Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Dead Children

Dead Children                                                                                                Ian Prattis

Published in Tone Magazine, Ottawa, December 2012

I want to talk to you about children who are no longer here. They are dead. Twenty children gunned down at an elementary school in Newton, CT. Children killed as collateral damage in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Congo, Afghanistan and in world-wide violence. We are all grieving parents to the world. The question we all face is – What Now?

In the face of grief we must feel it deeply, be hurt by it, taking time to feel the pain of the tragedy. Then come through, determined to make a difference. STOP: REASSESS: ENTER THE BODHISATTVA. Stopping requires calling in the support of wise friends, counselors and Sangha so we can begin to see clearly and give ourselves the chance to find ourselves. Stillness is needed, not social media distraction – for we now have to look for a new direction and leadership. To reassess the 21st century, we must look deeply at the factors involved in the Newton, CT massacre. We will see a complex, intertwined tapestry with the easy availability of guns and drugs, compounded by societal tolerance of violence through the worst that cyberspace and Hollywood have to offer. Plus the very serious common denominator shared by the killers stretching back to the Columbine massacre. This is the factor of mental illness in pre-adult white males who are caught in an identity trap that they escape from through violence and murder. This is their five minutes of fame that enables them to be remembered. They occupy a toxic landscape of “not love”, “not connected.” And this is what requires the attention of our mindfulness.  How do we begin?

The Christmas season has passed, yet we can begin there with a small reassessment that all of us can do. We examine our habit energies around gift giving and learn to give gifts that really make a difference. Begin by participating less in the expected excess of mindless consumerism of Christmas buying. I have taken that small step and no longer buy Christmas gifts. Instead, present donations and gift certificates in the name of family and friends to provide education for a girl in Afghanistan, rebuild forests in Haiti, provide literacy packs and mosquito nets where most needed. This then leads to the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and others at this time of crisis, for it is already within us. That gift is Freedom and it involves stepping firmly onto the Bodhisattva path made clear by the Buddha and other great teachers.

It is time for the Bodhisattva to enter the 21st century as a paradigm and archetype for individual and collective action. This enables us to be rooted in our own sovereignty and deeply transform ourselves and our civilization. We nurture this paradigm by cultivating two aspects that presently lie dormant within us. The first aspect is Interbeing – knowing that we interconnect with everything – the earth, oceans, forests and mountains, all species and most of all – with all people. Interbeing creates harmony and unity and destroys the ego. The second aspect is Non-discrimination, which carries the energy of compassion, and this combination threatens selfishness. Taken together – these buried aspects, once they manifest from within us, open pathways and bridges to build a better world.

How do we do this? We cultivate the energies of transformation – Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight. Always – at every opportunity we bring Interbeing and Non-Discrimination to the forefront of our daily lives. In this way we shape the future of the 21st century as we begin to live differently – here and now. We are not intimidated by present crises. We are certainly shocked and hurt by such circumstances but are in fact much stronger than we think. Enter the Bodhisattva is the guiding paradigm for our lives. I allude to Bruce Lee’s classic – Enter the Dragon – which brings the fierceness of the warrior to the fore and the determination of a saint to overcome tragedy and set a new course. It takes practice, skillfulness and creative vision – but we are equal to the task. Nelson Mandela thought so. His 1994 inaugural speech laid out the territory clearly when he opened with:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us….

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Mindfulness and the Gulf Oil Spill

Mindfulness and the Gulf Oil Spill                                                                 Ian Prattis

 

It is time to examine our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The plugging of the oil well is not an end to the crisis, merely the beginning of identifying our part in it.  Guidelines are necessary. They are available from Thich Nhat Hanh in the shape of the mindfulness trainings – a welcome relief and antidote to the unending spin we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

It is no surprise to discover that BP deliberately underestimated the amount of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from its destroyed Deepwater Horizon oilrig. Any surprise is caused by the powerful PR arm of not only BP, but also of Haliburton and TransOcean – its partners in this ill fated venture. Their spin has not, however, fooled the stock market, as the share values of these corporate giants have plummeted down. Yet BP ads touting their environmental sensitivity continue and can no longer be taken seriously by any thinking person. But do people actually think? Or do they prefer to be caught in a whirlwind of spin from business, government and other stakeholders in an environmental disaster, the like of which the US has never before encountered? BP is in high level spin mode, while directors of the company are off loading their stocks in the company and blaming their partners!  So many lies are being told by BP and the government about the multiplier effects of the oil spill and deny journalists access to see the clean up process or from photographing the devastation readily visible from satellites.

The truth is that not only are ocean ecosystems and wetlands at risk, vital economic sectors – fishing, tourism and real estate – are also at risk in all Gulf states. This has a mainstream impact on all related industries throughout America. The tons of toxic oil dispersants used to break up the surface oil slick has settled on the ocean floor. There, it contaminates the oceanic ecosystem. Not only are fish, marine mammals and other wildlife being killed – the industries their harvest supported are also being killed. The entire Gulf of Mexico may well become a dead zone, and this will extend to the human populations that depended on its vibrancy.

The US administration’s threats to put its foot on BP’s throat and even take over the operation to halt the oil flow into the Gulf is further spin and quite ludicrous. The federal agencies with a stake in offshore drilling permits and environmental protection are scrambling to deflect their culpability and “cozyness” with oil giants. The use of the term “cozyness” is a White House deflection from the true name of the relationship between government agencies and oil giants.  The correct term is corruption.  “Cozyness” is further pointless spin, particularly, as the US federal government does not have the technology or the expertise to cap the oil spill. If the US administration was truly serious, why do they not freeze the financial assets of the three corporations in order to foot the cleanup bill?

CNN, FOX and other media have their own spin-doctors to amplify the volume, so spin becomes a norm for everyone.  But neither government nor the media are asking the deeper questions.  It is clear that BP is running the operation in the Gulf while the federal government huffs and puffs with importance in the chain of command, yet does not occupy the driving seat.  The question of government/corporate complicity is a serious one. Questions are not being asked about the loss of cultures dependant on harvesting sea products. This is extant in the now obsolete Louisiana Oyster fisheries. A thriving and unique culture is threatened by the closure of the oyster beds.  Upbringing, culture, and family history now stand for nothing, whereas they were the fabric that held this part of the US together.  The closure of oyster processing factories and the consternation that has filled the nation’s maritime food chain do get media space because the knock on economic consequences have created multiplier effects that damage regional and national economies.  Yet the media investigation stops short of examining the killing of centuries old cultures and ways of life.  The mantra of “It’s the economy stupid” has never before been revealed as so much nonsense. There is no economy if there is not a culture to implement it. There is no post environment economy.  The culture will not return while the oyster beds are dead. Whatever life they still hold will be fatally damaged by the clean up.  Questions are not being asked about Corexit 9500, the dispersant used abundantly to restrain the oil spill – over one million gallons of this poison.  This chemical is outlawed in the UK in the event of an oil spill – as it kills everything in the marine ecosystem.

How do we get off this mad carousel? Is there any equanimity or intelligent life to be found in decision makers? How about us – do we change our part as consumers in creating the demand for oil and oil products? Another deep question that CNN and FOX conveniently ignore. It is evident that we must stop, locate ourselves in the present moment, pause, and make different choices – examining our minds, consumption patterns and personal culpability in the creation of such a huge disaster. Guidelines are necessary. They can be found in the Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – particularly the Fifth Training about mindful consumption. Here it is:

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.

It takes us right back to what we do with our minds. I apply this to walking meditation, taught to students and friends who come to Pine Gate Meditation Hall, where I have the privilege of being the resident Zen teacher. 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 present.  When we add a third concentration – aware of how our feet touch the earth – we have a meditative practice designed for our times.  We focus our mind on the mechanism of each foot touching the earth – heel, then ball of foot, then toe.  We slow down even further and with our body – not our intellect or ego – we make a contract with Mother Earth to walk more lightly and leave a smaller footprint. We examine our consumption patterns and energy use and commit to decreasing the size of our ecological footprint.  All this arises from walking with awareness. Conscious breath co-ordinates our steps as we notice how our feet touch the earth. The energy of wellbeing that arises from this practice is stronger than our habit energies and mental afflictions. And so the latter fall away.  The insight and clarity that also arises guides us in the direction of what to do. Nobody requires a lecture from me about that. We know what to do. We know how to reduce our ecological footprint. We also know that taking care of the earth and the oceans takes care of ourselves. Begin it now, for the future is not some way ahead – it is shaped by the actions we take at this moment.

On Being Splendid

Carolyn and Ian at the transmission ceremony

On Being Splendid – Fish Lake, Orlando, December 2012                                                           Ian Prattis

When a friend asks “How are you?” we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not too bad” or “Could be worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delvers uplifting, generous responses. Something is in the way of replying “Splendid” or “Absolutely Marvellous. If we should make such a response, we would not really believe it. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym.

F – Freaked out

I – Insecure

N – Neurotic

E – Elsewhere.

It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing words, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.

The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. At different times we occupy the first three pots and strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?

To be completely empty, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to- ie being empty of a separate self. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight becomes our best friend as we step into freedom from brainwashing.

What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:

  1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
  2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
  3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
  4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham 2011, Shambhala Sun November 2011)

In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. The visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters emanate this sense and shared it without deception or ego. All of this power of transformation from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to be complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.

Ian Prattis is the dhamacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate Sangha in the west end of Ottawa. Teachings every Thursday and First Saturday of each month. www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm