In the groove

Violent Consumption and Dharma Disconnect

I begin with a story. Shortly before the 2016 Christmas season my grand-nephew celebrated his ninth birthday. He was asked how he felt about being nine. Jacob replied that he felt awful and would prefer to stay five years old. When asked why, he replied that if he could stay five forever then the Earth would not explode. I pondered for a moment on what I could say to little Jacob. I could not say that everything will be OK, that my generation will fix things, as he was much too intelligent for such a placebo. So I spoke to him about the steps taken by the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa. We simplify, make do with less, share and adapt. The intent is to create environmental leaders and that includes him. “Why not become a leader for your generation?” I asked him. He thought about that intensely. Then I told him about a talk I gave recently about mindless consumption and consumerist madness. His sharp mind held on to every word.

I pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. Compassion and kindness are quickly overshadowed by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to begin a re-assessment, as it is time to move on from being so self-absorbed and distracted. Let us locate ourselves in something bigger – a humanitarian cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous. How about examining our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that make a difference?  I pointed out to Jacob the small steps I have taken. I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates in the name of family, grand-children and young neighborhood friends. These gift certificates provide: education for a girl in Afghanistan, grants for female led families, rebuild forests in Haiti, literacy packages and mosquito nets where needed, support for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Such gifts are bigger than our self-absorbed egos and create happiness for less fortunate people. I related to Jacob that my grandchildren proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They play it forward with their class mates and teachers. One boy on the crescent where I live had received such gifts from me for several years. For his most recent birthday he asked all his friends not to give him presents, but to bring a donation for the Ottawa Humane Society that looks after hurt animals. All of his friends brought donations, a splendid sum of one hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff there.

The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global crises is Freedom and Caring. It involves stepping onto the Bodhisattva path – or something like it. (Jacob knows that I am a Zen teacher!) I explained to him what a Bodhisattva was and stated that it is time for the Bodhisattva-within-us to enter the 21st century as an example for action. This enables us to deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing, knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. The second aspect is Non-Discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion and dilutes selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

Jacob asked “How?” I said, “We cultivate energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always, at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. We shape the future of the 21st century because we begin to live differently. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are much stronger than we think.” I emphasized that “Enter the Bodhisattva” is our guiding paradigm and alluded to Bruce Lee’s classic Enter the Dragon, which was one of Jacob’s favorite old time movies. I told him that it brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, smartness and creative vision. I assured Jacob that we are equal to the task and did not hold back anything from him. He is an unusually bright boy and asked questions and demanded clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

Violent Consumption

The focus of this essay is on Violent Consumption and how it dominates our planet, mind and body. I also examine the relevance of dharma and sangha to modern realities, as I clearly see a Dharma Disconnect from modern crises. There is drastic need for updating and refreshing both dharma and sangha.

Jacob’s greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises, from mining disasters in Brazil and China, Amazon deforestation making way for cattle ranches all the way to the Gulf Oil Spill, which has the specs to suit all disasters. BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Their spin did not fool the stock market, as the share values of this corporate giant plummeted down. Yet BP ads continued to tout their environmental sensitivity. The ads could not be taken seriously. But do people actually think or just get caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in environmental disasters like this? Not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors are doomed. Fishing, tourism and real estate are at risk in all Gulf states. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick settled on the ocean floor. It contaminated the entire oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed, the industries and communities that their harvest support are also being eliminated.

The US administration, CNN, FOX and other media had their own spin doctors to amplify the volume, so spin became a norm.  How do we get off this mad carousel of lies? We must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment and make different choices by examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary and can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption.

It takes us back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Mindfulness Community, where I have the privilege of being the resident Zen teacher. When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body and be present.  When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice for our times.  We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe.  We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – and make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use, and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint, all from walking with astute awareness. Our conscious breath co-ordinates our steps as we notice how our feet touch the earth. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice is stronger than our habit energies and mental afflictions. And so the latter falls away.  Insight and clarity then guide us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me. We do know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. We must begin it now for the future, which is our tomorrow shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

I had told Jacob that if rampant consumption remains our deepest desire we will certainly have a degraded planet that will blow up.  Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. The mantra of western civilization – endless economic growth – provides a promise of expectations being met without any awareness of consequences for either our own health or the health of the planet.  Our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.  If we do not simplify, make do with less and change then the vicious downward spiral of environmental degradation would definitely occur.

I added that if we are driven to search for, strive and even fight to obtain that “something” we crave, we will suffer all our lives. We are never happy with what we get or achieve, as there is always that “want” for more.  We need the big insight that our habits of consumption are the obstacle to true happiness. We must be prepared to release the habits rather than be held captive by them.  We can stop this process by meditating, being present and looking deeply into the driving force of our deep desires.  Instead of greed and fame we foster the desire to awaken at the highest level – the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with.

There is also violence to our bodies through the food we eat, driven by internal desires that have disastrous consequences, particularly for our connection to all living beings. The vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes a grossly excessive ecological footprint.  Industrial animal agriculture, which is the norm in North America, is not really farming. Animals are treated solely as economic commodities and subjected to horrible cruelty.  The stress, despair and anger generated in the animals are the energies we consume when they end up on our plate.  We are eating their suffering and pain, taking it into every cell of our bodies and consciousness.  The ecological footprint created by our dietary preferences is huge, costly and damaging.  Furthermore it is not good for our health – physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Although this is horrific – it is not the card I want to deal from the deck.  There is a much bigger card.

FAO produced a scathing report in November 2006 titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. Relentless statistics demonstrate how industrial animal agriculture creates more greenhouse gases than the entire sum of emissions from cars and trucks worldwide. Vegetarianism is no longer just a healthy lifestyle choice. It is a direct and rapid means to restrain the livestock industry from damaging the planet beyond the point of no return. We can actually save the planet by not eating animal products. It is unrealistic to expect folk to go vegetarian in an instant. Yet scrupulous shoppers could do their best to buy free range meat and be vegetarian one week per month and move gradually to eating organic foods and less meat products. This change in basic consumption does far more than taking our car off the road. The present mind-set that drives our consumption requires an essential planetary saving change for we are eating our mother. Also our children, as we are depriving future generations of their chance to live. Our dietary preferences have to be called by their true name – cannibalism. The FAO report concludes that it is essential to reduce meat industry products by 50%. That was in 2006. Consumers can still make this happen by changing their minds about what and how they eat.

With awareness we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally, as well as physically, and choose to support our body, consciousness and planet by shifting deeply ingrained food habits.  We step more lightly on the planet when we consume with mindfulness and radically decrease those activities that pollute. Furthermore, the chronic degenerative diseases common in western civilization find their origins in the toxic food we eat.  Yet if we know how to eat mindfully, then we also know how to take care of ourselves, of others, and the environment. Before eating, simply look at what is there on the table, where it has come from, how it has been prepared, and whether it will truly nourish you, and at the same time protect the environment and future generations from harm. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet. If we bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, then we inevitably bring violence to the other systems – political, economic, planet – we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings and Dharma Disconnect

Where did the Mindfulness Trainings come from? I identify three major conditions that enabled their emergence. The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha. In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s mindfulness trainings were renewed to be in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments. When we study and penetrate deeply into the mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha. At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened. Thich Nhat Hanh’s revisions were an important step not taken by other traditions.

There is an energy in the trainings that comes directly from the awakened mind of the Buddha, which is continued through us. As a sangha collectively and diligently practices the Five Mindfulness Trainings, an extraordinary energy emerges that uplifts everyone who is suffering. When I think about taking refuge in the trainings I smile. My home sangha, the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community founded in 1997, has matured so that it operates very much as an organism. There are many leaders in the sangha choosing to walk the Bodhisattva path and be of support to everyone else. We take one another’s hand and walk together through the early part of the twenty first century. Great confidence and clarity emerge from our engaged practice in the city of Ottawa for peace, environment and schools. The experience of the fruits of practice transforms our wider community. We become more skillful and aware that we are infusing mindfulness throughout our city.

