“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
“If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try sleeping with a mosquito.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
It’s a good question especially given that we usually attribute to meditation a clearing of the mind. The simple answer though is that the world is already in your mind. Your heart is full of the love and pain you feel for what is happening out there, your thoughts cycle through the various news stories you’ve heard or seen in the media. Even if you’ve shielded yourself from watching “the news,” it creeps in. Whether it’s boys trapped in a cave or the latest outrage from the boy-men in power. You are part of this world and there is really no escaping that; you’re in the world and the world’s in you.
About six months ago I started offering free monthly guided meditations with the theme, “Meditation With the World in Mind.” We have been able to meet in the beautiful environment of The Open Spirit in Nyack. My sense was (and is) that we need to come together to align our consciousness with the deepest life force of love and compassion. We need to counter in ourselves and the world the destructive influences that often dominate the trajectory of human activity.
It is possible to see these meditations as healing moments for yourself, to release the negative reactions to “the news” that may cause you to feel hopeless, depressed or stuck in anger and cynicism. On the other hand, you may see these meditations as a form of activism. After all, your mind-state is a part of the collective mind of humanity. Actively changing your mood, your attitude, your emotional-mental condition has an effect on the field of human energy that we all live in.
Further, practices have been developed in all the world’s wisdom and spiritual traditions that offer ways of aligning our personal healing and awakening to that of others. Native Americans use the phrase, “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” meaning “all are related,” or “all my relations.” It is invoked in ceremonies and prayer rituals and calls attention to the experience that what is intended is not for the individual or small group alone, but for all life. Similarly, meditation practices can be learned to bring awareness to this reality of inter-connectedness and that the benefit of the meditation is for all beings.
Meditations are generally scheduled for the 3rd Monday of the month, 7 – 8:30 PM. But please confirm.
Activists embody the archetype of the Warrior. Not the warrior as soldier in an army (though that is one way the Warrior archetype expresses itself), but as one who engages the world with an intention to change or transform it. In his book, The Six Pathways of Destiny,Ralph Metzner relates the Warrior to the Guardian, the Reformer, and the Activist. He goes on to describe this life-path as “those who function to protect and defend the integrity and well-being of any natural system – an individual organism, a group, a community, a society, an ecosystem – against threats from without (by infection, invasion, or oppression) as well as threats from within (by corruption, toxicity or stagnation).”
From a holistic perspective, when you are strongly drawn towards a way of being in the world – whether as an artist, scientist, healer, organizer or activist – it is understood that this tendency comes from your Soul. You are motivated from within to focus the direction of your attention and actions. Being an activist in the world taps you into the Warrior stream of spiritual power that gives you the strength and courage to carry on in the face of resistance and opposition. This stream of energy guides and nourishes you and moves you to act for a higher purpose.
We learn through meditation and other spiritual practices that the wellspring of our being, the Source of life within, gives you direction yet is not attached to the outcome of your actions. As the highly respected spiritual teacher, Ramana Maharshi said, “Work performed with attachment is a shackle.” In other words, attachment to the outcome of our efforts creates suffering for ourselves and often for others. The implication of this teaching is that you can be an agent of change in the world and still not be emotionally dependent on how things turn out. As you attune to and express your deepest inner nature you are freed to enjoy the process, and I would add from my experience, you are more effective.
This can be a very challenging notion for activists who in their passion to change the world become fixated on the success of their program. (I include myself among those who find it difficult). However, this basic idea accords with the widespread meme attributed to Gandhi, “Be the peace you wish to see in the world.” Cultivating awareness of the Self fosters the ability to witness with detachment yet act with compassion and love. This becomes a priority for the holistic activist whether you are protecting or healing an individual or working to transform the world.
Another facet of holistic activism is learning to focus your actions in harmony with your personal life. Our email inbox tends to be filled with messages urging us to donate money, make calls, sign petitions, and come to meetings, vigils and demonstrations. Learning to find our own way, one that is in balance with the health of our unique mind/body is very challenging. Of the infinite issues that call out, what truly calls you?
In an article that I wrote for the online Four Winds Journal, “Doing and Being While Facing the World Today,”I offer suggestions for getting in touch with your own direction as an activist (whether or not it is your primary life-path). First off, it’s helpful to avoid pre-conceived ideas of what being an activist should look like for you.
It may be that at some point in life you need to focus on your emotional or physical health. When you take time for this you may confront self-defeating internalized messages telling you that spending time on your own well-being is selfish. It’s helpful to know that you deserve your attention. For one thing, you are part of the body politic – the very part upon which you have the most influence.
On the other hand, you may feel called to participate in direct action related to climate change, racism, war or some other cause. If so, you’ll need to gather up your courage to act on your sense of what is right. There can be a great deal of resistance to taking action. It’s helpful to draw upon the energetic support of allies in the related movements as well as the Spirits of all those who have struggled for a just and peaceful world throughout the centuries.
To sum up, holistic activism places a primary focus on the consciousness with which you act – learning to BE that which you seek to bring into the world. Additionally, it emphasizes finding your unique way of confronting the problems and suffering in the world, a way that is in harmony with your mind, body and spirit. Finally, the holistic activist acts with intentionality and courage without attachment to outcome. Not easy. It helps to keep a sense of humor. The key is that you have choice.
 The Six Pathways of Destiny, by Ralph Metzner, Regent Press, Berkeley, 2012
 The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Shambhala Publications, Boulder, 1972
(This is the second part of a short series offering my thoughts on holistic activism. I welcome responses and your own contributions to this subject.)
Processing the News with Body, Mind and Spirit
Every now and then it hits me like this: “the news is making me sick.” Using the term “sick” in this way, people generally mean disgusted. But I want here to emphasize the literal nature of “makes me sick” with reference to how following the events of the world can cause mental, emotional and physical illness. Additionally, I’d like to offer some suggestions from a holistic perspective for maintaining health and well-being in the face of the horrors streaming at us through the media.
A basic understanding of the holistic orientation is that the body, mind and spirit are a unity, not separate from each other; they are ongoingly inter-dependently relating. Whatever is happening in our mind effects our body; whatever happens in our body effects our mind. Further, both mind and body are nourished and regenerated by the spiritual sources of life within us. Body-Mind-Spirit, All One. We can be unaware of or ignore this inter-connectedness, but our life experience will move us in the direction of waking up to it.
Take a moment when you are hearing any thought, perhaps what you are reading right now. If you resonate with the thought(s), you will feel a positive emotion and perhaps a tingling or exciting energy in your body. On the other hand, if the thoughts challenge your previously held views or opinions, you may feel angry or defensive or afraid, and your body will contract, get tense, even if just a little. We all tend to do this.
When we read the newspaper or listen to the news on the radio, tv or social media, the same thing happens. Usually the ideas and events are presented so rapidly that we don’t even notice our internal reactions. If we do recognize that we are getting angry or afraid, we probably don’t notice the physical correlates to those feelings; the tension, stress or pain in the body. Unaddressed, as the weight of these experiences continues to accumulate, we may find ourselves depressed, in chronic anger or anxiety, dis-ease. Many folks today are suffering in this way from hearing the news.
This is not to say that anger or fear are in themselves unhealthy or unwarranted. They are natural reactions to threats to our personal safety or the safety and well-being of those we care about. When what we love is threatened, whether it is our family, other humans or other species, a mountain, river, forest or ocean, we are going to find ourselves reacting. This is natural and universal. What’s important is how we relate to our reaction and what we do with it.
From all the research on mindfulness meditation, we’ve learned that being fully aware and non-judgmental towards our feelings, begins to lighten their intensity and loosen the tightness with which we hold them in our body. It involves not pushing those feelings away, but also not feeding them. What’s important is that we are fully aware that there are these feelings and they are in us, not out there.
Returning to the experience of listening to the news: we therefore recognize that what is happening out there is triggering a reaction inside here, and we respect our feelings for what they are, whatever they are. In a sense, we become the observer and don’t personalize the reaction; our feelings are a part of what is happening in the whole of the experience. Just as there is rage and fear, conflict and competition out there in the world, something like that is happening inside us as well. We are moved to humbly accept our part in the pain and suffering in the world.
From a holistic perspective, the spiritual aspect of our nature is the source of love and empathy, whether for ourselves, our family, humanity, other species or Mother Earth. It is this love, however lost from our conscious awareness in the moment, that is truly at the root of our reaction to injustice, war or the damage to the natural world. It’s why we care. Our frustrated, impatient, justifiably righteous, egoic self may distort the flow, but at the source is generosity and love. Just remembering this can shift the way we feel because we are reminding ourselves amd getting back in touch with the healing force of that love. The focus of our attention is then on healing, healing ourselves and whoever or whatever we were disturbed by. We shift towards the motivation to respond to the situation creatively and skillfully.
Just as the holistic healer takes time to work on themselves, the holistic activist needs to take time to work on their own consciousness. As Ghandi said, “be the peace you want to see in the world.”
A few suggestions for relating to the news:
Process: Recognize that your body and mind are deeply impacted by events in the world and you need to take time to digest, metabolize and assimilate what you are letting in as information.
Step away: Humbly admit that the world will not be any the worse if you don’t listen or watch the news for a day, or a week. Take a news fast now and then. We need time to process the undigested material, refresh and renew our consciousness.
Act: In addition to what you are learning about yourself, your reaction may be your soul calling you to actively respond. Learn to communicate and act in ways that are in harmony with your nature, both the loving essence of your soul, and the gifts and talents of your personality. This will be the topic of the next piece in this series.
It has become increasingly clear to most people that individual health is not separate from the health of the community, nation and world. Just as we take responsibility for our personal health and the welfare of our family, we feel a calling to be responsible citizens. We are part of the body politic and we feel emotional reactions to what is going on in the world.
Transforming our emotional reactions into mature, responsible action is something that more and more people are finding themselves called to learn and practice. I have joined with others in creating the Network of Holistic Activists in order to bring the insights and practices of holistic healing towards our social and political problems. You can see our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/366558880455897/
The following post will be the first in a short series sharing my thoughts on Holistic Activism and inviting you to consider how it may relate to your own life journey.
# 1. What is “Holistic?”
I first encountered the word “holistic” in the 1970’s. It was the term being used to describe many of the alternative healing modalities, ancient and modern, which were springing up and spreading into what are now mainstream phenomena: acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, therapeutic bodywork, etc.. Holistic was used in conjunction with the phrase “body, mind, spirit,” and it was understood that integrating all three components was essential for true healing.
At the core of the holistic orientation is the understanding that there is a wholeness (holos means whole) that has self-healing, self-regenerating qualities. These attributes of the whole are not available to us when we focus only on a part, usually the diseased part, which has been the focus of Western allopathic medicine. New understandings of systems theory and ecology helped us recognize how this was operative on both small and large scale organisms, e.g.: the whole mind/body/spirit of a person has the healing potential that repairs any of the parts when brought into balance. Similarly, the Gaia theory suggests that the whole of planet earth, as a complete living system, is always working to bring itself into balance, restoring life, demonstrating a kind of “intelligence” of its own.
When practiced, a holistic healing approach involves cultivating awareness of the whole and it’s healing attributes while also focusing on the particular manifestation(s) of disease or dysfunction. This kind of awareness has a deeply spiritual dimension, calling forth the energies of what is sometimes called the soul, spirit, essential Self, or whatever one calls the aspect of being that is transcendent to the personal sense of self.
Further, the holistic mindstate involves an attitude that approaches problem areas without judgmentalism, aversion or expectation. Holistic healers, therefore, work on themselves to be in an appropriate mindstate or state of consciuosness. They work to clear their perception and also to make their own mind/body a more open vehicle for healing to take place. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi, are utilized both for the healers own well being and also to help them in their work.
While there are many different tools, techniques and processes that a practitioner may use, holistic healing can be said to involve at least these five elements: 1) attention to the inter-relatedness of the body with the mind and Spirit, 2) an orientation to the self-healing whole, 3) openness to the spiritual dimensions and sources of healing, 4) a nonjudgemental attitude, and 5) non-attachment to the outcome of the process. As previously stated, it is part of the healer’s task to develop not only the skills for their practice, but also to cultivate the awareness, attitude or state of consciousness required.
In the next segment, I’ll discuss how this relates to activism in the social and political sphere.
Walk With Me
Film about Thich Nhat Hanh
Bowtie Cinema in New City, NY
November 6th, Monday at 7:30 PM
Few teachers have awakened and inspired so many people across the world to the experience of meditative awareness, mindfulness and living a compassionate life. We are delighted to bring this film to Rockland County. Thich Nhat Hanh has meant so much to so many of us who are interested in meditation, mindfulness and living a life of service. Please register now and support this film screening.
See the Facebook event page to register now. The way this works is that only if enough people sign up in advance, will the screening take place. Please help us by registering early.
“Slow down and breathe. This contemplative journey follows in the steps of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and is a rare insight into life within a monastic community. ….With unprecedented access, WALK WITH ME goes deep inside a Zen Buddhist community who have given up all their possessions and signed up to a life of chastity for one common purpose – to transform their suffering, and practice the art of mindfulness with the world-famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.”
Again, this screening will only take place if enough people sign up in advance. Please go to the Facebook event page to register for this one time showing of Walk With Me.
An Open Invitation to Holistic Healers and Spiritual Guides
Sunday, October 8th
Location: Stony Point Center
(Great meal available at 6 if you’d like to stay for dinner – $15)
For those who have been immersed in holistic, integral or spiritual approaches to personal healing, growth and transformation, the political sphere of activity has often seemed a very dark and hopeless arena of collective human dysfunction. There is, for many in these fields, (yoga and meditation teachers, holistic bodyworkers and psychotherapists, teachers of Tai Chi, Qi Gong, shamanic practitioners, spiritual coaches and guides, and others) a distaste for “politics.” Folks in these fields tend to see that their work with individuals or small groups, with people who choose to make changes in their lives, actually brings about results. Further, it is sometimes said, that the best way to change the world is one person at a time opening to the wholeness of who they are as compassionate, loving beings. Our connection with all beings means that the changes in one will ripple out and effect others. Personally, I am a great believer in this principle.
Yet, the events of the past several decades, and especailly this past year, have brought home the awareness that: yes, any individual changing is connected to everyone, but we are all connected in a burning house. What’s more, the fire in the house has grown exponentially as the forces of domination and control have consolidated their hold over the political apparatus. This apparatus makes the policies that allow, even promote, greed to be the primary motivator for economic and, in fact, all social activity. Their policy-making is responsible for the collective failure to address rampant poverty, war, and the impending, catastrophic effects of climate change. These policies come out of politics, and they are ignored at all our peril.
So, how does one bring the sensitivity, awareness and skills of the work being done in holistic healing and personal growth to the issues that confront us as a community, nation and world? What does that look like? How can people with such an orientation join together and also join with those activists working on and through the political system? It is these questions that I’d like to see us come together to address. I’d like to join with others to build a bridge that connects the consciousness and sensitivities of healing practitioners with political activists. Would you like to be part of that?
I am open to any suggestions, ideas and forms of collaboration. I’m not looking to lead or start a new movement, but join with folks locally along lines that others have pioneered in other places. How about we start with a gathering? I’m suggesting this date and hope it works for enough folks to get the ball rolling. If you are interested at all, please respond to this message, even if you cannot come at that time.
Peace and blessings,
In developing a daily meditation practice for the first time, or re-evaluating one that feels stagnant, the question of time and frequency comes up. How long and how often to meditate? I find it most helpful to recognize that this is a personal choice and depends a great deal on your current life schedule and priorities. But it also relates a great deal to why you are meditating in the first place and just how deeply you want to explore and experience the spiritual depths to which it can take you.
I most commonly hear people speaking of a twenty-minute period of meditation, once a day. This has been shown, over the long haul, to bring about health benefits, reduction of stress, and more clarity of mind. But, while regular periods of short meditation can be quite helpful, at some point in your meditation practice you may consider that you would benefit from meditating longer. You may realize that your thinking mind is a tougher adversary than you thought. A funny way to say it is,your mind has a mind of its own. Your mind doesn’t listen to your commands to be quiet or go away, and when you try to ignore it, it gets louder and butts into your space. You may realize that the satisfaction you take in the brief moments of peace during your meditation are just hints of the shadow of an echo of a whisper of what you are truly seeking. Finally, you may recognize that the deepest truth of meditation is realized through a very long process and you need to devote lots of time to it. Your life (the quality of your life) depends on it.
