Monthly Archives: July 2013

Community Activism at Work in Ottawa

Community Activism at Work in Ottawa

2013 Friends for Peace jpeg 2

My full time job this summer is organizing a big event in Ottawa City Hall – the 11th annual Friends for Peace Day. This has been my job for over a decade. This year the event is held in Jean Pigott Place, inside City Hall, on Saturday September 28 from 11am to 5pm.  https://www.facebook.com/events/518359988213050/

It all started on a bitterly cold winter evening ten years ago, as the Iraq war loomed. I received notice that a Peace Song Circle was happening on Parliament Hill. So I went, accompanied by my wife Carolyn and our dog. No-one else turned up. I remarked to Carolyn, “This is a good idea – it just needs to be organized.” She replied, “Let’s do it.” And so we did.  It was Pine Gate Sangha that created the nucleus for Friends for Peace Canada.  It quickly grew to a loose coalition of 50 organizations and we asked them to begin the peace process first of all with themselves, then to the community and the world.  Our mandate evolved so that we gave annual Peace Grants to local and international organizations making a real difference, as well as working in concert with other coalitions in the city for environmental and social justice issues.  I also decided at that time to concentrate my energy and efforts locally, feeling that these efforts could infuse global networks from the epicentre created there. I had received many invitations to be a global speaker and teacher, yet felt that a concentration on my home city of Ottawa was the primary focus. I responded to the many international invitations with a gracious decline. Though my ego was certainly miffed by the prospect of lost opportunities, I was inspired to devote my time and energy to moving things just a little bit in my city, so that more good things could begin to happen spontaneously. As I soon discovered, there were many good friends across the city more than happy to make this possible.

We organized 5,000 participants at the Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, held on a miserably wet, cold spring day in 2003. A sea of multi-coloured umbrellas on a rain swept morning welcomed all those gathered.  As other peace protests joined us and sang “All Within Me Peaceful,” the crowd covered the grounds of Canada’s seat of government, all meditating at the end in total silence as the rain poured down on our heads.  The pouring rain was strangely welcome, for it symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, my tears, your tears – transformed into hope through singing for peace with one another and experiencing deep peace.  There was a transformation of anger, anguish and violence into a determined clarity to be peace and to oppose war.  From there we know the wise actions to take.  Those who are waging war would do better if they knew better; but they don’t know better.  We, however, do know better and must take the steps to communicate our understandings to political decision makers.  It is our developed consciousness, which allows us to know better.  It is the meditative work we do on ourselves every day of our lives to come to terms with the inner struggle, turmoil and trauma – the inner war which we must learn to identify as our own; to find ways to transform our often raging thoughts.

Every year since the relentless rain on Parliament Hill, the annual Friends for Peace Days have been memorable. We got rained and snowed on for several years on Parliament Hill, thunder and lightning at Alumni Park of Carleton University – before we moved inside to Jean Pigott Place in Ottawa City Hall. The response to this community activism has blown everyone away, as it went beyond any of our expectations!! Some Highlights:

*Peace Award recipients Bonnie Cappachino (2004) and Bruce Cockburn (2006) in their Vision Speeches ripped into government foreign policy. Dr. Peter Stockdale (2010) held City Council to account for inter-ethnic violence and neglect in Ottawa.

* In 2010 Clive Doucet, candidate for Mayor, not only danced a great number with Big Soul Project, he gave a stirring speech on Cities of Peace – a vision for Ottawa. I asked the crowd if their light was fierce and were they ready for tomorrow’s child, not yet born. This child has difficult questions – “What did you do when there was still time to create a sustainable world?” “On your watch, was there intelligent life in humanity’s leaders and decision makers?” A resounding affirmative was delivered by the diversity gathered on this day.

* Mayor Jim Watson had this to say in 2011: “Friends for Peace is an outstanding organization that does very important work, promoting, strengthening and maintaining peace, planetary care and social justice within our communities and the environment.”

award winners 500

*On the 10th anniversary in 2012, MP Olivia Chow received a posthumous Peace Award on behalf of her late husband Jack Layton. The onstage performers were outstanding, highlighted by the world premiere of “To Young Canadians.” A tribute to Jack Layton performed by Orkidstra, who commissioned composer James Wright to create a song from Jack Layton’s letter to the nation. They enjoyed a prolonged standing ovation.  Watch this glorious song by Orkidstra at the 10th Friends for Peace Day in Ottawa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NsVb2a2cbE&feature=youtu.be

Paul Dewar and Ian at FfP Day 2012

Peace Awards are given annually to outstanding citizens. Grandfather William Commanda, Max Keeping, Bruce Cockburn, Dave Smith, and Elizabeth May to mention only a few. Our mandate for peace, planetary care and social justice was solid throughout the day – at the Welcome and Community Tables, the Silent Auction, Connection Centre and Servery. People left at the end of the day feeling uplifted, confident and connected.

* This year 2013 – there will be music, speeches, dancing, fabulous food at the Servery, and a chance to learn and connect. The day opens with Orkidstra followed by the Dandelion Dance Company. These young people signal that we have a future. Peggy Taillon will talk about the Hera Mission in Kenya. And all-time favorites, Big Soul Project, close the morning program by raising the roof with their exuberance and joie.

The Lunch Break is an opportunity to browse the Silent Auction, visit the community tables, check out the Connection Centre and enjoy the country bazaar nature of the event. The afternoon program begins with a First Nations theme – Asinabika Drum Circle and Idle No More. The 2013 Peace Awards will be presented to architect and visionary Douglas Cardinal and to curator Dr Amber Lloydlangten and her team at the War Museum for their magnificent Peace Exhibition. From Montreal – a great band with Sonja Ball and Friends, followed by Lucille Hildesheim on Celtic Harp. Samba Ottawa close the day with their rhythmic magic. Get there early for the opening with Orkidstra. Doors open at 10.30am.

Ian congratulating Orkidstra

Entrance is by donation. All funds raised enable Peace Grants to be presented every year to organizations making a difference in our city and internationally. The intent is to create a different form of peaceful expression that appeals to a wide cross section of Canadian citizens who want to create infrastructure in our institutions that value peace and planetary processes.

The Friends for Peace Day is an awesome, diverse, unique Ottawa experience.  It is made possible by the generosity of volunteers and supporters and the diversity of Ottawa who show up to have a good time, be educated and inspired. The Friends for Peace Day creates an epicentre of intent and action – intense at times as people are moved to both tears and laughter.  It is fun, poignant and direct. The intensity and joy ripples through the diversity – all generations, faiths and cultures in our northern city. The force of the epicentre roars through the community and activist tables, Muslim families, Asian groups, elders, young folk and the volunteers. The diversity of Ottawa gathers, listens, dances, laughs, cries – and takes home an unforgettable experience of hope and confidence. The family grows bigger each year. All Nations, All Traditions – A Circle of Friendship www.friendsforpeace.ca

I love my summer job. It is such a rewarding experience.

The Peace Alternative

The Peace Alternative

 

9/11 changed the world.  Global terror and strife expands on a daily basis. We are already in a planetary war that has no winners.  To prevent the spread of violence and global war we ask all nations and peoples to stop and pause.  To say out loud “The killing stops here and it stops with me.”  To commit to “Peace begins right here and it begins with me.”

 

Terror, revenge, smart missiles and suicide bombers will not give us peace or security.  In the post 9/11 world the wellbeing and security of the US is intimately connected to the wellbeing and security of the world.  In this new world our old solutions no longer work.  We can no longer take up arms and martyrdom.  If we are to survive, we must now champion peace, global care, and non-violent reconciliation.

 

We must begin by listening deeply to those we are in conflict with.  We start at home by looking deeply into our own society and tradition, listening to the suffering of our own people.  We nurture peace through local and national forums of deep and compassionate listening.  This act heals deep wounds, for compassionate listening relieves the burden of suffering and discrimination.

 

We step forward as new leaders, recreating our nation on the foundation of understanding that emerges.  The compassion and goodwill present in the country can inspire other nations.

 

Internationally we propose a parallel process of deep listening through the creation of peace parliaments and peace departments whose mandate is to offer courageous alternatives to war.  These parliaments would create a safe place for peoples to share their difficulties and hopes for a peaceful world.

 

Peace parliaments and deep listening provide the middle way between war and indifference.  People will come.  Nations will come.  The time is now.

 

Please take action by contacting your political representatives, media, and by sending this letter through your networks.

 

Thankyou.

 

Ian Prattis is author of “The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11” published by University Press of America, August 2002. Also “Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves.” Fall 2008, Manor House. Both available as ebooks on Amazon Kindle

 

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey

failsafef 2 -banner 

 My book Failsafe: Saving the Earth from Ourselves was written as a Hero’s Journey for our species. Available as an e book http://www.amazon.com/Failsafe-Saving-Earth-Ourselvesebook/dp/B006DLB4AK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329677682&sr=8-1

 Testimonials:

In Failsafe, Ian Prattis offers a way to a perceptual transformation that is absolutely critical if we are to find a truly sustainable future.   David Suzuki, author, environmentalist and host of CBC’s “The Nature of Things”

“Ian’s book respects and reflects on Aboriginal Prophesies about the Eighth Fire and care of the Earth Mother.  He investigates the spiritual lack in the modern world and proposes sound means to guide the course of humanity. For this he draws on the Wisdom of the Elders. This is a book for our times. It has his experience of Taming the Wild Mind, serving the Earth and the cause of Peace.”  Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder, founder of the Circle of All Nations. Order of Canada.