Previously I briefly documented the toxic overload on our planet, and in our minds and bodies. It is critical that necessary re-education also find a place in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are a guidance system to encourage us to no longer participate in a non-sustainable economic system driven by greed and distraction. This global ethic is our protector as it helps us to stop, look deeply and throw away our harmful patterns of behavior. Crises such as Climate Change prompt us to refresh and refine the trainings but there were some awkward disconnects in their creation. The Buddha was clear about impermanence and new challenges. He created the Five Mindfulness Trainings for the lay community and told Ananda that the minor precepts should be revised according to the culture and the time. But Ananda and the Buddhist elders were confused about which precepts were the minor ones and misunderstood what the Buddha was talking about. And so nothing changed for 2,600 years.

There was no preparation for modern realities, as monastic precepts had not changed and were not equipped to handle issues ranging from internet, terrorism, a world full of refugees, to Climate Change. The seeds of disconnect are not just with the trainings but with dharma in general, but we see that Thich Nhat Hanh was able to overcome this awkward divide. The disconnect reveals itself in terminology. Minor precepts refer to the Five Mindfulness Trainings for lay people while major precepts define monastic ethics. This language creates a divide between lay and monastic with the latter considered as superior, which is certainly not the case. In the modern era it is the lay dharma teachers who are the true bodhisattvas. They are in society, working in the trenches of everyday life, creating transformation in alliance with many other groups of lay people. Whereas the monastic community is secluded, cut off from everyday reality and are not in a position to create transformation in the wider society.

This disconnect is a marker of modern Buddhism in the west and was noted by David Loy in his excellent article in Buddhadharma (Winter 2015.)  Loy addresses the current ecological crisis and questions the deep rooted ambivalence within Buddhism towards it. He asks “Does the ecological crisis have nothing to do with Buddhism?” I add a further enquiry, “Where are the Buddhist politicians, CEO’s, entrepreneurs in political, ecological and economic spheres?” There is a wide disconnect in Western Buddhism between playing the capitalist game, yet only being concerned with the so-called peace of the inner self. The latter is the refuge we so readily withdraw to. This can never be satisfactory. Loy points out that the issue is structural as well as personal, making the challenge that of changing the economic and political systems rather than remaining in blissful denial. He identifies the two main obstacles as:

  1. Changing the mind is where it’s at.
  2. Beliefs of Buddhist practitioners that we do not waste time trying to reform the unsatisfactory world, just concentrate on transcending it.

Both obstacles are major dharma mistakes, traps about higher spiritual reality that reflect disconnect in modern times, preventing us from engaging fully with the world. Social, political and ecological engagements are devalued as we place our backsides on the cushion, chant and avoid the reality all around us. Modern Buddhism needs a wake-up call. The basic premise of the Bodhisattva path is to walk it, not as a separate self, but as an engaged self. An authentic sense of awakening naturally extends into political, economic and ecological spheres of potential action. I agree with David Loy that the reconstruction of our mind necessarily involves the reconstruction of our world – economic, political and spiritual. I like his comment that “Bodhisattvas have a double practice – as they deconstruct and reconstruct, they also work for social and ecological change…….Such concerns are not distractions from our personal practice but deeper manifestations of it.”

Gardening in the Mind

I offer eight simple steps to refine the mind and at the same time take it into the world as engagement that does not disconnect with the Buddha’s intention. Ananda and the Buddhist elders really got it wrong about periodically updating the minor precepts. Furthermore, the terminology used by the Buddha was fine for his times but needs to be better framed for the 21st century. Yet the Buddha mind continues through time, permitting a re-creation of creed and understanding. If we are intelligent with what we do in the modern era, we can correct both.

  1. Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule. You – learn to be still and quiet!
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the “weeds” in the garden of your mind.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding.
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Water the seeds of mindfulness at home, work or in retreat.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice.
  8. Engage with the world. This thread (8) runs through all of the prior steps (1-7) as you become more mindful.

Just as our mind must be transformed and re-constructed, our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms must also be re-constructed. 1 – 7 and 8 are two sides of the same practice. Tasting the fruits of practice and transforming (7) is not the ultimate step. It provides a beginning for intelligent engagement. We must also re-think the nature of sangha. This was a brilliant creation by the Buddha 2,600 years ago, but it has entered the modern era with some missing and necessary extensions. Most bodhisattvas are not to be found sitting on cushions during weekly meetings with chants, bells and dharma talks. There are many forms of sangha and I do not cling to any rigid form. In Ottawa I founded Friends for Peace Canada and am part of the National Capital Peace Council. I also work with organizations such as Orkidstra and the Dandelion Dance Company to name only a few. These groups are all sanghas in their own right, with commonly held ethics and a determination to change things for the better within the city and elsewhere. They provide the means to galvanize parents, friends and volunteers so that good kids are created and excellent citizens emerge – all this with an eye on society, economics, ecology and politics.

We all have the capacity to awaken the mind and transform it. If we do not access such capacity then we become pre-occupied with self-importance and attach more distractions to our separated self. There is a Zen saying that the goal of practice is to discover our true face. This is heart consciousness and there are many ways to this source. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen (1 – 7). In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We often fail to find the time or discipline to access the store of mindfulness just waiting to be cultivated. The external restlessness amplifies the internal restlessness in a feedback loop that ignites our untrained mind. We have closed the doors due to wrong perceptions, ignorance and continual suffering. Our hearts are not open and the tapestry of our consciousness is limited. We hold on tight to self-imposed dramas and suffering, slamming the door shut and keeping dysfunctional habits well fed and alive. We find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. Thus we remain wounded and suffer all our lives, driven by scars, anger and fears. The remedy is, however, within reach. We unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.

Why should we do all this stuff? Here is why. When you can be open and receptive you become an epi-center of light for others. When you can just sit with pain, come face to face with what hurts, breathing in and breathing out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. Stay open by never closing your heart. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Always let go once you feel you are clinging. I have a fridge magnet – Let Go Or Be Dragged – that I see every day and take to heart with a quiet smile. It is essential to learn to be quiet, to stop clinging and find the way to be present. As the Hopi advise us – never take anything personal and look around to see who is with you. As you do all of this, transcendental love becomes your calling card and Buddha consciousness becomes your state of being. The world changes as a consequence. Such a destination is well worth your try.

 

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VIOLENCE IN THE MIND

If rampant consumption is the deepest desire then we have a degraded planet.  Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas – these special days are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and in the process mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas time we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. Christmas products created by fossil fuel energy feeds consumerism and consumerism fuels Global Warming. The chain of interconnection is clear. Whether it is holidays, housing, transport, gifts and so on, our consumption requires the continuous use of fossil fuels. The mantra of western civilization – endless economic growth – provides a promise of expectations being met without any awareness of consequences for either our own health or the health of the planet.  It is becoming clearer with every passing day that our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are actually subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.

Yet even those few policy makers who recognize this, rush to find energy alternatives to fossil fuels without addressing the root causes of rampant consumerism – the major behavioral manifestation of western industrial civilization.  Biofuels are not the answer, as their production will destroy ecosystems rather than replenish them. New energy technology is certainly needed, but if placed within the existing paradigm of current values and consumption habits then the same vicious downward spiral of environmental degradation would occur. Until such time as the underlying causes of rampant consumerism have been understood and changed.

Consumerist addiction and craving, fostered to keep the wheels of industry turning, can take over our entire life with disastrous consequences.  It is a state of consumption wherein we cannot be happy without the object of our cravings.  We are then driven to search for, strive and even fight to obtain that “something” we crave.  This makes us suffer all our lives, as we are never happy or present with what we get or achieve, as there is always that “want” for more.  We need the insight that this kind of consumption is in fact the obstacle to true happiness, for we also have within us the capacity to “be”, to live fully in the present moment. Yet these capacities are obscured and covered up by habit energies, by acquired and inherited addictions.  We must be prepared to release these obstacles rather than feed off and be held captive by them.  We stop this process by meditating and looking deeply into the driving force of our deep desires.  Then create an opportunity to transform them. Instead of lust, greed and fame we foster the desire to awaken at the highest level – to experience joy and happiness in the here and now – the desire to bring loving kindness to everything we connect with and the desire to alleviate all suffering. Just as addictive consumption provides food for our consciousness, the desire to awaken and be present is also a food for our consciousness.

