Category Archives: My Books

Our World is Burning

This essay opens the conversation in a book I will be releasing in 2017.

Essay One: Our World Is Burning

My grand-nephew James was celebrating his birthday, yet he felt awful and very sad about being nine. He wished he could stay five years old forever. When asked 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. He said, “I don’t want to grow up and live in a world that is burning.” In the silence that stretched between us I wondered what to say. I could not say that everything will be OK, that my generation will fix things. He was much too intelligent for such placebos. So I spoke to him about the mindfulness community I created in 1997 – Pine Gate – 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 intensely and asked what else did Pine Gate do?

            I pointed out that Pine Gate encourages 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. 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 went into hilarious laughter when they saw that the plant I had carefully nurtured turned out to be a giant weed and not a tomato plant! We had great fun returning it to the compost bin. At the back of the garden is a beautiful fountain that murmurs ‘midst the flowers, which are picked and sent to the elderly folk living on our crescent. A simple underground economy arises from the sharing. A solar panel on the roof fuels the hot water system. Everything else is as eco-friendly as we can make it for our fifty year old bungalow with a meditation hall in the basement. This eco-effort has become an example for other friends as they do the math on how much cash we are saving and implement something similar. Our focus is on mindfulness in schools, city environment, teens at risk and on the empowerment of women. I admitted to James that I am blown away by the results, for at the local level there were great women who helped make things happen.  “You mean girl power?” asked James incredulously. “Exactly that,” I replied.

The drive behind Pine Gate is to foster a strong cadre of people in Ottawa to make a difference for the betterment of society and the Earth Mother. Women are in the forefront of this endeavor. They are the heart that holds the living waters and that heart is the dynamic epicentre of the mind/will/emotions that lead to effective action. That is how we get things done differently to create a different course of action and living. James was taking it all in. He knew instinctively that major changes were needed. I intimated that when enough of us change, then we will be in charge. I told him about a speech I gave about violent consumption. His sharp mind held on to every word as I pointed out that festive occasions like Christmas provide opportunities for the best and the worst within us to come out and play. Yet compassion and kindness are quickly overshadowed by greed, selfishness and consumer madness. We need to re-assess, as it is time to move on from being self-absorbed and distracted. “How?” he asked again, as he really wanted to know. So I gave him this list.

Locate in something bigger than oneself; 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 pointed out to James that I no longer buy Christmas gifts, instead present gift certificates in the name of family, grand-children and young neighborhood friends. These gift certificates provide items like education for a girl in Afghanistan, micro-loans for female led families, rebuild forests in Haiti, literacy packages and mosquito nets where needed, support for Habitat for Humanity building houses for the destitute and so on. Such gifts are bigger than our self-absorbed egos and create happiness for less fortunate people.

I related to James that my grandchildren proudly take their Christmas certificates to school for Show-and-Tell periods. They play it forward with their class mates and teachers. One boy on the crescent where I live had received such gifts from me for several years. For his most recent birthday he asked all his friends not to give him presents, but to bring a donation for the Ottawa Humane Society that looks after hurt animals. All of his friends brought donations, a splendid sum of one hundred and eighty dollars. They all went together to the Humane Society and happily handed their bag of cash to the surprised staff. Other children in the neighborhood have followed suit. This resonated with James and he said, “I could do that with my ice hockey team. My dad is the coach and he would help.” He waited for me to continue.

I said, “James, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of global 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, smartness and creative vision. “You mean like Jedi training?” he enquired. I nodded with a smile. I referred briefly to my years of training in ashrams and monasteries in India and France and with Native American medicine people. But I confided that the real kicker for me was the time spent alone in the Canadian wilderness. I promised to talk to him about this at some future time.

Then he asked, “So what is the big deal about violent consumption?” I replied that it totally dominates our planet, mind and body. I knew that James’ greatest fear was about the planet’s ecological crises, from mining disasters in Brazil and China, wildfires in Canada’s Boreal forests, Amazon deforestation – all the way to the Gulf Oil Spill where tons of toxic oil dispersants settled on the ocean floor contaminating the oceanic ecosystem. “How do we change this mad destruction of the planet?” James exclaimed. I wondered how best to explain matters to him, yet trusted his intelligence.

I said, “We must stop, locate ourselves in stillness and make different choices by examining our minds, consumption patterns and then see 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. “Walking meditation is a good start,” I said. I explained that when we concentrate on our breath and focus on slow walking, we have a brilliant piece of engineering to quiet the mind and body and be clear. When we add a third concentration of being aware of how our feet touch the earth, we have a meditative practice for our troubled 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, make a contract with Mother Earth to leave a smaller footprint. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice of walking meditation is stronger than the stuff of our mental afflictions. We can then examine our consumption patterns and energy use with clarity. I told James that nobody requires a lecture from me, for we do know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. We must begin it now for the future, which is our tomorrow shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

I looked at James and indicated that was plenty 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 have a degraded planet that will certainly blow up. 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 being met without any awareness of consequences for our own health or the health of the planet. Our current non-sustainable energy and economic systems are subsystems of a global ecology that is disintegrating before our very eyes.  If we do not simplify, make do with less and change, then the vicious downward spiral to a burning world would definitely occur.

“Do you know that there is also violence to our bodies through the food we eat, and that it has disastrous consequences for our connection to all living beings?” He did not, yet his mind was a sponge soaking up every word. So I carried on providing him with a road map to investigate. The vast consumption of meat and alcohol constitutes an excessive ecological footprint. Industrial animal agriculture is not really farming. Animals are treated solely as economic commodities and subjected to horrible cruelty. The stress, despair and anger generated in the animals are the energies we consume when they end up on our plate. We are eating their suffering and pain, taking it into every cell of our bodies and consciousness.”

“That is so gross,” remarked James. I told him that we can change our minds and patterns of food consumption. We re-educate and retrain ourselves mentally and choose to support our body and planet by shifting deeply ingrained food habits.  It takes training but we 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. If we bring violence into our own biological system and consciousness, then we inevitably bring violence to all the other systems that we engage with through our thoughts, speech and actions.  “Is this your Buddhism?” James 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, and not the world itself. James laughed, “Did the Buddha really use the term badass?” I grinned and said that was my embellishment but 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, 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 as we have discussed it before.” James nodded. “It was an exceptional step by the international community, dedicating their intent to prevent global temperatures from rising a further 1.5 degrees. The signatories returned to their respective countries to find the wherewithal to “Change Climate Change.” 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, boreal forest wildfires and triggers further tipping points that create deforestation, desertification and so on in a relentless cascade that cannot be stopped. I reminded him of the wildfires in Alberta. It was not a singular disaster at Fort McMurray, as the entire Boreal forest in Canada is a tinder box due to the powerful forces of Climate Change. The reality in front of us is not the reversal of Climate Change. The question is about learning how to adapt to the consequences of Climate Change.”

I emphasized that the disasters all over the world interconnect and reinforce each potency to explode. Whether it is wildfires, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tsunamis, millions of aquatic creatures dead on beaches, it goes in relentlessly. 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, “Here is another manifestation of Climate Change.” News programs are just showbiz and journalists mere pawns to corporate interests that are culpable in the first place for creating the tipping points that cause the interconnected disasters. So the general public are not educated by the media about the calamitous realities happening on our planet. That is a big obstacle. The other obstacles preventing the general public taking wise action are a mixture of fear, despair, sheer 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 Planet Earth. This is all understandable, which is why you wish to remain five years old forever. The difficult thing for you to grasp is the clear evidence that we are the primary cause.

I confessed to James that in my previous books I underestimated the impact of the carbon fuel cabal, a complex web of powerful corporate and government interests. This carbon economy extends into the manufacturing and servicing sectors, supported by insulated financial institutions that control the marketing and advertising sectors. This collective power, when extended into the media, has attempted to make science and ecology into public enemy number one. This powerful, intermeshed cabal can easily circumvent the Climate Change accords agreed to by the international community.  People everywhere are aware, but just feel helpless in the face of this power. So what are we to do? 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 and step beyond the smaller pictures of ourselves created by fear and disempowerment. But we can also act locally with great vigour in our families and communities. Our intentions then spread as ripples from a pebble dropped in still water. Then we can hold officials, politicians and corporate culture to account. We alert the political and corporate decision makers that we mean business as voters and consumers deeply concerned about the planet and our location on it. This is very important.

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 rather than living on the automatic pilot of busyness. We support environmental causes with the excess clutter in the basement, always thinking about whether we really “need” to buy something more.  Enjoy being simple and living modestly by shifting our perceptions just a little bit.  Just look deeply into what we do with time, money, clutter and our choices, and change.  Then see whether the consequences are peace and happiness for YOU. The world will follow.”

I told him I was writing a sci-fi book, located in the near future, which provides a counterpoint to the demise of our modern civilization. I chart a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing. Intertwining plot lines arc into the epiphany of the final chapter, which muses about human survival anywhere. The drive is to create a tangible spirit of co-operation, the willingness to share and be supportive and intuit how to cross the bridges of misunderstanding. In this sci-fi novel my intention is to provide a scenario that reflects the disasters of the world today. The rich and uber-wealthy already inhabit armed, gated communities and will be targets for eco-militias and popular uprisings drawn from the impoverished masses – intent on revenge. “Have you ever seen Stanley Kubrick’s film The Clockwork Orange?” James had not and I told him it was a gruesome movie that could well emerge in the real world. To avoid this likely outcome it is wise to take training very, very seriously. All of this is to do an end run around the toxic mixture of fear, despair, sheer laziness, disempowerment and sense of hopelessness that I spoke about.”

“Wow,” exclaimed James. “OK, I get it about training but what does it look like?” I was relieved by his intelligence and proceeded to talk about “Gardening in the Mind.” I offered him eight simple steps to refine the mind then engage 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.
  3. Be determined to meditate daily – do the weeding.
  4. Focus on and soften your heart – cultivate the soil of your mind’s garden.
  5. Water the seeds of mindfulness at home, work or in 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 typing all this down on his tablet as I continued talking. “Our ways of living together, caring for environmental, political and economic realms must all 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. The remedy is within reach. We unravel the knots of suffering and move from being mindless to being mindful. This is brought about by organic gardening in the mind.”

I paused for a while to find the words to bring our conversation to an end. “Why should we do all this stuff James? Here’s why. When you can be open and receptive you become an epi-center of light for others. When you can just sit with pain, come face to face with what hurts, breathing in and breathing out, you feel the sting recede as you calm. If you start to close down ask yourself, “Do I really want to take a pass on happiness?” Always let go once you feel you are closing down or clinging. Do you know that I have a fridge magnet – LET GO OR BE DRAGGED? I see it every day and take the message to heart with a quiet smile. It is essential to learn to be silent, to stop clinging and find the way to be present. As the Hopi advise us, never take anything personally and look around to see who is with you. As you do all of this the world changes as a consequence. Such a destination is well worth your effort.”

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 and asked questions and demanded clarification. Yet I knew he had grasped what I had said. He came up to me as I was leaving and whispered in my ear that my chat with him was his best birthday present ever.

Guidelines to reconstruct our World.

I am preparing a collection of essays – “Our World is Burning” for publication in 2017. Essay Fifteen is pertinent today.

Essay Fifteen: Guidelines to Reconstruct our World

The life support systems of the planet are severely threatened by Climate Change, aided by the accelerating greed, materialism and waste of the current global paradigm. Our ignorance and neglect are destroying the Earth, because we do not know how to behave in an aware manner with respect to ourselves, to others, and to the planet. Unless we radically change there is no possibility of balance, environmentally or socially. There is no remedy without establishing universal environmental ethics. This was my thinking while I was preparing for my Ecology and Culture course on TV at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I wanted to connect the dots of the many levels of violence and fear we engage with. The environment certainly, but also the everyday use of harmful speech, harmful consumption and all the way up to acts of terrorism. We need to dig out the causes of how violence to the earth and ourselves is nurtured worldwide.

We live in a world framed by fear, hatred, terror, revenge and uncertainty. These derivatives of human experience are no strangers to our consciousness yet we remain ill equipped to reconstruct the world we live in. We desperately need guidelines. The not so hidden agenda remains “What do we do about neglect, indifference, violence and terror?” I show that with ethical guidelines rooted in spiritual practice, we do not generate the energy that enables terror and violence to grow. From our everyday situation to the present climate of fear, hatred and vengeance, I demonstrate that it is all of the same nature. We just have to learn how to behave differently. Radical retraining is evidently in order, as we must change before a brave new world can become a reality.

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 be in sync with modern realities. They are non-sectarian and all spiritual traditions have their equivalent. The first training is to protect life, to decrease violence in one-self, family and society. The second training is to practice social justice, generosity and not exploit other beings. The third is responsible sexual behavior to protect couples, families and children. The fourth is the practice of deep listening and loving speech to restore communication and reconcile. The fifth is about mindful consumption, to help us not bring toxins and poisons into our body or mind. Quite a formula to present to my class!

I asked students if anyone would care to read them out to their classmates during my lecture. 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 environmental ethics. Let me be clear – the trainings are not there for us to be in judgment of others, to bludgeon people with a misplaced self-righteousness. They are an internal compass so that as individuals we wake up to love and compassion and take heed of the directions the Mindfulness Trainings guide us to. 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 that which is good for ourselves, our minds and the world and that which is not. It is not necessary to be perfect in the practice as that is not possible. But it is possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living and make a difference to our society and environment. The options are: Do we bring to violence, indifference and terror a renewed application of the same? Or do we step back and consider these teachings?

We created the present situation, yet there is a way to transform our creation. The politicians, corporate moguls and terrorists making the decisions that presently shape our world do not have awakened minds. Their minds are scarred, filled with ignorance, their hearts held hostage to corporate and electoral agendas. They all follow the same script, seeking similar justifications to advocate the use of violence. Trapped in history and hate they offer no means of re-creating our world. The Buddha does. The implications of his Five Mindfulness Trainings apply fully to the dangerous times we live in. Our world needs guidelines like these to live by. The Trainings provide explicit guidelines that resonate fully within other religious traditions.

The flip side to global violence is the growing concern about the absence of love, decency and compassion in daily and public life, in schools, at work, in the healing professions and in the world at large. This preoccupies and worries many citizens and scholars at the present time.  If there was ever a time to learn anew from these teachings, it is now. The awakened mind of the Buddha is there in the Five Mindfulness Trainings and it is not just a property of the Buddha’s consciousness. It is the potential state of our own mind. When we touch base with the Five Mindfulness Trainings the same aspect of mind in ourselves is being reminded to wake up. Neglect, terror and fear are states of mind. Therefore we need tools that reconnect us to a mind state not driven by such factors.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are presented as an antidote to the contemporary crises and devastation we have created through ignorance and neglect. The deep malaise in society is making us ill, so preventive medicine is necessary, so that we may become whole and regain our health and balance. The ethics of the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the necessary balance to come home to our true nature, while caring for all we interconnect. Before trying to address social and environmental crises, the building of inner spiritual strength through meditation and mindfulness is crucial.

FIRST MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Reverence For Life

 Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

            Allow me to break it down. Each training begins with Aware of the suffering caused by …  “Aware” means that I am mindful of suffering. I am aware that when life is destroyed mindlessly, suffering ensues. As I grow more aware, I begin to take refuge in the awakened aspect of my mind. The First Mindfulness Training addresses suffering caused by physical violence. When we become aware of that, we take steps to diminish the source of that suffering. We can choose to be vegetarian. We do not give our approval to violence carried out by the state, but we have to take care, first of all, of the violence that rests in our own minds. Our concerns manifest in what we do, say, and think. Body, Speech and Mind provide three locations for our action. Of these three, Mind is the most difficult one to deal with, as the task is to learn ways of practicing non-violence in our minds.

I am committed to cultivating interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. The notion of “learning ways” indicates that we do not know it all, that we make mistakes and do not do things perfectly. Yet we make a commitment to find ways to do things better, as we take responsibility for all that we interconnect with on the planet. The first training is about compassion, of cultivating the ability to transform suffering. The energy of compassion is born from insight and experience, not from the intellect or external decree. We know that our compassion includes the ecosystem. To protect human life we must protect the life of ecosystems. If the environment is destroyed, humans will be destroyed. It is taken further in the stricture not to support killing, even in our minds. To find the way to transform the wars and killing within our thoughts, we must learn how to be internally peaceful. As peace and environmental activists, if we have not taken care of this and continue to work out of anger or despair, then we will never succeed. The change and healing begins with the individual. From there it can extend to society and the environment.

When we practice mindfulness through walking meditation or conscious breathing, then we practice peace. When we reduce the internal wars compassion is born. With understanding and insight we learn the ways to express it. The practice of mindfulness is the ground from which we touch the suffering in the world and from there we act with clarity and understanding.

SECOND MINDFULNESS TRAINING – True Happiness

 Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others: and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help others reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and mitigate the process of global warming.

In our commitment to cultivate loving kindness, we learn ways not to exploit. We learn to share more and to consume less. A most difficult thing to share is our time. We will often give money to support a worthy cause, yet rarely do we share time. We attribute not having time to causes and conditions that lie outside of ourselves; job, family, housework, political activities and so on. Yet being polluted by time is a condition that lies entirely within our own minds. We forget to practice mindfulness, and rarely can we even enjoy a cup of tea. I remember with some nostalgia having tea with my Scottish grandmother. It was a carefully observed ritual, with the best china and attention to detail. It was a wonderful opportunity to slow down and really be with each other. Contrast this with the hasty cup of coffee first thing in the morning, as we watch the news, feed the children and hit the highway. It is no wonder that by the time we get to work, we are tied up into tight knots. This is a direct effect of pollution by time.

On those occasions when we allow ourselves to be present and truly share our time, there is a memory of joy, because it stands out from all other experiences of life.  I remember several years ago shopping at Starbucks to buy some decaffeinated coffee. An elderly lady was in front of me, being served by the assistant manager. She asked him about the taste and quality of the different kinds of coffee beans. As there were no other customers apart from myself, the assistant manager took the time to explain the difference between French Roast, Kenyan and Columbian coffee beans in terms of growing conditions and taste. He was very knowledgeable and I received quite an education. Finally he asked: “Madam, what would you like?” To which the elderly lady hesitatingly replied, “Do you have any of that Tim Horton’s coffee?” (Tim Horton’s is a competing franchise to Starbuck’s.) Smiling broadly, the young man said that they did not stock it, but as things were not too busy he would drive her to the nearest Tim Horton’s. He shared time, and made my day (and the elderly lady’s) with the joy that emanated from him being totally present. I have never forgotten this small act of loving kindness, and I am sure his customer remembers it with similar feelings of joy.

This training is about generosity. It is about the opposite end of the spectrum from exploitation, oppression, social injustice and stealing. These attributes have many faces and constitute a form of theft that kills us slowly. In the Second Mindfulness Training the emphasis is on loving kindness, expressed through generosity. There are three kinds of gifts of generosity. First of all the gift of material resources, second the gift of helping people to stand on their own feet through the gift of wise teachings, and third the gift of fearlessness. The third gift is very important, as so many people are motivated by the fear of not surviving. Fear corrupts and degrades, yet is a pressing reality in the minds of so many global citizens. To help those in the grip of fear, we bring the gift and benefits of our loving kindness, of our own fearlessness. We can encourage people to feel safe by being fully present with them. This may be something they rarely experience. Fearlessness in our example helps friends in difficulty and pain.

Thich Nhat Hanh poses a direct question about the Second Mindfulness Training:

Is your nation practicing this?  Or in the name of development or growth, is your nation or are your lawmakers violating it, exploiting other nations, trying to make them into a market, monopolizing them, profiting from their manpower and natural resources in order to win the heart of their own country and its people?

The Second Mindfulness Training is a profound practice, as it generates larger and more encompassing groups of people in communities, cities and nations to engage with global realities of systemic breakdown.

THIRD MINDFULNESS TRAINING – True Love

 Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that the body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness, which are the four basic elements of true love, for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

             This training is about healing the negative consequences of sexual misconduct. In contemporary society love is often misunderstood; attachment is substituted for friendship and the sex industry for relationship. It is no surprise that subsequent actions lack responsibility. Authentic love calls for understanding, responsibility and respect, whereby our sexuality reflects a wider mosaic of joyful communion between body and spirit. The key term in this training is responsibility. Because we are responsible for the well being of so many people, we make the choice to refrain from sexual misconduct. In sexual relationship, as many of us know and have experienced, we can become deeply hurt and devastated. This training protects us, and others, from being wounded. Loneliness, advertising and the sex industry provide a powerful inducement for misconduct, which has destructive consequences for all concerned in the sexual abuse of children. On a daily basis the imagery of the sex industry is presented to our senses through advertising, the media, internet, pornography and films. The producers of this material may claim freedom of expression, but it is really a lack of responsibility. It influences everyone profoundly, particularly young people. This irresponsible imagery pollutes our consciousness and fosters sexual misconduct, destroying self-respect and respect for the other.

We need to learn ways to protect our senses, to guard against the energy of the sex industry as it is insidiously purveyed to us on a daily basis. There is an ethical void around sexual behavior, and young people are left to experiment without clear guidance. They stumble frequently into disaster and suffering, as do their parents. That void can be filled by observance of the Third Mindfulness Training as it protects our senses and provides the means to re-establish the balance that has been lost. Meditation closes the sensory doors to external inputs and opens the doors to the heart, wherein dwells our true nature of responsibility. Once the doors to the heart are opened we are predisposed to be more responsible with our sexuality. From the awakened mind of great teachers come insights and guidelines to cultivate our own awakening. The Third Mindfulness Training is such a guideline. It helps us to know our own mind, to see habit energies and addictions for what they are, and guide us to become aware of the awakened mind that exists as seeds within our consciousness. This Training feeds those seeds and takes us to a place of non fear.

FOURTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Loving Speech and Deep Listening

 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering within myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord, I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

             If we learn to take care of our thoughts as the actions of our Mind, then we will take care of what we say as the actions of our Speech. We pay attention and discipline our thoughts, taking greater care of what we say. This ensures that the important guidelines of the Fourth Mindfulness Training are applied. Our speech also comes from our parents, ancestors, teachers and friends. Very often something comes out of our mouth which we instantly regret and we wonder, where on earth did that come from? We are a continuation of our ancestors and teachers. We have to be aware that in addition to all their mindful qualities we have also inherited harmful habits of speech. Children are often criticized and reprimanded at mealtimes, as that was the way our parents communicated. So children consume the energy of punishment along with their food. Frequently they will cut themselves off from their bodies while eating, so it is not surprising that so many children suffer from eating disorders. Family meal times can be changed from a battlefield that produces casualties. If parents would only take the time and effort to talk about what is going right, and empower young people rather than focus on supposed faults. Mindful mealtimes can transform family life. We must learn ways to be considerate in our speech, though it takes time, understanding and awareness.

This training is about the art of deep listening and the power of compassionate speaking. In our busy modern world very few people give their time or presence to listen deeply to anyone. Yet our presence is the greatest gift we can give, especially to children, for it bridges chasms of misunderstanding and heals wounds. The reason we do not listen is simple. We have ceased to listen to our true nature, the neglected internal component of ourselves that harbors our strengths, compassion and love. As we learn to touch this island within ourselves through meditation, then we can listen to others and deeply heal them with our full presence. Our perceptions are filled with incorrect judgments and this is what is fed by a toxic conversation. We rarely listen to the other speaking to us, simply because we are not present for them. We also do not listen to significant others in our lives. We are unskillful and often harmful. On the other hand the practice of meditation does not distort what is presented and provides freedom from the prison of prejudice. And so we train with the Fourth Mindfulness Training as a guide.

I remember the magical effects of being present and listening deeply with my children, particularly as I previously had a long history with them of not doing so! To truly love our children is to be present for them. Everything is available through our full presence. Being present, listening deeply from a compassionate heart, speaking lovingly is what the Fourth Mindfulness Training is about. It provides a practical and ethical guideline about what to do with our speech, listening and presence so we can bring about transformation and healing. We learn to listen to a different internal voice that has its foundation in goodness and decency. The capacity for deep listening and loving speech lies within everyone and this training guides us to develop and use these skills to relieve suffering in others. We all know that the power of words can cause distress, yet it can also bring about joy and happiness. The Fourth Mindfulness Training guides us to be aware of how we so often place judgments into our speech, and encourages us to reflect on our perceptions before we open our mouths. With our mouths wide open for mindless speech to spill out, we condemn and criticize without understanding. Blaming does not allow understanding and compassion to enter into the picture.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training encourages us to look deeply into the habit energies so powerfully wrapped round our speech, and to take care that we prevent separation and harm from coming into the lives of families and communities. At the same time we do our best to nurture the energy of reconciliation when conflicts are created by unkind and thoughtless words. In order to practice the art of deep listening we have to retrain ourselves so that the seeds of compassion and love are nurtured. But very often we have our own scars and personal baggage, which makes deep listening and compassionate speech difficult. Never before have there been so many means to communicate with one another, yet we remain isolated because our communication is shallow and meaningless, without depth. In our communications with others, our words and energy have the power to either uplift or harm. Very often we choose to harm, and though this may provide a moment of triumph, our speech action alienates us from that consciousness which brings happiness. When we cannot listen deeply, we cannot speak kindly.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training takes us into a deep investigation of what to do with our speech and the quality of our presence. What we do is often very unwise because the environment that surrounds us encourages us to be untruthful. We may believe it is innocuous to lie under certain circumstances, the proverbial white lie. Yet some part of our mind knows our integrity is compromised. When that volume is pumped up, however, politicians, business people, the media, bureaucrats feel they have to lie in order to be successful. Our elected representatives do not usually speak mindfully, or listen to anyone. Many are mindful only of public opinion polls and their re-election. A considerable proportion of the icons from the sports, entertainment, and media domains present posture and hype rather than truth, and we know that most of them lie. This environment that encourages untruth translates into a degraded nation, world and environment. Can we not set an example for our children by speaking the truth, by coming from the heart, by demonstrating the positive effects of deep listening and compassionate speech? An antidote such as the Fourth Mindfulness Training is needed to transform and heal the basis of our communication with others. This Training is the sword to cut through the Gordian knot of lying that tangles us in webs of deceit and destruction, and guides us in the direction of integrity and trust.

FIFTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING – Nourishment and Healing        

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

This training is about the way we consume. It guides us to adopt new patterns of consumption so that our society becomes mindful and less violent. This is the necessary shift in consciousness required if we choose to actualize the Five Mindfulness Trainings in our daily lives. Then we can step more lightly on the planet and find ways to encourage people to consume mindfully and bring an end to violence. However, media, TV and advertising bombard our senses daily with violence. Indeed, we are encouraged to consume in a manner that supports a political/economic system based on greed. As long as we remain willing prisoners to this corporate ideology, we are unable to take responsibility for the world we live in and create. None of this is good for our mental and physical health. Our consciousness absorbs and is defined by all that we consume. If we continually consume toxins, violence and garbage, then it should not surprise us that this is the raw material for daily decision making. We are the sum of the nutriments we put into our beings, and to be healthy we must learn how to protect ourselves otherwise we will get sick and violent and create a sick and violent society.

Our consciousness stores everything. Deeply hidden in our mind are the addictions of our ancestors, the negativity, cruelty and discrimination throughout our species memory, our fears, hatreds and guilt. Also in our consciousness are the seeds of an enlightened mind, the Grace of God, the potential of understanding, compassion and love buried as seeds, waiting to grow. Guidelines such as the Mindfulness Trainings take us on a journey, so that the latter seeds are nurtured rather than the former. Without ethical guidelines rooted in a spiritual practice, we would suffer continuously from internal conflicts and confusion.

We can say, “This is not good for me”, or “This is not good for my children,” and then begin cultivating an alternative consumption that is good. Without mindfulness we are exposed to all kinds of energy-sucking elements that activate and indulge the seeds of violence, hatred, anger, terror and despair; all of which drain us of life force. As we begin to understand the effects of these energies feeding our worst attributes of mind, then we can stop. With insight we can cut off the energies that are damaging us. The Mindfulness Trainings provide the key. If we know what the nutriments are that feed our ill-being, particularly the potential state of violence within us, we can make the conscious decision to cut off the feeder supplies. Replace them with nutriments that support us moving in the direction of compassion and responsible ethical living. Remember, it is the ethical void in our lives that supports violence in daily expression of who we think they are.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training guides us out of this prison with a clear commitment to consume mindfully and thereby create a different kind of society, one that is responsible to ancestors and future generations. The issue of responsibility is the key to this training. because we interconnect with and affect everything. We must realize that lack of responsibility to the environment, ancestors and future generations, creates a very dangerous situation. If we do not choose to consume mindfully then we will destroy our world. We need to go on a diet of mindfulness for all aspects of our life, society and environment. It is possible to move in the direction of responsible and ethical living. This is what mindfulness practice is for. This is the hope and the remedy for violence in our society, in our children and on our planet.

We must deliberately cultivate the positive attributes in our minds and shine the light of recognition and mindfulness on our suffering, so that we can become steady and full of resolve to live differently. The Five Mindfulness Trainings provide us with a template to do exactly 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! This is the only way to unravel the insidious internal knots caused by generations of ancestral habits, created from ignorance, vengeance and separation.  This is the work of the new revolutionary of the 21st century. It is not only a political and intellectual exercise, not only a matter of compromised treaties and cease fires. It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the core of our being.

I shape all of this 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 gate, a guidance system and a deep well of internal ethics to live by. Without them………….? I choose not to go there, as my commitment is to actualize these trainings in my life, and in the lives of others, to the best of my ability. That is my dance.

 

The Merchant and the Diamond

This piece is the Epilogue for the essays on “Our World is Burning” – a book I am preparing for next year.

EPILOGUE

Essay Sixteen: The Merchant and the Diamond

 

There was a merchant who lived in a far-away land. He was very wealthy and built a trading empire that brought him great riches. He was respected throughout the land for his fairness and astuteness, yet in the midst of all his wealth and fame he felt a lack, that there was something he did not have. He did not know what it was.

One night he had a dream and remembered it very clearly. He dreamed there was a monk sitting under a tree at the forest’s edge, and that this monk had something special to give to him. He was not accustomed to dreaming, so he felt this dream held a special portent. At sunrise the next day he left his house and walked to the edge of the town where he lived. He saw the monk, just as in his dream, wearing a saffron robe, sitting quietly under the shade of a tree at the edge of the forest. He looked so peaceful. As the merchant approached, the monk opened his eyes and smiled gently to him. The merchant stopped, bowing respectfully, and said:

“Dear monk, I had a dream about you last night, that you would be sitting here on the edge of the forest and that you had something for me. What is it that you have for me?”

The monk paused for a moment then slowly reached into his canvas bag. He brought out a huge diamond as big as a man’s fist. It sparkled and shone in the sunlight, dazzling the eyes and senses of the merchant. It was the most beautiful and valuable diamond the merchant had ever seen. The monk said, “Have you come for this?”

The merchant without hesitating replied, “Oh yes, thank you so much, this is wonderful. I have always wanted to possess such a magnificent diamond.” He thanked the monk profusely for this unexpected and magnificent gift, wrapped the diamond inside his jacket and returned home. Once there he placed the diamond in his front room. He closed the shutters and locked the doors to his house and stayed with the diamond, totally mesmerized and entranced by its beauty and purity. He did not go to work that day, nor did he eat or drink. He thought that this gift was the missing piece of his life and he wanted to bask in the glory of it. When he went to sleep that night, he placed the diamond on a small pedestal by his bedside, so that he could have it close by. Yet he could not sleep. He felt a strange disturbance within himself that he did not understand. He tossed and turned, not knowing what to do about the growing restlessness. Just before sunrise he rose, got dressed and carefully wrapped the diamond in a cloth, before setting off once more for the edge of the forest.

The monk was sitting in the same place, deep in meditation. The peace that emanated from him calmed the restlessness that so disturbed the merchant. On hearing the merchant’s footsteps come closer and then stop before him, the monk opened his eyes and once more smiled very gently to the merchant. “Good morning my friend,” he said. “Are you not happy with the diamond?”

The merchant bowed and placed the diamond at the feet of the monk and said, “Good monk, it is not the diamond that I want. I would like to have the heart that can give away such a diamond.”

The monk very quietly stood up and bowed to the merchant, “Good sir, as that is your wish, I will teach you to meditate.”

The Buddha At The Gate

Essay Eleven: The Buddha at the Gate. 

Let me tell you a story. There was a young monk who was sent by his Abbot to beg for food in a nearby town.  The town had a wall around it, with a main gate placed at each cardinal direction.  The young monk was a little nervous during his first alms round but the townspeople were very generous and quickly filled his bowl.  Late that morning he decided to leave by the North Gate.  Sitting to one side of the gate was a bedraggled, dirty old beggar who stirred himself at the sight of the young monk and started to spit and curse at him.  The monk jumped to one side in alarm and quickly passed through the gate as fast as he could.  As he walked away he could still hear the beggar’s curses ringing in his ears.

On the next day once his bowl was full he decided to leave by the West Gate to avoid the dreadful old beggar.  But the beggar was there, spitting and cursing at him once again.  The young monk was angry this time and shouted at the old beggar “Don’t you know who I am?  I am a student of the Buddha!”  At which point the beggar picked up some dirt and threw it into the bowl, spoiling the monk’s collection of food.  Angrily the young monk walked back to the monastery, knowing he would have to endure an enforced fast, wondering why he should be treated in this way.  So he made up his mind to breathe and calm himself and to totally ignore the beggar if they should meet again.

As he left by the South Gate next day he met the old beggar, still cursing and spitting at him.  He protected his food with part of his robe and kept his head down as he endured the abuse from the old beggar once more.  His heart was in turmoil, his mind in so much distress that he could eat nothing from his bowl once he reached the monastery.  Next day he left by the East Gate and to his dismay the same old beggar was waiting for him.  As he heard the curses and endured the spitting, the young monk raised his walking staff to strike the old beggar, who just cackled in glee at the young monk’s discomfort.  With a moment’s pause the monk stayed his hand and walked quickly through the East Gate.

He was deeply ashamed at how close he had come to violence.  He felt he was a wretched student of the Buddha and totally confused as to why all this abuse was happening to him.  He suffered so much from the anger and violence inside himself that he knew he needed his Master’s guidance.  He sought out the Abbot and asked for forgiveness and guidance after he told the story of his past four days.  The Abbot listened deeply to the young monk then smiled very gently with understanding.

“My child, you have met the Buddha at the Gate.  He is asking you to look deeply into the depths of your reactions and anger.  He is asking you to listen instead to the deep source of Love and Compassion in your heart.  He is asking you not to lose your Joy and Equanimity.  He encourages you to develop your Equanimity so it is solid and strong, not easily moved.  These are the Buddha’s teachings on Love and you must meditate deeply on these teachings.”

The Abbot instructed him on the Buddha’s Teachings on Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity; the Four Immeasurable Minds.  Also known as the Four Brahmaviharas, these teachings were first given by the Buddha to a Hindu gentleman who wished to find the way to be with Brahma, the Universal God.  The young monk was instructed to deepen his practice, to listen deeply to his heart and always to stop and look deeply into the causes and conditions of his reactions, anger and violence.  The young monk bowed in gratitude to his Abbot and diligently practiced meditating on the Buddha’s teachings, immediately putting them into daily practice.  This enabled him to pass by the beggar without reaction, until one day no beggar was to be found at any of the four gates.

This simple teaching is something we can all put into practice and not activate the demons in our own mind. A better world is the end result.

 

Are We Stupid? Climate Change Unhinged.

Essay Three: Are We Stupid?                                                                                                                                                                           

Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite plays the best role of his acting career in the film “The Age of Stupid.”  The movie fast forwards us to the year 2055.  Pete plays the sole fictional character in this riveting film.  He stars as an old man living alone in a world totally decimated by global warming.  His location is the High Arctic.  How prophetic this makes James Lovelock’s conclusion from his 2006 book Revenge of Gaia. In an interview about this book, Lovelock provides a dire prediction for humanity: “Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

The character played by Postlethwaite is the curator of The Global Archive, a digital storage laboratory located in the Arctic. It is the last habitable place for humans on Planet Earth.  The footage he views shows how global warming reached tipping points and runaway effects while at the same time humanity’s achievements are also saved for posterity.  How could the human mind capable of such monumental achievements neglect to take care of the destruction happening to their lived-in-ecosystem?  The old man shakes his head in disbelief looking for an answer.  The film gives us an answer – carbon based energy. Our addictive dependence to it is what propelled the downward spiral of devastation. The addictive process was enabled because we allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values, an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consumed mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or concern about creating inequality, poverty and ecosystem imbalance.  Planetary care is not on this agenda, as the film graphically shows.  We see the old man in the High Arctic watching archival video footage, carefully preserved from 2008.  His stark question to the viewer is: “Why didn’t we stop climate change in 2008 when there was a chance?”

The director of the film, Fanny Armstrong, creates a montage from live news and documentaries saved from 1950 to 2008.  The video record charts the steps taken by humanity into global devastation – devastating that is for human habitation and for all other species. In an artfully created mosaic, six real life characters play out the dramas of their personal stories.  Their humanity and incredible stupidity are extant in this brilliant tapestry of human folly.  What is so gripping is that we who view it are made to feel distinctly uncomfortable, because their shadows and myopia reflect our own. The shadows and myopia arrive as a projection of our political and corporate leaders.  After watching this film we can no longer hide from these shadows.  We are forcibly held to account.  If we do not act now, this film then becomes our story.

Two Forks In the Road – Which One Will We Take?

I talked about the Failsafe in Consciousness concept in my 2008 work, Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves, to describe how consciousness expansion will be held back by a deliberately cultivated ignorance about better knowledge. That is until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point. My thought was that this breaking point will then act as a catalyst, exposing such ignorance. At which point consciousness is propelled into expansion, deliberation and change. My vision was a very positive one, as I believed that humanity could create new structures and organizations out of which emerge the radical solutions to address the environmental crises. We have the knowledge to create this, but the obstacles that stand in the way are not technological. They are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the present dominance of corporate values, rampantly consolidated through “turbo-capitalism.” I argued that the necessary clarity to deal with the global environmental crises will emerge, once our thoughts, values and attitudes change and no longer sustain and feed our internal pollution. This is the radical internal Climate Change necessary to engage intelligently with the external Climate Change.

There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable. Yet I asked the reader to take hold of the 2% option that creates the opportunity for the Failsafe in Consciousness to function and multiply. I recall many years ago when I was teaching meditation in India, hearing Sai Baba, the Indian sage, say that a transformation in human consciousness required at least 2% of the population to meditate on a daily basis. I have no idea what the knowledge source was for his pronouncement yet I do remember the “buzz” of energy in my body and mind when I heard it. I do not remember anything but that from the audience with him, yet have retained it as a distinct possibility, translating this wisdom into the 2% option. This is do-able and within our immediate grasp. Just persuade 2% of the people we know to implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – but do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change.  Mass awakening does not mean that everyone “wakes” up.  A critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst, to get things moving in the right direction.

To make Failsafe a robust concept I identified three interconnected components:

  1. Innate Earth Wisdom,
  2. Counter Culture and
  3. Tipping Points in Consciousness.

We do in fact possess innate earth wisdom. Ninety-nine per cent of our evolution as a species relied on a hunting and gathering adaptation known as foraging, a strategy of adaptation based on sophisticated ecosystem knowledge, which was integrated into harvesting patterns through a spiritual understanding of the world. That is still hardwired into our brain and I thought it was simply a matter of re-accessing what we already possess. My anthropological logic pointed to the radical remembering of this mindset in order to activate the feedback cycle needed to prevent further degradation of the global ecosystem. I note how the modern day counter culture pulled together the Ecology of Ideas from Gregory Bateson, Rachel Carson’s Radical Ecology and the fostering of Gaia as metaphor and social movement through feminists, environmentalists, and the New Age beads and incense set. This unusual coalition established a broad consensus that provided a foundation for the new science of Eco-psychology. The counter culture also touched base with a responsible corporate response and the emergence of the powerful anti-globalization movement.

A massive global citizen response will certainly elicit an equally massive government and corporate response, as the bottom-up movement and top-down strategies for drastic change meet and integrate. There is not room in this Global Ecological Emergency for separating into “US’ and “THEM” categories. We are totally interconnected whether we like it or not.  We will all live together or we will all die together. An intelligent green ideology embedded in everything we produce and market is a means to bridge competing agendas. Our dependence on fossil fuels reduces because we are aware of the deadly consequences of our addiction to oil and coal. The transition to a carbon neutral global energy system over the next few decades will be costly and require a massive response from government and corporate leaders to initiate the second industrial revolution. This is necessary to blunt the impact of climate change. It is a huge global industrial project that governments and corporations can bring about due to citizen pressure to “Make It So!” Global warming has certainly entered public consciousness. It just has to penetrate the corridors of political and corporate power. As global citizens we must find the ways and means to support the shift in consciousness at all levels of global society to make this so. Our future existence, and the existence of other species on planet earth, depends on making a new beginning for all of us.

Tipping points in consciousness are about achieving a critical mass for radical change and draw on the new science of Neuroplasticity that clearly demonstrates we are not necessarily stuck with present mindsets. Our mindsets can be changed but that takes extensive and diligent internal work. Just as there are tipping points in the external ecology of Gaia, so must there be tipping points in the internal ecology of consciousness.

“The Age of Stupid” is a watershed film.  You will not be the same after you have seen it.  It is impossible not to be moved in a constructive direction of immediate action.  For the latter, I refer the reader to Failsafe’s Appendix I: Simple Steps to Empowerment, which provides guidelines and an action plan for the global ecological emergency. The steps are:

  1. Take Action
  2. Get Up Close And Personal
  3. Reduce Your Ecological Footprint
  4. Guidelines for Business and the Workplace
  5. The “Big” Picture for The Future
  6. Science and Diversity
  7. Environmental Organizations
  8. Warning to Governments

The Scientific American journal published “10 Solutions for Climate Change” much later and basically endorsed my Appendix.  If only we can get it right – and get it right now!

The hopeful trajectory is that our diligent mindfulness has changed our brain structures in the direction that permits new paradigms of behavior to come into form.  As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia it is as though humanity has aligned their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility.  The critical mass has arrived and it amounts to a collective tipping point for our species.  Once the wild, ego driven, greed driven mind is reined in then clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way.  This is what happens if we “Begin It Now” – the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.

The best case scenario is that we get on with the task of reining in our ego and greed driven mind.  This permits a Failsafe in Consciousness to kick in because conditions have been created by our choice to cultivate different patterns within our minds. Thus consciousness expansion can no longer be held back as the radical internal Climate Change has taken place.  Our innate knowledge is manifest. We interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered. We become another light shining in the quiet revolution that has over two million organizations world-wide pursuing constructive change.

However, I underestimated the lure and power of the Second Fork. Should a Failsafe in Consciousness prove to be unfounded, we are then faced with the likelihood that humanity is a failed genetic experiment. If we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglectful ignorance, it is obvious that there is no place on Mother Earth to support our present civilization. That too will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity.  If consciousness is too slow to change and make the quantum leap to a culture of sustainability then there are drastic consequences to contemplate, which are starkly portrayed in the film. The ancient ecologist on Mars studying a million years of earth history would note a parasitic infestation of Planet Earth that was not very intelligent. An intelligent parasite would ensure the good health of the host that supports it. And so the Martian biologist would factor in an inevitable elimination date for our species in her star-date log and may well view our civilization as a failed genetic experiment.

This is a sobering metaphor, yet we have to accept it as a potential reality staring at us from the very near future. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency, as we remain ignorant to the consequences of the fact that everything interconnects. We are, in fact, our environment. It is our collective habits, thoughts and patterns of mindlessness that have created a flimsy, uncertain future for our species on Planet Earth. Yet civilizations rise, civilizations fall. Once we can accept that we have created the conditions for the present global civilization to die, then and only then can we find a respite. During this respite, perhaps it is possible for insights to emerge that will bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset.

It is very difficult in modern day civilization to accept death, whether it is of a loved one, ourselves or the planet. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. For once we can clearly recognize the reality that our present form of civilization is dying we know that despair and denial will do us no good. Instead, a window opens in our mind for peace and steadiness to enter, which could then propel our species to live differently so that we may create a future on planet earth. This requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the bottom line of turbo-capitalism and the ecology of greed. It does require a candid acceptance, without fear, that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance can actually free the mind from its chains and enable mindful engagement to naturally arise. Such a way of life, such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet, can be the springboard to mitigate 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.

Because of all the warning signals, however, allow me to be starkly realistic. If the Failsafe in Consciousness does not kick in, the field is open for James Lovelock’s conclusions to take root. But perhaps after all the Arctic Circle may not be such a bad evolutionary staging point, as digital records, carefully preserved as archaeological relics, could provide clear guidelines for future civilizations to conduct themselves more appropriately with respect to the Earth Mother. A million years from now is merely a blink of an eye in geological time. After Global Warming destroys the present habitable eco-niche any future civilization that evolves will be able to draw on the triumphs and failures of our present civilization.

I finish with Dave Hampton’s passionate thoughts about this film (Resurgence May/June 2009: 66).  “The Age of Stupid is not just a film that could change the course of humanity.  I hope it will be the catalyst that gives us a second chance to create a sustainable future.  I hope it will promote a mass collective awakening globally such that we are not stupid and that we choose life and reclaim our children’s birthright – the right to expect a future.”

I have fourteen grandchildren. In the same vein as this film, I wrote Failsafe: Saving The Earth from Ourselves. Consider this book as archival footage from 2008 that provides hope and an action plan so that my grandchildren can enjoy a habitable planet. Should the adversity of Climate Change overwhelm humanity – then a different question arises. What will we then choose to do as a paradigm of behavior?

 

Glance at the sun

See the moon

And the stars

Gaze at the beauty

Of the earth’s

Greening

 

Now Think

 

Hildergard of Bingen 1098 – 1179

 

 

 

 

 

Rant From The Future

I am bringing together a series of essays for a new book project “Our World is Burning.” Essay Two: Rant From The Future sets the tone.

Essay Two: Rant from the Future 

New Planet, New World (Manor House 2016) is the final book of the Chronicles of Awakening trilogy. I take characters from Book One: Redemption and Book Two: Trailing Sky Six Feathers, placing them on a new planet in the near future. The adventure allows me to look back on the factors that compromised life on Earth. Here is the opening of Chapter Three.

Dr. Tom Hagen’s blistering speech to an elite forum of political and corporate leaders at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2080 changed the future of humanity. Gathered before him were the power brokers from around the world. He was an astrophysicist, engineer and prolific author. He wrote searing plays about human fragility and books for children to inspire them to care for the Earth. His endeavors, however, did not turn the tide of willful ignorance about drastic climate change. This was despite his creation of detailed scenarios for adapting to climate change and reforming business ethics, both of which imperiled life on Earth. He was also the chef-de-mission of the International Space Agency’s PRIME 3 project to locate a suitable planet, as habitation on Earth became increasingly compromised. The project was outlined in Space Agency folders that each member of the audience had before them.

The International Space Agency had established research stations orbiting Mars and on Jupiter’s largest satellite. Radical advances in space technology made this possible mid-century, through the invention of space elevator nanotubes and revolutionary advances in nuclear fusion engines for spaceships. Station One at Jupiter was the key construction. From there a probe, PRIME 1, was launched into the heliosphere through a wormhole into interstellar space. In a neighboring galaxy it located a planet with two moons in an ecliptic plane with a dozen planets orbiting around a massive sequence star, the sun for this system. The planet had a liquid hydrosphere similar to Earth. A more sophisticated probe, PRIME 2, sent back information identifying distinct zones from tropics to polar with evidence of oceans, forests and mountains. No sign of habitation was revealed. Both probes identified a dense particle field in the upper stratosphere of the planet, similar to a Van Allen belt. The long term plan was for Jupiter One to serve as a way station to ferry pioneers to the new planet. This project required massive financial support that Tom was trying to elicit.

He was standing quietly at the podium in Geneva, readying to speak.  He had both good and bad news for his powerful and wealthy audience, deeply hoping that some of them would finance this late opportunity for survival of the human species. Tom looked at his carefully researched notes then put them to one side. This speech, the most significant of his life, had to come directly from his insight and heart. He composed himself, standing still and silent at the podium, six foot three inches of intense focus, dignified and alert. He took his glasses off and placed them on top of his notes. Sian, his wife, sitting off to one side of the podium smiled in relief. His fifteen year old daughter, Catriona, was sitting in the front row, dressed in a fashionable grey pant suit to offset her lustrous red hair tied up in a bun. Her mother had fetched her from her boarding school in Switzerland. She knew Catriona would love to hear her father speak. Tom looked around at his audience, one he did not particularly like, but one he had to convince. He saw Catriona in the front row beaming her smile to him and he relaxed a little. He breathed deeply and waited for that icy steel of reason and vision to ignite his insight.

He began to speak in a calm, clear baritone voice.

“In this very moment what is left of the population in Australia is being evacuated. The sand storms and volcanic eruptions in the interior plus successive coastal tsunamis have brought an end to human occupation there. The inundation of Bangladesh, the Netherlands and coastal regions round the world are a direct consequence of the collapse of the Polar Ice Sheets, which increased sea levels by seven meters. These cryogenic events have dislocated half the global population, ushering in plagues and pestilence that eliminated ninety per cent of other species and directly threaten human survival. These are facts that cannot be refuted. Furthermore we cannot turn away from the reality that our entire planet is overwhelmed with refugee camps and utter desolation.”

Tom paused for several silent moments and made eye contact with the few individuals there who could support him. He glanced towards Catriona who adored him. This helped him to gather his wits. The facts he had just delivered set the tone for what was to come. He knew many of his listeners would be offended. He slowly took a drink of water from the glass in front of him.

“In the early part of the twenty first century it was possible to make the leap to a zero-net-carbon world. Yet the opposite trajectory was chosen with a rapid increase in greenhouse gases because wealthy nations and economic enterprises like yours doubled their production of fossil fuels.”

He then glared at his audience and raised his voice, “Did you not notice that degradation of the Earth’s ecology was the catalyst for radical Climate Change? Did you not see that food crops were destroyed by horrendous heat waves? Did you not realize that food riots and world panic trace back to one cause, the economic agenda of your energy extraction? I know where your collective power was invested. It was in political, social and economic structures that centered on the carbon combustion complex. Did you not discern that this collective agenda was destabilizing world order?”

Several members of the industrial elite stood up and left. There was another pregnant pause, as Tom waited for them to walk out without comment.

“This focus on economic wealth at all costs was stupid. With blindfolds towards the devastation caused, you directly went in the wrong direction. Your brand was, and is, a dysfunctional global financial system lurching from one disaster to another throughout the century, ignoring the welfare of populations and the ecological breakdowns caused by the consequences of your actions. May I remind you that the economy is a mere sub-set of the mother lode of ecology and you have successfully destroyed most ecosystems on Planet Earth. On your watch not only did financial collapses signal dangerous global watersheds, the world food system crashed along with the chaos brought in by climate change. Nobody moved to ask different questions and find different answers, as the anger of the populace turned on the powerful masters of capital and politics. At the extreme end of the violence spectrum this anger boiled over into lynching corporate and political leaders held responsible by eco-militias, the false defenders of the Earth who are basically criminals. The heinous actions of these black clad anarchists are certainly an extreme response to your control, lies and doublespeak. But none of you are safe from their reach.”

That dangerous reality registered like a punch in the stomach with the rich and powerful still present.

Tom said, “Look back over this century and see why such violence emerged. Millions of people have died from thirst, starvation and disease.  Death arrived from every pestilence available, some of it created in your counter-intelligence labs. The countless millions who have died do not include the many wars waged over scarce resources, particularly water. The reason for such wars have their origins in your greed for money, control and power leading directly to the cascade of disintegrating eco-systems. Government, industry, banks and financiers grew wealthy while they permitted a systematic breakdown of failing ecosystems on Planet Earth.  I have spoken before to gatherings of this nature and provide a warning to all about the course we are headed on. I will try one more time.”

Tom felt exasperation arising within him yet calmly continued along the same track.

“Your willful ignorance of dire warnings served to discredit climate change scientists and oceanographers screaming that eco-systems were disintegrating. You silenced and jailed citizens with the integrity to save the Earth. But it was never about the unanimity of science or free speech. It was about the brand of economics favored by your fossil fuel complex, a collective cabal of extraordinary power that extended its reach to encompass all powerful corporate ventures. You know who you are.”

Tom paused to sternly stare at his audience. “You single mindedly created a powerful culture of denial about climate change and how it has impacted the cryosphere to such deadly effect.”  There was an angry tone in Tom’s voice as he stepped away from complicity with diplomacy.

“Social order broke down in mid-century ushering in the overthrow of governments, the establishment of martial law and Nazism. All of which increased the desperation of populations worldwide who took to the streets in mass riots. In the vacuum of social order, opportunist and vicious warlords and militias took over many parts of the world. You have all suffered from the violence of so called eco-militias, which hunt down and string up in the streets those politicians and corporate leaders they hold responsible for the collapse of Earth’s eco-systems. Let me be clear. These eco-militias do not serve the Earth. They are pathological criminals on the loose, yet in many parts of the world they constitute an ever present danger. You and I have lost many friends and colleagues to the murders they have carried out. They are extreme, but you are just as extreme. Somehow you inherited the Nero gene, fiddling with indifference while Rome burned. The entire planet has been allowed to burn on your watch. Perhaps at this late stage you can learn something from Rumi, the Sufi saint. He said, ‘Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.’

Tom allowed an entire minute for that to sink in before continuing.

“Your policies and brand of economics have forced humanity off the edge of the roof and you can now see the consequences worldwide. Big Oil and government created incredible propaganda campaigns to promote oil and gas extraction, irrespective of the damage caused to ecosystems and populations. They produced false images of reforestation, utmost safety, deep concern for wildlife, populations and clean water. This played to receptive audiences yet decades later we find rivers and lakes occupying a wasteland. Oil derivatives swiftly poured through interconnected waterways and aboriginal populations world-wide that once augmented their households with fish, game and forest products are no more. They either relocated or died. This effectively torpedoed any form of transition to a sustainable, renewable economy.”

His explosive words were like shards of broken glass and secured the exit of more power holders, though his next words caused a few of them to stop in their tracks.

“The billionaires amongst you have well equipped and tightly defended underground bunkers to escape to, but I have bad news for you. The deep core drilling for oil and gas all over the world, particularly in fragile ocean beds, has compromised the tectonic plates at the center of the Earth. The tectonic plates are now rising closer to the outer crust of Planet Earth. Where they collide precipitates world-wide volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that will first of all destroy your underground bunkers. It is estimated that millions will die from the volcanic explosions and many of those surviving will likely die from poisonous gases and the inevitable tsunamis in every ocean. Seventy years ago seismologists provided the critical evidence that deep core drilling and fracking were directly associated with the rapid increase in global earthquake and volcanic epicenters. Tectonic plates ride on a fluid like core, known as the asthenosphere. The collision of these tectonic plates are now triggering massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Repeated warnings from scientists to ban deep core drilling were ignored, bringing the unspeakable into reality.”

Tom paused and took a deep breath before looking around at his depleted audience.

“I ask you at this late stage to do one last noble thing. Take a good luck at the dossier provided by the International Space Agency. Support the PRIME 3 space project to the tune of fifteen billion dollars. That is what it will cost to build a new spaceship and create a viable outpost at Jupiter Station One. The very future of our species is at grave risk and presently lies in your hands. PRIME 3 is the last Hail Mary to begin anew without replicating the structures and policies that have led to the inevitable demise of Planet Earth.”

Tom stopped talking.  He was greeted by a cold silence. There was no applause. No-one acknowledged him. He walked steadily to the side of the stage where Sian was standing. A look of sheer admiration lit up her face at his bravery. She embraced him lightly and sweetly. She held his hand as they left the podium. Catriona stood up and took her father’s arm and joined him and her mother as they walked up the center of the UN forum. She was so proud of her father but noticed that no-one would meet his eye. He strode purposefully as the rich, powerful and greedy studiously ignored him, or so he thought. Still, Sian sent a smile to everyone who appeared to be in some kind of shock, stasis or agreement. They passed through the security of the UN building and started to walk down the graceful stone steps. Tom let out a long slow breath, as he glanced at Lac Geneva sparkling in the distance. “I sure blew that one Sian and Catriona. Hardly any one of those bastards allowed what I said to sink into their mind. I have no idea where I can turn to ensure the PRIME 3 project gets funded.”

“Perhaps you may be wrong my dear Tom,” Sian softly replied. “Look over there.”

An armored limousine had drawn up in front of them. Heavily armed guards quickly fanned out in a defensive format. One guard opened the side door of the armored vehicle. Out stepped Seymour Hansen, the president of the biggest bank in America. He was a tall, commanding figure. His greying hair was offset by deep flinty blue eyes that he now fixed upon Tom.

“Dr. Hagen, you do know who I am?”

Tom nodded.

“I listened to your powerful speech. You may be surprised to learn that it impacted me deeply. I have sent a line of credit to the International Space Agency for the fifteen billion dollars required for your project. I am not buying a seat for myself on your space craft, as I doubt that I possess the necessary credentials. I have lined up a consortium of technologically sophisticated corporations. They will provide whatever technology and systems you need. They will deliver, as they are in my thrall.”

Tom was stunned, yet asked, “Why are you doing this?”

Seymour Hansen replied with a wry smile, choosing his words carefully, “Your speech stung everyone, some more deeply than you realize. I admired your courage as well as your vision and precision. As far as I am concerned I would not trust anyone else with this space project. I may not be alive to see its fruition and neither will those who just listened to you. There are no strings to my offer. Just get it done.”

Tom stood dumbfounded at hearing this from the most powerful oligarch in the world. He had no words or grace in that moment. Thankfully, Sian was endowed with both. She gracefully stepped forward to their benefactor and gently kissed him on the cheek, simply expressing their gratitude.

Hansen smiled, his flinty eyes softening, “It’s good he has you Mrs. Hagen for the necessary graces.” He held his hand out to Tom, who shook it firmly and gratefully, “Dr. Hagen, get it done.”

Tom nodded, as his heart expanded with relief and determination.

Sian was delighted that Tom’s vision had been supported. Catriona was jumping up and down with glee, laughing at the bewildered look in her father’s face. Sian had to shake him by the shoulders to ensure it had sunk in.

New Planet, New World

The final bookend of a trilogy is now ready for publishers’ eyes. Sci Fi novel that takes place in the near future. It is the final bookend of a trilogy – “Chronicles of Awakening.” Redemption is the first book in this trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. The final tome of this trilogy takes characters from the prior two books, placing them in the future on a new planet. I place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a blistering rant to the UN in 2080 that I would certainly like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco-militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm. Here is an extract from the opening chapter, where Catriona and Rising Moon do their best to kill one another.

She looked around for combustible material to build a fire, while her mind deeply grieved the loss of her parents. There was an abundance of dry weathered wood on the sandy beach. Catriona quickly gathered a clumsy pile and ignited it with her small hand laser. Then she consumed the emergency landing rations – protein, liquid and sedative. She followed all the necessary protocols as the wood caught fire. Then the shock hit her. She was shaking uncontrollably, frightened and at a total loss. Catriona sat weeping next to the bonfire. Tears splashed on her delicate hands, leaving wet blotches on her grey space tunic. Her sobs were accompanied by the gentle lapping of the lake, as it washed ashore driven by wind.

