Category Archives: Buddhism

Healing The Inner Child

Healing the Inner Child                                                                         

The Territory of Suffering

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjJJTuXjrNk

I turn to my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (Reconciliation: 2010: 64) to open this essay on Healing the Inner Child.

“Dealing with suffering is like handling a poisonous snake. We have to learn about the snake, and we ourselves have to grow stronger and more stable in order to handle it without hurting ourselves. At the end of this process, we will be ready to confront the snake. If we never confront it, one day it will surprise us and we will die of a snake bite. The pain we carry in the deep levels of our consciousness is similar. When it grows big and confronts us, there’s nothing we can do if we haven’t practiced becoming strong and stable in mindfulness. We should only invite our suffering up when we’re ready. Then, when it comes we can handle it. To transform our suffering, we don’t struggle with it or try to get rid of it. We simply bathe it in the light of our mindfulness.”

 First we have to develop and nurture our mindfulness, which means waking up to the reality of our suffering that we would rather avoid. There are clear warning signals if we choose to pay attention. We get caught in our dramas and find ourselves telling and retelling our stories to whomever will listen. We also court our suffering and keep it alive. We often engage in a competitive aspect – my suffering is bigger than yours. The courtship of suffering can be an ugly romance for we enter into a co-dependent relationship, which has to be called by its true name – Addiction. Physiologically and emotionally we become so tightly tied into our suffering that we cannot be without it even though it is destroying our well being. We grasp at brief insights that “Yes – this is suffering” – but deal only with surface appearances. Yet the surface exposure has a long history of gathering momentum and energy until it actually surfaces. The small snake has become a monster. The addiction to suffering is now embedded in our mental state. We respond to any glimpse of suffering with such destructive emotion that we reinforce the causes and conditions that created the suffering in the first place. And so we continue shooting ourselves in the foot, torpedoing our lives – over and over again.

Our suffering is caused by abuse – emotional, physical and sexual – and it becomes an organizing template in our mind. We then create an abusive relationship with that template’s qualities – addiction; fear; co-dependency. To stop the cycle of harm we need an OMG moment.  The insight that: OH MY GOD THIS IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING ALL MY LIFE. HOW DO I STOP IT? That insight has to arrive in the mind before we can apply ourselves to developing mindfulness as an antidote to the abusive relationship established with our suffering. It is an awesome realization to penetrate the darkness and realize that the abuse you have suffered has created an abusive relationship with yourself. Mindfulness practice can bring the abusive relationship to a halt. This is the required OMG moment that propels you to get to work. To go backwards from the surface and investigate the causes and conditions that placed you in such suffering. And so we learn the practices, tools and concentrations that support this journey of understanding suffering and taking care of it. We break the cycle through re-training and mindfulness practice. We equip ourselves for a journey to be well that requires our determination to practice mindfulness daily and ensure that we take refuge in wise support.

The Wounded Inner Child

Emotional, physical and sexual abuse during childhood creates a lost, frightened and frozen child within us.  If we are unable to reach this lost and wounded child then we may never heal ourselves.  We prefer not to remember the sufferings of childhood, so we bury them and hide.  We run away from seeing deeply into the causes of our suffering.  Whenever the memories arise, however fleetingly, we think we cannot handle them and deflect them into the deepest realms of our unconsciousness mind. This results in the wounded child not being seen for a long time simply because we are terrified of further suffering. Yet we have to find a way to reach the hurt child and make her safe. This means we have to get past the fear and address the suffering, realizing that it is suffering which provides the way through to awakening.

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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the issue of child abuse in a Question and Answer session held in the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France on the 17th October 1998.  Very gently he spoke about the ignorance and pain of the abuser as well as that of the abused, and stated clearly that understanding was the basis of recovery.  Not blaming or feeling guilt and shame, but seeing deeply and understanding.  First of all to understand that the person abusing must have lived under ignorant and deprived conditions without support, guidance or a wise teacher.  So much so that the power of ignorance was stronger than the person, and thus they were driven to do wrong things.  If the person abused can begin to understand just a little bit of that, then their anger, shame and outrage can transform into a droplet of compassion and through mindfulness practice their suffering can diminish. When forgiveness and understanding are there, suffering decreases.  The second step he suggested was to recommend that the person abused practice mindfulness, to transform herself into a Bodhisattva and engender the compassion to help and be of service to all children who need protection.  By merit of understanding the experience and recovery from abuse, such a person can practice and use their talents to promote measures to protect children.  This helps to eradicate the ignorance that generates abuse.

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

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

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

To support this journey there are other practices and meditations that are valuable for the steady process of healing. We have brought mindfulness, concentration and insight to our inner child and constantly enveloped him in the refreshing energy of transformation. We have worked diligently to nurture seeds of happiness, joy and safety in the consciousness of the inner child – the same seeds that are also in us, our ancestors and descendants. When despair and fear arise from the child we have the presence of mind to listen deeply and surround the fear with the stronger energy field of mindfulness. This is a deep and beautiful process because we are no longer running away or hiding from afflictions that have rendered us dysfunctional. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Reconciliation tells us: “The capacity to be aware – that is, to be a human being who is mindful – is what will save us” (2010: 114).

Buddhist teachings contain a multitude of tools, concentrations and practices that can nurture this process. Such as The Five Remembrances, Five Year Old Child Meditation, Sutra on Mindful Breathing, Deep Relaxation, Touching The Earth and Removing The Object to mention only a few. In Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice center in France, he has provided a much loved practice gatha for the meditation community, which begins with “I have arrived, I am home.”  This is used in walking and other meditations as an instrument to concentrate on breath and be present.  In this way the fears and traumas of the past and anxieties about the future do not crowd in and overwhelm the mind.  The gatha with walking meditation, connected to in-breath and out-breath, provides an essential tool to take care of the many mental formations that flood our waking consciousness with fear, pain and suffering.  With daily diligent practice we can examine these same mental formations but from a place centered in mindfulness.  This simple gatha has become the dharma seal of Plum Village.

I: Inner Child Has Arrived Meditation

The Vietnamese origin of the gatha provides a penetrating tool to touch our inner child who suffers from trauma and abuse experienced in childhood.  It does not translate as:  “I have arrived, I am home.”  It translates as: “Your child has arrived, your child is home.”  This is so beautiful to say to yourself as you breathe in and out whenever you do walking meditation, for each step welcomes your wounded child to be well and to come home to you.  When you walk to your car or your office, by a river or in a park, you can be more specific and recite to yourself:

In-breath         “My inner child has arrived”

Out-breath       “My inner child is home.”

This is good practice, for with intelligence you use your conscious breath and concentration to heal, simply by welcoming your wounded inner child home through the practice of being present.  We are capable of arriving in every moment of practice, whether it is sitting meditation, walking meditation, having a mindful meal, taking a shower or doing laundry.  Being present in each moment is a way of practice that welcomes home the injured, frightened inner child harmed by abuse.

In order to heal it is necessary to cultivate the internal energy of mindfulness before stopping and looking deeply into what caused the fears and traumas of abuse.  The practice of arriving in each moment nurtures that strength.  From the space of clarity provided by locating yourself in the present moment, not only is your inner child welcomed home, there is also the lucidity of mindfulness practice to deal with the ghosts of the past and at the same time put the ghosts of future anxiety to rest.

In-Breath:        My inner child has arrived

Out Breath:      My inner child is home

II:  Love Meditation for the Inner Child

Another tool is to adapt the Four Brahmaviharas meditation to focus on the injured inner child and is based on the Buddha’s teachings on Love.  Prepare for meditation by sitting comfortably with the spine erect.  Bring your concentration and focus to breath on the In-breath and breath on the Out-breath.  After ten or twenty breaths, whenever you feel calm and stable, begin by bringing each of the components – Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity – into yourself, the adult you.  The next sequence now provides a focus and concentration to water the seeds of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity within your inner child.

In-breath                     I bring Love

Out-breath                   to my inner child.

You can say a loving name for your inner child if you wish.  Say silently “Dear Mary” or “Darling Joseph.”  Feel the energy of love fill you from top to toe and register with the energy for several breaths.  Then continue in the same way with:

In-breath                     I bring Compassion

Out-breath                   to my inner child

In-breath                     I bring Joy

Out-breath                   to my inner child

In-breath                     I bring Equanimity

Out-breath                   to my inner child

Then conclude the meditation by once more bringing Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity to the adult you.  This meditation nurtures the wounded inner child wonderfully and at the same time nurtures the adult you.  The Buddha’s teachings on Love provide the foundation for this Love meditation to the wounded inner child.  The concentration on these four qualities is an incredibly powerful instrument for healing.  I do not have the words to adequately describe the impact but Thich Nhat Hanh does:

The Buddha says if we gather together all the virtuous actions we have realized in this world, they are not equal to practicing love meditations………If we collect together all the light from the stars, it will not be as bright as the light of the moon.  In the same way, practicing love meditation is greater than all other virtuous actions combined.

 There are many other methods of meditation and practice that could be documented here.  I felt it appropriate to indicate some of the ones I used to good effect in my process of healing.  These were practices that accompanied the shamanic healing conducted in an Altered State of Consciousness (See Healing Journeys in Portals and Passages: Book 2).  One factor that was very important is that I was determined to heal once understanding dawned in my consciousness.  From that awareness I took specific steps and relied on wise teachers, medicine women and steady friends to help me along the path of healing and transformation.  I must emphasize that this is not a journey that can be taken alone, so do ensure that you have support from your sangha and good guidance from a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.

Ian is the author of Eighteen Books (www.ianprattis.com ) He has given talks and retreats all over the world. He now stays local in Ottawa to help turn the tide just a little in his home city so that good things begin to happen spontaneously.

THE FIVE MINDFULNESS TRAININGS

I did wonder about placing the 5 Mindfulness Trainings in a University class on Ecology. However, students and those viewing the video wrote in about how much they appreciated seeing environmental ethics from this perspective.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings presented as Environmental Ethics was a big hit for students at Carleton University in Ottawa, Class Two on “Deep Ecology” in my 12 week course on Ecology and Culture (2000 – 2004). Originally produced through the facilities of Carleton University.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqZWfeHMW1o

On Being Splendid: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing

Dear friends and gentle people,

 Although retired from Carleton University and Pine Gate Sangha I had also created a Video Channel on YouTube. Students and friends have requested that in this shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic the videos of dharma talks and interviews would perhaps be useful. So here goes!

 This week’s video rests on a terrific dharma from the Buddha. This was not given until his sangha matured.

ON BEING SPLENDID

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4kEG5o8WBg

The Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a means to introduce Shambhala Warrior training. Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, a mature teaching from the Buddha. Learning to Throw Away Strongly so that when you meet the Buddha on the road – you kill him. Kill the perceptions you hold about the Buddha. The raft is not the shore.

COVID – 19 and Walking Meditation                                                           

Anxiety and fear provide the internal Coronavirus. It overwhelms practices to calm and meditate. It is often impossible to sit and meditate, but we can walk with normal breaths for 15 minutes – in our home, in our back yard or around our streets – making sure we honor distance from others.

