Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughts: Awareness - Insight - Action

      As we look around today’s world, especially those of us who are over 60, we see our planet’s inhabitants and natural resources in peril now more than ever before, and, quite rightly, it causes many of us great concern.  It’s downright discouraging to see what our children and children’s children are inheriting.  There’s an old expression that seems quite appropriate here:  wake up and smell the roses.  We can do something.  After all, the perpetuation of inhumanity, the destruction of the environment, the decimation of wildlife, and the intolerable wars, just to mention a few, need to give way to a new dawning of awareness, insight, and action. 
      In fact, if we, the majority of humans, weren’t entrapped by our own ignorance and grasping for self, we might be more interested in looking inside ourselves for the solutions we need in today’s world.  This introspection, if we take a tip from some of the most visionary leaders in history, is not unusual.  When faced with great adversity, they stopped what they were doing, became quiet, contemplated or listened for something in themselves, and then resolved whatever issue they were facing.  A good example of one who used such capability is Mahatma Gandhi.  Therefore, instead of doing what we usually do when confronted by real difficulty (looking outside of ourselves for the answer), we would be far better off if we took the alternative route of going inside.      
      Actually, if we were to look inside ourselves for the solutions we need in life, we might well consider using the methods of insight meditation.  Consisting of three basic techniques, it’s becoming ever more popular in our western world although it’s more commonly known as mindfulness practice.  First, we learn to heighten our ability to concentrate, which most people would agree is important.  For example, in tasks such as performing surgery, racing cars, making decisions, and taking professional exams, being able to focus is of paramount importance.   Next, we continually develop our skill in being mindful of our senses, thoughts, emotions, actions, and reactions.  Last, we practice loving kindness or compassion, first with ourselves and then with others.
      Ultimately, if we were to actually practice insight meditation, we might come to realize that none of us are independent of one another.  Although, as hard core individualists in western society, we may ask, “What do you mean that none of us are independent of each other?  Haven’t we all been taught to be independent—that dependent is almost a dirty word?”  Just think about it, though.  Hardly any country in the world has more than a 90 day food supply!  Don’t we rely on farmers and ranchers to provide us with our cuisine?  And don’t they trust us to pay them?  That’s certainly an interdependent relationship, isn’t it?  Such interdependence also stretches into transportation, clothing, housing, and other areas.  Moreover, according to our scientists, such as physicists, there’s nothing solid on this planet or in the universe and thus another reason for why none of us are independent of one another.  Is it any wonder then that such things as long distance healing, clairvoyance, and other forms of nonverbal communication exist.  It seems evident that we could begin to realize all sorts of truths if we dropped the notion that we’re independent of each other.
      Indeed, if we were to experience such a reality, we might begin to understand the true sense of humanity.  The more we practice insight meditation, the more it’s possible to realize that listening to and taking care of the suffering parts inside ourselves helps us to heal or recuperate our humanity.  With such an understanding comes not only a basic loving kindness for those parts of ourselves that need attention but also for those around us who are suffering.  Thus, we learn that true, compassionate acts can only begin when we’ve learned compassion for ourselves.  And in that act of extending loving kindness, we realize that others are no different than we are.
      In fact, if we understood this essential truth of humanity, we might commence to take many more acts of compassion in behalf of our fellow humans, animal brethren, and world environment.  Convening world conferences at the highest level to actually find ways from a position of inner peace to arrive at the same point with one another, and to help each other reduce the suffering among nations would begin.  Organizations like the United Nations might actually become real.  Cooperation between communities, states, and countries would develop avenues for eliminating the extinction and the anguish we find so commonly occurring in wildlife.  And worldwide projects would sincerely begin to save the forests and jungles, clean the air, and eliminate the deluge of waste found in our world’s oceans. 
      It goes almost without saying that if we were much more compassionate with our fellow humans, animal brethren, and environment, the level of suffering in this world would drop dramatically.  We would see the areas of the oceans now filled with refuse occupied by ships from all nations picking up waste to be used for something beneficial to humanity not yet discovered.    Taking sincere, benevolent action to rid world hunger, based on mutually developed plans between countries, would be accomplished without corruption, envy, or hatred.  The forests and jungles would begin to expand again while wildlife would be free to roam therein because no poachers or other types of illegal hunters would be there to kill them.  The dissipation of sadness, hatred, and anger would be self evident.
      Consequently, if the level of worldwide suffering via these actions dropped dramatically, the degree of happiness and compassion in and by humans for people, animals, and nature’s environment would rise dramatically.  Just as we experience peace inside ourselves when we are happy and well, our external lives would also undergo the same metamorphosis as a result of a non-harming world.  The level of fear we observe in wildlife due to humans would begin to disappear.  Stepping into a forest, one would hear the radiant songs of birds that are now so often nonexistent.  Children would be able to walk alone or with classmates to school again instead of having to be accompanied by parents, and women could walk peacefully in their neighborhood streets at night. 