 

 

Advisors of Vesak in Ottawa 2014 - from left - Venerable Master Bon Dat -  Dharmacharyaia Ian Prattis - Bhante Sam Rath Viriyad (2)

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, Climate Change, Voluntary Simplicity

The Buddha practiced Socially Engaged Buddhism giving dharma talks wherever he went in society.  His first dharma talk emphasized the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Way and the Engaged Nature of mindfulness practice.  He formulated the Five Wonderful Precepts for lay practitioners, which evolved into the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In the 4th Century AD in India, the Brahma-Net Sutra was recorded.  It was known as the “Moral Code of the Bodhisattvas.”  It was translated by the Indian monk, Kumarajiva, into Chinese during the 4th century AD and contained three groups of precepts:

  1. Do not what is evil (Do not create suffering)
  2. Do what is good (Do wholesome actions)
  3. Do good for others (Be of benefit to all sentient beings)

Contained within the Brahma-Net Sutra are the ten major precepts of wholesomeness and forty eight minor precepts.  This was practiced in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea as an early expression of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

In 14th century Vietnam, the Bamboo Forest Master (formerly King Than Nhan Tong, 1258–1308), went from village to village teaching the Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Ten Wholesome Precepts derived from 4th century India, strongly influenced by the Brahma-Net sutra and the Buddha’s initial dharma talk. In the 20th century, Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam and extended to the West. Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first six members of the Tiep Hien Order in February 1966 during the Vietnam War.  The Fourteen Tiep Hien Precepts (The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing) contain the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts.  Thich Nhat Hanh brought them up to date to be in tune with our times, in step with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments yet resting on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.  “Tiep” – one meaning is to continue, as when we tie two strings together to make a longer and more durable string. “Hien” – means to realize from direct experience, to make it here and now, totally in the present. Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire and the fourteen ethical statements that he carefully sculpted, presented a revolutionary statement of Engaged Buddhism.

The World is Burning.

The Buddha taught: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness; one should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.” The fires of greed, anger and foolishness refers to the three poisons said by Shakyamuni to lie at the root of samsara. He taught that one should “flee from such dangers.” Although this passage might be used to support a world-denying attitude toward life, it is important to note that what the Buddha taught was that it was the kleshas, the unskillful, unwise forms, feelings, mental formations, perceptions and consciousness that burned, and not the world itself. The Hopi people referred to this state of imbalance as Koyaanisqatsi. We are not the first people to experience this. The difference today is that without our commitment to wise intervention, we could be the last.

Question: Do the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh provide an adequate response to Climate Change?                                   

The 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change was an exceptional step by the international community, dedicating their intent to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to find the wherewithal to “Change Climate Change.” The latter is the logo of the Canadian government. What is missing from all the deliberations and press releases was a candid recognition of the “Cascade Effect” – a notion well known in biology. Tipping points in sea level rise and temperature connect to tipping points in air pollution, which connect to tipping points in polar ice melt and trigger further tipping points in deforestation, desertification and so on in a cascade that cannot be stopped. The reality is not the reversal or change of Climate Change, the question and strategy is about learning how to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change.

The obstacles preventing the general public taking wise action with regard to Climate Change are a mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness. These apply to all forms of a burning world – war, poverty, resource inequality, ideological extremism, hatred and bigotry. “What on earth can I do to make a difference?” is a phrase muttered all over the world in countless languages. Followed by “So why should I do anything?” There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. This is understandable. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable, as there is evidence that we may be a primary cause.

I wrote in 2008 in Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves that a critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst to get things moving in the right direction. But I underestimated the impact of the carbon fuel cabal, a complex web of powerful corporate and government interests. Not just in the energy industries of oil and gas, this carbon economy extends into the manufacturing and servicing sectors, supported in an insulated ecosystem by financial institutions that control the marketing and advertising sectors. This collective power, when extended into the media, has attempted to make science and ecology into public enemy number one. It is supported in the United States by strong and well-funded political action committees with immense resources. This powerful, intermeshed cabal can easily circumvent the Climate Change accords agreed to by the international community.  They have also tried to influence other public policy such as rights of women and children, clean air and water, the efficacy of education and even the wars that show no sign of abatement. People everywhere are aware – but feel helpless in the face of this power. So what are we to do?

In terms of action, we have data-based evidence (and the voice of the Buddha telling us) that we must cut back, simplify, make-do with less and implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. Reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – just do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change.  Mass awakening, however, does not mean that everyone “wakes” up right away.

Here is my task and it draws on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. The challenge is to be in society, but as a still island of mindfulness.  Take small steps at first, then larger ones.  The small steps are to realize that many cannot drop present lifestyles or make dramatic changes cold turkey. But we do not have to be caught by the fast pace of consumerist madness.  We just need to make essential changes in energy use, diet, language, media and outreach.  Voluntary Simplicity is a good starting place.  It means being more aware of our consumerism, making deliberate choices about how we spend time and money rather than living on the automatic pilot of busyness. Free up time – be television free for several evenings, write in a journal, meditate and sort the clutter of the mind. We support environmental causes with the excess clutter in the basement, always thinking about whether we really “need” to buy something more.  Enjoy being simple and living modestly by shifting our perceptions just a little bit.  See clearly that commercial meat farming is a larger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and resource overuse than any other cause – not to mention the suffering of factory farmed beings. This catalogue of things we can do is not a big deal really – just look deeply into what we do with time, money, clutter and our choices, and change.  Then see whether the consequences are peace and happiness for YOU. The world will follow.

Where do we start? Of course we must think globally and be aware of the bigger picture and step beyond the smaller pictures of ourselves created from fear and disempowerment. Yet we can also act locally with great vigor in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread as ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. We cannot truly hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account, until we have mindfully begun the small things that we can do. At the same time we can alert the political and corporate decision makers that we do mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and our location on it. This is very important.  Our leaders are a manifestation of our collective will, when the collective will changes, our leaders will surely act differently.

I write about this in my book New Planet, New World, which will be published in 2016. Intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. The inclusiveness of science combines with Tolstoy’s vision, Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical and not repeating the mistakes of the carbon cabal. The underlying message is from Tolstoy, the ‘Conscience of Humanity.’ He described humanity’s bottom line as the cultivation of love, the mainspring for authentic and responsible living to create enduring ethics that would thrive. In this sci-fi story the pioneers on the new planet decide to create communal villages and eco-towns based on self-sufficient neighborhoods of elegant architecture and easy access. It has a public transport system without personal vehicles, eco-towns engineered to be ecologically friendly and socially inclusive. Also neighborhoods full of community gardens and eco-landscapes with permaculture zones, with green tech industries a priority. They endorse a set of financial regulations crucial to the new venture of expanding communities. Education, medical care, music and recreation are a responsibility supported by the companies. No company is permitted to get too big and the emphasis throughout is on preserving ecology. Business operations plough thirty per cent of profits into a communal fund for the eco-communities in addition to taxes. The energy source is a lattice of sophisticated solar units – and one company furnishes this. Furthermore, any search for carbon based fuels is forbidden.

It is their sacred duty to create and foster a caring, sharing community and apply the same in equal measure to the environment they are located in. I also draw on Pope Francis and his powerful call in 2015 to protect Planet Earth. This is a moral and ethical imperative, for without it the pioneers would certainly die. Everyone is a good steward for this new planet – and see it as sacred and worthy of respect. Tolstoy framed his writings within a reference to Christianity, yet his views are best described as a humanist spirituality – without archaic church structures and without oppressive state militarism. His refreshing solution was to create the conditions for people to be authentic and responsible. This begins with a co-operative style of community that encourages personal example as the driving force. Combined with a strong work ethic to bring a sense of responsibility to the fore, the pioneers use their imagination to co-operate and invent ways to make things move smoothly. The drive is to create a tangible spirit of co-operation, the willingness to share and be supportive and intuit how to cross the bridges of misunderstanding.

In this 2016 sci-fi novel I am able to take liberties and choose mentors, yet my intention is to provide a scenario reflected in the real world today, for soon the uber-rich will only be able to live in heavily guarded compounds. The rich and wealthy will likely inhabit armed, gated communities – and they will all be targets for eco-militias and popular uprisings drawn from the impoverished masses – intent on revenge. (Shades of Stanley Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange.) To avoid this likely outcome for all citizens it is wise to take the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings very, very seriously. They are the necessary prior training for the emergence of Voluntary Simplicity and Community Ethics. The trainings are sound as they address that toxic mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and sense of hopelessness that I wrote about at the beginning of this essay. The trainings were updated in 2012, yet attention to more skillful wording is necessary in a few of them and I would like to see more of a sense of urgency expressed. Nevertheless, the Fourteen Trainings infuse the direction and action of Pine Gate.

