Monthly Archives: May 2013

Gardening in the Mind

Gardening in the Mind

Stillness and inner silence is a necessary part of taming the wild mind. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen. Yet, in our modern world of fast paced lifestyles we rarely stop running. There are so many distractions that we quickly become outwardly dependant, un-centered.  We 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 wild mind. The problem is that we have closed the doors to taming the wild mind due to wrong perceptions, ignorance and continual suffering. Also because our hearts are not fully open and the tapestry of our consciousness is limited. When our consciousness is narrow, we hold on tight to all our self-imposed dramas and suffering – slamming the door shut on our internal strength and keeping our dysfunctional habits well fed and alive. And so we remain wounded, driven by our scars, anger and fears; suffering all our lives. The remedy is, however, within reach. We can unravel the knots of suffering through the practice of mindfulness and move from being mindless to being mindful. The knots of suffering are then not so tightly held once the tapestry of our consciousness expands and we can truly throw away strongly.  This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.

Gardener

When I retired from teaching at Carleton University, a dear friend asked with some concern just what was I occupying my mind with these days. Here is my reply to her:

“I have enjoyed the time and space to play with Mother Earth as a diligent and slightly crazed organic gardener.  The blaze of flowers at the front of the house is a testimony that I am doing OK so far.  An experienced gardener would no doubt wonder what on earth I am doing in the back yard of the house.  The back garden is surrounded by trees so it is as though one is in the middle of a forest.  I plant vegetables in between flowers.  Veggies have such a dull life struggling to poke their heads above ground, then taking in rain, sun and soil nutrients to end up on some human’s plate.  So to make them happy I plant them between gorgeous flowers so they have some jazz and elegance around them while they are alive.  Just imagine a carrot waking up in the morning to see a beautiful pink hibiscus in full bloom on one side and multi coloured snapdragons on the other.  They are bound to be happy and grow really well before they end up on some human’s plate.  And on it continues with beets, tomatoes, lettuce, arugla, swisschard, kale, rhubarb, beans, asparagus, cucumbers, peppers, peas all planted between beautiful clumps of flowers. 

 There is also a herb garden in amongst the peony bushes.  Some herbs are very nice and well behaved, but others are just downright unsociable.  I had to separate a green basil plant from a red basil plant as they were always quarrelling.  Now that they are at the opposite ends of the garden in their own solitary tubs – they are thriving.  An experiment I tried was to move a small juniper tree from the front garden, as it was dying there, to the back garden where there is a tall cedar hedge.  I think it will be much happier in the back yard – cedar language is a bit different to juniper language but a lot like French and Spanish – so they can communicate a bit.  I have welcomed the juniper into the backyard with much compost and water but will leave it up to the cedars to encourage her to live – and she has decided to do so and thrives in her new environment.  And on it goes with much weeding and then much more weeding to keep both the veggies and the flowers happy.  Sometimes I am not aware of the difference between a weed, veggie or a flower – so I just leave whatever it is to grow before taking any action. My garden is a still place, yet buzzing with life and joy.

 All of this is a metaphor for the organic gardening I do in my mind every day.  That blooms also – with the diligent daily watering of the beautiful seeds and the careful pruning and transformation of the negative and harmful weeds. The still place in the garden is the still place in my mind.  Once there I stop, reflect on my patterns and habits of energy use that can be changed and ensure that appropriate action is taken.  Simple yet surprising!  

 I thought you really needed to know this, if only to make you smile.

Environment and Awakening

Environment and Awakening                                                                         Ian Prattis Zen Tree 

Allow me, dear reader, to introduce a Tale of Three books, which highlights a radical change in my writing. I had been invited to speak at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Ontario by Reverend Michel Dubord who takes an interest in my writings. One of his Christmas Eve sermons featured  my book Failsafe. As usual, I was snoozing in one of the back pews when my brother-in-law Kenny dug his elbow into my side to wake me up and whispered hoarsely in my ear that Rev. Michel was talking about my book Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves. Indeed he was – particularly about tipping points in the mind. Only he took it much further by concluding that the birth of Jesus was a tipping point into awakening.  What a brilliant leap on his part. Richmond is a delightful village on the outskirts of Ottawa. It is where my wife Carolyn grew up. Her mother Joan and sister Eleanor still live there. My theme was global, a talk on Environment and Awakening. It was about awareness of environmental crises leading to change in consciousness then to preventive action. The reality though, is that while citizens around the world are aware, they are overwhelmed by distraction, suffering and violence – all of which keeps them frozen in a state of inaction. The key to change this deep freeze is Awakening, a spiritual relationship with self and Mother Earth. The tale of my three books: Failsafe – Saving The Earth From Ourselves; Earth My Body Water My Blood and Song of Silence takes us to the center of what is required.

Failsafe – Saving The Earth From Ourselves

   failsafef 2 -banner

Several years ago at the beginning of spring after a severe winter in Canada, I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony with respected elders from the Ojibway, Dene and Mohawk First Nations. A senior elder called for this ceremony as he felt a severe disconnect between humanity and the Earth. I felt privileged to be included. It took place in a remote part of Ontario and we camped close to the newly constructed inipi, specially built for this sweat lodge ceremony. Inside the lodge the prayers offered were very moving. We made deeply personal and collective commitments to serve the Earth Mother, to do all that we could to heal her and ourselves. At the end of the final round of the ceremony we emerged into the pristine beauty of a late snowfall under a clear star studded sky. There had been a two-inch snowfall while the sweat lodge was in progress. We walked barefoot in silence to where we were camping. Quiet smiles, not thinking too much. My smile grew immense when looking back at our footprints in the snow.  I gestured to my companions to stop and look.  Words were not appropriate.  We all smiled with the same recognition and looked at one another with new eyes.  It was as though these were the first footprints witnessed on Mother Earth, an epiphany that strengthened our commitment and resolve. Business as usual was no longer possible for us. Share the epiphany, as it is no longer possible for you either, dear reader. My book Failsafe was born from that moment.

David Suzuki endorsed it and wrote the foreword, aboriginal leaders delighted in the advocacy. My point was that in every mind there is a Failsafe that would activate when matters grew so bad that moving to a new mindset would be inevitable. I argued that the notion of innate earth wisdom, when combined with tipping points in the mind and counter culture, would be sufficient to change our collective mentality in the direction of better earth stewardship and a new economic paradigm. On the flip side, I was very aware of the cascading collapse of the world’s eco-systems and that our overpopulated, technologically based civilization may not adapt to a fast changing future without wrecking the environment. If we wreck the environment we are toast.   I knew to look for the means to shift our mind set. I replaced the question: “Can we fix the planet?” with a deeper question: “How do we fix ourselves?”  I recognized that the modern era transition from “Reverential” to “Referential” with respect to the earth had to be reversed, pointing out how our technical and economic institutions were outstripping our basic humanity. I even pondered on whether homo sapiens may be a failed genetic experiment.

