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.