Joseph Campbell’s ground breaking work on mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces way back in 1949, contained a highly radical agenda, which was somewhat obscured in his later works.  In the Epilogue of the 1968 edition he carefully mapped the reality of the Hero’s quest in modern times.  With the insight of impermanence Campbell shows that times have clearly changed, that meaning no longer resides in the community or nature but in the individual.  This makes the hero’s quest a radically different and more difficult venture as without the support of community, nature or religion the hero’s quest is to save the planet – not the bounded community or nation – and transform the entire social order of the world.  Campbell is adamant that the great religions of the world cannot assist with this task, as they are complicit in the partisan fracturing of the world carried out by factions that curry favour with outmoded expressions of cultural nationalism. Their “monkey holiness” is not the stuff that can aid the hero (1968: 389), who now has a somewhat solitary task because the center of gravity of mythology has changed from nature and locality so that humanity itself is now the mystery to be unravelled.

Yet despite all this, the hero has the “all” within him, within her.  The particular cultural and national characteristics do not tell us anything about what it is to be truly human.  And so the task is to step beyond these boundaries, discover through experience that there is no separateness, thus gaining the knowledge and insight that can transform humanity.  The influence of the Vedas of Ancient India and their non-dualism is clearly with Campbell in that he feels it is essential for humanity to see the same redemption in different forms – Truth is one and the sages call it by many names.  Thus the propagation of any form such as fundamentalist Islam or fundamentalist Christianity becomes highly dangerous.  Campbell is certainly correct about the world’s religions that require belief in a God, culturally and nationally defined – “monkey holiness.”  Yet the instruments of mindfulness practice in Buddhism with their intent on freeing the human mind from suffering may have some pertinence, as the practices are free of the stigma of cultural nationalism – or should be if the Buddha is listened to carefully!  Cultural nationalism is a redundant and obsolete force in the 21st century – that is for the task of transforming the social order of the world.  However, the religious right in America and their identical twin – the Taliban in Afghanistan – and other religious groups like them refuse to recognise that they are obsolete, still appealing to the ignorant and fearful.  Thus the hero’s task in the modern era is ominous and lonely.  Campbell (1968: 391) in the last paragraph of his classic states:

The modern hero…cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, of fear, rationalized advise and sanctified misunderstanding… It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.  And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.

My book Failsafe strikes chords with Joseph Campbell’s insights from over a half century ago.  Its genesis is in line with Campbell’s views, though I doubt if he anticipated the present global ecological emergency.  This slim volume endeavours to provide understanding, issues a call for the adventure of transmuting the existing world social order by bringing the reader to a deep spiritual understanding of what needs to be done, and finally casts the hero’s mantle on all of us.  Transforming the fabric of the entire social order asks citizens of the world to do the work of becoming spiritually responsible rather than remaining spiritual captives. This is so the revealed knowledge and wisdom gained from this adventure can be applied to society and the environment.

I ask of everyone, including myself, to be a modern hero and heroine for our time.

Understand the challenge

Accept the challenge

Listen to Nietzsche – “Live as though the day were here.”

Callum Mor’s Awakening

Callum Mor’s Awakening

Cover Song of Silence5

This is an excerpt from my recent novel, which is available on Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Song-Silence-2nd-ebook/dp/B006WB6JII/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330006852&sr=8-1

Testimonials:

I was captivated by Song of Silence. I have three criteria for a good book…I don’t want it to end, I love the end, and I do not wish to speak to anyone for several hours after I finish it. So, this met my criteria on all three levels!

Mary Helen Dean, Organizational Professional, Ottawa, Canada

“Song of Silence is so exquisite in the tenderness and honesty with which the author deals with the human condition. The story pulls you in. Besides the fact that Song of Silence is so beautifully written, it is a book that explores the human condition in its entirety and honors the darkest elements. The author does this with grace, elegance and compassion.