Failsafe is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Failsafe-Saving-Earth-Ourselvesebook/dp/B006DLB4AK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329677682&sr=8-1

Earth My Body Water My Blood 

Earth My Body - Front Cover

In my last ecology class before retiring from Carleton University in 2007, my students insisted that I get more testy and belligerent about global issues. I enlisted their brilliance and diligence to do exactly that, with a collective focus on eco-communities. We studied this issue from rural communities to urban condos – and I did get belligerent, including a George Carlin inspired riff on “Entitlement” while severely holding political and corporate leaders to account. This adventure with my students reflected the particular shift in mindset required to salvage the global ecosystem for human habitation. Wherever we are located on the planet – we considered it essential to conduct ourselves as being part of a global eco-community.  Whether we live in a rural or urban locale, in the industrial or developing worlds, work in a factory, office building, farm or retail outlet, our mindset has to be focused on the reality of living as one component of Gaia’s ecosystem. An edited collection – Earth My Body, Water My Blood – emerged from the enthusiasm, insights and sheer hard work of these students. 

The book was organized around the five great elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space – which represent the Universe in Buddhist, Native American and Taoist traditions.  The sequence describes the principle of interconnectedness and provided the metaphor to organize the volume, as the five great elements taken together are inherent in all aspects of life.  They are much more than their physical appearance, as they mirror the inner reality of an interconnected human consciousness.  The driving force from the inner dimension is the feminine representation of awakening. The feminine principle is the creator of all matter and things, including the five elements and also ourselves.  The external forms of the five elements in the environment have the same factors as the internal presence.  So our global pollution, the endangerment of all species – including our own – is a direct reflection of what we have allowed our consciousness to become. I wrote the bridging chapters for each of the Five Great Elements from the level of testiness required by my students.

Tale of 3 Books 2013

This volume of essays was the continuation of Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves, which investigated the necessity of changing the mindset of humanity in order to combat the Global Ecological Emergency.  Earth My Body, Water My Blood provided a detailed investigation of how to do this by establishing the pre-conditions for eco-communities to function.  The collection described the mindset required to maintain an eco-niche for our species and covered the waterfront to ensure the successful establishment of an eco-community. The student teams knew the bigger picture and developed an antidote. If only we can get it right – and get it right now!  They were very aware of reining in our ego and greed-driven minds to permit the cultivation of different patterns.  Our shared excitement was that consciousness expansion could no longer be held back because a radical internal Climate Change would have emerged in humankind.  And so – our innate knowledge becomes manifest.  We interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered.  We become another light shining in the quiet revolution that has over two million organizations worldwide pursuing constructive change. The best case scenario that we all agreed upon is this – our diligent mindfulness changes our brain structures in the direction that brings new paradigms of behavior into form.  As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia, humanity aligns its neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility.  The critical mass has arrived and it amounts to a collective tipping point for our species.  Clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way.  That was our collective intention with this piece of work, summed up by their phrase “Bring It On, Now!” This mentoring exercise with brilliant ecology students produced an excellent volume, which contributed to the 2011 Earth Day Environmental Award I received at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The highlight for me, however, was not the award. It was that the majority of students in this class chose to work as environmentalists in different sectors of the Canadian economy. They cared as much as I did and that was deeply fulfilling.

Allow me to relate a story told by a Metis raconteur.

The non-human land and air creatures of the world were alarmed and frightened by the world being on fire.  Each species and form sent a representative to gather in a secluded valley visited by rain, with a river running into the ocean.  This location was chosen so that the ocean and river creatures could also be represented.  At the gathering of the non-humans there was a huge cacophony of sound, laments, blaming, cries of anguish that the world was coming to an end – and much desperation.  Beyond this verdant valley the world was on fire. Then all the creatures gradually grew quiet and lapsed into silence as they observed Hummingbird.  Hummingbird flew to the river and took a drop of water in her beak. He flew to the fire and dropped it on the flames.  Back to the water, picking up a drop of water, flying to the fire and dropping it.  On she went, relentless and unstoppable – flying to the river for a drop of water then flying to the fire and dropping it on the flames.  All the creatures were astounded.  Finally Bear shouted “Hummingbird, what do you think you are doing?”  Hummingbird flew to the river for another drop of water and dropped it onto the flames.  As she flew back to the river, he hovered for a moment in front of Bear and said – “The Best I Can.”

What is the best that you can do dear reader?

What is the best that I can be?

What is the best that our political and corporate leaders can do?

For the latter to emerge requires that we hold our leaders to account, and citizen activism on an unprecedented scale is necessary for that.  This is essential for the younger generation just coming into maturity and responsibility.  My generation has not left a healthy and viable planet.  I offer a humble apology to them for that neglect.  I ask of my generation of environmentalists, activists and organizers that they transfer their skills and knowledge to the younger generation.  To be mentors for the generation that has to do the heavy lifting to put things right on planet earth.  I will not be around to see the changes.  Yet I do possess a modicum of confidence.  I feel that the younger generation will modify the “Yes We Can” mantra that got Barack Obama into the White House.  In twenty years my hope is that the mantra will have been changed to “Yes We Did” with respect to Mother Earth. When I look at young people, I see beyond the ipods, electronic gadgetry and attitude to the deep intelligence that yearns for something better.  I love their in-your-face attitude, as that is the energy of determination that will drive them to put things into balance on the planet.  They are not caught so readily by the identities and trade-offs that my generation is so good at entertaining.  They are breaking down the barriers of discrimination, storming the barricades of separation.  I have only one thing to ask of them.  That they slow down for a moment and hold out their hand.  For as long as I have a spark in this mind and breath in this body I say to them – Wait for me, because I am going with you.

Earth My Body is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Earth-Body-Water-Blood-ebook/dp/B006FKUOQY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329678067&sr=8-1

Song of Silence

Cover Song of Silence5

The Hummingbird story brings home that something else is necessary for us to redress the global ecological emergency. We have made our world an unpredictable beast because we fail to work with it intelligently. That means the future is sacrificed while we occupy an ecosystem of distraction technologies. Distracted people do not realize they are in danger. Rumi’s wise words are cogent: “Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.”  But political and corporate agendas had forced humanity off the edge of the roof to occupy an ecosystem of distraction technologies. Citizens around the world do not realize they are in such dreadful danger. Somehow we have to take back control of ourselves and this is a spiritual matter. Turning on the switch of awakening seems to be a good idea right now.

Spiritual Awakening must factor into the humanity – earth equation, yet there is so much in the way. The fear and suffering felt globally prevents people from taking action, as they are frozen and trapped by their particular circumstances.  People feel dwarfed by the senseless carnage, violence and collapse of all systems – financial and ecological. Distractions also prevent us from waking up, as we just do not want to think about what is happening. We can, however, become awakened consumers and hold both politics and corporations to account. We just need to touch the sacred in ordinary experiences of life to find the courage and determination to do so. This is the initial step into Awakening.

And so I come to the last book in this trilogy – Song of Silence – a novel I first wrote in 1975. It was soon forgotten, as way back then I really did not know how to get published.  The manuscript was rediscovered by accident in 2011. I found it in an old filing cabinet where it was gathering dust.  I read it through and could scarce believe it was such a good read.  I requested my wife and a couple of friends with critical eyes to read it through, just in case I was dreaming. Modern technology enabled the yellowing typed manuscript to be transformed into a computer ready document. Though it required attention to spelling and typos with small additions from a writer’s eye some forty years later – it stands pristine as when first written. My wife thought it was tremendous, one friend could not put it down and mused about the film to be made, the other friend cried through most of it.  All of which encouraged me to bring “Song of Silence” to life.

The story is an allegory for the life difficulties I experienced at that time – 40 years ago. The surprise for me was how could I have written such a book while in a desperate state of mind? I was a real mess – with a failing marriage in the Hebrides, Scotland  and trying to keep a career going at Carleton University in Canada. I was not doing a good job with either. This novel is set in The Hebrides, islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, with startling cycles of maturing and downfall of the main character Callum Mor – a gifted child, master mariner, derelict drunk – who eventually gains wisdom from a hard life’s journey. He enters the dark zone of alcoholism and withdraws from society. With only his animals keeping him this side of sanity he survives in a bleak solitude.  Until a family with a small girl seeking refuge from a storm come to his house. Slowly he edges away from his self-destruction. He saves the girl’s life in a blizzard. At this point a glimmer of awakening dawns in him and this sets the stage for the final drama that illuminates the resilience of the human spirit.  Laced with grim humor, the story has nature’s harsh and beautiful rhapsody as the background for tragic human failings.   It applies universally to human suffering in a chaotic world and the triumph of human decency provides redemption rather than staring into the abyss. Awakening transforms everything. Looking at this book 40 years later, I noticed a contemporary theme. Global citizens are in fact staring into the abyss – nuclear, economic, environment, violence, abuse – yet instead of being eaten up by it all, I say to you – Awaken Spiritually – for that transforms everything. I concluded my talk by reading a passage from the book (Pgs 134 – 137) that describes Callum Mor’s awakening and how it transformed everything.

The 2nd edition of Song of Silence is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Song-Silence-2nd-ebook/dp/B006WB6JII/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330006852&sr=8-1    

Sedona Writer’s Retreat, Spring 2013

With Captain Mark Hansen and a no door helicopter

Sedona Writer’s Retreat, Spring 2013                                                         Ian Prattis

My latest book – in progress – is set in Central Arizona in the 18th century before settlers and prospectors made incursions to Indian lands. This was before Arizona became a state within the USA. This starting point made the announcement of a Writer’s Retreat inLight Beam at the centre of the Medicine Wheel the spring of 2013 very appealing. I was no stranger to Sedona and Central Arizona, having made many investigations of the region over the past thirty years. I arrived several days early, prior to the retreat, to visit places that were sacred to me and to soak in the ambience of the region providing the foundation stone for the book. I revised some chapters and intended to visit the sacred canyons.

But Joe Biden, VP of the USA was speaking at a conference held in the Enchantment Resort at the head of Boynton Canyon, Security was heavy, and until he left – this region was a no fly zone.  On the morning of the retreat there was a window for me to pay an unusual visit to the canyons. Mr. Biden had left the area and I decided to take a helicopter ride to photograph Rainbow Bridge and Boynton Canyon, as both loomed large in my opening chapters.  I was staying at Sky Ranch Lodge right next to the airport vortex and the airport itself. I indicated what I wanted to photograph and the pilot kindly made sure the doors were taken off, so I would have a non-restricted field for photography. I had never been in a helicopter before and this scared the hell out of me. A three strap harness was all that kept me from falling out of the small helicopter into the canyons below. It was totally scary but beyond awesome. I got the photos and a totally new perspective on the canyons.

The retreat was exhilarating. A group of ten writers arrived as strangers and left as family. The sheer talent of each writer was admirable, as was the manner in which encouragement and guidance were constructively offered rather than held out as criticism.  Courageous prose, great food and much laughter was daily fare.

“Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse” is the title of my book. It is a bit like Indiana Jones meets the Buddha with a dash of Celestine Prophecy. The reader is invited to follow my journey to accept The Muse capable of transforming my karma from violence and abuse, to clarity and purpose. An exciting Hero’s Journey, this special and unique adventure shines light on some of the darkest elements of the human condition, especially my own. Written in an authentic and elegant voice, I navigate past and present life experiences over four centuries. From brutal raids on Indian settlements in 18th century Arizona, insane sea voyages off the Scottish Hebrides in the 20th century and finally, to a decisive life moment of surrender to The Muse in the 21st century. These screenplay-worthy epic tales weave together to create inspiration for a wide range of fellow spiritual seekers. The genre is legend mixed with autobiography and this memoir could be described as “Metaphysical Non-Fiction.” Readers will travel the pages as I learn to embrace The Muse – Trailing Sky Six Feathers – my South Western Native American wife and medicine woman in whose arms I died in 1777.  She vows to find me (then known as Eagle Speaker) in a future time, to help me complete a purpose despite insurmountable resistance from my logical mind to remember that pledge in this current lifetime.

The journey is both severe and challenging as I navigate shamanic healings of childhood sexual abuse, guru training as well as a near death experience in an Ashram in India. Trailing Sky Six Feathers initiates a dream vision in 2008 that caps my slow process of remembering a clear mosaic of experiences stretching back in time over a rare cycle of two hundred and thirty one years. I sculpt the narrative in a novel way as the person who stumbles through the first part of his life, but then stands strong in his own sovereignty in the latter part. In India, Arizona, France and in Canada’s wilderness, I went to extraordinary lengths to erase and transform natal karma. Guided by four separate shamans, I reconfigured my understanding of time, place, consciousness and even Carl Jung’s psychology, as I chose to listen to the feminine voice of Earth Wisdom rather than to the multitude of competing voices in my deep unconscious.

Readers may be inspired as they watch intention and strength of purpose transcend patterns I had carried since childhood. Past life memories finally collide head on with the present, all thanks to the persistence of Trailing Sky Six Feathers, who refused to give up on me. Natal karma is reversed, the internal battles are over as I begin to live life as a Meditation for Gaia. The relentless shadowing of this engaging Muse brings understanding not only to me, but to anyone engaged in overcoming the darkness of their past. Trailing Sky Six Feathers caps my long-term fascination with consciousness. As a Professor of Anthropology and Religion I taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Engaged Buddhism and Meditation Systems. I am a healer, mentor and educator, able to encourage people through example to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed. Friends look at my story as a gift to our planet. My purpose in writing it is to share the incredible wealth of knowledge and experience achieved on how to live in harmony not just with ourselves but with the place we call home… Earth.

In 2010, after an intense internal dialogue with my Muse, Trailing Sky Six Feathers, I asked if her story should be written. There was a long silence that stretched into infinity until I finally heard her affirmation. I stood up and reached for my backpack and took out a writing pad. There was a gold plated fountain pen in the pack, rarely used. This story had to be hand written. I inserted an ink cartridge into the pen and sat in a chair overlooking the sea and mountains on the west coast of British Columbia. Putting pen to paper I started to write the first line of this book:

“Put down your weapons, my husband,” she said quietly with steely insistence.

I signed up for the writer’s retreat in Sedona as an opportunity to complete the manuscript, though I was scarcely prepared for the surprises in store. One in particular stands out beyond all others.  Our group had a day on the land with a gifted guide, Clint Frakes, visiting ancient rock dwellings and vortexes before a medicine wheel experience. I had been to this wheel before with my wife Carolyn in 2007, though the 2013 experience was very different. Clint asked me to lead my writer friends in through the East door. I smudged myself with the burning sage, took off my shoes to walk barefoot, feeling the earth and small stones throbbing into every step. I walked slowly clockwise round the interior of the wheel – graceful architecture of universal power. I could smell the burning sage as other friends smudged themselves and followed to find their place within the four quadrants of the medicine wheel. I was slowly pulled to the North cardinal rock, holding in my hand the sacred tobacco. Then did something I had never contemplated in prior medicine wheel ceremonies. I walked slowly to the centre ring of stones and stepped into it and turned to the West. The centre was already occupied by the energy of Trailing Sky Six Feathers and the resonance of her presence pulled me into the mystery and fusion at the centre.

Light Beam at the centre of the Medicine Wheel

I stood there, very still, bringing my hands up to my heart. My new friends were finding their place – two of the women even stepped into the centre to share it with me, which was perfectly OK. Pauline from Boston and Eagle Spirit from New Brunswick were also drawn to the centre – though both stepped out to give me my space. We offered our gratitude in turn with a great dignity and reverence. I held a rattle in my right hand, the tobacco in my left and gave thanks to the Earth Mother and the fusion of mystery at the centre. I chanted the most sacred sounds I knew – the Gayatri Mantra from my guru training in India. The tears rolled down my face. I was deeply moved with gratitude to enter the mystery at the centre of all things. I felt the past of 1777 and Trailing Sky’s fusion with me on Rainbow Bridge in 2007. She had travelled through dimensions, time and space to become one unified being with me. On this day the dimensions did not have to move or open – everything was already in place. In occupying the centre of the wheel, surrounded by a new family of friends, I felt the deepest stillness and silence, remaining quiet about what was happening within me.

The connection in my heart grew ever deeper. There are no words to express the gratitude about bringing alive the Muse patiently waiting for me at the centre of the medicine wheel. This was why I had come to Sedona. For the fusion from the central circle of rocks unleashed from the depths of the earth a limitless upwards trajectory. This became a foundation point for everything I may say, do or create from this moment on. Awakening, I realized, is a mere road sign for the way forward. It is how such states are applied and used in the world that matters for our times. New levels of deep knowing, essential for survival arose. Not mine – everyone’s, the planet and just perhaps the entire cosmos. The eruption of energy where I stood at the centre of the wheel was met by the cooling shafts of energy from the divine realms. The two way traffic enveloped me in the forceful energy. To keep me going forward with courage, discernment and fearlessness on behalf of the Earth Mother and to register with this marker for further transition. I know the template, where I it now takes me is the mystery.

All that I am describing was captured by the camera of Eagle Spirit. After we had all moved out of the medicine wheel she took photographs of this stone architecture, now empty of everything except a column of light stretching from the centre circle of stones right up into the sky. The column of light was right where I had been standing.

 

Legacy – Not a Love Story with the Earth

Legacy – Not a Love Story with the Earth

by

Dr. Ian Prattis, Professor Emeritus, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Hey there Mr. Prime Minister, President, King, Despot, Corporate Mogul and globally cloned counterparts – congratulations from the new century. The year is 2101 to be exact, eighty eight years from your present time. We notice that your policies and corporate acumen created a systematic cascade of failing ecosystems on planet Earth. This was a remarkable feat on your part, as you had all the science, studies and reports in front of you to stop the destruction. Remember the one liner from Bill Clinton that won him an election – “It’s the economy, stupid.”  That is the wrong direction. Your dysfunctional global financial system lurched from one disaster to another throughout the century. May we remind you of the obvious: “It’s the ECOLOGY, stupid.” The economy is a mere sub set of the mother lode of ecology and you have successfully screwed that source up. On your watch not only did the financial collapse signal a dangerous global watershed, the world food system crashed as a consequence along with the train wreck of chaos brought in by climate change. Nobody did anything to rein in the usual suspects.

DCF 1.0

Come and see through eyes from 2101. Are you aware that by 2101 thousands of millions of people died from thirst, starvation and disease?  With death arriving from every pestilence available, some of it created in your counter-intelligence labs. The countless millions who have died do not include the many wars waged over scarce resources. And the reason for such wars?  Your greed for money, control and power led directly to the cascade of disintegrating eco-systems essential for the support of life. It was amazing how you silenced and muzzled the climate change scientists, the oceanographers screaming that the ocean eco-systems were disintegrating, and how you ignored citizens with the integrity to save the earth. You had a different agenda and the power to implement it.

Maybe our species will be eliminated while it plays with distraction technologies. What a serendipitous aid for your ambitions to so distract the world’s populations from what was happening right under their noses. Folks did not realize that you were bringing them to the brink of elimination. Neither did you realize this. Our team from 2101 studied your minds yet did not find a species death wish lurking there – so whassup?  Aaaah – our mistake – your minds were so tiny, without an ounce of generosity. Not what we expected to find. But there it was – you could not see beyond the next election, the next million dollars. It was our fault that we failed to see that you had inherited the Nero gene – fiddling while not just Rome burned, but the entire planet was allowed to burn.

What could you have done?   Why did you not shift away from a carbon based economy? Why did you not protect the bees by banning all pesticides that killed them? Agricultural systems in Canada and around the world collapsed as there was no pollination after the last bee hive perished. The Global Marshall Plan created a blueprint for an eco-social market that would sustain the earth, respect cultures and finance voluntary simplicity. Did you even read their brilliant Manifesto?  The list of your wrongdoings could go on for a hundred pages.

Mr. Prime Minister, President, CEO – who should you have listened to? You could have listened to Rachel Carson, rather than turn on the pharmaceutical industry jets in a carpet bombing campaign to discredit her. The extraordinary writers and campaigners for the Earth runs a very long gamut from Bateson, Suzuki, McKibben, Gore, Gladwell, Hawken, Korten, Lovelock, Anderson, Monbiot, Radermacher, Shiva, Wilson to the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Prattis even entered the earth gambit with his 2008 book Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves. David Suzuki endorsed it and wrote the foreword, aboriginal leaders delighted in his advocacy. His point was that in every mind there is a Failsafe that would activate when matters grew so bad that moving to a new mindset would be inevitable. He argued that the notion of innate earth wisdom, when combined with tipping points in the mind and counter culture, would be sufficient to change our collective mentality in the direction of better earth stewardship. But there was a huge obstacle in the way, not anticipated. That was YOU! Your shared Nero gene had circumvented any possibility of a Failsafe in Consciousness from kicking in. Your manipulation of distraction technologies was a brilliant strategy to protect your interests.

You collectively figured out that distracted people don’t realize they are in danger. Perhaps you can learn something from Rumi’s cogent words. He said: “Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.”  But your policies and greed forced humanity off the edge of the roof to occupy an ecosystem of distraction technologies. Add in the Fear factor and Suffering – then homo sapiens may indeed be toast. Turning on the switch of awakening in your time frame seems to be a good idea right now, but that is not something you promote. This is what you promote. In Canada, Stephen Harper and Big Oil ran an incredible promotion campaign for the Alberta Oil Sands project. They produced images of reforestation, utmost safety, deep concern for wildlife, populations and clean water. This played to a receptive audience throughout the country. Decades later the northern rivers and lakes had become a wasteland. It does not take long to destroy eco-systems. Oil derivatives and sludge polluted lakes swiftly poured through interconnected waterways. Aboriginal populations that once augmented their households with fish and game are no more. They either relocated or died, for they could not drink the polluted water carrying the deadly toxins from Tar Sands Oil production. While the northern ecosystem dies, the politicos and corporate CEO’s bask in power and wealth.

Mr. Harper, Prime Minister of Canada – do you remember in 2013 that 12 prominent Canadian climate scientists advised you to grow up? They took you to task for the wasted billions spent on expanding oil infrastructure. Your policies torpedoed the transition to an economy that could sustain us. Instead of finding a balance you chose to use the atmosphere as a waste dump for carbon.  We all breathe the same air Mr. Harper.  Are you even aware of the legacy you left for your great grand-children?  Certainly you and your global clones created well provided bunkers for your families – but sad to say the power ran out some time ago, along with the synthetic food. Your descendants are waiting to die from the next wave of pestilence. Do you think for one moment that they look kindly on your legacy? They do not. And indeed hold you responsible for their miserable life on planet earth.

DCF 1.0

Our team have communicated with global citizens and encouraged them to hold all political and corporate ghouls to account. Where can they begin? Citizens must think globally, be aware of the bigger picture and step beyond the smaller pictures of themselves created from the disempowerment you so cleverly dispense.  They must also act locally with great vigour in families and communities. Intentions then spread as ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. In addition to holding officials, politicians and corporate culture to account, citizens can begin with the small things that everyone can do.  Such as implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, reduce meat consumption, walk/cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – just do it! Reduce the ecological footprint by conserving energy with an eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon may 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.  At the same time alert political and corporate decision makers that you mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and your location on it.

Respond in the short term and do not check out in the long term. Boycott all Monsanto products and vote for new leaders is the immediate rallying cry. Citizens must make it clear to political and corporate leaders that the violence and disorder committed in their name is no longer acceptable. Citizens of the world, please hold your leaders to account with clarity, wisdom and courage.  The actions taken now shape the possibilities for generations to come. The future is now. When the collective will changes, we will have new leaders who act differently.

In writing to present political and corporate leaders from the future of 2101, we realize that you are all dead now. Some assassinated, others rotted away in prison, while the remainder died shallow deaths in gated communities.  Please note that the prophecy for your 2013 legacy was provided in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Watch the movie Mr. Prime Minister, President, CEO – Then Think!

Dead Children

Dead Children                                                                                                Ian Prattis

Published in Tone Magazine, Ottawa, December 2012

I want to talk to you about children who are no longer here. They are dead. Twenty children gunned down at an elementary school in Newton, CT. Children killed as collateral damage in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Congo, Afghanistan and in world-wide violence. We are all grieving parents to the world. The question we all face is – What Now?

In the face of grief we must feel it deeply, be hurt by it, taking time to feel the pain of the tragedy. Then come through, determined to make a difference. STOP: REASSESS: ENTER THE BODHISATTVA. Stopping requires calling in the support of wise friends, counselors and Sangha so we can begin to see clearly and give ourselves the chance to find ourselves. Stillness is needed, not social media distraction – for we now have to look for a new direction and leadership. To reassess the 21st century, we must look deeply at the factors involved in the Newton, CT massacre. We will see a complex, intertwined tapestry with the easy availability of guns and drugs, compounded by societal tolerance of violence through the worst that cyberspace and Hollywood have to offer. Plus the very serious common denominator shared by the killers stretching back to the Columbine massacre. This is the factor of mental illness in pre-adult white males who are caught in an identity trap that they escape from through violence and murder. This is their five minutes of fame that enables them to be remembered. They occupy a toxic landscape of “not love”, “not connected.” And this is what requires the attention of our mindfulness.  How do we begin?

