Category Archives: Awakening

Three Five Stars for Painting With Words

Some words from Five Star Reviews may bring the book alive for you. You can pick it up from the author or order it online, details at: http://ianprattis.com/PaintingWithWords.html

 

Kathryn Bennet wrote: “I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time I felt that I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me there is something truly magical about a work that can do that…….The poems strike right at the heart of the journey the author himself has taken in life, and yet it also has an ability to resound with others…….You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read….This collection of poems takes the reader through the full gamut of human emotions. The author has masterfully used his own life experience to transport the reader through this journey, while striving to leave a mark directly on the reader’s heart.”

From K.C. Finn: “Shying away from the old fashioned traditions of symbolism and imagery, the work expresses an emotionally outcry in a raw and direct from, creating powerful auditory moments to express the highs and lows of the human condition………What results is a work which runs the full spectrum of emotional consideration, taking a singular personal experience and reaching for the qualities which make it universal to all…..The poems are direct in address, but spiritual and philosophical in themessage the leave lingering afterwards.”

Romuald Dzemo speaks: “A collection of poems thematically arranged that reflect the very soul of humanity, filled with imagery and rhythms that mimic the different seasons of the human soul. The poems in this collection bear witness to what readers feel, perhaps in the hushed hours of the day; emotions, thoughts, felings, and realities that allow readers to connect with the things he writes about…….The voice is powerful, the poetic lines rhythmic, and the entire collection is filled with powerful imagery……..I love the depth in Ian Prattis’ poetry and thebeauty in the rhythm and richness if its diction…….For instance: “A week in the life/ of a poem/has words racing to knowing’s edge.” Here is another: “Phrases creep/over the dawn of logic/suspended then gone.”

 

Poetic Voice

                                              

I will talk about the Poetic Voice and “Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era.”

In 2017 I published a book of essays titled “Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement.” Once I sent it off to the publisher I had to clean out my filing cabinet, which was a total mess. In the process of dumping stuff I was surprised to come across a folder with 60 years of my poetry stuffed in it. Most of it was garbage, but there were sufficient gems to feature six distinct thematic moods to capture the shared aspects of human experience.

It all started during my teenage expedition to Sarawak, Borneo (1960 – 62). This was with Britain’s Peace Corps. I kept a journal of the vivid surrounds and how I was feeling. From that time on I scribbled poetry wherever I went, accumulating poems that reminded me of the experiences. Later on in life, my extensive shamanic training with First Nations medicine people was also carefully logged. Those notes and poems were a sign-post to always be authentic. In my career as an anthropologist I was fortunate to encounter many First Nation story tellers across North America. Their poetic recounting of myths and history had a deep impact on how I wrote. I would say that without poetry cultures implode.

My first book – Redemption – was written in 1975. I refer to this novel as I wrote it as an extended prose poem. It became a lost manuscript as I did not know how to get published at that time. In 1975 I was writing way over my head and lacked the maturity to understand the deep nuances emerging from my pen. Redemption was writing me and it is fitting that it was not published until 2014. It reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and human nature. The time lapse allowed me to grow into the insights and revelations writ large. I was a total mess in 1975 – with a failing marriage in the Hebrides and trying to keep my career intact as a young professor at Carleton University. I was not doing a good job with either. The surprise for me in 2014 was how did I write such a powerful poetic novel while in a desperate state of mind? This background brings me to “Painting with Words” – my latest book

PART ONE: BITTERSWEET

It growls rather than sings – a side show malady of words I sometimes prefer to hide. It relishes what I failed and flailed at – my discomfort with relationships, hierarchical structure and all that is phony. Growing up I was acutely aware that I was a maverick – on the outside looking in. I saw more clearly and deeply than allowed.

The poem Punk Palace in the Moonlight presents a sudden shift in the first mood. This poem is about my son – lost in the drug underground of Glasgow, Scotland. I went there to bring him out. Punk Palace in the Moonlight is a collaborative poem composed with my son. We took turns composing lines of a poem to the moon. I cannot discern where he began and where I ended, which is perhaps just as it should be.

Punk Palace in the Moonlight

Moonlight speaks of a morning passing by

life crisis turns beyond wreckage

preventing boundless life entering grim death.

The moon a delicate mistress

veiled by fleeting clouds and mysteries.

It makes the stars and galaxies dance.

The moon does this,

with all that is in me.

This gateway to boundless space

is a door for my troubles and joy.

For I am in the moon and stars

and they are in me.

We dance together

– Now Bright; Now Turbulent

Now Lost; Now Found –

Beyond any sense or reason.

And the night sky casts movement and hues

to something I touch

with that in me.

The full harvest moon

rises from banks of pastel grey,

pacing existence

through the rhythms of our universe.

Glasgow, Scotland. September, 1995 

PART TWO: PAINTING WITH WORDS

Part Two displays my passion for nature, the colourful images of nature’s cycles and its “undeterred rhythm” of change. I remember as a child how I blithely assumed that nature walked me when I cut school to roam the forest and rivers near my home. As a child I had special relationships with wild animals, in particular with one otter and a family of hedgehogs that I kept under my bed. My parents were long suffering over the stray animals I brought home, but their patience was severely stretched over the hedgehogs. They had to be returned to the forest when I became infested with their fleas, which I passed on to my immediate family, classmates, and also to a particular schoolteacher that I did not like.

My poem “Weaving in the Forest” paints the image of a lake, awakening the senses to the striking beauty of the depicted scene.