Building Epicenters at Pine Gate as a Revolutionary Act

Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa, Canada encourages Voluntary Simplicity and Community Ethics as a way of life and creates epicenters to bring this about. Starting with the Earth – our organic garden produces an abundance of vegetables, apples and flowers that are shared with neighbors and sangha members. It is a solace for me to spend time with the Earth, observing bumblebees and butterflies while gardening with assistance from neighborhood children. They once went into hilarious laughter when they saw that the plant I had carefully nurtured turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant! We had great fun returning it to the compost bin. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs amidst the flowers that are gathered and sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A simple underground economy arises from the sharing. A solar panel fuels the hot water system. Everything else is as eco-friendly as we can make it for our fifty year old bungalow with a meditation hall in the basement. This eco-effort became an example for other friends as they did the math on how much cash we were saving.

In December 2015 I spoke to the Pine Gate Community about the plight of the Syrian refugees as being very similar to the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary were a Middle East couple and had nothing but a cattle shed for their child to be born. With their mystic insight the three wise men could locate and honor them. The Syrian refugees and their families are in the same boat – they have nothing. I put it out that we all have the opportunity to join the three wise men as there are Middle East couples and children on the run that we could help. I tend to think that the Christmas story applies to everyone, not only to Christians. And so we became an epicenter for fund raising for Syrian families relocating in Ottawa. How? By becoming informed, by sharing our monetary resources through responsible relief organizations and even by opening our own homes. This was similar to our efforts to support Tibetan re-settlement in Ottawa over the past few years. The community also organized a fund raising concert to support the rebuilding of the Galai School in Liberia which had been destroyed by the civil war. Yet, perhaps the most significant epicenter is a deliberate focus to empower women.

I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate thing, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. This is why I began my exploration of the Sedona region of Arizona with Oak Creek River – the feminine face of Water. This was one component of the Five Great Elements in Buddhist thought I was familiar with: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Consciousness. I understood the sequence as the correspondence of all things to each other driven by the feminine vessel of enlightenment.

This connection with the feminine was naturally carried into my peace activism. I have been musing about this, reflecting on the annual Ottawa Friends for Peace Day, which is put on by Pine Gate. I realized fifteen years ago, when I founded Friends for Peace as the engaged arm of Pine Gate that I was making a conscious choice to focus my energy and work on the local, my home city of Ottawa.  Pine Gate’s focus was on mindfulness in schools, city environment, youth at risk and above all else – on the empowerment of women. I am astonished by the results – more true to say “blown away.” For at the local level there was continuity with great women who helped make things happen.  There is now a two week Peace Festival in Ottawa that precedes the Friends for Peace Day.  It has all grown in ever increasing concentric circles. The foundation of mindfulness and the empowerment of women through the fifty organizations we partner with have taken root in our northern city. All use some form of the Friends for Peace mandate – peace, planetary care and social justice – voluntary simplicity and community ethics at work.

Each year Friends for Peace presents Peace Awards to Canadian citizens who have devoted their lives to securing peace, planetary care and social justice.  The majority of the Peace Award recipients are women. The funds raised from the day are used to issue Peace Grants to organizations, in Ottawa and internationally, and we make a point of honoring women who run organizations that make a significant difference. In particular we have supported youth organizations to burst on to the local scene guided by magnificent women – I refer to these particular friends as Canadian Kick-Ass Women! Founded in 2007, Orkidstra is led by Tina Fedeski. www.leadingnotefoundation.org. It gives children from under-served communities the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, play as an ensemble and sing in a choir. Three hundred and fifty children now arrive with thirty three different languages and cultures. This mosaic of diversity learns together and Orkidstra is creating good kids and splendid citizens for the future. Furthermore, they are building a quiet social revolution in city schools and neighborhoods. The Dandelion Dance Company is the creation of Hannah Beach. An Ottawa based youth dance company, which explores social issues through movement. Their repertoire is driven by the experiences, reflections and passion of young women who range in age from ages thirteen to nineteen, and include children’s rights, hunger, authenticity, bullying, stereotypes and inclusiveness. This program has entered the curriculum of many Ontario schools. Both youth organizations perform regularly at the Friends for Peace Day. www.hannahbeach.com/dandelion

The drive behind Pine Gate Mindfulness Community is to foster a strong cadre of people in Ottawa who make a difference for the betterment of society. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. They are the heart that holds the living waters and that heart is the dynamic epicentre of the mind/will/emotions that lead to action. That is how we get things done differently in our northern city with an evolving Manifesto to create a different course of action and living. We draw on the Fourteen to prepare the pathways and keep ourselves steady.

Acknowledgements

This essay benefited greatly from insights, prompts and corrections from two good friends. I offer a deep bow of gratitude to Maggie McLeod and Bob Allen.

 

Practicality In Complexity

far reaching musing by Nora Bateson

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How can we use knowledge of complexity in a practical way? I am often asked this question. I am confused by it. Practical at what level? By “practical” what is meant?

Practical to offer quick but un-systemic solutions?

Or practical to offer better understanding of the complexity of the context?

Executive decisions define our lives, and evidence based research with deliverables is required to back those decisions up. In this era substantive demarcations of what makes an effort worth the time and money it costs should be provided at the outset of a program. Consequently we see, in workshops, lectures, conferences, and universities, an insatiable appreciate for another pret a porter improvement program. There is always the next new step by step program ready to be sold with the promise of improvement for individuals, organizations and ministries. Usually they read something like The Five Steps to the Seven Applications… for…

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Mentoring for the 14 Trainings

MENTORING PROGRAM – SIX EXERCISES 

The exercises are to be completed preferably in a group, as the real fire for cooking insight is in sharing.  The sharing is strictly confidential and remains in the process and is not communicated outside.  This builds trust and protects everyone participating as sangha friends.  The six exercises are to root your experience in sangha practice. You may have specific agendas in front of you at present, however, I think a deep dive into re-examining the 14 Mindfulness Trainings will solidify things for you.

 First Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The first task is to learn and sing “The Incense Offering” and “Invitation to Meditation.” They are the first and last track on the Pine Gate meditations CD. I am sure Carolyn will be happy to help you with the singing! Find someone to sing it with and have fun as you sing it together over the phone.  The second task is to reflect on and rewrite the first two mindfulness trainings in your own words and from your own experience and suffering.  Share this task with others.

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: Non-Attachment to Views

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

Enjoy together.

Dear friends,

I should emphasize that there is no right way of doing the reflecting and rethinking of the MT’s.  It is all in the sharing with buddies – you can rewrite, or paint or make up a poem, dance or song from your insights, prepare a skit, create a photo essay etc.  How you express your own experience of the MT’s is not at all restricted to the written form.  I hope that you feel free to express yourselves as you wish to. It is the sharing process that provides the real “fire” of understanding.  This is a very important point. Take one another’s phone numbers and perhaps arrange a monthly coffee sharing before you come and see me.

There are six exercises in all.  Future exercises will have rewritten/ reformulated Mindfulness Trainings considered along with:

  1. The Heart of the Prajnaparamita – Thay’s updated version/ MT 3 & 4 (Exercise 2);
  2. A Verse from Transformation At The Base/ MT 5, 6 & 7 (Exercise 3);
  3. Sangha Building/ MT 8 & 9 (Exercise 4);
  4. Engaged Practice/ MT 10 & 11 (Exercise 5);
  5. Living Dharma/ MT 12, 13 & 14 (Exercise 6).

Guidelines and pertinent readings for each exercise are provided from my E Books and website – www.ianprattis.com  Click on Articles sidebar.  Check out the pertinent dharma talks that are on the YouTube Pine Gate Channel – www.youtube.com/user/pinegatesangha

After each exercise provide a brief report, which will be of assistance to others.  Interbeing rocks on!  I hope to create fun and a good environment for the mentoring.  Singing on….

Second Exercise

 Dear Friends,

The second exercise involves your rewriting of the 3rd and 4th Mindfulness Trainings.  Once again drawing on your own experience and words.  This is so the MT’s become personal, not just something you recite by rote.  The meaning to you of each training thus deepens.   Do share the rewritten MT’s with your buddies.  That is a vital stage of the exercise.

The singing continues with the second exercise of the training program, this time with some study.  The focus is on Thay’s new version of “The Heart of the Prajnaparamita.”  First of all learn to sing it, with the bell at the appropriate time.  To study this keystone of practice – read it and sing it through a few times and jot down what insights come to you.  Then turn to the UK sangha’s Manual of Practice.  The UK sangha have produced an excellent manual of mindfulness practice.  Chapters 1 – 4 give explanations of the basic teachings and guidance on following the practice in our daily life.  It is now available as a web based on-line book.

http://www.interbeing.org.uk/manual

For the Heart Sutra study – be aware that there is a dance between the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.  What does “No attainment” mean in the Historical as opposed to the Ultimate?  If we try to understand it in the Historical we get stuck as it belongs in the Ultimate Dimension.  What does “no eyes, no ears etc” tell you about perception through the senses?  Go deep with this one.

An article that charts my difficulties with these two dimensions is available from my website.  Go to http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and download “My Practice in the Ultimate and Historical Dimensions.”  Take your time with this “homework” and enjoy the exploration together.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue. 

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Awareness of Suffering

Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help us develop understanding and compassion, we are determined to come home to ourselves, to recognize, accept, embrace and listen to suffering with the energy of mindfulness. We will do our best not to run away from our suffering or cover it up through consumption, but practice conscious breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our suffering. We know we can realize the path leading to the transformation of suffering only when we understand deeply the roots of suffering. Once we have understood our own suffering, we will be able to understand the suffering of others. We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer, so we can help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy.

Third Exercise

 Dear Friends in the practice of mindfulness,

The Third Exercise in the OI training program is to rewrite MT’s 5, 6 & 7 from your own experience and suffering.  The study is for you to take one of the fifty verses from Thay’s book “Transformation At The Base.”  Whichever verse appeals to you the most.  Then make that verse your meditation and contemplation focus for the next month.  Have a notebook handy to jot down insights and questions that arise.

A chapter that appears in Vol II of Keeping Dharma Alive E Book would be useful to examine. The chapter draws on Thay’s Fifty verses in large measure and is titled “Consiousness As Food.”  After you meet together, once more write a brief report and then come to meet with me.  There is a lot to this exercise so take your time with it – can even stretch over two or three months.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training: Compassionate, Healthy Living

Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom, and compassion, we are determined not to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying nor to take as the aim of our life fame, power, wealth, or sensual pleasure, which can bring much suffering and despair. We will practice looking deeply into how we nourish our body and mind with edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. We are committed not to gamble or to use alcohol, drugs or any other products which bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness such as certain websites, electronic games, music, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. We will consume in a way that preserves compassion, wellbeing, and joy in our bodies and consciousness and in the collective body and consciousness of our families, our society, and the earth.

 The Sixth Mindfulness Training: Taking Care of Anger

Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, we are committed to taking care of the energy of anger when it arises, and to recognizing and transforming the seeds of anger that lie deep in our consciousness. When anger manifests, we are determined not to do or say anything, but to practice mindful breathing or mindful walking to acknowledge, embrace, and look deeply into our anger. We know that the roots of anger are not outside of ourselves but can be found in our wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in ourselves and others. By contemplating impermanence, we will be able to look with the eyes of compassion at ourselves and at those we think are the cause of our anger, and to recognize the preciousness of our relationships. We will practice Right Diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same.

 The Seventh Mindfulness Training: Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, in all situations. In this way, we will be able to cultivate seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness. We are aware that real happiness depends primarily on our mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that we can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy.

Fourth Exercise

Dear friends,

The fourth exercise is to rewrite the next two mindfulness trainings – 8 & 9 – once again from the perspective of your own experience.  The study portion of Exercise Four asks you to take a chapter from “Friends on the Path” compiled by Jack Lawlor, or a chapter from Thay’s “Living Joyfully.”  Present your thoughts on different chapters to one another with your reflections and insights about sangha building in your own practice community.  Also take a look at the experience of the Pine Gate sangha at: http://www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm  Then report about the nature of your discussion and insights.

The Eighth Mindfulness Training: True Community and Communication

Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. Knowing that true community is rooted in inclusiveness and in the concrete practice of the harmony of views, thinking and speech, we will practice to share our understanding and experiences with members in our community in order to arrive at a collective insight. We are determined to learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. Whenever difficulties arise, we will remain in our Sangha and practice looking deeply into ourselves and others to recognize all the causes and conditions, including our own habit energies, that have brought about the difficulties. We will take responsibility for the ways we may have contributed to the conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts however small.

 The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech

Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.

Fifth Exercise

 Dear friends,

The fifth exercise brings your attention, experience and skills to mindfulness trainings 10 & 11.  The study portion has its focus on Engaged Buddhism, which is the heart of Thay’s practice and teaching.  There are many books and teachings on Engaged Buddhism.  Select a particular chapter or dharma talk from Thay that appeals to you and use this as the basis for your discussion with your fellow aspirants. There is also a dharma talk about Engaged Buddhism on YouTube.

The Tenth Mindfulness Training: Protecting and Nourishing the Sangha

Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, we are determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal power or profit, or transform our community into a political instrument. As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body. As a true cell in the Sangha body, generating mindfulness, concentration and insight to nourish ourselves and the whole community, each of us is at the same time a cell in the Buddha body. We will actively build brotherhood and sisterhood, flow as a river, and practice to develop the three real powers – understanding, love and cutting through afflictions – to realize collective awakening.

 The Eleventh Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. We will do our best to select a livelihood that contributes to the wellbeing of all species on earth and helps realize our ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of economic, political, and social realities around the world, as well as our interrelationship with the ecosystem, we are determined to behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens. We will not invest in or purchase from companies that contribute to the depletion of natural resources, harm the earth, or deprive others of their chance to live.

Sixth Exercise

 Dear friends,

Almost done – for now anyways!!  The final three mindfulness trainings – 12, 13 & 14 – are the last trainings for you to think about from the standpoint of your own experience and suffering.  You have traveled a long way from the first exercise and you should be encouraged by the diligence and intelligence you have brought to this mentoring program.  Also know that your fresh eyes and insights have enriched my own understandings in so many ways.  I thank you all deeply for this. The study portion of the final exercise asks you to explore the issue of “Living Dharma.”  Thay talks about this in Chapter 3 of “Joyfully Together.”   There is also a dharma talk given in Plum Village by Thay on January 19, 2003 that addresses “Living Dharma.”  You can access this through the website:  http://langmai.org/TNH_DharmaTalks.html

“The Small God Limited Dharma Syndrome”, which is a chapter in “Keeping Dharma Alive” addresses these issues in the context of conservative and fundamentalist hierarchies within North American spirituality.  It is available from http://www.ianprattis.com/articles.htm and will also be sent to you as a Word File.

The Twelfth Mindfulness Training: Reverence for Life

Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, compassion, and the insight of interbeing in our daily lives and promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, ethnic and religious groups, nations, and in the world. We are committed not to kill and not to let others kill. We will not support any act of killing in the world, in our thinking, or in our way of life. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sangha to discover better ways to protect life, prevent war, and build peace.

The Thirteenth Mindfulness Training: Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating generosity in our way of thinking, speaking, and acting. We will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals, and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. We are determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. We will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

The Fourteenth Mindfulness Training: True Love

[For lay members]: Aware that sexual desire is not love and that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a deep long-term commitment made known to our family and friends. Seeing that body and mind are one, we are committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of our sexual energy and to cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness for our own happiness and the happiness of others. We must be aware of future suffering that may be caused by sexual relations. We know that to preserve the happiness of ourselves and others, we must respect the rights and commitments of ourselves and others. We will do everything in our power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. We will treat our bodies with compassion and respect. We are determined to look deeply into the Four Nutriments and learn ways to preserve and channel our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our bodhisattva ideal. We will be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world, and will regularly meditate upon their future environment.

It has been a privilege to share this journey, a deep bow to each one of you.

With metta,

Cymbals at vesakDharmacharya Ian

 

 

Boynton settlement cave

Mystic Training

January 26, 2008, was the peak of my training in Remembering, the letting go of resistance to all that Trailing Sky Six Feathers meant to me. She was an 18th century medicine woman from the American southwest and sought my attention in the 21st century. A trusted and gifted astrologer friend, Shera, had repeatedly insisted that this date was mega significant for me and I had noted the day in my diary with a large underlined asterisk. It completed a two hundred and thirty one year cycle stretching back in time from January 26, 2008 to 1777, where I died in a prior life cradled in the arms of Trailing Sky Six Feathers. She vows to find me in a future time, to help complete my purpose. Needless to say there was insurmountable resistance from my intellectual and logical mind to remember that pledge in present time. She initiated a dream vision on January 26, 2008 that culminated my slow process of remembering a clear mosaic of experiences stretching back in time over this rare cycle of two hundred and thirty one years.

I also had a healthy skepticism about astrology, yet learned how brilliant a scientist Shera was, with a mystic’s gift of startling insight. Her accuracy was uncanny, detailed and constantly surprising. Her science was rigorous as she used the ancient texts for me, in addition to standard reference material. What struck Shera very forcibly as she researched my intersecting charts was Pluto peaking in Capricorn in every one of my 2008 astrological charts. She also noted, with some relief, that this signified the end of struggle for me. The internal battles were done, karma reversed, so I could look forward to ease and alignment. This date of January 26, 2008 was the major watershed of my lives.

It so happened that in the week leading up to January 26, 2008 I was at Fish Lake on the west side of Orlando, Florida. My friends and hosts had a beautiful home on the shoreline of this conservation lake at the end of the Butler Lake chain. They invited me to their home each year to offer teachings to the Buddhist community in Orlando. Neither they nor I had any inkling of how significant this particular visit would be. There were few houses on the lake and so many wonderful creatures. All I needed was a pair of binoculars and a mug of coffee on their deck for paradise to unfold. The delight of seeing so many animals, birds, otters, possums and the occasional alligator was almost unspeakable.

With the approach of the 26th looming up in my diary I had decided to prepare by fasting and meditating deeply. There was actually no choice. I came down with stomach flu. Nothing that went into my mouth would stay down. Whatever bug had railroaded me, I actually welcomed it, as the fast was definitely on, accompanied by a gentle entry into prolonged meditation that took me into deep humility and gratitude to be in such a rare cradle of nature. But I was not tuning in at all to this two hundred and thirty one year cycle that my astrology friend Shera had been so emphatic about. No radical insights emerged, just jumbled rubbish dreams. Perhaps a clearing of my garbage was taking place due to Pluto crashing into Capricorn with its usual uprooting panache. The only thing I noticed on the evening before January 26 was that my focus suddenly became enlarged, as though my mind had moved from a small TV screen to a huge HD model. A heightened lucidity that I attributed to being ill and light headed from the fasting. During the night I had a vivid dream vision and remembered every exact detail. It was accompanied by a narrator speaking to me, which I found odd.

In the dream I was standing on the lip of a cave high in a canyon in the Red Rock country of Central Arizona. An eagle flew up to me and alighted on my back. She wrapped her wings around me. The gentleness of the talons on my back and the embracing wings across my chest showed me that it was a female golden eagle. Her head was above mine, looking out from the cave. I could see through her eyes. Then the narrator’s voice said, ‘This is the protection of the great eagle. Trailing Sky Six Feathers gives it to you.’

Then the mountain lion bounded into the cave and I heard a different voice in the dream, Trailing Sky speaking through the eagle.  ‘This is the heart and courage of the mountain lion that I now give to you.’ The deer came in, followed by owl and bear, all medicine gifts from Trailing Sky. The wily coyote trotted in, the gift of strategy and discernment. The narrator spoke again, “This goes on throughout the night as you sleep. The gifts of Trailing Sky Six Feathers are given to you. Remember well, she is the greatest medicine woman the South West has ever known. Remember well, she is the direct expression of the highest universal plane. She had only one wish when you died in her arms two hundred and thirty one years ago and that was to find you. Receive the gifts she could not give to you before you died. They arose in her to fill the void of your passing from her life. She has been waiting a long time. You promised her the last time you were in the cave sanctuary that you would understand and not resist.”

“You now carry Trailing Sky’s medicine bundle. Your illness was sent by her, so you would prepare without resistance. She connects to holy beings in all traditions. Guidance from her is not trivial and cannot ever be taken lightly. Your responsibility is to honor this. Your insights into the reality of Trailing Sky will become clear”

When I awoke next morning, I recalled the dream vision in precise detail. Suddenly I had a searing vision of Trailing Sky Six Feathers holding me in her arms as I died in 1777 at the medicine wheel on the rock bluff above the weeping willow tree. I was harrowed to the bone by her grief. I felt her fierceness and anger at the other-worldly beings for failing to revive me. Then felt her anger release as she concentrated on my passage through time and space. I saw how she sat in the medicine wheel holding my dead body as she chanted our journey. I watched her hair turn grey, then white. Then saw her majestic communication to The People. I remember before death, looking up at her and smiling my love through my eyes to her and can still hear her say, “I will find you my husband. I will find you.”

And she did, two hundred and thirty one years later. I could not at first believe this or fully accept it. Yet the eagle wings around me were her arms, the eagle head above mine her vision and fierceness, the talons digging gently into my back to ensure that I understood. In that instant I totally surrendered to this relentless Muse that never gave up on me. I gave up all resistance, realizing that Trailing Sky had kept her word from 1777, “I will find you.” Even now, as I write this memory down, I cannot stop the tears. I am both here, with the dream vision and there, dying in the medicine wheel, as she vows to find me. All my reservations and doubts become as nothing. She had offered her medicine gifts. I had finally fully “Remembered.” So much from that time was flooding my mind. My life changed forever after that dream vision took me back to Trailing Sky’s prophecy. I recalled to memory her last step across the lip of the cave when she stopped and went into a trance. I remembered stepping closer to support her from falling. She had turned and spoke in a voice scarcely her own. “You will return to this cave in dreamtime, though not in this lifetime. Hear me now, understand the vision and do not resist what it teaches. Hear me and promise me.”

I knew that the medicine gifts received from Trailing Sky during the dream vision required that I nurture the skills within me to use them wisely. I entered deeply into silence, meditation and reflection about the dream vision, keeping this all to myself. From my training in different wisdom traditions, I brought together the power inherent in them into the mental medicine wheel taught to me by my Native American mentors. This was the altar, the preparation to honor this great being Trailing Sky Six Feathers. In the centre of the medicine wheel mandala our daily conversations began. I had to take time and care to place the insights from Trailing Sky in appropriate vessels for understanding and communication to others. My remaining time at Fish Lake, surrounded by nature and solitude, provided the uninterrupted space to allow this to deepen, so I could fully integrate the portent of the dream vision. I was very quiet, living simply in a disciplined and light manner, cultivating the vessels. I also had some unexpected help. A magnificent osprey, fish eagle, had roosted at the top of the dead tree in front of my bedroom window.  He was there every sunrise during this time of fasting and insight. I would go out to the balcony on waking up and he would be right there. Not fishing. Not flying. Just there, staring in my direction. He would stay until noon. On a hunch on the third morning, I walked over to the tall dead tree and found several feathers. On the fourth morning, right after the dream vision, I stepped out on to the balcony and there he was again. He stretched his wings, preened his feathers and let out a high-pitched squawk

“I guess you are there to make sure I got it about the dream vision and Trailing Sky’s prophecy.”

Whether he picked my thoughts out of the sky I will never know, but with a resounding high pitched screech he spread his wings and flew in a huge circle over Fish Lake and then headed west up the chain of lakes. I got dressed and headed over to the tree where he had perched. There were more feathers. I picked them up and added the feathers to my collection. I had not counted them, but when I did there were exactly six feathers. I started to laugh and had to sit down on the bed as tears of joy and understanding ran down my face. I got the message, and chuckled at the osprey who could count. I was in awe of the dream vision, the medicine gifts, and the narrator. The implications for my life were enormous. All my reservations and doubts were as nothing compared to the gifts bestowed upon me by Trailing Sky Six Feathers. I did not take the six feathers home with me. They were a communication, not a keepsake. I enjoyed a quiet paddle through the lake system and buried the six feathers, bound by grass, at the foot of a tree containing a huge osprey nest.

This was my gratitude.

 

Autumn Sunset

2015 Poetry Prize at OIW

At the Ottawa Independent Writers 2015 Poetry competition my “Ancient Tree in Winter” won first prize. This poem was inspired one recent winter by a river walk at Carleton University. An oak tree had been swept over Hogs Back Falls and ended up stuck at the stretch of the Rideau River rapids at Carleton University. Throughout the winter on my daily walks from the bus stop to my office – I would stop and observe this beautiful tree trapped in the rapids. Until one day it was gone, The spring floods released it for the next phase of its journey.

 

Ancient Tree in Winter                                                                                                                                            

 Ancient Tree in Winter,

where did you come from?

Now trapped,

cleft by rocks at river’s edge.

Water eddies carve your shape.

 

Ice mires your branches,

snow creeps fingers across the river

as your body disappears under deep laden snow.

Decaying sculpture of existence.

 

Death and birth are there.

Yet your journey carries you through,

While ducks stand on your broken limbs

Preening their feathers.

 

Did you once stand tall and majestic

in a soft Rideau River valley?

host to birds, small animals,

insects and whispering breeze?

 

Were you alone on a high bluff

shading thundering rapids

that pulled you to their embrace?

 

What felled you,

so that you now lie here

Trapped?

Cleft by rocks.

Exquisite beauty of my winter river walk.

 

Waiting for spring’s flood

To set you free.

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbows 2

Dialog with the Inner Child

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse during childhood creates a lost, frightened and frozen child within us.  If we are unable to reach this lost and wounded child we may never heal ourselves.  We prefer not to remember the sufferings of childhood, so we bury them and hide.  We run away from seeing deeply into the causes of our suffering.  Whenever the memories arise, however fleetingly, we think we cannot handle them and deflect them into the deepest realms of our unconsciousness mind. This results in the wounded child not being seen for a long time simply because we are terrified of further suffering.

 

Although we may now be adult, there is also a little boy in us, a little girl in us, who is so afraid and suffers deeply, no matter what kind of happy pretend face we present to life.  This suffering child within our adult frame colors everything we do, generating our fears, insecurities and self-loathing, wounding us in our relationships and life.  That wounded child is you, is me, and we must extend a different energy to him so that the energy of childhood suffering can be understood, defused and transformed. Mindfulness is the way through to the inner child. We have to embrace him, embrace her exactly where they are caught by the past – in fear and with anger at being neglected for so long. Moreover we have to be very skilful.

 

This means touching the seeds of childhood suffering from an adult state of being mindful and aware, knowing that we must make it safe for that child to come out from hiding behind the closed doors of suffering and pain.  It is we as adults who must no longer run away.  We must have the courage and awareness to bring healing to our hurt inner child and thereby produce a transformation for ourselves.  The steps we take are not only to heal ourselves, we somehow connect to all wounded children – those in our ancestors and descendants and elsewhere in the world.  For once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds continues on into all that we interconnect with. A quantum leap from our cellular memories to everyone else’s throughout time and space. With awareness we take our inner child into our daily life, on picnics, walks, sitting at the dining room table and doing the dishes together. Patiently realizing that we are on a splendid adventure to bring the cycle of suffering to a close, for it may have persisted over generations. Thus we are healing and transforming generations of ingrained patterns transmitted from our ancestors and continued through us to our descendants. Such patterns build up like corrosive rust through time and amplify the fears and suffering of the wounded inner child

 

There are many methodologies of therapy that address issues of the inner wounded child.  The one I am going to describe is simple and anyone can do it.  It is a first step and I recommend that it be practiced under the guidance of a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  You are going to start a diary or log book for you and the inner child to write to one another.  The adult you will write using the hand that you normally write with.  You begin by saying “hello” to Little John, to Little Allison.  Then go on to say how sorry you are for having been away and neglectful; that you are grown up now and strong, and that you are going to do everything to make it safe for Little John, for Little Allison.  They will be safe, loved and cherished.  Write in your own words along these lines.

 

Then with your other hand, the one you do not write with, allow the inner child to express herself.  Do not edit.  Just write down whatever comes out.  It may well be angry, blaming and abusive words that come out, and it is your job not to be shocked or defensive but to provide constant re-assurance, love and guidance.  You bring to this communication with the wounded inner child all the qualities of love, compassion and wisdom you can muster.  These are the seeds of mindfulness you consciously bring to support the wounded child inside you.  The energy of these seeds works on the energy of the traumatized inner child to reduce his pain and suffering.  Talk to him through writing in this way – with total love and acute mindfulness. Then read your diary entries out loud – placing yourself in your adult shoes and then in your inner child’s shoes. This simple act of reading out loud is a way for both of you to be heard. On a daily basis register with how deeply your understanding and love is getting through to the wounded child, for she is listening carefully to every word and knows that you are now listening to her. You draw closer – the adult and the inner child – as you bring awareness, love and healing to the suffering and pain of the child.

 

Details of trauma may be revealed that you did not know about, which is why you need the help and guidance of a trusted therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.  This is to support you being a wise and loving parent to your wounded child.  And with time you will notice shifts and changes in patterns of expression as the child becomes trusting and starts to grow, eventually merging fully with you as an adult.  (You also learn to write very well with your other hand!)  In your letters tell your inner child about yourself and your life, take him on outings, treats and give to that child all the care, attention and love you feel you did not receive when you were a little boy, a little girl.  The suffering will diminish and you will experience such a transformation, for you discover that your relationships with co-workers, friends and family start to change, and your fears of the past and anxieties about the future do not have the same driving force.  When you notice things like this tell your inner child: “Thank you for being with me.  That makes me so happy.”   The experience of being with the inner child in the healing journey is a stimulus for this kind of happiness.  There are times you may cry, or feel total joy and also suffer despair, which is why guidance and support is necessary on this beginning journey of reclaiming yourself.  You need that wise spiritual friend and teacher to keep you steady and mindful.  I know, for I went through it.  I am happy to say that it worked for me, as I experienced the painfully slow establishment of trust, then the exhilarating joy of safety and integration, until finally my inner child was the adult me, integrated with a freshness and vitality that I continually treasure.  Ultimately there is only one pair of shoes!

 

Knotted Juniper at vortex

Dawson’s Desert Legacy

Dawson was a wisdom holder of many traditions – Ojibwa, Hopi, Lakota and the Native American Church. He did have a second name but preferred Dawson. He was a legendary figure in Central Arizona and left a lasting impression on everyone he met. I have encountered many people at conferences and talks all over North America and when it emerges that I have spent a considerable amount of time in Central Arizona desert country, I am always asked if I know a man named Dawson. He had met all kinds of people in his capacity as a guide and teacher. Yet his attention and presence never wavered in its intensity as he welcomed all into his orbit of wisdom and patience. I first met him in 1987 on a day long ethno-botany field trip he offered in the Sonora desert region of Central Arizona. I was the only person to turn up, yet this did not deter him. He generously extended his knowledge of plants and hidden sources of water in the scrubland of the Sonora desert. His field trip skirted ancient medicine wheels created centuries ago. He talked about plant cycles within the teachings of the medicine wheel for both ceremony and healing.

Dawson was a slender yet muscular man in his sixties, though he seemed to be much older. His manner was slow and deliberate, gentle but firm though his light blue eyes carried a steely glint that spoke legions. He loved movies and would always sit there in the cinema until the end of the credits rolled past and be the last person to leave. He would stay there with his eyes closed, making a point of downloading the full feeling of the movie. That was also how he was with people, animals and the desert. He brought a sense of gentle intensity and intimacy to every relationship. The initial connection from that first field trip and movie experience warmed into a friendship. I did numerous sweat lodge ceremonies on his property near the township of Cornville, though it was the desert that always drew him out.

One evening, two years after our initial meeting, I was basking in the outdoor hot tub of the Quail Ridge Resort in Oak Creek Village, having traveled down from Canada, when I received a call from him. He asked if I would pick him up two hours before dawn the next morning. “Wear hiking boots,” he said. I drove in the early morning dark to Cornville and found him waiting outside his house. I followed his directions to take various forestry roads leading to a reserve on the northern fringe of the Sonora desert. After parking we hiked for approximately thirty minutes into the desert scrubland.

It was still dark when he gestured that we should sit. He had a flask of coffee that he shared. We also shared the intense silence of the desert, interrupted only by the slither and scurry of lizards and small animals. As daylight slowly emerged he gestured for me to look in the direction of three large cacti directly in front of us. The sun rose and I could vaguely make out the flowers on the cacti opening. It was so unusual and surprising that I really did not see them at first. Then Dawson pointed them out. They were absolutely stunning in their unreal beauty, ranging from yellow to dark violet. We sat there for over an hour, as the morning sun rose.

“You had to see this before you travelled home to Canada,” were his only spoken words as we sat close to the splendour of the cacti flowers. But it was not yet over. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, it quickly became very hot. Out of nowhere a sudden hailstone storm was upon us. We put our packs over our heads and ran quickly to the shelter of the nearest rocky outcrop. The hailstone squall lasted only for ten minutes or so. The hail stones were not small, making quite an impact on any unprotected area of the body. Dawson looked at me strangely.

“That sure is some kind of acknowledgement from the past, and it aint for me. What have you been up to Mister Ian?”  Dawson said with a shrewd glance my way. I just shrugged, as I had no intimations of cause. We walked in silence to where I had parked the car. The hailstones were not to be found beyond a hundred yard perimeter of where we had been sitting. “Beats the hell out of me,” said Dawson, as he peered at me out of the corner of his eye. These were the last words I heard him speak. As was his custom we drove in silence. He got out of the car by his property, waved once and was gone. That was the last time I saw him. On a later journey in 1992 to that region of Arizona, when enquiring about him, I discovered to my dismay that he had been killed one year prior in a car accident outside Phoenix. I was deeply saddened by this loss, thinking about all that he had so patiently taught me. I drove to where I had last walked with him, to pay my respects to this extraordinary teacher, remembering the way almost without thinking. It was not the time for the cacti to flower but I treasured once again the gift he had shown me. The hailstone storm was still a mystery to me. I wondered who he had passed on his vast knowledge to. The very small piece I had received from him had been put into place in the hermitage where I lived, in the Gatineau Forest in Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.

            Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1994 I experienced very intensive shamanic journeys with an Algonquin shaman that I prepared for through fasting, meditation and sexual abstinence. On five separate journeys I met in turn and dialogued with the ancient shaman from the East, the ancient shaman from the South, and the ancient shaman from the West. Then, I journeyed to the ancient shaman from the North and finally to the ancient shaman of the Center. I figured at first that this was an experience with five facets of the same archetypal material from my deep unconscious – though there were major surprises I had not anticipated. Each shaman carried the force of a distinctive unconscious energy within me, though interconnected to the other four. In each journey I was always met by the same beautiful female figure, who then led me to the ancient shaman.

In previous writings I had stated that primary access to the collective unconscious for males in western civilization was through the female archetype, the anima. The significance of this scholarly assertion was right before me in the experience of being met by a female figure in each of these five journeys. Yet I did not make this connection until much later, when I reviewed my field diaries more than a year after these particular journeys took place. It was with an almost visible shock that I noticed I had missed something so significant. There it was, Carl Jung’s anima staring me in the face from my field logs. That intellectual insight was only a half-way house to understanding what was taking place. This “anima” was much more significant and had been incorporated into my training long before I was prepared, or capable, of recognizing the significance.

At my hermitage in the middle of Gatineau Park Forest in Quebec, I had a small circle of large stones in my front yard with beautiful ferns growing at the center. I had an overwhelming compulsion that summer of 1994 to build a medicine wheel with this circle of stones as the interior circle. I had been taught by Dawson the appropriate mind-state and procedure of respect to construct a medicine wheel. I had also learned the importance of the center of the wheel and I had planned this to be right where the ferns so beautifully displayed themselves. Dawson had instructed me about the central circle of the medicine wheel. It could only be truly experienced when connection to the sacred mystery was intact. The four cardinal directions, East, West, South and North, were the organizing axis for this ultimate fusion. At the time I did not know why I took the utmost care of the ferns in the central circle of stones, though Dawson had explained to me about the fusion of the mystery at the centre. It had sunk into my intellect only. It did not reach my heart until much later.

To construct the medicine wheel in my garden, I enlisted the assistance of two friends who shared my respect and training. We carried out the appropriate ritual, reverence and construction. As we proceeded on a very hot and humid summer’s day, a silence settled on all three of us in a tangible way. Something was happening inside and around us while we were creating this architecture of incredible grace, power and beauty. I had collected the stones for the medicine wheel from my garden and the surrounding forest. They were some of the most ancient rocks on the planet, the hard granite of the Canadian Shield, and were part of the very ground where the medicine wheel was being built.

After wheeling in fresh earth from the rest of my garden to fill in the four quadrants of the medicine wheel, we contemplated what had been created. I realized with a start that it was completely related to my five shamanic journeys over the previous months. The cardinal points of the wheel are the four directions, North, South, West and East, all leading from an outer circle to an inner circle at the Center.  The five ancient shamans I had journeyed to meet. It did not register with me at the time, but the beautiful ferns at the centre were an appropriate symbol for the feminine muse to deliver me to each one of the five ancient shamans. It took me a long time to wake up to that insight.  What I did realize, however, was that I had constructed a symbolic map of my internal experience. I was re-inventing the wheel from my journeys to meet the five Ancient Shamans, yet also ensured that the beautiful ferns remained intact at the centre of the medicine wheel.

I started to smile at how this medicine lore and knowledge had gradually seeped into my consciousness from Dawson. I could feel his intense blue eyes watching me at this moment and perhaps he permitted himself a smile too. He had known that I would eventually understand, and had instructed me five years prior in the precise construction of a mental medicine wheel and quietly informed me at that time about the space at the centre being the locale where I would seek counsel from the internal feminine – the beautiful ferns at the centre no less.

 

             

Why I Wrote this Futuristic Book

A 2016 release….

“New Planet, New World” provides a counterpoint to the demise of modern civilization. I chart a Beginning Anew for humanity, a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing. This adventure is not without risk or cost, as power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth.

The book opens with a lyrical and dangerous meeting on a distant planet later this century. The protagonists are from different centuries and cultures. From the 18th century Rising Moon is hurled by shamanic means to Planet Horizon in a nearby galaxy. From the 21st century Catriona gets there from a failing spaceship in an escape module. Wisdom of the Elders meets 21st century Hi-Tech. Instead of killing one another they choose to be blood sisters and embrace survival, accepting nature as a Matriarch. This fragile thread is challenged by the brutal abduction and rape of a main character, Sian the Celtic seer. Her inner strength, of being more than a violated body, inspires the community of pioneers who escape safely from the spaceship. They create a communal structure of living and carve out a home and life on the new planet.

Four Hopi Sacred Keepers offer their lives in a ceremony to enable renewal on a distant planet that none of them will experience. Mysticism combines with hi-tech to enable a Transfer Particle to seed the new planet and establish settlements. The expansion of communities is interrupted by a jihadist attempt to take over. A terrorist cell on Earth hijacks a spaceship and imperils the lives of the pioneers, who respond with tactical violence to kill them. Compassion is exercised towards sleeper jihadists secretly embedded in their midst. The stark violence of survival prepares a backcloth for three distinct love stories to emerge. Ethical settlements grow as a mirror for Tolstoy’s vision of “people of the twenty fifth century” – ahead of their time. The dark episodes and lyrical passages move the story along with action, fear, resolution, death, rape, bravery and exile in a futuristic opportunity for humanity. This action packed book ends on a philosophical note concerning our place in the centuries to come.

Intertwining plotlines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. This end game is a philosophy of the future. The inclusiveness of science combines with Tolstoy’s vision, Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical and not repeating the mistakes of the carbon cabal. The underlying message is from Tolstoy, the ‘Conscience of Humanity.’ He described humanity’s bottom line as the cultivation of love, the mainspring for authentic and responsible living.

I do not present this as idealism, rather as down to earth wisdom. That is why I wrote this futuristic novel. It is the final bookend of a trilogy – “Chronicles of Awakening.” Redemption is the first book in this trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. The final tome of this trilogy takes characters from the prior two books, placing them in the future on a new planet. I place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a blistering rant to the UN in 2080 that I would certainly like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm.

The First chapter describes tension then co-operation between Catriona and Rising Moon. Instead of harming one another they create a safe haven and save other young people ejected in escape crafts. The Second chapter documents the desolation of Planet Earth, the location of Planet Horizon and establishment of space stations on Mars and Jupiter. Chapter Three relates the destruction of the spaceship and safe landing of some of the pioneer travellers. Chapter Four is a love story and the search for children ejected in escape modules from the spaceship. Chapter Five provides vision for community building. Chapter Six is dark with the tragedy of rape yet permits the human spirit to prevail. Chapter Seven documents the flourishing communities established – Eco-villages and towns plus Wisdom of the Elders villages. The battle with jihadists in Chapter Eight is not for the squeamish. It ushers in the end of innocence and the beginning of wisdom. Chapter Nine is a tender love story, accompanied by Catriona’s shamanic preparation. The final Chapter Ten muses philosophically about human survival anywhere.