Our World is Burning: Essays on Mindful Engagement
As an idealistic teenager I wanted to save the world. I still do. Over the years though, I discovered I first had to save myself, because I was every bit as screwed up as the world. Indeed, saving myself and saving the world seems to be the same struggle, because we are all connected, one to another, and the forces that warped me are the same that warp the world. These essays come out of my long struggle. Please accept them as a gift; my thoughts on how to save ourselves and our world. The fifteen essays are not candidates for intellectual sophistry or a pawn in the intellectual constructions of clever talk. The reader’s experience, however, is the warp and weft of the universal tapestry.
When a breeze caresses a falling leaf, that leaf is transformed in its descent from tree limb to earth. Sunlight catches one side then glances off the other as the leaf gently spirals down. This gift of nature is not permanent. Yet notions of permanence reflect our fear of the unknown, immense dimensions within ourselves and foster the limitations we impose on reality with minds that are not free. Impermanence connotes our true nature of interconnectedness with a constantly changing web of life. We are fully alive because we are not alone. Everything connects to us. The theme of these essays is about change, cycles of transformation and discovering how we contain everything within ourselves. They rest on the ever-changing cycles that mark our journey in these tumultuous and dangerous times.
Introduction to Essay 15: Guidelines to Reconstruct our World
As a Zen teacher I make a commitment not to cause harm. I am guided by spiritual ethics yet am aware that the current disastrous state of the planet will not bring forth strategic plans of how to fix things. I could go on and on about the terrible things taking place in society and to the planet – and will divert to that in a moment. Yet the bottom line for me is to remember and refine a system of ethical conduct. So I go deeper and mainly fix myself to be steady and insightful. In the final essay of this collection I register with mindfulness trainings, as they bring to the surface all that I would like to see in people around the planet. It may sound simple minded but it is more useful than the tedious rants about what is drastically wrong and dangerous to our future.
The bottom line for me is that awakening and mindfulness are active. Activism on its own does not have the inner resources to bring about effective social and planetary transformation. I know from personal experience that retraining the wild mind is the necessary ingredient to precede activism. Stepping out on the environmental or political stage is only one part of the dance. It cannot be fully effective until the internal choreography is in place, the wild mind tamed. It will take smart discernment in order to step lightly on the planet. We have no alternative but to concentrate on sustainable living rather than greedily exploiting the spoils of perpetual economic growth. Profit cannot be the sole reason for commerce, there must be responsibility tied into the equation. At present, we are totally out of sync with the earth’s resources. The fragile threads of ecosystems around the globe are severely compromised. We are in the position of either going down the collective sewer or changing our values in the direction of awakening.
Jane Goodall issued a dire warning that “Life is Hanging by a Thread,” as all living things will be negatively impacted by rapid climate change. In particular she advocates the necessity of creating programs that stop tropical deforestation by placing rural communities as custodians of the forests. This is a tall order, as Donald Trump’s presidency has pulled the plug on a livable climate, dismantling environmental regulations and setting in motion irreversible consequences around the globe. The United States is now set on a course of ignoring climate change by obstructing clean energy and any form of conservation. The fox is already in the hen house and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord may be the first bird to die. Noam Chomsky refers to Trump’s priorities as “…racing as rapidly as possible to the destruction of organized human life.”
Stephen Hawking’s thoughtful piece in the Guardian (December 1, 2016) places a focus on elite behavior creating further inequality as he examines Brexit and the Trump presidency. His question is how will the elites change? He states, “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality and people see only a slim chance at earning a living at all.” Hawking acknowledges this dangerous moment in humanity’s evolution. I note very little impetus of our species working together, whereas it is essential that elites learn the lessons of Brexit and Trump and retrain for a new world and not hang on grimly to their ill-gotten gains.
Our Planet Earth is like a giant living cell, whose parts are all linked in symbiosis. Biologist Thomas Lewis creates a metaphor of the Earth as a giant cell with humans just as one part of a vast system. This is not something that the elites and corporate moguls would pay much attention to.