Weaving in the Forest

 

Let me share it.

This symphony of autumn color,

cascading melody from a sky

pastel grey and fiery red.

Descant to the dancing tones of

a painted forest

cooled by lush evergreens.

 

Sensual beauty,

rhapsody of forest and sunset sky

fused a golden sheen,

caught in a still lake.

Waiting with patience

beyond time and space,

A pause to reflect this moment of

splendor –

Weaving

Lac Philippe, Gatineau Hills, October, 1992

 

PART THREE: AGUA VIVA and PART FOUR: FOOTSTEPS OF THE BUDDHA

I will run together Part Three: Agua Viva and Part Four: Footsteps of the Buddha. They are both about the spiritual journey at different times. Agua Viva (in Mexico) provides poems about my clumsy emergence to new understandings. They are very different from the more mature Part Four – Footsteps of the Buddha.

I met a visiting Rishi to Canada in 1995 – a holy man from India who recognized me and insisted I go to India for spiritual training. In November and December of 1996 I became seriously ill in India. As I observed my bodily systems crashing one by one I knew there was a distinct possibility of death. I was living in a small ashram in the city of Mumbai – reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category yet felt their grace at hand. One humorous manifestation of that grace occurred one morning when I woke up and opened my eyes to greet one of my swami mentors. He smiled broadly and said in his wonderful Indian accent:

“We are all so happy Ian that you have decided to die with us in India, if indeed you are to die. And we will be most happy should you live.”

I went back to India six years later. My wife Carolyn and I embarked on a pilgrimage – In The Footsteps Of The Buddha – through North India and Nepal in February 2003. I created six insight poems that provide a glimpse of experiences that are too immense to otherwise communicate. The Footsteps of the Buddha pilgrimage was full of wonder and miracles. It was a journey to the center of being so that everyday life becomes a pilgrimage.

 PART FIVE: SPEAKING OF TRUE LOVE

I do not have the credentials to speak of this lofty pinnacle. My relationships through time hardly equipped me, as I stumbled through ignorance, stupidity (mostly mine) and unhappiness. My mistakes were legion and I eventually decided to live alone. I found a spacious cabin set in the Gatineau Forest across the river from Ottawa.

An old friend pierced that bubble. She was taking ballroom dancing lessons and asked me to accompany her, as her partner was unable to do so. At the Jack Purcell Centre in Ottawa, an elderly Jamaican gentleman was our instructor. He was charming and had all the moves to put us through the paces of ballroom dancing. I noticed an attractive blonde woman always dancing the male part with her female friends – all from the same office. Her name was Carolyn. I asked if she would like to dance the female role with me. Her wide green eyes and gentle smile said it all. The following week of dancing with her was magic. Not once did I tread on her toes during the intricate passages of the Quick Step and the Fox Trot.

Before leaving that evening, I asked if she would like to meet my wolf. As soon as these words came out of my mouth, I thought she must think this was the worst pick-up line in the world. She paused, smiled and then said “Yes.” I did, in fact, have a pet wolf in the back of my truck. He had found me in the Mt. Currie forest in British Columbia. He played his part beautifully. I rolled down the window of my truck and Carolyn could see his magnificence. He had a russet brown coat with white forelegs and face. He rested his large paw on Carolyn’s shoulder and gently licked her cheek. It was an instant match. She told me much later that she fell in love with the wolf first, then thought that there must be something about the fellow who had him.

The thematic focus of these poems is a celebration of souls mirroring each other, bonded in a union reminiscent of twin flame bonds. They remind me of the Romantic period in English literature, or the Sturm and Drang of the German poetic expression, where ecstatic feelings prevailed over the poetic form. Here is a taste: “Our soft spoken adoration blows on dandelions, creating parasols drifting to fertile ground” – PAUSE – that begins one of the many verses.

PART SIX: ANCIENT WISDOM

PART SIX – ANCIENT WISDOM was written when I accompanied two friends on the first leg of their cross Canada canoe expedition.

My creation of this epic poem had a double focus. I wanted to leave a document about Canada’s wilderness for my grand-children, so they could be inspired by Mother Earth. I also wanted to weave in the Wisdom of the Elders, to speak about Canadian waterways from the reverence of First Nations.

Painting With Words Poetry for a New Era ends with this thematic focus on Ancient Wisdom – pulsating with the rhythm of the river, the spirit of nature of its ancient inhabitants. In spite of being exposed to the merciless harshness of the elements, the poet – that is me – still smiles because I am a part of this world just like a tree or a rock.

The connection between humans and nature is illustrated in the poem about a solitary tree and a man. In each other’s presence, their feelings of aloneness vanish.

The Forest

In the forest a great many entities

of the earth and sky speak of before

and what is to be.

Clearings sunk into the earth

await further visits.

In the center of one clearing

stood a single tall aspen

Waiting for companionship,

fragile in its aloneness,

in her aloneness,

in our aloneness.

I stand within her circle

– this tree and I –

and for a brief moment,

neither were alone.

To finish I would like to bring to your attention a 5 STAR review which inspired the writer of it to start writing poetry again. READ.

Kathryn Bennett writes:

I have to be fully honest in saying I read this book three times before settling in to write this review. Each time, I felt like I uncovered another layer with the collection of poems that I had missed the last time through. To me, there is something truly magical about a work that can do that. You can see the images come to life before your eyes as you read. It was truly a pleasure to be able to read this collection of poems and it has inspired me to look back on some poetry I used to write and perhaps to start doing so again. I would highly recommend this book to any reader who loves a journey and wants to find themselves mesmerized by the written word.

 

Greta Thunberg and March 15, 2019

In Sweden 2018, 15 year old Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish parliament with her water bottle, books, snacks and a homemade sign “SCHOOL STRIKE FOR CLIMATE.” Every Friday she left her school to do this. She says “No-one was interested, so I had to do it myself.” She was not alone for long. A flyer from her stated: “You grownups don’t give a shit about my future.” Sweden’s newspapers and reporters soon flocked around her. She still strikes every Friday. She spoke at the UN climate talks in Poland and called out world leaders for not being mature enough to tell it like it is. “Even that burden is left to us children” was part of her address to the global business elite at Davos. She even told the EU to double its climate change reduction targets as this would be its fair share of keeping the planet below the dangerous level of global warming. Greta affirmed her stance with a withering Ted Talk in Stockholm that left nothing behind and earned an ovation from a huge audience.

She lit a fuse among young people around the world. And that fuse has brought the EU to institute further steps to reduce Climate Change in Europe. Thousands of students in Europe and over 1,000 cities world-wide joined her “FridaysForFuture” campaign. Her example came amidst very dangerous warnings about climate change. Thunberg remarked that “Change is on the horizon, but to see that change we also have to change.” Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome. She cites her neuronal structures as providing her single pointed dedication to the issue of Climate Change. She quips, “I see the world kind of black-and-white. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t.”

This unusual warrior for Climate Change, now 16 years old, deserves the active attention of every adult in the world. She has put out a call for students world-wide to leave their schools on Friday March 15 to “Strike for Climate,” bringing out the determination of young people to force the hand of political change. Her model for this was the Parkland School students in Florida, who walked out of school to protest gun violence. Greta holds the firm desire for global student strikes to be non-violent, with no hate and no damage. She insists that everyone become educated about the Paris Accords, respecting science and personally minimising their carbon footprint. She requests children to do their homework about Climate Change, because most adults have yet to do so.

“Youth Climate Change US” are mobilized to point the Strike right at resistant politicians, demanding that they decarbonize the US economy, and furthermore make legislative action to combat the effects of climate change. The registered Climate strikes are planned in over 90 countries around the planet. Young people see that their present and future on the planet are at stake and they are pulling in university students and women to strike with them.

British PM Theresa May asserted that the school strikes are “wasting lesson time.” Greta’s sharp response was, “Political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse..” Good bye Theresa May and your ilk! It is apropriate to ignore her, when over 3,000 climate scientists have given their full backing to the strikes. I feel strongly that the response globally to the March 15 strike will be beyond anything we have seen on our planet. Please do your part – Support and Help.

5 STAR Review of “Painting with Words”

Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era 

BOOK REVIEW

 5 Star – Reviewed By Romuald Dzemo for Readers’ Favorite                                                 

 Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era by Ian Prattis is a collection of poems that are thematically arranged and that reflect the very soul of humanity, filled with imagery and rhythms that mimic the different seasons of the human soul. The poems in this collection bear witness to what readers feel, perhaps in the hushed hours of the day; emotions, thoughts, feelings, and realities for which they find no language. This poet succeeds in capturing moments of reality that allow readers to connect with the things he writes about. The voice is powerful, the poetic lines rhythmic, and the entire collection is filled with powerful imagery. I love the depth in Ian Prattis’ poetry and the beauty in the rhythm and the richness of its diction. For instance: “A week in the life/ of a poem/ has words racing to knowing’s edge.” Here is another: “Phrases creep / over the dawn of logic, / suspended, then gone.”

Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era opens new portals into reality. It is highly imaginative and the author articulates brilliantly on a variety of themes, from denouncing the horrors of war, to celebrating the seemingly mundane moments of life, to capturing the relationship between humanity and nature. Each poem is unique, expressing a thought, a reality, a moment in existence in a succinct manner. Some of the poems are very personal while others are universal in nature. This collection is as delightful as it is meaningful. You will read these poems and find yourself going back to them.

“Painting with Words, Poetry for a New Era” Order through: http://ianprattis.com/PaintingWithWords.html  To avoid shipping costs, Ottawa area friends can get a signed copy directly from the author –your purchase enables you to take home a prior book or Meditation CD home for FREE, as a special thank you.

 

 

Wise Words from Joanna Macy 

“Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. How do we begin to deal with the plastic in the ocean that covers areas the size of countries? What are cell phones and microwaves doing to our biological rhythms? What exactly is in our food? How do we address genetic modification of crops? We are so hooked on all of this, on every level. How do we begin to contain it?

Carrying capacity is the level most people talk about. It’s a defining aspect of the climate crisis. How will we grow the food we need given huge variations and extremities of weather? How will we handle the natural disasters and famines that will result from a chaotic climate? The deeper level is that consequences will extend far beyond the collapse of this civilization. The third level of crisis is the enormous increase in the rate of extinctions – creating a loss of biodiversity so extreme that we can glimpse the doom of complex life forms. It takes highly differentiated, integrated and diverse systems to produce life forms complex enough for consciousness. The fourth level of crisis would be the destruction of everything more complex than anaeorobic life forms, because of the loss of our oxygen production in the oceans and on land.

Our little minds think it must be over, but the very fact that we are seeing it is enlivening. We know we can’t possibly see the whole thing, because we are just one part of a vast interdependent whole–one cell in a larger body. So we don’t take our own perceptions as the ultimate. My world view has been so interwoven between the Buddhist teachings and living systems theory. They inform each other so powerfully. But even in Buddhism, where impermanence is a matter of course, there are no obvious concepts to deal with super-impermanence, in the sense that humans are now bringing an end to the Cenozoic era. In the best case, there may be an Ecozoic era to follow it. Continuing on our “business-as-usual” trajectory will acidify the oceans and trigger runaway global heating, epic mass extinction and a completely new cycle of geological time. A few climate scientists consider we may have already entered into runaway climate change.

So the choice is how to live now. With the little time left, we could wake up more. We could allow this whole experience of the planet, which is intrinsically rewarding, to manifest through our heart-minds—so that the planet may see itself, so that life may see itself. Unfortunately the dominant institution of our time has been created in the image of a psychopath, and it is legally mandated to behave as such. The American broadcast media is thoroughly controlled by corporate ownership or advertising revenue. They have reduced the population to a state of such stupidity. The experiential work, is to help people make friends with uncertainty, and reframe it as a way of coming alive. Because there are never any guarantees at any point in life.

And as far as Buddhism is concerned, I find that Western Buddhists tend to privatize their practice, and look for what I call premature equanimity. They go for peace of mind and that is such an inadequate response. A major change is the relevance people are now finding in Native American teachings. There’s a deep respect for the wisdom that is there, and for the nobility of character that it fostered. I think that it is a precious addition to our triple gem—this fourth gem of our time—that the native peoples are speaking out.”

See also:  http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

Our World is Burning is an inspiring and informative read. Ian Prattis offers us valuable insight, wisdom and perspective in finding our way to a healthier world, one based on compassion and commitment, mindful of how everything we do impacts the whole.

  • Laurence Overmire, Author of “The One Idea That Saves The World”

 

PART SIX: ANCIENT WISDOM

Four large Ravens visited me in my back garden. They stared at me until they had my full attention. This was a prompt to complete a neglected piece of work. I had placed a complete volume of poetry on the back burner, allowing it to sit for six months. No longer – I got it that this was my priority. In particular the final section of the poetry book – PART SIX: ANCIENT WISDOM. The Ravens left as silently as they arrived. I was humbled by their presence. Here is the introduction to ANCIENT WISDOM.

PART SIX: ANCIENT WISDOM

PART SIX was written when I accompanied two friends, Janice and David, on the first leg of their cross Canada canoe expedition. My good friend Keith Crowe teamed up with me and a yellow canoe. I had never undertaken anything quite like this. Ancient Wisdom was written during the canoe trip, under oilskins, during portages, while cooking in the rain and once when standing drenched and half clothed in a Quebec laundromat. PART SIX is written in capital letters – a writing form quiet alien to me but that is how I wrote it.

My creation of this poem had a double focus. I wanted to leave a document about Canada’s wilderness for my grand-children, so they could be inspired by Mother Earth. When experience and inspiration sparked, I would shout out to Keith in the stern of the yellow canoe that I had to write. I would bring out the oil skin envelope stuffed with poems about the journey. The final poem ended up being very long. I edited it radically when my oldest grandson exclaimed, “Too long grandpa!” I took his response to heart. However, it is still very long. I hope there is enough apocryphal prose to hold the reader’s attention.

I also wanted to weave in the Wisdom of the Elders, to speak about Canadian waterways from the reverence of First Nations. A decade earlier I had become aware that I had a stalker from that ancient realm. She persisted in shadowing me. Eventually, White Eagle Woman, my shaman mentor made it clear I was mistaken. This was no stalker. It was a woman from the 18th century. The female entity from the past was a medicine woman and she was trying to bring powerful medicine gifts through to me in the 21st century. I had not learned how to release my logical, intellectual mind, and did not possess the wisdom to receive her gifts. She had a name – Trailing Sky Six Feathers.

My dumb resistance, however, was no match for her determination. I ultimately surrendered to this Muse and wrote a book about her – Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse. I learned that I had died in her arms in 1777. She vowed to find me in the future to complete my purpose. Through her insistence I learned to reconfigure my understanding of time, place and consciousness. She refused to give up on how dense I was and provided guidance so that karma was reversed, the internal battles ceased and I learned to navigate past and present life experiences over four centuries. The medicine gifts received from Trailing Sky during dream visions and shamanic journeys required that I nurture skills and learn to use them wisely. I eventually remembered a clear mosaic of experiences stretching back to 1777. Past life memories collided head-on with the present, as the relentless shadowing by this Muse brought understanding and purpose to overcome the darkness of my past. This provided the appropriate training to navigate this river of Ancient Wisdom.

It was during a gathering of elders in 1978 that I first met White Eagle Woman. She beckoned me over, looked me right in the eye and told me that she did not like me at all. Quite an introduction. Her rebuke was perhaps well deserved, given how unaware I must have seemed. My disjointed education and experience with the Indigenous domain of mysticism did, however, slowly evolve into a seamless pattern rather than remain as random knots stretching across an abyss. She had been instructed by her ancestors to train me and it began straight away with an eight day vision quest. Her blunt introduction was the prelude to a thirty year period of training and healing under her guidance. She directed the shamanic process of my healing from childhood sexual abuse. This allowed the mosaic of the past to reveal itself.

She also identified Trailing Sky and taught me how to create a medicine wheel in my mind with a circle at the sacred centre. That was the location where I could dialog with Trailing Sky, which I do every day. Each time my life was at risk, Trailing Sky would orchestrate the necessary energies to keep me alive. That must have kept her very busy as she brought me through to safety – time after time. She is not an illusion, nor a projection that I am attached to. She constitutes all that is crystal clear within me – the ultimate Muse. I am deeply humbled and privileged to touch this Ancient Wisdom of transformation. She said to me,

“You have transformed all that you brought in with you and suffered from. The person who stumbled blindly through the first part of your life is not the Ian walking through the second part of life. In India, Arizona, France, the Canadian wilderness and around the world you went to extraordinary lengths to deal with karma. You changed course and now have freedom and alignment. There were so many severe experiences, but you responded by moving in a spiritual direction. You touched universal threads that allowed me to keep my promise from 1777. And we are both grateful for that”

I could feel her smile expand with my own. I placed my two hands together with great reverence and offered a deep bow of gratitude to Trailing Sky Six Feathers.

Namaste….

http://www.ianprattis.com/TrailingSky.html

 

THAT AGING THING.

I am in Week 5 of an Essay Writing tutorial. This week the issue was to look back on our history – so here is a far out view……

On my return to Canada after this brutal summer I met White Eagle Woman at an elders gathering. It was her air of quiet authority that immediately struck me. She looked into me deeply and saw that I needed help. She had been instructed by her ancestors to train me and it began straight away with an eight day vision quest, a prelude to a thirty year period of training and healing under her guidance. She directed the shamanic process of my healing from childhood sexual abuse. This allowed the mosaic of the past to reveal itself. She clearly identified Trailing Sky Six Feathers for me and taught me how to create a medicine wheel in my mind as the location where I could dialog with her.

After the Vision Quest I built the medicine wheel in my mind that White Eagle Woman had so carefully taught me. I spoke to Training Sky Six Feathers about the sea journey, as I had questions to clear up.

“Trailing Sky, was it you that brought my boat safely home?” I already knew the answer. She had been there every time my life was at risk.

“You were there on all the other voyages – were you not Trailing Sky?” I said softly to her, just affirming her life guardian presence.

She responded after a long pause. “I had to keep you alive, your son too, for he receives the Torch after your passing.”

Flashing through my mind were all the moments when death had faced me in this lifetime. I then realized that she was there every moment my life was at risk and brought me through to safety – time after time. I took our dialog to another level,

“When I die, will you be there?”

Her voice was very soft and precise. “When you die, I will be the last portion of your consciousness to dissolve. Before that moment of dissolution I will guide both of us as one integrated mind into the next adventure.”

Trailing Sky Six Feathers is not an illusion, nor a projection that I am attached to. She is the ultimate Muse, constituting all that is crystal clear within me.  Just before midnight she quietly said to me,

“You have transformed all that you brought in with you and suffered from in this life. The person who stumbled blindly through the first part of your life is not the Ian walking through the second part of life. In India, Arizona, France, the Canadian wilderness and around the world you went to extraordinary lengths to deal with karma. You changed course and now have freedom and alignment. There were so many severe experiences, but you responded by moving in a spiritual direction. You touched universal threads that allowed me to keep my promise from 1777.”

I could feel her smile expand along with my own. In the dark I placed my two hands together with great reverence and offered a deep bow of gratitude to Trailing Sky Six Feathers.

Namaste..

 

Ripple felt on all shores

Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement

  • Gayle Crosmaz-Brown, Master Drum Artisan & Spiritual Activator

Ian’s writing style keeps one motivated to keep turning the pages wanting to know more. His passion for sharing his insights and growth has no bounds, and triggers others to take action. May all who invest their time absorbing these pages find it in their own hearts to live the example being created within his prose. Ian is the stone being tossed into the waters of life. Let his ripple be felt on all shores.

Order Book: Amazon, Indigo, Author Autograph – http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

Agua Viva

Agua Viva                                                                                                      

 

When I finished writing “Our World is Burning” and got it published in October 2017, I decided to step back and study the writing craft more deeply – particularly short stories. But first of all there was the task of clearing out my file cabinet, which was a total mess. During the demolition, I came across a yellowing folder that contained 40 years of my poetry. Much of it was garbage, but there were sufficient gems to fashion a book of poetry. That instantly became the new project. I had enough material for six distinct poetic memes that played out significant parts of my own life. This required an autobiographic introduction for each of the six sections. The collection is much like an exquisite cheese – it has to be left to mature. At least until Spring 2019!

Here is the introduction to PART ONE: AGUA VIVA.

The poems in Agua Viva – Water of Life – were written over a forty year time period (1978 – 2018). They provide a text for my clumsy emergence into new understandings. I first journeyed to Mexico in March 1978 to a Dominican Monastery – Agua Viva – sixty kilometres southeast of Mexico City. With a number of friends this adventure was to experience a heightened transformation of the path of awareness few of us knew we were travelling. A return visit to the same monastery was made two years later. In 1988 the same core of friends returned to Mexico and made a destination to the Mayan civilization in the Yucatan. The Agua Viva poems were scribbled down hastily and refined with later insight.

There was a return to Mexico thirty years later in November of 2017 – again to the Yucatan. In particular, the Mayan walled city of Tulum. It was located upon a shoreline cliff facing the Caribbean Sea. The ocean provided a stunning turquoise color as the backdrop for jungle, sea and the mystique of Mayan civilization. Previously in 1988, I had sat for hours at the top of the Tulum Castillo looking out at the Caribbean Sea. I was mesmerized by the sublime Mayan architecture and the overwhelming pulse of an angry sea crashing, swell after swell, into the cliffs it rested on. I did not write a poem at the Castillo at that time, too astonished to put pen to paper or even take a photograph. Yet the feelings of that day, thirty years ago, seared into my mind as I anticipated a meeting with a timeless collision of civilization, memory and human nature.

The early poems (1978 – 1988) delivered an uncertain direction as my friends and I threw ourselves to find out what we could not fathom. Trying to identify purpose without too much success and leaning on an awkward posturing. I waited a long time to cap this early scribbling with a candid view of the Mayan city of Tulum – thirty years later. A wake up call from reality arose. The “Agua Viva” poems are dedicated to all of us who seek, strive and then occasionally relax into maturity.

A Manifesto for the Future

“A Manifesto for the Future” is the final essay in my forthcoming book, “Our World is Burning: Essays in Mindful Engagement.” As the planet’s life support systems erode due to Climate Change, do we seek guidance from spiritual ethics or are we trying to transcend an unsatisfactory world? The Mindfulness Trainings are there yet social, political and ecological engagements are devalued. Walk the Bodhisattva path not as a separate self but as an engaged self.

 

A Manifesto for the Future

 

As a Zen teacher I make a commitment not to cause harm. I am guided by spiritual ethics yet am aware that the current disastrous state of the planet will not bring forth strategic plans of how to fix things. I could go on and on about the terrible things taking place in society and to the planet – and will divert to that in a moment. Yet the bottom line for me is to remember and refine a system of ethical conduct. I go deeper into meditation and mainly fix myself to be steady and insightful. I register with Mindfulness Trainings, as it brings out all that I would like to see in people around the planet.

The bottom line for me is that awakening and mindfulness are active. Activism, on its own, does not have the inner resources to maintain effective social and planetary transformation. I know from personal experience that re-training the wild mind is a necessary ingredient to precede activism. Becoming environmental or political is only one part and cannot be fully effective until the internal side is in place.

We have no alternative but to concentrate on sustainable living, rather than exploiting the spoils of perpetual economic growth. Profit cannot be the sole reason for commerce. There must be responsibility tied into the equation. At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised. We are in the position of either going down the collective sewer or changing our values in the direction of awakening.

Jane Goodall issued a dire warning in 2016 that ‘life is hanging by a thread,’ as all living things will be negatively impacted by rapid climate change. In particular, she advocates the necessity of creating programs that stop tropical deforestation by making rural communities custodians of the forests.

This is difficult when President Trump, an influential leader, has begun to dismantle environmental regulations, setting in motion irreversible consequences around the world. The United States is ignoring climate change, obstructing clean energy and many forms of conservation. Noam Chomsky in 2016 refers to Trump’s priorities as “…racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life.”

Stephen Hawking’s thoughtful piece in the Guardian (December 1, 2016) places a focus on elite behavior creating further inequality as he examines Brexit and the Trump presidency. His question is how will the elites change? “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality and people see only a slim chance at earning a living at all.” Hawking acknowledges this dangerous moment in humanity’s evolution.

Earth is like a giant living cell, all parts are linked symbiotically. Biologist Thomas Lewis created this metaphor with humanity just as one part of a vast system. This is not something that powerful and corporate people have paid much attention to. The reality is that the life support systems of the planet are severely threatened by climate change, aided by accelerating global consumerism. Our ignorance and neglect are destroying Earth, because we do not know how to respect ourselves, others, and the planet. Unless we radically change, there is no possibility of balance, environmentally or socially.

This became clear in my filmed distance course “Ecology and Culture” at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I wanted to connect the many levels of violence and fear we engage with to the environment, and to the everyday use of harmful speech and mindless consumption. With ethical guidelines rooted in spiritual practice, we do not generate the energy that enables terror and violence to grow. Comparing an everyday situation to an overall climate of fear, hatred and vengeance, I suggest that it is all the same. We just need to learn how to behave differently.

These issues were examined with great clarity by the awakened mind of the Buddha, 2600 years ago. His teachings are timeless, as relevant to the modern world as when first spoken. The Buddha taught the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a design for living. Thich Nhat Hanh reworked them to relate to modern realities. They are non-sectarian and all spiritual traditions have their equivalent. The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in oneself, family and society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity and not exploit other beings. The third is responsible sexual behavior for all people, to protect couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconciliation. The fifth is about mindful consumption, which helps us not to bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind.

I asked the students in my Ecology and Culture class if anyone would care to read them out to their classmates during my lecture on environmental ethics. There were many volunteers. I did wonder if this borrowing from Buddhism would go over well with students and the viewing audience. Much to my surprise, students and the public viewers wrote in to tell me that this was a wake-up call, the first time they had been presented with specific environmental ethics. Let me be clear, the trainings are not there to judge others. They are an internal guide so that, as individuals, we wake up to love and compassion and take heed of the directions the mindfulness trainings take us in. The trainings are not a coercive design for conformity. They simply assist us to be more aware of what is going on, around and within us. They enable us to distinguish what is good for ourselves, our minds and the world and what is not. It is not necessary to complete the practice perfectly, as that is not possible. It is, however, possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living and make a difference to our society and environment. Do we bring to violence, indifference and terror a renewed application of the same or do we step back and consider these teachings?

There is a solution to our present situation. Our leaders have often become trapped by corporate and electoral agendas, following a similar script, seeking justification and in some cases, avocation for the use of violence. Large scale change is difficult to find within this system but the Buddha offers a path. The implications of his Five Mindfulness Trainings apply to the dangerous times we live in. Our world needs guidelines like these.

A flip side to global violence is the growing concern over the absence of love, decency and compassion in daily public life. This preoccupies and worries many citizens and scholars.  If there was ever a time to learn anew from these teachings, it is now. When we touch base with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are being reminded to wake up. Neglect, terror and fear are states of mind. Therefore, we need tools that reconnect us to a mind state driven by love, decency and positivity.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are presented as an antidote to the contemporary crises. The ethics of the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide a necessary balance to find our true nature, while caring for all we connect with. In addition to addressing social and environmental crises, the building of inner spiritual strength through meditation and mindfulness is crucial.

However, I must point out that it is critical in the 21st century that necessary re-education also find a place in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are indeed a guidance system to encourage us to no longer participate in a non-sustainable economic system driven by greed and distraction. This global ethic is our protector as it helps us to stop, look deeply and throw away our harmful patterns of behavior. Crises such as Climate Change prompt us to refresh and refine the trainings but as we will see there were some awkward disconnects in their creation. This begs the question of how to relate to the trainings without a disconnect to their intentions?

The Buddha was clear about impermanence and new challenges. He created the Five Mindfulness Trainings for the lay community and told Ananda, his faithful attendant, that the minor precepts should be revised according to the culture and the time. But Ananda and the Buddhist elders were confused about which precepts were the minor ones and misunderstood what the Buddha was talking about. And so nothing changed for 2,600 years. There was no preparation or anticipation for modern realities, as monastic precepts have not changed very much and were not equipped to handle issues ranging from internet, terrorism, a world full of refugees, to Climate Change.

The seeds of disconnect are not just with the trainings but with dharma in general. The disconnect reveals itself in terminology. Minor precepts refer to the Five Mindfulness Trainings for lay people while major precepts define monastic ethics. This language creates a divide between lay and monastic with the latter considered as superior, which is certainly not the case. In the modern era it is the lay dharma teachers who are in society, working in the trenches of everyday life, creating transformation in alliance with many other groups of lay people. Whereas the monastic community is secluded, cut off from everyday reality and are not in a position to create transformation in the wider society.

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

  1. Changing the mind is where it’s at – self-absorption in the separate self – the deal we fall into.
  2. Beliefs of Buddhist practitioners that we do not waste time trying to reform the unsatisfactory world, just concentrate on transcending it.

Both obstacles are major dharma mistakes, traps about higher spiritual reality that reflect disconnect in modern times, preventing us from engaging fully with the trainings and the world. Social, political and ecological engagements are devalued as we place our backsides on the cushion, chant, drink tea and avoid the reality around us. Modern Buddhism in the West definitely needs a wake-up call. The basic premise of the Bodhisattva Path is to walk it, not as a separate self, but as an engaged self. Then an authentic sense of awakening naturally extends into political, economic and ecological spheres of potential action. I agree with David Loy that the reconstruction of our mind necessarily involves the reconstruction of our world – economic, political and spiritual.

I like his comment that “Bodhisattvas have a double practice – as they deconstruct and reconstruct, they also work for social and ecological change…….Such concerns are not distractions from our personal practice but deeper manifestations of it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh was able to overcome this awkward divide when he created the Order of Interbeing during the Vietnam War. Socially Engaged Buddhism was renewed in Vietnam by him and then extended to the West. Thich Nhat Hanh ordained the first six members of the Order of Interbeing in February 1966 during the Vietnam War. The Order’s foundation ethics for engaging with the wider society are the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings created by Thich Nhat Hanh. They contain the Five Mindfulness Trainings, the Noble Eightfold Path and are a renewal of the earlier Bodhisattva Precepts. Thich Nhat Hanh was up to date and in tune with our times. He ensured that the Fourteen Trainings of the Order are in step with modern historical, cultural and socio-economic developments yet rest on the foundation provided by the Buddha and 4th century expressions of socially engaged Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire and the fourteen ethical statements that he carefully sculpted, presented a revolutionary statement of Engaged Buddhism. Since 1966, the revolutionary part has been diluted, particularly in the West where the disconnect noted by Loy is in full swing. The Order of Interbeing established by Thich Nhat Hanh seems in the twenty first century to have morphed into an ineffective bureaucracy.

To emphasize that it is not just me who is way out on a limb here, I refer to a senior Theravada monk and scholar – Bhikkhu Bodhi (Buddhadharma Spring 2017). This respected monk looked at Donald Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry” and at the same time noticed the absence of Buddhists on a petition of objection to it, which was signed by 2,500 religious leaders in America. He asked the obvious question; “why are Buddhists not visible as advocates for peace, sanity and social justice?’ Where are they indeed, given that Buddhism is the pre-eminent religion of peace and compassion? He stated forcibly that not to participate in active engagement with politics, environmental and worldly events runs counter to the Buddha path of enlightenment. He points out that Buddhists fail to realize that the battleground over power and position are ethical contests. Trump’s ascendancy to power shakes every Buddhist Mindfulness Training and this requires a strong push back from Buddhist leaders. So where is our agenda of collective resistance?

Bhikkhu Bodhi urges Buddhist advocacy in alliance with progressive leaders – religious and lay – to defend America’s embattled democracy and leads the charge of relating to the trainings in a way that has no disconnect with present global concerns. That is the point of this essay – for there is nothing wrong with the trainings, apart from some essential rewording. The disconnect lies with contemporary Buddhists in the West who do not engage with the intent of the Trainings laid out by the Buddha and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Trainings are right here! Do we engage with them from the vantage points of self-seeking and separate-self OR engage with them from an open and engaged heart?