It’s not really as grave as that might sound. Longer and deeper periods of meditation are a gift to yourself. They can provide an entry into the deeper realms of being that bring you in touch with the essence of your nature. Inside yourself, in this very moment, is the experience of beauty, love and compassion for all life. Whatever else is going on in your life or in the world, the essence of who you are, right now, is so good, so beautiful, so awesome, that the notion that you can only allow yourself a short period of this process seems ridiculous. It’s like starving yourself when there is a banquet of delicious food in front of you.
Moments of recognizing this, or even getting a hint of it, provide the motivation for longer periods of meditation. Let’s face it, it takes great commitment to sit and do nothing towards accomplishing the things on your “to do” list. Instead, you will pass through periods of fidgety discomfort, the clattering of mental chatter, accepting and releasing your emotional baggage, and recognizing your existential resistance to letting go of the attachment to your egoic self. What’s more, these things will seem endless as you continue to recognize them again and again, and continue to return to your breath and the focus of your practice. Yet, gradually, (hopefully with the help of others on the path) the fruits of your inner work will be most apparent in the quality of your life experience in and out of the state of meditation; you will be in touch with and expressing your eternal and infinite, true nature.
If one seeks inner peace, tranquility, and serenity, all relationships are a challenge. When we look at how even a personal relationship founded in love can be at times so difficult, it is easy to see why our community, national and international relationships (which are essentially what politics is about) border on insanity. Yet, we are inevitably involved in these relationships.
I’ve been told many times by people on a spiritual path that they will no longer pay attention to politics; “There’s too much fear and anger; it’s too disturbing and unproductive.” Yet, before long I always hear those same people complain or express their anger at what is going on. It’s only natural to feel the distress at injustice, the oppression of one people by another, the destruction of the natural balance with Mother Earth. These people are, after all, our brothers and sisters; Mother Earth is our Mother. As Bernie Sanders says, “We hurt when they hurt.” There is no escaping it, least of all through spiritual awareness which makes us even more sensitive to our interconnectedness.
That pain is the calling of attention to problems that won’t go away by ignoring them, nor by wringing our hands. That pain is calling us to heal and to act. To act wisely, yes. To act with compassion, yes. To act with awareness of the ultimate peace that abides at all times throughout all this, yes. Truly, it is from that peace that right action flows.
Being honest here, the recent events in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota and in Dallas had me floored, disheartened and feeling hopeless. I still feel a deep heaviness in my heart, even more so by the divisive reactions to the events that seem to be escalating. For myself, I have found that meditation and related spiritual practices allow me to return to the deeper truths, to regenerate my body and mind, and to reconnect with that eternal optimistic Spirit that creates and affirms life.
I really don’t have the answers to our collective problems. But I do know that for me, as a White male, I need to stand in solidarity with those whose peace of mind, in fact their lives, are threatened every day because of the color of their skin. I need to do my part to help end the fear and racism with which we all have been infected. I need to, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says so movingly, wisely and eloquently, mend the part of the world that is within my reach.
Please read Ms. Estes’ inspiring and wise words below or at: http://www.grahameb.com/pinkola_estes.htm
Thank you for doing your part in and for peace.
P.S. I am open to and appreciate your thoughts and feelings. If you would like more information on groups or books that offer perspective on integrating spirituality and the political world, I would be happy to share that with you.
We Were Made For These Times
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
By Clarissa Pinkola Estes
American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
There is a space within each of us where there is no fear at all. What some call our essential nature or soul is that which is free of all attachments; no holding on, no gripping, no clinging, no fear. When we know and feel completely that we are that, we are fearless; we are in a state of grace. But the truth is also that we live in the consciousness of our body/mind and have instincts and conditioning that often flood us with worry, anxiety and fear. Continue reading Not Fearless, But Fear Less
(This is one in a series of essays about meditation. I hope you enjoy and benefit from these ideas and I invite you to share this with friends. I also want to invite you to attend the next full-day Tree of Life Meditations retreat focused on Agni Yoga. Agni Yoga is a unique form of meditation practice with which you can transform negative psychological and physical patterns.)
One thing is for sure, Meditation will not stop you from feeling anger. I say this with some certainty, not only because I’ve been meditating daily for over 45 years and still get angry… Continue reading Frustration, Annoyance, Anger and Meditation