We know from our experience of hikes in nature, or neighborhood walks after dinner, that sudden flashes of insight often arise in concert with our footsteps.  We then see clearly how to handle a predicament or solve a problem. Imagine what can happen when we add conscious awareness to our footsteps.  When we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we actually have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body.  When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice designed for our times.  We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe.  We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – we make a contract with Mother Earth to leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use.  All from walking with awareness, our breath, our legs and noticing how our feet touch the earth.

With this concentrated focus of walking meditation there is very little opportunity for the mind to worry about past events or future anticipations.  The meditation keeps us present, here in the moment of being fully alive.  It slows us down step by step so that our mind enters silence.  This is aided by another component we can add to walking meditation – a gentle half smile to nurture the peace and silence within. With the deepening of this internal silence, insight naturally occurs.

Walking meditation is a powerful methodology for healing ourselves.  We start by breathing in and out with full attention to the in-breath and to the out-breath.  Co-ordinating our breath with our steps we breathe in, saying silently to ourselves – “Breathing in” – as we take two or three slow steps.  Then as we breathe out, we say – “Breathing out” – as we simultaneously take two or three slow steps.  Practice this for several minutes just to get used to the concentration and the co-ordination of breath and steps and be fully aware of breathing in and out, and of walking slowly step by step.  Sometimes you will take two steps, sometimes three or four steps, sometimes there will be more steps on the out-breath than on the in-breath.  Allow the breath and lungs to find a natural rhythm with your steps.  It is the concentration and awareness that matters, not whether you take two or three steps, but do remember to wear a half smile on your lips!  If you take two steps with the in-breath, say to yourself –

“Breathing in” (on step 1), “In” (on step 2).

If you take three steps on the out-breath, say to yourself –

“Breathing out” (on step 1), “Out” (on step 2), “Out” (on step 3).  As you take each step, you can add a concentration that brings you solidly into contact with the earth.  Concentrate on your foot touching the ground in this sequence – heel, ball of foot, toe.  This particular concentration assists you to be fully with your stepping on the earth, keeping you alert to earth rhythms.

At Carleton University where I used to teach, I would walk from the bus stop and take a detour around the greenhouses of the Botany department and come to the Rideau River that runs along one side of the campus. From there I had a kilometer of riverbank to practice walking meditation before arriving at my office building.  It is quite secluded in parts and the river has sets of rapids that greatly enrich my walk.  One section of the path took my steps through a cedar grove, and I always felt a sacred blessing from these beautiful trees.  I slow my walking right down to a three – three rhythm when I enter the cedar grove.  The path is never the same, as the seasons change its character.  Autumn leaves give way to snowfall as winter leaves her embrace.  My clothes and footwear change, yet my steps, breathing and feet touching the earth remain constant.  The rustle of autumn leaves is replaced by the crunch of snow and ice, which gives way to the mud and rain of spring before the heat of summer allows me to walk in sandals or barefoot.  The birds and foliage change with the seasons, as does the river – iced over in winter, turbulent in the spring and calm in summer and fall.  Students with their books and friends congregate by the river when the weather is sunny.

I notice the changes in the seasonal round of nature, yet remain with my breathing, footsteps and the earth – so that I am not drawn into unnecessary thought.  It takes me approximately twenty minutes to arrive at my office.  I am in a clear, calm state and better able to be of assistance to students and colleagues and bring my own sense of calm and clarity to the university.  On leaving the university I retrace my steps of walking meditation along the river before going home, or to appointments in the city.  The experience engenders the same calm and clarity.  This walk is Paradise, and a constant reminder to me for those occasions when I am not in touch with the earth mother.  We do not need to walk on water, or over hot coals.

We simply need to walk on the earth and touch her deeply with our full awareness.  That is all that walking meditation is.

Dr Ian Prattis is an author, speaker and Zen teacher. His recent books are found at his website www.ianprattis.com

 

Impermanence and Extinction

The point of meditation is to grasp our true nature and accept the inevitability of change. It is impermanence that enables composure in the face of the difficult possibility of Extinction. The Buddha was very clear about “Impermanence.” His teachings on this foundation spur a radical change. The 12th century Japanese Zen Master Dogen writes, “Impermanence is itself Buddha nature.” For the Buddha, Dogen and countless sages this is not a problem to overcome. It is a path, not an attempt to overcome impermanence. Without this insight, we will not be able to change our mindsets about disruptive political and environmental circumstances. We rigidly hold on to views of how it once was, only it has already changed – often dangerously so. This lapse is further embedded by humanity’s general avoidance to value the planet and other people, undermining the possibility of understanding the sheer necessity of “Impermanence.” However, once we can accept that we have created the present deterioration of the global situation, then and only then can we find insights that bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset. Thich Nhat Hanh adds,

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”

From the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, all the way to Eckhart Tolle and Mooji, poets, seers and scientists – there is a unanimous point of view.

Dogen, from the 12th century, instructs us to intimately observe cause and effect, especially the condition of impermanence and loss. Then he throws in, “…..time is always impermanence.” The bottom line is that concentration on this factor releases us from fear and suffering. I offer a simple four step understanding of impermanence:

  1. Things change.
  2. Accept the existence of the change.
  3. Find your composure about it.
  4. Use meditation and the fullness of your heart to continue.

It is very difficult for western culture to accept death and the notion of impermanence. The usual response to both 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 to rely on our practice of mindfulness and community-building to provide a measure of sanity. Martin Luther King devoted most of his time and efforts to build “The Beloved Community” as the strength to break through racism in America. With spiritual practice and community activism, instead of denial and despair, a space opens in our mind for lucidity and steadiness to propel our species to live differently. When such a community walks with us, fear dissipates and the dreadful despair and suffering recedes.

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 reality on the planet enables understanding of environmental collapse and Extinction. Thich Nhat Hanh brings this home to us in a challenging way, making it very clear that any view not based on impermanence is wrong. He shows how the Buddha provided meditations 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 crisis 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.”

The origins of the Climate Crisis can be found in greed, craving, delusion and ignorance, where sanity is crushed by the greed for profit and corporate rules triumph over social responsibility. That sums up our overwhelming retreat into denial. The Buddha advised a long time ago that we need internal changes in our values, our thinking and our ways of life. This means turning away from a system driven by greed, limitless profits, exploitation and violence against people and the environment. By relying on impermanence we can make changes to our collective systems and choose co-operation and living in harmony with the natural world. That enables humanity to flourish in a better 21st Century.

Understanding impermanence brings clarity to our minds and perhaps we can implement ethics, structures and technology while on this planet. We have the job of cultivating a new way of living with one another on Earth. This is what Thich Nhat Hanh means in his homily, “Only Love can save us from Climate Change.”

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 become steady and full of resolve to live differently with a community. We have to shift the tide of negativity, change our mindset and not squander our life. With templates like the Mindfulness Trainings 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, an internal transformation of consciousness at the core of our being.

I shape all of this into a simple personal mantra for myself – “I refrain from causing harm.” I know that by refraining from one thing that causes harm, I then prevent other harmful things from happening. It takes mindfulness to do this and the 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, so that impermanence is understood. To mitigate ecological collapse, the transition from doomed economic and political systems have to change to life sustaining societies based on community activism. There are many hurdles, as people do not see Climate Emergency for what it is, because they are stuck in their personal suffering. The plight of Mother Earth is beyond their capacity to grasp. Spiritual practice and community building of some kind are drastically needed in order to prevent being overwhelmed by suffering, despair and fear.

I could go on and on about the terrible things taking place in society, politics and to the planet – and will divert to that in a moment. It is important to refine a system of ethical conduct. I go deeper into meditation to 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 of the gig. It cannot be fully effective until the internal spiritual work is in place.

At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised and we are in the position of going down the collective sewer. Earth is like a giant living cell, all parts are linked symbiotically. Biologist Thomas Lewis created this metaphor with humanity as just one part of a vast system. The reality is that the life support systems of our planet are severely threatened by Climate Crisis. Our ignorance and neglect are destroying Planet Earth, because we do not know how to respect ourselves, others, and the planet. 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. Unfortunately, we have largely discarded our ability to relate to meaningful values such as compassion, planetary care, love and social justice to mention a few castaways. Unless we radically change, there is no possibility of balance, environmentally or socially.

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.  In the modern era Thich Nhat Hanh taught the Five Mindfulness Trainings as a design for living related 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, mind or planet.

Expanding Heart and Mind – Community Building and Activism

I rest on 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.”

I believe, from my own experience, that community activism is a vital action for populations around the world. I would say community building and activism are essential actions in our times. For years I organized a big event in Ottawa City Hall – the annual Friends for Peace Day. This was my job for a decade. It all started on a bitterly cold winter evening as the Iraq war loomed. I received notice that a Peace Song Circle was happening on Parliament Hill to protest the bombing of Baghdad. So I went, accompanied by my wife Carolyn, a friend and our dog. No-one else turned up, as it was so cold. I remarked to Carolyn,

“This is a good idea but it needs attention to detail and organization.”

She replied, “Let’s do it.”

So we created the nucleus for Friends for Peace Canada.  It quickly grew to a loose coalition of over fifty organizations in the city and we asked them to begin the peace process first of all within themselves, then to the community and out to the world. Our mandate evolved from peace advocacy to projects on the ground. We gave annual Grants to local organizations making a difference in our city, as well as working with other coalitions in the city for environmental and social justice issues. We organized five thousand participants at the Song Circle on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, held on a miserably wet, cold spring day in 2003.

A sea of multi-colored 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 stillness with this community on Parliament Hill. There was a transformation of anger, anguish and violence into a determined clarity to be peaceful and to oppose war. From there we know the wise actions to take.

The projects in the city of Ottawa supported by Friends for Peace include: the Multi-Faith Housing Initiative, the Youth Treatment Centre, Child Haven International, and Peace Camp Ottawa, which brings reconciliation to Palestinian and Israeli teens. In addition we supported the Physicians for Global Survival initiative to expand the mandate of the Canadian War Museum to include the creation of a culture of peace. There were other projects in Africa, India and Nepal. One planetary care project was the campaign to make the Dumoine River watershed in Quebec a protected conservation park. Peace Grants were also awarded to rebuild the Galai School in Liberia and the Healing Art Project of Minwaashin Lodge – an aboriginal women’s centre in Ottawa. Orkidstra received several grants to expand their children’s orchestra. Other grants were presented to the Dandelion Dance Company and to USC Canada. Ottawa Friends of Tibet received several Peace Grants for their Tibetan Re-Settlement Project, just to mention a few.

Each year since the relentless rain on Parliament Hill in 2003, the annual Friends for Peace Days have been memorable. We were rained and snowed on for several years on Parliament Hill, thunder and lightning at Alumni Park of Carleton University, before we moved inside to Ottawa City Hall. We organized differently there, with peace activist and environment booths along the periphery of the hall, a food court at the back, a long set of tables with items for the silent auction and the stage at the north end. The response to this community activism was beyond any expectations.

The yearly event, held in the Autumn, became an awesome, diverse, unique Ottawa experience. It was made possible by the generosity of volunteers, supporters and citizens of Ottawa who showed up to have a good time, be educated and inspired. It created an epicentre of intent and action, intense at times as people were moved to both tears and laughter. The intensity and joy rippled through the diversity, all generations, faiths and cultures in our northern city. The force of the epicentre roared through the community and activist tables, Muslim families, Asian groups, elders, young folk and volunteers. The diversity of Ottawa gathers, listens, dances, laughs, cries, and takes home an unforgettable experience of hope and confidence.