She felt a presence close by and turned around. A young woman wearing an embroidered buckskin dress and calf length laced moccasins was standing there with her bow pulled back, an arrow pointed right at the middle of her chest. She gasped at the stern yet beautiful face, noticing a cut on the woman’s forehead and a long black braid of hair hanging loosely at the front. She took everything in about this fierce apparition, who clearly meant her harm. She watched the woman carefully approach closer, one silent foot after the other, the arrow unwavering from its destination. The woman had a long knife in a sheath at her embroidered belt. Her deep dark eyes pierced right into Catriona. She had not been on the spaceship.

Catriona summoned all her courage, abandoning her shock and grief. Her voice quivered, “Who are you? Where did you come from? How are you here?” Her cry echoed through the deadly silence.

In halting English the strange woman replied tersely, “Why you need to know?”

There was a fierce edge to her words. The stranger’s eyes glared steadily at the young red haired, blue eyed woman dressed in a body tunic from neck to feet. She noticed the tear lined face and the strange craft pulled up on the shore. Catriona bravely stood her ground though her hands were shaking. She stepped forward and in an instant the intruder lowered her bow and swiftly threw a lariat so the noose settled around Catriona’s neck. With a sharp jerk Catriona went face first into the sand. Her assailant quickly bound her hands behind her back with a leather strap from her belt. She then jerked Catriona upright and they were face to face.

Catriona’s deep blue eyes blazed with anger. She was suddenly alert and yelled into the woman’s face, “I am not your enemy. We may be the only two people on this planet and you choose stupidity.”

Then Catriona head-butted the dark eyed woman on the bridge of her nose, just as she had learned in martial arts training aboard the spaceship. As the woman stumbled back, Catriona with her hands still tied behind her back, pivoted on her left foot and landed a perfect round house kick to the side of her assailant’s head with her right foot, followed by a swift side kick into her ribs.

Catriona’s onslaught briefly caught the woman by surprise yet once again she faced an arrow aimed right at her heart. Catriona saw the woman pull the bowstring back and stared into dark angry eyes. Time stood still, then the woman’s eyes suddenly changed and her mouth fell open. She had heard her mother’s voice speaking inside her mind to put the bow down. She felt the weight of her mother’s hand lower the bow. The two young women were both breathing heavily. The fire leaped in flames as it caught the adjacent logs. There was only a ripple of air across the lake. Both women were indifferent to the morning’s layered colors across the lake and into the sky.

The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, Climate Change, Voluntary Simplicity

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

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

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

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

The World is Burning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Epicenters at Pine Gate as a Revolutionary Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

 

Childhood Bedrooms

Extract from Chapter Nine of a forthcoming (2016) futuristic novel titled New Planet, New World, which provides a counterpoint to the demise of modern civilization. I chart a Beginning Anew for humanity, a communal Hero’s Journey to reconstruct society based on ecology, caring and sharing. This adventure is not without risk or cost, as power elites ignore their complicity in the destruction of life on Planet Earth.

Childhood Bedrooms

Igor asked her a surprising question, “When you were a child what was your bedroom like?” Catriona smiled as fond recollections arose in her mind. “I had the most marvelous bedroom. It was more of a music room than a bedroom, full of musical instruments.”

She giggled and clapped her hands, “I had all these stuffed animals and would place them next to instruments and move them around. My father was such a goof. He would knock on the door and ask if he was to be Elephant, Tinkerbelle or Bear and then come in and play their instruments.” Igor was rolling over with laughter. “My bedroom had a large bay window and my father would sit there with whatever stuffed animal I assigned to him. Often my mother would come in and conduct the entire ensemble.” Catriona’s face was lit up with the memories and she turned to him, “What about you Igor?”

Igor pondered whether to reveal too much, then decided to do so. “My bedroom as a child was my sanctuary. My parents were often under police scrutiny for their beliefs. To compensate they created a very safe haven for me.” He slowly gathered himself, “I see the corner where books, paintings and wooden stools are piled up in disarray. My bed had two levels, one for me to sleep upon and the other for my stuffed animals to talk to before sleeping. It was a comfortable bed with large pillows and green checkered blankets. I had a telescope next to the window and I would fly in my mind to galaxies with my favorite animals.” Then he paused, “Perhaps it was too much of a sanctuary, as I did not like to leave this house. I had to when my parents entered the Space Agency in Moscow. I did not want to leave my safe bedroom behind but my father was very smart. He cleared it out and painted it in colors I hated. I begged him and my mother to let me see it one last time.”

There was a tremor of emotion in Igor’s voice and Catriona stayed very still. “On that last visit, mother pointed to the empty window where my telescope once focused on the sky. I felt the loss, stripped down in an empty space once resonant with discovery. I felt my mother’s gentle hands on my shoulder and still remember her saying, “There is nothing to hold you back, Igor. Your dream is still inside. Now step into freedom.” She smiled as I looked for the telescope. Nothing was there. My treasures were boxed and sent on to Moscow. This was their way to move me on from fear rather than cling to childhood safety. My mother held my hand and stared at where the telescope was not.” Catriona reached over and gently held Igor’s hand, “And here you now are Igor.” He raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers.

Ian & mic snags (2)

Four Poems.

Four Poems: The Australia Times Interview with Ian Prattis

Short Bio

Dr. Ian Prattis is an award winning author of fourteen books. Recent awards include Gold for fiction at the 2015 Florida Book Festival, 2015 Quill Award from Focus on Women magazine and Silver for Environment from the 2014 Living Now Literary Awards. Julia Ann Charpentier says his: “admirable command of language brings to every scene a striking visual clarity.” Of his Gold for Redemption Anita Rizvi calls it “a riveting novel chronicling one man’s journey through the stages of innocence, darkness, destruction and transformation.” She goes on to say, “What is so exquisite is the tenderness and honesty with which the author deals with the human condition . . . he refuses to ‘sanitize’ experience.” He depicts the stations of a personal Calvary that ultimately leads to Redemption. His poetry, memoirs, fiction, articles, blogs and podcasts appear in a wide range of venues.

Full Profile at http://www.ianprattis.com

Dancing Trees                                                               

Silver birches silhouette the sky

Gather in numbers,

Silently,

Elegantly, grace “en pointe.”

Sway and breathe

Bend and whisper

Leaves shimmer.

They dance to gathering wind.

Murmur Creation’s tones

In synchrony with stellar rhythms,

Their sound carries waves

Rolling into shoreline rocks.

Silver birches silhouette the sky

Silver beauties

dance for us.

Dancing trees

Dancing Trees

       Lament For a Mariner                                                        

The sea is very thin this day

that Archie Ruag has gone.

Master mariner, graceful navigator,

wise teacher of ocean mystery.

No more to grace the ocean’s ships

returned to whence he came.

My sons at eleven years and ten

children in men’s mourning

saw him laid to rest

in my place.

Storms and hail swept the cemetery

and their small frames

grew in maturing

of Archie’s dying.

And I sit here in Canada

writing, grieving,

Knowing the sea is very thin this day

that Archie Ruag has gone.

I saw him last, pale and weary

with calm before his death.

His spirit surrounded by antiseptic ward,

but not beleaguered.

He knows I was not equal

to his dying.

So he spoke gently to me

of ships

and men at sea.

And moorings

safe to guard our boats

from winter’s cruelty.

And so, in this way

did he gently rebuke

my lack of courage

in his dying.

So that I may have strength

in my own time

of death.

Yet I miss him.

An anchor gone from my seasons

of the sea.

The sea is very thin this day.

     Vietnam War Memorial                                                                   

 

Gaunt with grief:

Motionless:

Stilled, Silenced:

Cold December day:

Grey and bleak.

I could not move:

Stunned: Frozen in Time:

Unbelieving:

Damn it all!

Damn!

It!

All!

It was not my war

don’t you know?

They were not my people

don’t you see?

Do I protest too much?

Name engraved black marble slabs

rising from the earth sear into my soul.

Burning deep to feel the pain, of so many deaths, such futility.

Ball of fire flames my chest,

chills the marrow of my bones.

Subterranean edifice hurts me awake,

transforms deep memories

for my own kind.

Fellow Humans.

Americans,

Vietnamese,

All peoples

caught in the sinister web

of dark and deadly shadows

that lurk in all of us:

Hate, Greed and Power.

I circle the profanity of war,

nerve center of our world.

Grimly aware thought:

Our world must be transformed:

Our world must be changed:

And we must do it. Transforming ourselves

then others in swift urgency.

Else the memoirs

of our civilization

are no more than

Monuments To The Dead.

Our Dead:

Yours

And

Mine.

      Weaving

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 as a golden sheen.

Caught in a still lake

waiting with patience

Beyond time and space,

Waiting

to reflect this moment of

splendor –

Weaving.

Let me share it.

Autumn Sunset