the ocean where giant squid and other large fish hang out. While one or two sperm whales churn the water with their powerful tails, others swim along and scoop out the animals to eat. Still others swim open-mouthed, and in fact at one point while I am in the water swimming about thirty feet down, Bruno silently appears directly behind me. I can feel some Presence and although I believe I am alone in the water with my human friends, when that body radar tells me to look back all I see at first are big, white things which turn out to be the teeth in his open jaw. I laugh aloud because I know this is the whale who has been explaining cachalot hunting to me, and here he is to demonstrate. I am certain he isn’t planning to eat me, he’s just showing me how it’s done. After I notice he dives as silently as he appeared.
When I ask Bruno about peace he shows me more scenes of living in the water. When I ask other whales, they show me the same thing. I think maybe they are dodging the question, or maybe I didn’t ask it clearly – – he thinks we are still on the mundane.
I ask about war and they show me scenes of individual whales fighting, like Moby Dick. This is warfare maybe but not war. They say they don’t make war. They did something like it millions of years ago in their evolution, but they don’t do it anymore. As a species they have forgiven us for driving them close to extinction back when whale oil was humans’ main fuel, although there are always some humans who find ways to provoke some individual whales and get killed for it. But retribution as a species? Not their concern.
Finding no answer from the whales about peace I ask the elephants. They seem to sidestep the question too. Elephants and whales are the largest mammals of their two elements, land and water, and some people say the most evolved. Perhaps they just don’t know about peace, perhaps it is so natural to them that they can’t address how it is done. They both seem to evade and avoid us humans as best they can, and especially when we aim to make war with them. In response to my query, my elephant friends show themselves out on the savannah like they are every day, aware of each other’s presence, and grazing, grazing, grazing and dozing, enjoying the beauty and bounty of their home.
I ask birds, insects, and fish, and any wild animals I can think of, and still no answer. Can it be that, as folks always tell me, “You ascribe too much intelligence to the animals. They don’t think like we do. They don’t have the mental capacity” for big questions? I am intrigued. I know this isn’t true, and yet all I get in response is the feeling inside of how it feels to be one of their kind, living in awareness of the other ones nearby, and in their beautiful homes. Over and over, in the water, in the sky, on the land, underground, my only answer is scenes of life, of family, of just being.
Finally I ask my horse friend. Ginger has been my guide for thirteen years. I tell her my dilemma. About how I arrogantly offered to write about whales and peace, and how I am completely stuck. No whale nor any other species has answered my question, “How do you keep peace, what can my people do to find peace?” I show her the responses I have and she laughs at me.
“You have your answer. That is peace,” Ginger tells me. Peace comes from within and only from within. It comes from each and every one of us, at every moment. Look for the awareness of peace within yourselves, and feel it in those around you. From there it spreads and spreads and spreads. First you feel it in yourself. Then you feel it in those closest to you and you begin to feel it in other the individuals from other species who are also nearby. Inner peace for yourself connects you to all humans. Then feeling it in other species connects you and your species to your fellow beings, and to the planet. This is how it spreads and spreads.
Find the silence within. Connect with the peace in others. Moment by moment by moment, now and now and now.
Dr. Doudou Diene is an intellectual, and a man of deep spiritual wisdom and full of life’s experiences. He was the former UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance from 2002—2008 allowing him to travel to many parts of the world to witness first hand injustice, suffering and at the same time the power and beauty of those who promote healing and unity. Here he delivers a short and powerful message when asked what would he like to say to young people at this moment in time.