Bhikkhu Bhodi struck a chord with Buddhist leaders in the United States. I quote from an article in the May 2017 edition of the Lion’s Roar magazine.

“ Thirteen leading Buddhist teachers, joined by over 200 additional signatories, called on Buddhists and all peoples of faith to take a stand against policies of the new United States administration that will create suffering for the most vulnerable in society……Feeling the reality of this suffering, we remember that peacefulness does not mean passiveness and non-attachment does not mean non-engagement…..The dharma is not an excuse to turn away from the suffering of the world, nor is it a sedative to get us comfortably through painful times. It (the dharma) is a powerful teaching that frees and strengthens us to work diligently for the liberation of beings from suffering…..While Buddhism has traditionally emphasized the personal cause of suffering, today we also discern how the three poisons of greed, aggression, and indifference operate through political, economic and social systems to cause suffering on a vast scale…….

As we resist the heightened threat of many of the new administration’s policies, we also recognize that under-represented and oppressed communities in the United States have long suffered from systemic greed, aggression, aversion and indifference…….While some argue that the principle of non-duality suggests that Buddhists should not engage in or take sides on political or social issues, we believe the opposite is true. It is because we and others are not separate that we must act……..It is true that our numbers are small, yet we can join with others who share our convictions and values. For those who are new to this, please remember that there are many people who have dedicated their lives to the work of social change. They have the useful skills of compassionate organizing and building sustainable movements. Find them, get involved and learn from them.”

This May 2017 Manifesto is a major step in relieving the disconnect problem in Buddhism. This brings me to the tricky role of Impermanence.

Impermanence

To change structures of elitism, greed and corporate dominance requires a mass change in consciousness. Mindfulness supports that outcome. The Buddha’s teachings on impermanence also spur such a radical change. Can we grasp the insight of extinction – of ourselves, our civilization – even of the planet? Without the insight of impermanence, we will not be able to change our mindsets. We have to find a way to adjust to our changed political and environmental circumstances. We can no longer hold on to a view of how it once was. Once we can accept that we have created the present global situation, then and only then can we find a respite, discovering insights that bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset.

It is very difficult in our western culture to accept death. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. When we can recognize that our present form of civilization is dying, we will recognize that despair and denial will do us no good. We need only find the courage to surrender and rely on our practice of mindfulness to provide a measure of safety. Instead of denial, a space opens in our mind for lucidity and steadiness to enter, which could propel our species to live differently. Such a future on Earth requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the ecology of greed. It requires a candid acceptance that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet can alleviate the course of environmental collapse. The energy and power to avert the disaster facing us rests in our minds and in a new collective choice to live very differently.

Thich Nhat Hanh brings this home to us in a direct and challenging way, making it very clear that any view not based on impermanence is wrong. He shows how the Buddha provided meditations on impermanence for his followers so they could recognize that the only thing that follows death is the fruit of our action and thinking, of our speech and of our acts during our lifetime. Specifically, on climate change he is very blunt:

“If we continue to consume unwisely, if we don’t care about protecting this wonderful planet….the ecosystem will be destroyed to a large extent and we will need millions of years to start a new civilization. Everything is impermanent…. We are our environment, which is in a process of self-destruction.”

 

This brings a certain peace and clarity to our minds and perhaps we can implement ethics, structures and technology to ensure a niche on this planet. We have a job to do in terms of cultivating a transformation in our consciousness, bringing about a new way of living in harmony with one another and on Earth.

We must deliberately cultivate positive ethical attributes in our minds. We have to shine the light of recognition and mindfulness on our suffering, so that we can become steady and full of resolve to live differently. We have to shift the tide of negativity, change our mindset and not squander our life. The Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings provide us with templates to do that, as we consciously choose to nurture patterns of behavior and habits that are wholesome and generous. In other words, we make mindfulness practice our new habit. It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the core of our being.

I shape all of this into a simple personal mantra – “I refrain from causing harm.” I know that by refraining from one thing that causes harm, I then prevent other harmful things from happening. I arrive at my own insight, which is not imposed by any outside authority. It takes mindfulness to do this and the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the starting point, a guidance system and a deep well of internal ethics to live by. My commitment is to actualize these trainings in my life, and in the lives of others, to the best of my ability.

I issue a Call to Action and bring Bhikkhu Bodhi back. In Buddhadharma, spring 2017 he urges Buddhist advocacy in alliance with progressive leaders to defend the United States’ embattled democracy from President Trump’s “cabinet of bigotry.”

He states; “We can call in unison for a policy of global generosity in place of rash militarism, for programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, for the advancement of social and racial justice, and for the rapid transition to a clean-energy economy …….and bring the moral weight of the dharma to bear on matters that affect the lives of people anywhere – now and long into the future.”  His statement was followed by the stance taken by Buddhist leaders in the May 2017 issue of Lion’s Roar magazine

I also call out the Hopi Elders’ Prophecy in 2000:

“Create your community. Be good to one another. And do not look outside yourself for your leader… See who is there with you and celebrate…. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

For our part we can work with municipalities, conservationists and River Keepers to clean up our waterways and environment. Ensure that children in schools go with you and prepare them to handle cyberbullying and neglect. We hold politicians and corporations to account. Create coalitions with progressive organizations who share our love of kindness and decency.

Walk upon the Earth – Lightly. Be fully Here and Present – Lightly.