The Christmas season has passed, yet we can begin there with a small reassessment that all of us can do. We examine our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that really make a difference. Begin by participating less in the expected excess of mindless consumerism of Christmas buying. I have taken that small step and no longer buy Christmas gifts. Instead, present donations and gift certificates in the name of family and friends to provide education for a girl in Afghanistan, rebuild forests in Haiti, provide literacy packs and mosquito nets where most needed. This then leads to the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of crisis, for it is already within us. That gift is Freedom and it involves stepping firmly onto the Bodhisattva path made clear by the Buddha and other great teachers.

It is time for the Bodhisattva to enter the 21st century as a paradigm and archetype for individual and collective action. This enables us to be rooted in our own sovereignty and deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that presently 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. Interbeing creates harmony and unity and destroys the ego. The second aspect is Non-discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion, and this combination threatens selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

How do we do this? We cultivate the energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always – at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. In this way we shape the future of the 21st century as we begin to live differently – here and now. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are in fact much stronger than we think. Enter the Bodhisattva is the guiding paradigm for our lives. I allude to Bruce Lee’s classic – Enter the Dragon – which 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, skillfulness and creative vision – but we are equal to the task. Nelson Mandela thought so. His 1994 inaugural speech laid out the territory clearly when he opened with:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us….

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The Middle Finger Sutra

The Middle Finger Sutra                                                                   Ian Prattis

Good intentions meet wrong perceptions creating disaster!

This teaching by the wise one was passed on by a lady in a bookstore.

“The other day I went into the local religious bookstore, where I saw a “Honk If You Love Jesus” bumper sticker. Although not a Christian I thought this was a great sentiment with respect to Global Religious Harmony. So I bought it and put it on the back bumper of my car, and I’m really glad I did that, as it brought forward a wonderful response from all kinds of people of many faiths and cultures. What an uplifting experience it was for all of us.

I was stopped at a light at a busy intersection, just lost in thought of the Divine and I did not notice that the light had changed. But that bumper sticker really worked as I found lots of people who loved Jesus. Why, the guy behind me started to honk like crazy. He must have really loved his Lord because pretty soon he leaned out his window and yelled “Jesus Christ” as loud as he could. It was like a football game with his shouting “Go Jesus Go.” Everyone else started honking too, so I leaned out of my window and waved and smiled to all those loving people. There must have been a guy from Florida back there because I could hear him yelling something about a “sunny beach”, and I saw him waving in a funny way with his middle finger stuck up in the air. I asked my two kids on the back seat what that meant, they giggled and said it was the Hawaiian good luck sign, so I leaned out the window and gave him the good luck sign back.

Several cars behind, a very nice large man stepped out of his car and yelled something I could not hear. It sounded something like “mother trucker.” Maybe he was from Florida too. He must really love the Lord. A couple of people were so caught up in the joy that they got out of their cars and were walking towards me. I bet they wanted us all to meditate together, but then the light changed to yellow and I stepped on the gas. I was the only one to get across the intersection as everyone was meditating and waving their middle fingers. I leaned out of the window and gave them a big happy smile and held up the Hawaiian good luck sign and drove away. Praise the heavens for all those wonderful meditators.”

The followers of the wise one immediately put the Middle Finger Sutra into practice at every intersection in the city.

I Had a Dream

I Had a Dream                                                                                                   Ian Prattis

 

I had flown into the small airport of Castelgar in the Kootenay Mountains of BC for my son’s wedding in the summer of 2009.  The short hop over the Rockies in a Dash 8 aircraft from Calgary was spectacular – especially the flight into Castelgar airport.  The wingtips seemed to touch the valley mountains, as the aircraft swerved sharply into the river fringed village of Castlegar.  My son, his bride to be – Nancy – and my grandson Callun were there to pick me up and deliver me to where I was staying for the night in nearby Nelson prior to the wedding ceremony next day in the Tibetan Buddhist Gompa.  I was expected to wear my Buddhist duds as I was there not only as a Dad but also apparently as a Zen teacher!

That evening in Nelson I had an unforgettable dream, vivid in every detail.

I dreamt I was in a river running kayak, sitting quietly in a pool outside the swift eddies that raced to the edge of a waterfall that was huge, sheer, with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet.  The kayak was bright yellow.  The short stubby craft was an extension of my body.  My wetsuit was black and I wore a red lifejacket tightly fastened.  My helmet was also red.  The shaft of the paddle was black and the twin blades a dancing red.  I looked around at the high mountains and forest, noted the mist rising from the swift flowing river before pushing out into the racing eddies straight to the edge of the waterfall.  As I went over the edge I raised the paddle high over my head and leaned back into the kayak.  I did nothing to steer or guide the kayak. The descent seemed forever though timeless.  Yet in a moment my craft had submerged into the river below and then I was bobbing on the surface paddling downstream.

My first thought in the dream as I manoeuvred close to the river’s edge was “That was a really bad run.  I didn’t do anything.”  Then moments later in the dream I stopped the thinking, realizing that it was the perfect run, precisely because I did not do anything. My lack of insight was that I missed the surrender to the fierce current of the waterfall, to the awesome power of the stream of consciousness.

I knew I had to share this dream with Iain and Nancy next morning, so they could perhaps see for themselves the surrender to the other necessary for a marriage to work well.  They received it and understood.  Their dharma and mountain friends enjoyed an incredible wedding in the Tibetan Gompa.  Although there was a mountain of alcohol at the reception and dance afterwards, hardly anyone drank it, as the “high” was the quality of celebration and surrender in the wedding ceremony.

I have thought about this dream a great deal and the reflections have been revealing.

The creation of my recent book – Failsafe – was part of this surrender though I did not realize it at the time.  It was written from an unusual place and was also the midpoint for two trilogies of books. Several years ago at the beginning of spring after a severe winter in Canada, I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony with respected elders from the Ojibway, Dene and Mohawk First Nations. We made deeply personal and collective commitments to serve the Earth. At the end of the final round of the ceremony we emerged into the pristine beauty of a late snowfall under a clear star studded sky.  There had been a two-inch snowfall during the ceremony.  As we walked barefoot to where we were camping I turned round and saw our footprints in the snow.  It seemed as though these were the first footprints on the new earth.  I gestured to my companions to stop and look.  They silently shared the same insight with soft smiles. In that instant the stillness and silence renewed our commitments to serve the earth with all our hearts and minds. Failsafe was born from that moment at the end of winter in 2006.

