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”.