Mutual Respect, Mutual Learning

“To us, as caretakers of the heart of Mother Earth, falls the responsibility of turning back the powers of destruction. You yourself are the one who must decide.

You alone – and only you – can make this crucial choice, to walk in honor or to dishonor your relatives. On your decision depends the fate of the entire World.

Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?

Know that you yourself are essential to this world. Understand both the blessing and the burden of that. You yourself are desperately needed to save the soul of this world. Did you think you were put here for something less? In a Sacred Hoop of Life, there is no beginning and no ending.”

~Chief Arvol Looking Horse, September 2016

One of the sure signs of spiritual advancement is an affinity and deep respect for nature. Saints from all traditions have written about seeing “the creator” in every life form, and the reverence and care shown to each of mother nature’s expressions demonstrates the deeper understanding of the unity and interdependence of everything on earth. Nature itself is a symbol of spirit – the earth, the sky, the moon, the stars – all of it speaks to us if we would listen!

This weekend at Power & Care, hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I had the pleasure to hear the inspiring wisdom of Pauline Tangiora, a Maori elder from New Zealand, who spoke to us passionately about the urgent need to relieve the immense suffering of our planet, and the resulting suffering of indigenous people around the world. You can find the video here. It was a powerful and moving appeal to our instincts for self-preservation!

Over the centuries, the lack of respect for one another’s way of life and religion has led to incalculable damage on a human and environmental scale. Entire cultures were distorted or wiped out due to a narrow definition of humanity, and this same (church-sanctioned) arrogance allowed for the earth to be used and objectified to fulfill human needs and wants for the past two centuries.

It’s very clear the rest of us – still more or less comfortable for now – are only playing for time, as we casually watch the suffering of those who seem to be so far away. Our turn is soon to come, and who will be there to help us?

Our spiritual practice – or what could even be stripped down to living a decent life – requires integrity and alignment to the greatest extent possible in our lives. It’s utterly irrelevant if you can do challenging asana sequences as long as you continue to hold hatred, jealousy and bigotry in your heart (and indeed, I would argue that an over-stimulating or dogmatic asana practice can even contribute to emotional aggravation, but that’s for another time!).

The Dalai Lama repeated at least three times during the three days of the conference that too many people pay lip-service to their spiritual practice, without actually putting the teachings of their tradition into action. I was reminded of our most recent retreat at Plum Village in July, where my daughter’s hoodie was stolen. This was disturbing enough in a Buddhist monastery, but even more ironic because the hoodie itself comes from there, with “Be Beautiful, Be Yourself” inscribed on the back, and “Love is Every Step” on the front!

The same thing can be said about concern for the environment, which is easy to express, and far more difficult to implement day by day. Yet each of us is capable of changing something close to our lives, such as buying less, avoiding packaging and plastic of all kinds wherever possible, and walking more. There is an intrinsic as well as extrinsic value in improving our habits and living conditions, which also has the wonderful effect of making us increasingly more mindful in general as we become mindful of our own impact on life around us.

This Friday there is a penumbral (partial) lunar eclipse, which – if nothing else – is an awe-inspiring event to those who care to pay attention. As it begins during the early evening, around 19:54, we won’t see much happening, but if you look in the sky again about an hour later, you will see its maximum. In a clear sky this should be visible. Sit for a moment and notice the silence of nature around you – birds and animals rest and stay silent at eclipse periods. Only modern humans continue to barge through their daily agendas.

I mentioned last time that this eclipse “season” resonates with 1997, forgetting to mention that it also resonates with the end of 2007 and early 2008. What has changed since then? What was the stimulus? Jupiter moved into Libra last Friday, where it hasn’t been since 2004, and where it will stay until October 2017. What does this new cycle bring for you, that might share the themes of 12 years ago?

As part of the Power & Care meetings, I attended a workshop on Nonviolent Communication offered by an old friend, Godfrey Spencer. As well as showing us a way of relating to each other more humanely, Godfrey reminded us that perfectionism leads to distress, and even depression. These eclipses have something to whisper to us about our overarching need to achieve (and by extension, the pressure we put on our children). What could life be like if we tried to become more fully human, rather than trying to be super-human?

His Holiness reminded us that prayer is not sufficient for creating change. It’s lovely to have meditation circles and pray for well being, uplifting the energy for everyone. Yet action is required. What Thich Nhat Hanh coined “engaged Buddhism” – putting the teachings into action in a socially and environmentally responsible way – can be applied to any tradition. Christ said in John 13:34: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. The Jews and Christians alike are told: Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Muslims are taught to “love for your brother what you love for yourself”.

This is absolute, and unconditional – not just for those who think like us, or look like us! We must love one another.

How and where can we open our hearts more? How can we live through the truth of our interconnected nature? Where can we drop the pretenses and hypocrisies?

Life happens in continuously inter-looping cycles. There was a time when humans were not on this planet, and that time will absolutely come again. The universe expands and contracts, creating and destroying worlds throughout eons. Our lives are miniscule and fleeting in the grand scheme of things, yet we go on as though we will live forever. Our greatest achievement in this human form will be to do something for the larger whole, to act selflessly and in such a way that future generations of all life forms can thrive and enjoy the magnificence of all life for a similarly fleeting moment.

One of the many definitions of the Sanskrit word Dharma is acting as if holding the world together. In every moment, something arises that contributes to holding our world together, or leads it towards dissolution. Through mindful awareness in each step along the way, we will know exactly what to do.

With much love and light as always,