The book was published in October 2008.  I was giving a talk about this experience to an audience in Vancouver and suddenly found myself talking about two previous books I had written and the next three books now ready for publication.  Failsafe was the midpoint.  These books had all been writing me although I was not aware of it.  Each book had issued forth from the experience of profound silence.  There was a life work inside that was writing me!  It took me twelve years to wake up to this.  The first book – Anthropology at The Edge: Essays on Culture, Symbol and Consciousness – was published in 1997, followed by The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11 in 2002 and Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves in 2008.

The second trilogy begins with Earth My Body, Water My Blood.  Failsafe had investigated the necessity of changing the mindset of humanity while Earth My Body, Water My Blood provides a detailed investigation of how to do this by establishing the pre-conditions necessary for eco-communities to function.  Living Dharma provides a road map for peace, reconciliation and planetary care.  The volume does not shrink from controversial issues of suffering in the 21st century – Iraq, corporate power, church scandals, fundamentalism, degraded environment and flawed teachers.  It draws on training not only in Buddhist practice but also in Shamanic and Vedic traditions.  The writer emerges as a seasoned mature “cactus in full flower”. Portals and Passages is about meditation and the human spiritual journey, rooted in the life experiences and crises common to all of us.  It outlines the necessity for our global civilization to synchronize individual, planetary and universal consciousness.  This book talks to you from the seasons of my life.  My insights, disasters and occasional breakthroughs are its basis.

These are all done and off to prospective publishers.  Yet there is another book percolating in my mind, which will be much more difficult to write.  Trailing Sky’s Story refers to my dedication in Failsafe to Trailing Sky Six Feathers – an 18th century medicine woman from the American South West.  This story crosses time and moves outside space to bring home our continuity with the past and engagement with the future as a single tapestry. It is part story and legend but also autobiographical.  It will take me many years to complete this work with an extended stay in the American South West.

Which brings me back to the dream – If your mindfulness and discernment have done their job, you no longer need them. They have brought you to the point where they can be thrown away, for you are no longer a wave.  So trust and surrender to the stream of consciousness that has been there throughout your journey.

Mindfulness and the Gulf Oil Spill

Mindfulness and the Gulf Oil Spill                                                                 Ian Prattis

 

It is time to examine our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The plugging of the oil well is not an end to the crisis, merely the beginning of identifying our part in it.  Guidelines are necessary. They are available from Thich Nhat Hanh in the shape of the mindfulness trainings – a welcome relief and antidote to the unending spin we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

It is no surprise to discover that BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Any surprise is caused by the powerful PR arm of not only BP, but also of Haliburton and TransOcean – its partners in this ill fated venture. Their spin has not, however, fooled the stock market, as the share values of these corporate giants have plummeted down. Yet BP ads touting their environmental sensitivity continue and can no longer be taken seriously by any thinking person. But do people actually think? Or do they prefer to be caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in an environmental disaster, the like of which the US has never before encountered? BP is in high level spin mode, while directors of the company are off loading their stocks in the company and blaming their partners!  So many lies are being told by BP and the government about the multiplier effects of the oil spill and deny journalists access to see the clean up process or from photographing the devastation readily visible from satellites.

The truth is that not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors – fishing, tourism and real estate – are also at risk in all Gulf states. This has a mainstream impact on all related industries throughout America. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick has settled on the ocean floor. There, it contaminates the oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed – the industries their harvest supported are also being killed. The entire Gulf of Mexico may well become a dead zone, and this will extend to the human populations that depended on its vibrancy.

The US administration’s threats to put its foot on BP’s throat and even take over the operation to halt the oil flow into the Gulf is further spin and quite ludicrous. The federal agencies with a stake in offshore drilling permits and environmental protection are scrambling to deflect their culpability and “cozyness” with oil giants. The use of the term “cozyness” is a White House deflection from the true name of the relationship between government agencies and oil giants.  The correct term is corruption.  “Cozyness” is further pointless spin, particularly, as the US federal government does not have the technology or the expertise to cap the oil spill. If the US administration was truly serious, why do they not freeze the financial assets of the three corporations in order to foot the cleanup bill?

CNN, FOX and other media have their own spin-doctors to amplify the volume, so spin becomes a norm for everyone.  But neither government nor the media are asking the deeper questions.  It is clear that BP is running the operation in the Gulf while the federal government huffs and puffs with importance in the chain of command, yet does not occupy the driving seat.  The question of government/corporate complicity is a serious one. Questions are not being asked about the loss of cultures dependant on harvesting sea products. This is extant in the now obsolete Louisiana Oyster fisheries. A thriving and unique culture is threatened by the closure of the oyster beds.  Upbringing, culture, and family history now stand for nothing, whereas they were the fabric that held this part of the US together.  The closure of oyster processing factories and the consternation that has filled the nation’s maritime food chain do get media space because the knock on economic consequences have created multiplier effects that damage regional and national economies.  Yet the media investigation stops short of examining the killing of centuries old cultures and ways of life.  The mantra of “It’s the economy stupid” has never before been revealed as so much nonsense. There is no economy if there is not a culture to implement it. There is no post environment economy.  The culture will not return while the oyster beds are dead. Whatever life they still hold will be fatally damaged by the clean up.  Questions are not being asked about Corexit 9500, the dispersant used abundantly to restrain the oil spill – over one million gallons of this poison.  This chemical is outlawed in the UK in the event of an oil spill – as it kills everything in the marine ecosystem.

How do we get off this mad carousel? Is there any equanimity or intelligent life to be found in decision makers? How about us – do we change our part as consumers in creating the demand for oil and oil products? Another deep question that CNN and FOX conveniently ignore. It is evident that we must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment, pause, and make different choices – examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary. They can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption. Here it is:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.  I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or any other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in such a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

It takes us right back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Meditation Hall, 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 designed 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 – we 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 this arises from walking with awareness. 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 fall away.  The insight and clarity that also arises guides us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me about that. We know what to do. We know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. Begin it now, for the future is not some way ahead – it is shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

Nelson Mandela, Leadership and Meditation

Nelson Mandela, Leadership and Meditation                                             Ian Prattis

 

This extract is from Ian’s forthcoming book “Keeping Dharma Alive”.

Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech as President of South Africa was unflinching in his reverence for God and for the magnificence he saw in the heart and talent of every South African citizen.  In a quotation from Marianne Williamson he said:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

            Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

            It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

            We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,

            gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

            Actually, who are you NOT to be?

            You are a child of God. Your playing small does

            not serve the World.

            There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so

            that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

            We were born to make manifest the glory of God

            that is within us.

            It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

            And as we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously

            give other people permission to do the same.

            As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence

            automatically liberates others.

           

I invite the reader to pause for a moment.  Then read out loud the words spoken by Nelson Mandela.  His message to all South Africans is about reconciliation, renewal and transformation.  He stands as a true parent to everyone – black, Indian, white, mixed bloods – and as an inspiration to the world.  In the twenty-seven years Mandela spent in prison, the connection between truth, ethics and leadership became very clear to him as he matured as a leader.  There is no political leader like him in the world today and he inspires the world with the quality of leadership that brought down the South African system of apartheid.  He forgave his oppressors because he knew he would be destroyed if he did not.

Mandela is the closest thing the world has to a secular saint though his gift was certainly not dharma.  It was an astute and skilful use of tactics.  Mandela was a master tactician and strategist.  These qualities were sculpted and refined during his incarceration on RobbenIsland where he often feared for his life.  He endured with great fortitude and emerged as a mature statesman who knew what to do and how to do it.  He knew he had to inspire – fellow prisoners, South Africans, the world – and serve as a role model.  “Invictus” is a short poem written in 1875 by the English poet William Henley.  Nelson Mandela kept the poem in his prison cell on a scrap of paper during his long incarceration. Invictus is also the title of a 2009 movie directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  Well worth seeing, especially as Morgan Freeman plays the role of Nelson Mandela superbly. Matt Damon is pretty good too as the captain of the South African Springbok rugby team.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela was aware that negotiations with the South African government were not so much about principles, but a question of tactics.  The most pragmatic of idealists, Mandela saw the world not in simplistic terms but as infinitely nuanced and complex.  He lead from the back – not entering debate too early – persuading people to do things and think it was to their credit.  He knew to keep his friends close and his rivals and enemies even closer.  He studied the language and mentalities of the latter.  The past caused him to suffer greatly, but he let it go and did not refer to it publicly.

Upon his retirement from politics in South Africa, he championed worldwide awareness for the problem of AIDS in Africa – the forgotten continent.  His star shone brightly wherever he spoke and he was a lightning rod for reconciliation between racial and cultural groups in his own country and worldwide.  At the present time, only a few leaders of such quality exist in political, corporate, bureaucratic and religious domains of life.  Leaders who root themselves in a deep spiritual understanding and knowledge of themselves are in a position to bring peace to their nation and to the world, for they will see deeply into the morass of the world’s crises.  Like Mandela they will search for the solutions that balance the existential necessities of life – body with spirit.   Their leadership can guide us to happiness for they will have the wisdom to show everyone the pitfalls of ignorance, racism, greed and neglect.  The general state of emergency in world affairs causes so much pain and suffering that re-education is crucial.  The re-education I have in mind is through meditation, so that ignorance about our true nature is removed.  This need not only be regarded as a spiritual solution per se, simply that the basic necessities of life have not been taught to the current generations inhabiting the earth.  With re-education through meditation and mindfulness practice, we experience the territory of the heart and learn that love and compassion are a necessary part of our daily bread.

Without the quality of resting in our true nature, nobody is in a position to take care of the world, whether this is our home, workplace, school, or the global ecosystem.  In The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha very carefully mapped the reality of our being interconnected with everything, so that if we wish to make a difference to the world, to care for it, we must at the same time journey inwards and take care of our true nature and do the same for all that we interconnect with.  Once there, we will find the strength, wisdom and clarity to be the new leaders for the twenty-first century and actualize the teachings on interbeing.

Mystics in tune with the Truth of God simply live and become the mystery through their example.  Because they know from experience, they understand Truth.  They simply are THAT.  Despite the limitations of words and concepts to convey what is full and perfect, it is possible to provide a map with some travel directions.  Truth belongs in the Ultimate dimension of Nirvana and Samadhi.  In this Ultimate dimension, there are no concepts, discriminations or distinctions, simply a knowing of the wondrous interconnection of everything.  Lying outside of time and space, the Ultimate dimension provides a truly mystical experience of all consciousness, which can only be lived, not talked about.  Our everyday notions rest in the existential domain of our lives.  This is the Historical dimension and many of our discussions about Truth remain caught here, as every particular interest group and set of identities has its own “Truth”, which is quickly elevated to the Ultimate.  But it remains Historical truth only.  This is the basic error of all fundamentalist thinking.  Inserting ego-laden agendas into that Historical truth provides the source of authority for the political and ideological aspirations of those who would make God small and dharma limited in scope

The importance of daily meditation is for the experience of silence and Samadhi to be increasingly brought into daily activities and circumstances.  When you continue to meditate, remarkable changes occur in your attitudes towards life’s situations – the people, events and objects with which you engage.  You will notice your actions aligning to your meditations effortlessly, although it is your fidelity to daily practice that has brought you to a deeper awareness of your strengths.  You start to know your true nature and the truth of it shines forth through your expression.  The mind calms, clears and becomes flooded with happiness, for happiness is your true nature and available once you remove false identifications.  It is not so much that you gain knowledge; you remove ignorance about the limitations of body, thought and desire identifications.  You are an unbounded self – actually a non-self – where happiness, freedom and responsibility coincide to make of you a natural and true leader.

On Being Splendid

Carolyn and Ian at the transmission ceremony

On Being Splendid – Fish Lake, Orlando, December 2012                                                           Ian Prattis

When a friend asks “How are you?” we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not too bad” or “Could be worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delvers uplifting, generous responses. Something is in the way of replying “Splendid” or “Absolutely Marvellous. If we should make such a response, we would not really believe it. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym.

F – Freaked out

I – Insecure

N – Neurotic

E – Elsewhere.

It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing words, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.

The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. At different times we occupy the first three pots and strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?

To be completely empty, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to- ie being empty of a separate self. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight becomes our best friend as we step into freedom from brainwashing.

What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:

  1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
  2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
  3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
  4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham 2011, Shambhala Sun November 2011)

In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. The visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters emanate this sense and shared it without deception or ego. All of this power of transformation from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to be complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.

Ian Prattis is the dhamacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate Sangha in the west end of Ottawa. Teachings every Thursday and First Saturday of each month. www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm