Tag Archives: Impermanence

Invitation to my book for 2017

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.

 

Dharma Detective Investigates Great Difficulties

TOOLS: Center in Mindfulness
: Taking Refuge: Deep Looking/ Deep Listening
: Skills to Garden in the Mind
STAGE ONE: Locate Difficulty in Time & Space
: Sangha Eyes: Deep Looking/Deep Listening
STAGE TWO: Remember Feelings
: Use of Teachings & Practice
STAGE THREE: Deep Looking into Blaming and Complicity
: Understanding, Impermanence and Transformation
STAGE FOUR: Deep Reflection
: Learning Curve

Start by recognizing the mind-state that causes suffering, be prepared to stop and skilfully look deeply into suffering by placing it within a practice of mindfulness. Just these initial steps can prevent us from being hooked and taken down by strong emotions and wrong perceptions. The tools are not those of intellectual self-analysis where we rationalize our suffering away. To recognize the significant elements of our suffering we need mindfulness, concentration and insight. Above all else we need to locate in heart consciousness – that still place of calm that is available by first of all stopping and then centering in mindfulness. This is so your mind-state is calm and grounded for the investigation.

Your time of great difficulty – locate it. What happened, where and when? What was the time frame? What do you think caused it – was it something in you or were the causal elements also around you? Do your best to establish the nature of the different factors that caused you to suffer at this difficult time in your life. Know also that your perceptions and recollections of the situation may well be skewed, so it is wise to take refuge in sangha eyes, to find out from dharma brothers and sisters just how you were at that time in terms of your actions and reactions. In this first step of being a dharma detective there is the importance of being grounded, of deep looking and of relying on sangha eyes to remember clearly.
Christmas Dharma Talk

Stage Two takes the process deeper. You have recognized your suffering but do you remember how you felt at that time? Did you become overwhelmed by it all or did you apply the practices and teachings in any way? Were there dharma friends available to help you or did you not seek help because you had lost faith? We need courage with this part of the inquiry, for it leads to the very difficult next stage of looking deeply into how we tend to take refuge in blaming instead of taking refuge in the Three Gems. We have to be a “Hercule Poirot,” truly a dharma detective, for now in Stage Three we list in our notebook how we blamed – the other, the situation, the Buddha, Jesus – even God! How did you lash out during your suffering? How did you try to harm and discriminate against the one you hate and any one else who got in the way? Did you shut them out or run away? Did you seek complicity with someone to help share your hate?

We all love our dramas, so much so that we tend to seek out someone to agree with our suffering – but there is no support in that, as only deeper suffering ensues. Were you lucky enough to find true support, someone steady to direct you to a greater understanding of the particular hell you are investigating? Did you come to an understanding that blaming, punishment, shutting off, running away, seeking complicity – none of these are motivated by understanding and compassion? Did you begin to realize that suffering is impermanent and that understanding and compassion illuminates impermanence, that this is the way out? If you have these realizations then progress is surely being made.

The Fourth Stage is a process of deep reflection on what would you do now, if faced with a similar situation. From the investigation of your time of great difficulty can you identify a learning curve that will enable you to not repeat the same mistakes? You may see for yourself the value of taking refuge in sangha eyes to guide your perceptions; of taking refuge in the practices, mindfulness trainings and sutras for guidance in order to apply the energy of mindfulness to the energy of suffering. This exercise is a wonderful one that all of us can do. The practice of mindfulness comes alive as a highly strategic set of tools and skills to produce transformation of the suffering caused by difficult and painful circumstances. Life is full of crises, curve balls and disasters. But even so, we do not have to be overwhelmed, hooked and crushed by them. Mindfulness practice helps us. Understanding and compassion hone our skills so that we become excellent gardeners of the mind.

The importance of taking refuge is to make fully alive the reality that we inter-are. We are never alone once we realize that Interbeing is a basic law of nature and of the Universe. Our scale of difficult circumstance runs through a vast range. The suffering and pain can be from a divorce, a son addicted to drugs, loss of a job, the death of a loved one, childhood abuse or brutal discrimination. The suffering can also be there from the situation in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis. The dharma detective operates well in all domains – personal, national, international – providing an instrument to focus our mindfulness, concentration and insight to whatever difficulty we suffer from.

Ian is the resident Zen teacher at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in the west end of Ottawa, Canada. Teachings and dharma study are offered on Thursdays 7.00pm – 9.00pm.
Pine Gate Meditation Hall