      However, many of those who have never experienced real awareness and insight through meditative  introspection, after reading the above hypotheses, would probably say they’re a myth or wishful thinking and not worth carrying out.   And those of us who are seasoned in mindfulness practice and know the extreme challenge of overcoming ignorance and self grasping might agree on some levels.   On the other hand, we have an intimate knowledge of the value of looking inside ourselves, and we’ve felt motivated by small realizations, enough so that we’ve glimpsed just a touch of the truth that nobody is independent—that we’re all interdependent.  Thus, we continue on with the faith of realizing the complete truth.   As mentioned above, we know that if such a degree of happiness and compassion in and by humans for people, animals, and nature’s environment came about, this planet just might survive.   In conclusion, to support the realization of this dream, it makes sense to engage ourselves in reducing suffering while fortifying our efforts in this endeavor by cultivating an ever-growing practice in concentration, mindfulness, and loving kindness.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Saving Our Planet's Wildlife

      While humanity seems to have developed an affinity for its pets, a large percentage appears to care nothing for the world’s wildlife.  Rampant examples of such inhumanity abound worldwide in the poaching of elephants, gorillas, and rhinoceroses; the careless slaughter of small, wild animals; and the destruction of forests and jungles which are home to most wildlife.  It seems obvious that a majority instead of a minority of the world’s people need to make their voices heard if these creatures are to be saved.  However, if humanity’s awareness for the preservation of wildlife were to be enhanced, it would behoove us to deepen our own compassion and understanding for these creatures before attempting to foster such consciousness in others.
      For example, let’s start with a wild animal that fascinates us, raises a feeling of fondness within us, and gives us a sensation of joy whenever and wherever we see it.  In my own experience, it’s the family of gray squirrels that live in the wooded gorge not more than a hundred yards from my home here in Mexico.  Every time I leave the house for a walk into our little town, I’m pleased to see one of them scamper from the cornfield into the grove of trees that line the ravine.   The innocence, beauty and vulnerability of these small creatures touch me.
      If we were to accept the continued existence of the animals that cause us to feel such tenderness, then developing a deeper, more intimate relationship with them just might be what we need to become more vocal in their behalf.  Whereas doing something for these creatures on an external basis is fairly self-evident, humanity does not normally go about creating an enhanced level of compassion and understanding for them on an internal level, at least not directly.  Most people do not have the slightest inkling of how to do so.  But there is a way.
      It’s a valuable process that only takes a few minutes once you have become acquainted with it.  The first step is to calm yourself down by focusing on your breathing for a few minutes.  Just focus on the air going in and coming out of your nostrils or the rise and fall of your stomach.  Then once you have developed a bit of tranquility, visualize the wild animal with which you wish to establish a deeper bond.  Focusing as much attention on this creature as you possibly can, imagine that you exchange places with it.  You mentally transfer your consciousness into its body, and then you turn to see what was yourself with its eyes, you feel what it feels, you hear what it hears, you smell what it smells, you taste what it tastes, and you also imagine that you sense its emotions and mental processes.  Furthermore, maintain this experience for as long as you can do it comfortably and for as often as you wish.
      In this way, you can begin to develop an intimate knowledge of this living being.  When I’ve done this process with my four-legged neighbors, the gray squirrels, I’ve experienced their fears and vulnerabilities.  For example, how frightened they are of the humans around them, the dogs that chase them up the trees, and the errant hunters that have killed members of their family.  I’ve sensed how difficult it is for them to safely forage for food in the cornfield on the other side of the country road from their home in the gorge, and the pain of the hunger they’ve felt when they haven’t found enough to eat.  Yet, I’ve also intuited the happiness they’ve experienced when they’ve been together as a family, safe in some hidden nest among the trees of the ravine.
      Throughout this process, it’s quite essential to open ourselves and let certain factors flow and grow collectively within us.  If we’ve ever had any loving kindness for our animal friends, then we’ll probably focus on the creature of our attention as if it were a small baby or child.  When we experience its fears, we let our compassion comfort it.  Because we understand its happiness while it plays with its family and friends, we take joy in its freedom to do that.  During the whole time we’re involved in this exchange of self for another, we maintain and let our equanimity nurture, even if we think we’re imagining everything and it could be a silly thing we’re doing.  Finally, given enough patience, we just might begin to feel greater compassion and understanding for our animal friend; perhaps, even enough to send it some loving thoughts, such as:
            May you be free, safe, and happy.
            May you always find the food you need.
                May you continue to have a home in which to nest.
                May you have the love of family every day.
      Developing a greater feeling of compassion and realization of understanding for animal life, as I’ve said above, can be quite beneficial in helping other people to raise their awareness for the need to take an active hand in conserving the animal kingdom that exists on planet earth today.  Also, if we’ve been cognizant of the above practice, perhaps, we’ve realized the value of appreciating wildlife through the four step process called loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.  Moreover, we might have gained the understanding that when one becomes involved on an internal as well as an external basis with our animal friends, we really begin to experience just how important these creatures are to the balance of nature, including all of humanity.  In conclusion, attempting this way of thinking and processing just might not only change our life but the lives of so many beings that are extremely vulnerable to the current direction of the world.