Friends for Peace presented Awards to outstanding Canadian citizens who devoted their lives to securing peace, planetary care and social justice. Our mandate was always solid throughout the day, at the Welcome and Community Tables, the Silent Auction, Connection Centre and Food Court. Citizens left at the end of the day feeling uplifted, confident and connected. The intent was 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.

When I founded Friends for Peace Canada I was making a conscious choice to focus on the local, my home city of Ottawa. My focus was on mindfulness in schools, city environment, youth at risk and the empowerment of women. I was astonished by the results, more true to say “blown away.” At the local level there was continuity with great women who made sure good things happened. Many of the Award recipients were women. The funds raised from the annual Peace Day were used to issue Grants to organizations in Ottawa.  In particular we supported youth organizations that burst on to the local scene guided by awesome women. Orkidstra, founded by my friend Tina Fedeski, provides children from under-served communities with the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and sing in a choir. It is modelled on the El Sistema program, which was so successful in Venezuela for breaking down barriers of poverty and violence. The philosophy of El Sistema has spread to sixty countries in the world, serving millions of children.

In Ottawa, Orkidstra is creating a quiet social revolution on the backs of children – in a very healthy way. Tina Fedeski and two friends drew together a marvelous group of music teachers, promoters, volunteers and educators. There are now 700 children from over 62 cultural and linguistic backgrounds – a huge enrollment beyond the 27 children who started in the program in 2007. Orkidstra is a social development program giving children in Ottawa a sense of belonging and achievement plus fostering life skills. Children from low-income and under-served areas receive tuition, instruments and music – provided free of charge. Each child commits to playing in an ensemble. The program builds community, co-operation, commitment, compassion and self-esteem. This is in the opposite direction of fear, suffering and neglect. The results have been amazing. All graduates go on to post-secondary education making good the belief that empowering kids builds mature citizens and community. In the Orkidstra domain there is no sense of separation, only love. They interconnect with integrity, a recipe that makes the entire organization deeply heart-warming.

Similar support was provided to The Dandelion Dance Company, which has a similar structure. This is the creation of Hannah Beach, who brought forth a dozen young women actors, dressed in black to several Friends for Peace Days. This Ottawa based youth dance theatre company explores social issues through movement. Their repertoire is driven by the experiences, reflections and passion of young women who range in age from twelve to eighteen. The themes they dance include children’s rights, hunger, authenticity, bullying, drug addiction, stereotypes and inclusiveness. Their performances of John Marsden’s “Prayer for the Twenty First Century” brought the entire audience to their feet applauding their passion for nonviolence and the basic rights for women. The dance alluded to our hope and dreams we want for our society. The Dandelions provide the means to galvanize parents, friends and volunteers so that good kids are created and excellent citizens emerge.

Peace, Planetary Care and Social Justice are alive and well in our northern city. A Circle of Nations no less. Friends for Peace had a fantastic run for a decade, then I was side-lined by surgeries for three years and I could clearly see Impermanence working on me! There is now a two week Peace Festival in Ottawa every September. It has grown in ever increasing concentric circles. The foundations of mindfulness through the organizations we partnered with have taken root in the annual Peace Festival. All adhere to some form of our mandate: Peace, Planetary Care and Social Justice. Concentration on my home city was a primary focus. I was inspired to devote my time and energy to moving things just a little bit, so that good things could begin to happen spontaneously. I soon discovered, there were many good friends across the city more than happy to make this possible – and take over.

This narrative shows how the strategy of community building and activism in the face of Extinction is necessary. This is what it takes to derail the culture of fear and greed. To truly embrace impermanence requires an open spiritual practice, co-operative networks and preparation for community activism to invigorate the values that serve humanity. The required global response to implement some form of the Marshall Plan or the Green New Deal is not likely to appear in time, unless political leaders suddenly become brave and make bold choices to connect rather than separate. In the looming vacuum, deadly forms of Climate Emergency will certainly crash down all over the planet. Yet the organization of community building and activism provides local support with a strong view of impermanence. In my home city of Ottawa, Canada, there are many magnificent networks of solidarity in the city to help and support.

There may well be disaster in our faces, yet there is also solidarity in community activism.  Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community” no less.

 

Vesak in Ottawa, May 5, City Hall 10am – 2pm

The roaring beat of Cambodian temple drums opens the day with a bang.  They are followed in procession by the monastic Sangha walking mindfully to their places next to the podium, led by Bhante Savath from the Cambodian Temple in Ottawa. From the monastic chanting all the way through to the finale – the day unfolds in a majestic way. City Hall is decorated with beautiful artwork, food tables and booths for Asian embassies and other community groups for this celebration of Vesak Day. It is always a stunning day.

Asian Buddhist communities in Ottawa – from Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand – created this Vesak Celebration with Visita Leelaratna organizing the many parts of the day. He is the founder of this celebration. The first Vesak Festival in 2014 received guidance from three spiritual advisors – Master Bon Dat, Bhante Rath Sam and Dharmacharya Ian Prattis. They each come from different Buddhist traditions in Ottawa and three different countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada. They established a common cause to spread the seeds of Buddha Mind across Ottawa by creating an atmosphere of generosity, humility and kindness.

The Vesak and Asian Heritage nature of the event brings messages from the Governor-General, Prime Minister of Canada, and the Mayor of Ottawa. This is a wonderful support for multi-culturalism and interbeing from all levels of government in Canada. The vigorous Lion Dance from the Vietnamese Youth Group always lights up the crowd. A talk on Loving Kindness is offered by the Buddha Meditation Centre in Toronto. Lawrence Greenspon also talks about his tour of Buddhist World Heritage sites in Asia. Connections are made, bridges are crossed and the organizers and audience went home very happy.

Here is some background about Vesak and the Buddha.

Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived and taught in India ca. 2,600 years ago. 550 million people in the world identify Buddhism as their religion or way of life.

Vesākha Day is the day Buddhists remember the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away of the Buddha. The United Nations marks Vesākha Day as an official holiday, worldwide. As Buddhism spread from India, it was adapted to many cultures, and consequently Vesākha Day is celebrated in many different ways in various countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, and Nepal, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama.

Some will visit their local temple before dawn, to raise the official Buddhist flag, which represents a rainbow. Some may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and incense, which serve as a reminder that just as the beautiful flowers will wither, and the candles burn out, so too is life subject to impermanence. In some countries, birds and animals are released in a symbolic act of liberation. Vesākha Day is therefore a time when we reach out across the various Buddhist traditions to celebrate, and to non-Buddhists to enjoy dialogue and harmony.

And that is what happens in Ottawa City Hall on May 5, 2019!

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”

 

Vesak Ottawa Project on Mindfulness

I will present a session on Mindfulness at the Ottawa Public Library, at Laurier/Metcalfe branch. Saturday, September 15, 12.30pm – 1.45pm, Main Room B 125. There are 35 seats available. Register by clicking on the green Register button to the right of the page. Enter your library bar code number and PIN (usually the last 4 digits of their phone number) & click on Register again. https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/event/mindfulness-dr-ian-prattis

Lalith Gunaratne will continue at 2pm – 4pm with Mindful Leadership and Emotional Balance – in the same room. https://biblioottawalibrary.ca/en/event/mindful-awareness-inquiry-ways-finding-emotional-balance-our-modern-lives

Bhante Savath, co-ordinator for Vesak in Ottawa will do the introduction. My session at 12.30pm will begin with a wellness chant. My talk afterwards is taken from the opening chapter of my new book – Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement. Let me tell you a story …..

My grand-nephew James was celebrating his birthday, yet he felt awful about being nine years old. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When I asked him “Why?” he replied that if he could stay five then the Earth would not explode. His lips quivered and tears welled up in his large brown eyes. “I am scared it is too late, that there will be nothing to save,” he exclaimed with a frightened voice. He dropped the unopened gift in his hand. He was so upset. I gently guided him from the hallway of his home to sit with me on the back garden steps. It was quiet there.

James said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.”

After a long talk I gave James a mindfulness plan to follow.

I talked about “Gardening in the Mind” – a basic strategy of Engaged Buddhism. I offered him eight simple steps to refine mindfulness and then engage differently with the world.

  1. Yo James – learn to be silent and quiet! Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule. James shouted back: Yo Uncle Ian – right on – got it!
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the negative energies in the garden of your mind.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding of getting rid of negative energies..
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – do not be mean – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Cultivate the seeds of mindfulness – Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity and promote them at home, school, work and in solitude.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice that change your mind.
  8. Engage with the world.

James was entering all of this on his tablet as I continued to talk. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms need to be re-constructed.” I assured James that “Gardening in the Mind” has the capacity to transform how we think. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. “We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen. In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We also find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. But the remedy is within reach. We can unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is achieved by gardening in the mind. The 8 point menu helps you to get there.”

I assured James that we are equal to the task and I chose not to hold back anything from him during this long conversation on his birthday. He is an unusually bright boy, as he asked questions and demanded clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

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”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through Nine Year Old Eyes.

My grand-nephew James was celebrating his birthday, yet felt awful about being nine. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When I asked him “Why?” he replied that if he could stay five then the Earth would not explode. His lips quivered and the tears welled up in his large brown eyes.

“I am scared it is too late. That there will be nothing to save,” he exclaimed with a frightened voice. He dropped the unopened gift in his hand. He was so upset and I gently guided him to sit with me on the back garden steps where it was quiet.

James said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.”

Silence stretched between us. I wondered what to say. I could not say that everything will be OK. He was much too intelligent for such placebos. So I spoke to him about the mindfulness community I created and the deliberate steps taken for planetary care. We simplify, make do with less, share and adapt. Our intent is to create environmental leaders and that includes him. “Why not become a leader for your generation?” I asked him. He thought about that and asked what else did the community do?

            I pointed out that we encourage voluntary simplicity and community ethics as a way of life. We start with the Earth. Our organic garden produces an abundance of vegetables, apples and flowers that are shared with neighbors and community members. I mentioned that it is a solace for me to spend time with the Earth, observing bumblebees and butterflies while gardening with assistance from neighborhood children. I told James that the kids once laughed hilariously when they saw that the vegetable plant I had carefully nurtured for months turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs next to the flowers, which are sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A solar panel on the roof fuels the hot water system of our home. Everything else is as eco-friendly as we can make it for our fifty year old bungalow with a meditation hall in the basement. This eco-effort has become quite an example for other friends as they consider how much we are saving and implement something similar. In addition our focus is on mindfulness in schools and city environment, teens at risk and the empowerment of women. I admitted to James that I am amazed by the results. At the local level there were great women who helped make things happen.

“You mean girl power?” asked James incredulously.

“Exactly that,” I replied “I believe that the present millennium  is the century of daughters, not so much as gender separation, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind.” (I must add that the wonderful Women’s Marches all over the world in January 2018 turn this belief into a reality.) I told him that the idea is to foster a strong group of people in Ottawa making a difference for the betterment of society and the earth. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. I explained that they are the heart that holds the living waters, the dynamic epicentre that leads to effective action. That is how we will get things done, creating a different course of action and living. James was taking it all in, instinctively knowing that major changes were needed. I suggested that when enough of us change, then our ideas will be in charge. I told him about a speech I had given about the consequences of pathological consumption and pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. And that unfortunately compassion and kindness are quickly swamped by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to re-assess, to move on from being self-absorbed, greedy and distracted.

“How?” he asked again, as he really wanted to know. I chose my words carefully.

“Locate in something bigger than ourselves; a humanitarian cause, respecting the earth, making our thinking better, being kinder and more generous. How about examining our habits about gift giving and learn to give gifts that make a difference?  I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates that provide items like education for a girl in Afghanistan, micro-loans for female led families, rebuilding forests in Haiti, literacy packages and mosquito nets where needed, support for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Such gifts are bigger than us and create happiness for less fortunate people.”

I told James how my grandchildren proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They play it forward with their class mates and teachers. One boy on the crescent where I live has received such gifts from me for several years. For his recent birthday he asked his friends not to give presents, but to bring a donation for the Ottawa Humane Society that looks after hurt animals. All of his friends brought donations, a splendid sum of two hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff. Other children in the neighborhood have followed suit.

This resonated with James and he said, “I can do that with my ice hockey team. My dad is the coach and he would help.” He waited for me to continue.

“James, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global ecological crises is sharing and caring. It involves stepping onto what the Buddhists call the Bodhisattva Path.” (James knows that I am a Zen teacher). I explained that a Bodhisattva was a person who stayed in the global mess and did their best to awaken the minds and hearts of people. I firmly stated that it is time for the Bodhisattva-within-us to enter the 21st century as the example for action. It takes training, practice, intelligence and creative vision.

“You mean like Jedi training?” he enquired. I nodded with a smile and referred briefly to my years of training in ashrams and monasteries in India and France and with indigenous medicine people. I confided that the real kicker for me was the time spent alone in the Canadian wilderness.

“So what is the big deal about your speech on pathological consumption?” James asked.

I replied that it totally dominates our planet, mind and body. I tried to explain how, knowing that James’ greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises. He worried about mining disasters in Brazil and China, wildfires in Canada’s Boreal forests, Amazonian deforestation and the Gulf Oil Spill.

“How do we change the destruction of the planet?” James exclaimed.

I said, “We must come to a stop, locate ourselves in stillness and make different choices by examining our minds and patterns of consuming. We must look at how we actually participate in creating these terrible disasters.” I noted that this kind of awareness takes us back to what we do with our minds.

“Just how?” was his one line mantra.

“You can start by making friends with your breath,” I said. James looked up at me quizzically.

“Bring your focus and attention to your in-breath, then on your out-breath. Really concentrate on the whole length of breath coming in and breath going out. Do this ten times. This kind of focus peels away anxiety, frustration and anger so that you become calm and clear. Try it with me and notice the difference for yourself.” (I ask all readers to do this with me now.)

James did so, and grinned with agreement. I told James that we do know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. We must begin it now for the future, which is our tomorrow, is shaped by the actions we take right now. I suggested to James that was enough for him to digest, but he yelled, “No, I want to hear more.”

I could not turn away from his eagerness. I mentioned that if rampant consumption remains our deepest desire we will continue to degrade the planet, eventually destroying its ability to harbour life . His fears were correct. Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day and so on are targeted by the captains of industry for optimal retail returns, and mindless consumerism is fuelled to the max. At Christmas we are far removed from remembering the significance of this spiritual celebration. Endless economic growth, the mantra of modern civilization, provides a promise of expectations without awareness of the consequences for the health of the planet. Our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.  We must simplify, make do with less and change, or the burning world will definitely occur.

I told him that we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally, choosing to support our body and planet by shifting ingrained habits.  It takes training but we can begin to step more lightly on the planet. It means reducing as much as possible the violence, destruction and suffering brought to living creatures and to the planet. Bringing peace into our own biological system and consciousness, inevitably brings it to all the other systems that we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.

“Is this your Buddhism?” James then asked.

I smiled, “The Buddha was very smart. He taught that the world is always burning, but burning with the fires of greed, anger and foolishness. His advice was simple; drop such dangers as soon as possible. What the Buddha taught was that it was the unskillful speech, selfish feelings, negative mental formations, wrong perceptions and badass consciousness that burned the world.

James laughed, “Did the Buddha really use the term badass?”

I grinned and said that was my embellishment, then pointed out that the Hopi people also referred to the burning as a state of imbalance known as Koyaanisqatsi. We are not the first people to experience this. The difference today is that without our commitment to wise intervention about climate change, we could be the last.

“Is climate change our basic problem then?” he asked.

I paused for a moment before replying. “The basic issue is whether we can adapt to climate change. You know about the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate Change. We talked about it before.” James nodded. “It was an exceptional step by the international community, showing their determination to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to “Change Climate Change.” What was missing from all the deliberations and press releases was a candid recognition of the “Cascade Effect,” a notion from ecological science. Tipping points in sea level rise and temperature connect to tipping points in air pollution, which connect to tipping points in polar ice melt, hurricanes and forest wildfires. All of these trigger further tipping points that create deforestation, floods, desertification and so on in a relentless cascade. I reminded him of the wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia and pointed out that the entire boreal forest in Canada is a tinder box due to climate change. The reality is not about a reversal but about learning how to adapt to the consequences of climate change.”

I emphasized to James that the disasters all over the world interconnect. Whether wildfires, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tsunamis or millions of aquatic creatures dead on beaches, it is all connected. The media and news reporters cast science to the wind when they report the drama and hype of terrible things happening world-wide but rarely tell the truth that it is another manifestation of climate change. News programs are often focused on ratings and some openly promote corporate interests that are contributing to these interconnected disasters. The general public are, by and large, not educated by the media about the terrible realities happening on our planet. Other obstacles that prevent the general public from taking wise action are a mixture of fear, despair, laziness, disempowerment and a sense of hopelessness.

“What on earth can I do to make a difference?” is a phrase muttered all over the world in countless languages. Followed by, “So why should I do anything?” There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on this planet. Maybe this is why you want to stay five years old forever. The difficult thing for you, for anyone, to grasp is that we are the primary cause.”

James shrugged in exasperation.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “In terms of action, we have clear data-based evidence that we must cut back, make-do with less and implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. So, where do we start? Of course we must think globally and be aware of the bigger picture despite fear and disempowerment. But we can also act locally in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread like ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. We can hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account. We can tell the politicians and corporate decision makers that we, as voters and consumers, are deeply concerned about the planet and our impact on it.”

I continued speaking on a personal note, “So James, the challenge for me is to be in society, but as a still island of mindfulness. Take small steps at first, then larger ones. We just need to make essential changes in energy use, diet, language, media and outreach. Voluntary Simplicity is a good starting place. It means making deliberate choices about how we spend time and money. We can support environmental causes with the excess clutter in the basement and always think about whether we really “need” to buy something more.  Enjoy being simple and living modestly by shifting our perceptions just a little bit.  If we look deeply into what we do with time, money, clutter and our choices, then we can change.  Notice whether the consequences are peace and happiness for you. The world will follow. To avoid drastic outcomes, it is wise ro take training very, very seriously. This helps to avoid all the negative stuff I have told you about”

“Wow,” exclaimed James. “OK, I get it about training but what does it look like?” I was relieved by his intelligent questions but hesitant to talk to him about what I was thinking.

He watched me and said, “Just lay it out for me.”

I then proceeded to talk about “Gardening in the Mind.” I offered him eight simple steps to refine the mind and then engage differently with the world.

  1. You – learn to be silent and quiet! Clear time and space for spiritual practice at home and throughout your daily schedule.
  2. Create a stress reduction menu and subtract the “weeds” in the garden of your mind. The weeds are the negative energies we have cultivated.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding.
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Cultivate the seeds of mindfulness at home, school, work or in solitude.
  6. Simplify, make do with less, de-clutter your mind and home.
  7. Taste the fruits of your spiritual practice.
  8. Engage with the world.

James was entering all of this on his tablet as I continued to talk. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms need to be re-constructed.” I assured James that we have the capacity to transform the mind. Finding stillness and inner silence is a necessary first step. We have to find a way to create the conditions for this to happen. In our modern world of fast paced lifestyles there are so many distractions that make us outwardly dependant and un-centered. We also find it easier to close down rather than open up our hearts. But the remedy is within reach. We can unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful, achieved by gardening in the mind.”

I paused for a while to find the words to bring our conversation to an end.

“Why should we do this stuff James? Here’s why. When you are open and receptive you become an epi-center of light and energy for others. When you can sit with pain, face to face with what hurts, breathing in and out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Remember this – always let go once you feel you are closing down or clinging.” Then I said to him, “Do you know that I have a fridge magnet at home with the words – LET GO OR BE DRAGGED? I see it every day and I take the message to heart. It is essential to learn to be silent, to stop clinging and find the way to be present in the moment. As the Hopi advise us, never take anything personally and look around to see who is with you. Doing these things helps the world change. Such a destination is well worth your effort don’t you think?” James nodded his agreement.

I assured James that we are equal to the task and I chose not to hold back anything from him during this long conversation on his birthday. He is an unusually bright boy, asking questions and demanding clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

You can order “Our World Is Burning” ($19.95) and receive one FREE autographed copy of a prior book plus Meditation CD as a thank you http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html

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Invitation to Our World is Burning.

Invitation

 

As an idealistic teenager, I wanted to save the world. I still do. Over the years though, I discovered I first had to save myself, because I was every bit as screwed up as the world.

Indeed, saving myself and saving the world seems to be the same struggle, because we are all connected, one to another, and the forces that warped me are the same that warp the world. These views-essays form the chapters in this book and come out of my long struggle. Please accept them as a gift; my thoughts on how to transform ourselves and our world. The sixteen views-essays are not candidates for academic bickering or pawns in the intellectual constructions of clever talk.

When a breeze caresses a falling leaf, it is transformed in its descent to earth. Sunlight catches one side then glances off the other as the leaf gently spirals down. The impermanence of this gift of nature is part of what makes it beautiful. Yet, notions of permanence reflect our fear of the unknown and foster the limitations we impose on reality. Impermanence connotes our true nature of interconnectedness with a constantly changing web of life. We are fully alive in our connection to everything else.

The theme of these views-essays is change, cycles of transformation and discovering how we contain everything within ourselves. They rest on the ever-changing cycles that mark our journey in these tumultuous and dangerous times.

The opening piece – Our World Is Burning sets the theme for this book and it focuses heavily on climate change and Mankind’s devastating role in this major issue. Rant From the Future and Chronicles of Awakening draw their inspiration from and are based upon my 2016 book New Planet, New World. Ottawa Independent Writers brought out a unique anthology in 2016. My part in that stellar release is Dawson’s Desert Legacy, and I share those views in an expanded manner via Chapter 14’s viewpoint-essay.

Chapter-essay 4 Punk Palace finds its inspiration via an earlier article published in a different form in The Shambhala Sun (September 2005). I expand upon it in this collection of writings on a wider stage.

Excellent editing by Meghan Negrijn and Michael avie ensured that my essays wove an elegant tapestry about how to manifest mindfulness in our difficult times.

“Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement” can now be ordered at: http://ianprattis.com/OurWorldIsBurning.html It examines our fragile future and offers an alternative way of living based on mindful engagement. This book is my life work.