Anita Rizvi, Consultant, Ottawa, Canada

 

From Chapter Seven

Callum Mor sat with his jacket and coat loosely about him, creating a pocket of warm air that would resist the freezing will of the storm. He breathed slowly and deeply, using the least energy as he sat there and thought. His life went before his eyes and he smiled gently as he saw his childhood and island nurturing. He recalled his family at picnics and peats, the joy of dancing competitively with Moira and rabbiting with Donald. And his teacher, Rachel MacDougall, was there in his mind’s eye. Remembering their adventure with the otter, and how he had written as much about her inelegant slide into the mud as much as he did about the otter, he smiled. He smiled in gratitude for the freedom she opened in his mind. He had received so much. His expression did not change as he thought of his father, Andrew, driven to madness by events he could not overcome. His heart welled with love for his father. He knew it was love that had driven his father to such lengths. He recalled the patient love of his mother Annie and the winter expeditions to the mail boat as their major weekly outing. He understood the warring factions in Brett MacVicker and felt grateful that this man, who killed his brother, should have shielded his darkness from him. His thoughts drifted and rested with his mother and old Colin as they aged. He then thought of his first Catriona. He had long grieved for her and saw her immense love for him and was overcome by it. Thought of her humbled him. Yet now he felt no pain on thinking of her radiance. He gave thanks for the present Catriona – fast asleep and warm within the insulation from the dead ewe. He offered respectful thanks to the ewe for enabling his little Catriona to live. He grieved at the wreckage he had turned himself into with drink, not for what he did to himself but for the pain he had inflicted by rebuke and indifference on people who only loved him. He dozed in the cold for only a moment. His mind kept him awake as he thought of the child Catriona and her mother and father. In the knowing of them they were as gifts to return him to himself. As morning light shafted through the darkness, he lost his self-contempt and saw compassion as the saving grace of both himself and his fellow man. In that long night of freezing cold and driving blizzard his mind led him to these and many other paths and levels of his life. His suffering dissolved as his compassion grew. By morning he arrived at full self-knowledge – a state of enlightenment that he remained in for the rest of his days.

He had no regrets, was without fear, simply filled with a deep well of compassion and love that had always been there within him. He took his time sorting these insights with his mind that was now working with clarity about his life journey. He saw clearly how it had brought him to this state of emancipation.

The blizzard had ended. Catriona was awake and alive and drew from the new strength and calmness that Callum Mor now possessed. He used his fisherman’s knife to hack strips of fleece from the sheep to bind their feet and hands and wrap round her knees. Layers of fleece were thrust inside her cardigan and his jacket to keep them warm. They left their small cave after Catriona gave a special prayer to the dead ewe that had saved her life. And to Callum Mor, whom she loved so totally. They explored the land about them, looking for a path to follow. The snow had gently moulded Nature’s difference into a smooth quilt but Callum Mor knew the way to the edge of the fell.

Callum Mor returned to his island, a fuller and wiser man. He opened himself to the ways of his own people. They saw his goodness and his presence and knew not where it came from but many went to him, drawn by his softness and wisdom. He made the small and ineffectual feel useful, redirected bitterness to joy and loud and vicious men were gentled in his presence. There was an aura about him that transformed life’s frailties and failings into a creative reality. His goodness and gentle acclaim were feared by some for he had power over men and knew that he did; thus he moved them to greater understanding and compassion. Some resented his past indifference to them but on meeting with him, succumbed to his gentleness. They bore ill-concealed hurts that he healed, and wished him no harm. But the men who feared him hated his goodness and sought his destruction. They could not find a way to it but they waited, jealously guarding their intent, carefully marking the time when they thought he would fall.

 

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity

This is an extract from a chapter – Consciousness As Food – in a  book available on Amazon Kindle  – Keeping Dharma Alive. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0074A3LNC

In the groove

Buddhist masters for over two thousand six hundred years have observed the process of their own awakening.  The training of disciples and observation of their similar steps into awakening empirically confirmed the validity of their own experience.  This would not be a verification process that Western science would necessarily concur with, as examining the mind from the vantage point of an awakened mind is not something that Western science is equipped to do.  In 1987 Francisco Varela made a statement that has shaken scientific turpitude:

The chance of surviving with dignity on this planet hinges on the acquisition of a new mind.  This new mind must be wrought among other things, from a radically different epistemology, which will inform relevant actions

Varela was the catalyst for the Mind and Life dialogues between neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators. He maintained that a third person observational stance was inadequate for modern science as the first person experiential component was necessary to make science complete. He turned to Buddhism for this component and enlisted the support of the Dalai Lama for a series of dialogues, which began in 1987. Varela clearly saw that Buddhism used investigative practices that rested on observation, mind training, logical thinking and a rigorous experimental/verification process that relied on a person’s own experience. Verification of Buddhist teachings did not come solely from faith, but relied on testing the teachings out in the laboratory of personal experience and the mind.

The Dalai Lama sent eight highly trained senior monks to the Wisconsin laboratory of Dr Richard Davidson in 1992.  The monks had trained in the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma and Kagyu traditions for periods of 10,000 to 50,000 hours.  They were observed for high frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, hooked up by 256 brain sensors to electroencephalograph (EEG) and fMRI machines and compared with control groups without meditation training (see Lutz et alia 2004).  The results were sufficiently astonishing to encourage further ongoing research, as the sensors picked up in the monks’ brains an exponential increase in gamma waves, much more highly coordinated than that observed in the control groups.  Significantly, activity in the left prefrontal cortex of the monks was very high.  This brain region is usually associated with positive thoughts, feelings of balance and harmony (Lutz et alia 2004; HOPES 2003).

The significance of these ground breaking research results by neuroscientists is that in terms of meditation effects – it is clear that the trained mind is cognitively and structurally different from an untrained mind, as new neuronal connections are created so that ingrained perceptions fall away.  Yongey Mingyur, who was one of the original experimental subjects, refers to the essence of the Buddha’s teachings as: the mind is the source of all experience, and by changing the direction of the mind we can change the quality of everything we experience (2007:102).  Prolonged meditation has the effect of producing permanent changes in levels of awareness in the direction of harmony and balance.  Just what we need as a species!

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-image-5

The medical implications of neuroplasticity are nothing short of astonishing, as mechanistic biology and genetics are progressively thrown out of the window.  Previously, neuroscience in the twentieth century had established a dialectical relationship between the brain and the body.  Scientists had identified the health of the immune, hormonal and nervous systems with discrete areas of the brain – frontal lobes, amygdala and hippocampus respectively (Pollard 2004).  At that time it was thought that the brain was fixed in its structure and functions early in life – that the brain contained all its neurons at birth.  But from the 1980’s onwards, experimental research clearly demonstrated that this assumption was incorrect, that new neurons and synapses were generated throughout one’s lifespan as a consequence of new learning processes activating memory functions in the brain (Milgram 1987; Racine & Kairis 1987).  Recent studies by Begley (2004) and Lutz et alia (2004) using sophisticated MRI scans on the brains of Buddhist monks in meditation, demonstrated in no uncertain terms that meditation as a long term practice rewired the chemical and physical structure of the brain and as a consequence promoted behavioral and attitudinal changes in the direction of balance, harmony and happiness.

Now that the doctrine of the unchanging brain is thoroughly discredited, radical new vistas have opened up both for medicine and culture.  Eric Kandel received a Nobel Prize in 2000 for advancing the argument that learning and challenging memory functions stimulates genes to create new proteins and new neural circuits in the brain.  This has significant implications for curing memory disorders, treatment of neurological problems as well as reversing memory loss in the ageing brain.  Norman Doidge (2007) has argued further that this is how the brain always works – only we did not allow ourselves to understand this feature of constant malleability.  Though Buddhism does have a handle on brain structure being impermanent and everchanging.  The brain is inherently “neuroplastic” and therefore can change both its structures and functions.  Doidge documents the case history of Michelle Mack, born without the left hemisphere of her brain.  Nevertheless, Michelle leads a full and active life because the right hemisphere of her brain reorganized itself to create the synapses and brain circuits to do what were thought to be exclusive left hemispheres functions.

The changing brain is normal; furthermore the ageing brain – often beset with decline – can be stimulated by a variety of brain exercises that create new processing functions.  Costa e Silva’s work in 2004 demonstrates that depression and chronic pain are a function of a lack of plasticity in brain structures and the search is on for drug combinations that can stimulate the creation of new proteins and synapses so that brain circuits expand.  The groundbreaking work of Davidson (2000, 2003) has already shown that prolonged meditation reorganizes frontal hemisphere activity related to the stimulus of theta and alpha brain waves, which are associated with calm, harmony and attitude shift.

Furthermore, being permanently stuck with the same old cultural assumptions and predispositions is a notion that is no longer tenable.  While we most certainly shape culture, culture also shapes our brain structure.  The commonly held view that cukltural differences are implacable has to give way to the fact that we can change our cultures by simply changing our minds and the way we think about things.  Our synapses, senses, brain circuits and cultures are all malleable.  So an “unchanging world” perspective is no longer tenable particularly as the recent work of Iacoboni (2008) postulates a “mirroring” neuron.  His argument is that we understand the world around us through brain circuits that copy what we sense and see, yet do not do.  He thinks the mind explores beyond the item copied and reaches into the realm of intuition and feelings.  Are we getting closer to a “neuropolitics” and a “neuroeconomics”? Iacombini does think this is indeed possible and already happening (2008). Whether one agrees with his experiments on monkeys and further inferences – it is clear that static views in medicine, science and consciousness are exceedingly hard to justify.

The term “Neuroplasticity” was coined to describe the phenomenon of continually adjusting and reorganizing brain neurons, synapses and neural pathways.  There is no longer a place in modern neuroscience for Cartesian mind/body dualism, nor for a plausible distinction between mind and brain.  This meeting ground between Buddhist meditation and modern science in the twenty first century has produced a series of groundbreaking studies in neuroscience, accompanied by a flurry of international conferences and collaborative research projects between seasoned Buddhist meditators and contemporary neuroscientists.  It is all about consciousness change!

 

An interesting departure from the conference circuit and testing the brain scans of Buddhist meditators are the retreats (such as Plum Village 2006, Garrison Institute 2006) where neuroscientists have the opportunity to practice meditation surrounded by the Olympic athletes of meditation – highly skilled Buddhist meditators.  If it holds true that our store consciousness consumes the mind states of surrounding beings, then a pertinent question arises.  With neuroscientists surrounded by skilled Buddhist mediators in a retreat setting – how will the scientists subsequently practice their science once they return to their laboratories?  Only time will tell, though Buddhist meditators may provide an educated guess!  At the very least the explorations between Buddhist meditation and neuroscience create the conditions for a compassionate foundation to emerge for science, while at the same time Buddhism is refreshed by a novel experimental foundation rooted in scientific procedures (Chopra 2005).

Shamanic Healing Journey

Shamanic Healing Journey

 Tipi

I offered a shamanic healing journey to the Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa recently. The healing ceremony is based on considerations of safety, sacredness and responsibility. It draws from two traditions that I have extensive experience with – shamanism and Buddhist meditation practices.  I began the healing ceremony with a cycle of conscious breathing, so that everybody’s awareness becomes attached to in-breath and to out-breath.  I emphasize the circle motif during the opening symbol of external purification where individuals gather in a circle. Burning sage is smudged over each person in a clockwise direction.  During this opening process sacred Native American flute music is played softly, as people gather for the ceremony. I encourage folk to validate their experiences from their own internal recognitions. This can be discussed at the end of the ceremony and rests on the necessity of knowing for oneself the significance of one’s own experiences, rather than relying on what someone says should be experienced.

For the actual journey, the participants are accompanied by nature-based music that incorporates animal and birdcalls, and other sounds drawn from the world of nature. This is played softly.  There are many variations to a shamanic journey – into the past, into the future, under the sea, into the earth, beyond time and space, and they can be guided or non-guided. The careful preparation leading up to the journey is to ground the person in their body. I felt that this care was essential so that past fears and future anxieties that arise during the shamanic journey can be dealt with from a solid foundation. I will document only one form of guided symbolic imagery and ask the reader to suspend disbelief sufficiently to accompany me on this journey.

See yourself walking through a beautiful meadow, full of flowers.  You hear the sounds of insects humming, and birds singing.  The sun feels warm on your face and a slight breeze ruffles your hair.  As you walk, look up into an endlessly clear blue sky and for a moment allow yourself to merge with it, and enter such clarity.  (Pause)

Notice a small shape hovering in the sky that gets bigger as it comes closer to you, and see a golden eagle slowly circling above you.  He is your guardian and will watch over you and keep you safe on your journey.  As you walk, the meadow slowly gives way to a river that runs over rocks before eddying into deep, still pools.  Follow the bank of the river in the direction of the sun.  There is a path to walk along.  Notice the mallard ducks at the water’s edge with their ducklings, and a kingfisher sitting patiently on a branch overhanging a deep, still pool.  The sun filters through the trees at the river’s edge and the light dances on the rocks and water like a crystal cloak that shimmers and moves with every swirl and eddy.  (Pause)

  Walking round a bend you see that the river runs from a clear lake fringed with forests, reflecting snow-capped mountains in its still surface.  Find a spot by the side of the lake, sit down and enjoy the intimacy of nature that is around you.  At the end of the lake you see a cow moose with her calf at the water’s edge.  In the distance you hear wolves calling to one another, then you notice two rabbits beside a shrub close by.  A doe and two fawns walk slowly and tentatively from the forest into the sunlight.  Skylarks hover motionless in the sky then descend to earth with their lilting song.  Your eyes are drawn to a stately blue heron standing motionless in the reeds at the lake’s edge.  These creatures and more are there to remind you of your connection to the world of nature.  Take a moment to be with the grass, the trees, animals, birds, insects, and bring to this place your favourite animals.  (Pause)

  Ask one of the creatures to accompany you on your journey and wait to see which one comes forward.  It does not matter if none come forward, the golden eagle still circles overhead as your guardian. (Pause)

  After sitting by the lake’s edge for a while, stand up and slowly walk into the water.  It is icy cold, fed by glaciers from the snow-capped mountains. But it is a cold that is easily bearable because it purifies, stripping you of your anxieties, stress and worries.  Slowly walk into the water up to your hips, your chest and then submerge yourself in the icy cold embrace of purification. Underwater you can breathe and move around with ease.  Notice the rays of sunlight coming into the water, fish swimming swiftly past and see the rocks and submerged tree trunks on the lake floor.  As you move around and adjust to the water you see a cave at the bottom of the lake and you swim strongly and powerfully to it and enter the cave.  There is light at the end of a long underwater passage and you swim through and emerge out of the water into a cavern covered in crystals.  The sound from the crystals shimmers through your body.  At the edge of the cavern is a waterfall.  Stand underneath it and feel the water washing over and right through your body.  Feel the energy of the waterfall taking away any anxiety, tension and distress you may feel inside.  (Pause)

  Leave the cavern and follow a trail that takes you through a pine forest.  Beautiful tall pines are on either side of you, stretching up into the sky.  Take a moment and see the entire blue sky endlessly clear and enter such clarity.  (Pause)

  Then see how the forest opens up into a large clearing with a big flat rock in the centre.  There is a fire prepared for you by the rock.  As you warm your hands by the fire and feel its warmth on your face, you feel a presence next to you.  Turning around you see a beautiful old woman with clear brown eyes that look right into you. She smiles in welcome and you feel she knows all about you and embraces you in a simple, heartfelt love.  She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you.  (Pause)

  Standing next to her is a handsome old man, with weathered features and a gentle smile that lights you up.  From his eyes you feel an overwhelming compassion and understanding.  He is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you.  (Pause)

Sacawajea

  Between the old man and old woman is a young woman who sparkles.  She is fresh, vibrant and beautiful, aglow with life’s vitality.  She also greets you with a smile, and a love and understanding that you know is unconditional.  She is the feminine source of Earth Wisdom and a lightning rod for your transformation. She knows very well the suffering and chaos of modern times. She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you, particularly if you are at the crossroads of New Beginnings and ready to discard the old damaging tapes you run in your mind. Her power has an infinite depth and force.  (Pause)

  Know that these three shamans come from the deepest part of yourself and they represent your own powers of creativity and self-healing. The three shamans approach you and invite you to speak to them.  Choose who you wish to communicate with, and talk to them about whatever distresses you; the anxieties of the day, the stresses at work and at home, then if you wish, go deeper into your distress.  Talk to them about growing up, the neglect and abuse you may have experienced, the isolation, separation and lack of understanding you encountered as a young person, adolescent and adult.  Talk about the damage caused to you and the damage you may have caused others. Talk about the hatreds, angers and insensitivities you experience and perpetuate.  You can say anything to these three shamans.  They understand and love you and are there to heal you.  Talk about whatever you feel free to communicate and feel the distress and trauma leaving your body.  And when you run out of things to say, just be with their loving and supportive presence. For now, open up and speak to one of these immensely powerful shamans placed on your path. (Pause)

 Ask each one of them if they would transfer their power of creativity, understanding and healing to your awareness.  And of course they agree.  Look into the eyes of each one of them in turn and feel the transfer of their healing power with a jolt or energy circulation within your body.  Thank them for this gift then ask if you could speak to someone from the other side.  Someone who has passed on that you did not have the opportunity to say what you wanted to say, or hear what you would have liked to hear.  Wait and see if anyone comes and do not be disappointed if nothing happens.  It is not the time  (Pause)

  Take your leave of the shamans. Thank them for their support, love and power of healing.  Turning round you see a beautiful child surrounded with a golden aura.  This golden child is you — without trauma, wounds or damage — the child comes directly to you and takes your hand, and leads you to a cliff edge where the beautiful golden eagle is waiting for you.  He has been there as a guardian throughout your journey and is now ready to take you home.  (Pause)

  Ask your golden child if he or she wants to come with you, then climb onto the back of the eagle, and feel him take off from the ledge and soar high on the updrafts.  Below you, see the mountains, lakes and forests of your journey. Smoke curls lazily skyward from the fire by the rock and as you fly with the eagle feel how beautiful this earth is. Then when you feel ready to do so, part company from the eagle and fly on your own with your golden child next to you.  With your arms spread wide as wings, catch the air currents and soar, then swoop low over the streams and mountains and enjoy the strength of flying on your own as your golden child merges with you as one unified being.  (Pause)

  Slowly fly back to the edge of the lake where you were sitting.  Once again notice the animals, birds and insects and see how happy they are to see you again.  Sit there for a time.  (Pause)

  See yourself sitting or lying down in the healing circle.   Form a circle of brilliant white light around where you are sitting or lying down, then step through the light and slowly return to your body.  Breathe deeply on the in-breath and deeply on the out-breath.  As you breathe in, say quietly to yourself  “I have arrived”.  As you breathe out, say quietly to yourself  “I am home”.  Continue to do this breathing exercise for at least five minutes or until you feel “arrived” and “home” in your body.

After the safe return I conduct a final meditation with light. A tray of lighted candles is passed round the circle in a clockwise direction. Each person in turn, acknowledges the light and healing in the next person from the light and healing that is in them. This cuts the severity of surfacing and clearing fetters, knots and blockages – releasing energy “sinks.” The internal dialogue with the shamans at the rock is with the powerful inner material of creative self-healing and transformation that exists in everyone. Throughout the breathing cycles and journey other material from the depths of consciousness will surface. It is essential to be aware and dialogue with it – so the energy of trauma is steadily diminished.  These aspects of interior suffering cannot be left there on their own, as they may be dangerous and destructive both for the individual and others they will inevitably project onto. It is necessary to bring to the surface the awareness of mindfulness and the power of self-healing to take care of the trauma. Then an individual can begin to see deeply and take the steps to transform the energy of trauma. The final meditation with light acknowledges that there is more to consciousness than trauma, suffering, blockages and energy “sinks.” There are seeds of happiness, joy and grace that acknowledge the inherent Divinity within everyone. The acknowledgement in the final meditation nurtures these seeds in consciousness and creates a crucial finale to the healing journey.

Ian offering flower

 

 

Burn Out, Take Refuge

Burn Out, Take Refuge      

                                                  photo12                        

Over the years I have observed many young activist friends in the peace and environmental movements becoming overwhelmed and suffering deeply from stress and burn out.  Despite my best efforts, they have not always been open to mindfulness practice.  I firmly believe that activism without mindfulness practice will lead to burn out and disillusion of one form or another.  At the other end of the continuum, I consider spirituality without an engaged expression to be equally unbalanced.

 

I encourage all of us embarking on this 21st century adventure in Peace and Planetary Care to root ourselves deeply in mindfulness practice on a daily basis. Touch the stillness of non-action first of all so that our ensuing actions come from a place of effortless abundance and clarity.  This is how we can take care of stress, burnout and disappointment.  Guidance is essential.  It is there in abundance from Thich Nhat Hanh, as he specifies very clearly how to reach out for help.  He encourages us in times of adversity, despair and burnout to take refuge in the sangha – the community of spiritual practice.  Elder brothers and sisters in the community who are steady, patient and wise can help us step out of despair and anger by practicing meditation with us, returning us to mindfulness in order to take care of our distress. Be sure to take refuge in wise and steady friends.  There is no point in taking refuge in folks who are as bummed out as you are! Then there is taking refuge in the dharma – through practices like Deep Relaxation, Touching the Earth, of heeding the Mindfulness Trainings to protect us from making harmful decisions.  There is also taking refuge in the Buddha whose awakened mind is in the sutras that guide us step by step from despair to happiness.  Each Refuge encourages us to foster positive and wholesome mental formations rather than fostering further despair and angst.  Instead of running away from our fear and distress by hiding it under addictive behaviors, we learn from Taking Refuge just how to embrace and transform our fear and distress – first of all by clearly recognizing it.

 

We have to become good gardeners of the mind to do this.  It takes skill, mindfulness and
retraining to become a good organic gardener, so that the garbage in us is turned into rich compost rather than rejected or repressed.  It also takes much understanding based on a non-dualistic view – accepting and recognizing just what is there in the mind.  So if our mind is dark with sorrow or anger we recognize that this is just so.  With awareness we know how to practice walking meditation to take care of the mind-state recognized.  Without the darkness and sorrow we would have no idea about the light dance of happiness.  Instead of being overwhelmed by darkness, which can so easily happen, we use our skills of practice to recognize our mental states, nurture and transform them to a state where there is no danger of being overwhelmed.  This non-dualistic way of looking at our mind states makes good sense, particularly as the alternative of suppression, of not practice, of not mindfulness, keeps us caught in the burnout, deeply mired in suffering with the conviction that there is no way out of this misery.  This “not” alternative rapidly leads to depression, mental illness and damage to others as well as to ourselves.  The mindfulness alternative of developing the necessary skills is a very wise and therapeutic option.

 

You may see for yourself the value of taking refuge in sangha eyes to guide your perceptions; of taking refuge in the practices, trainings and sutras for guidance in order to apply the energy of mindfulness to the energy of burnout.  With the assistance available through taking refuge in the Three Gems – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – the practice comes alive as a highly strategic set of tools and skills to produce transformation of the suffering caused by difficult and painful circumstances that lead to burnout.  Activism is full of crises, curve balls and disasters.  But even so we do not have to be overwhelmed and crushed by them.  Mindfulness practice helps us.  Understanding and compassion hone our skills so that we become excellent gardeners of the mind.