by Felipe Viveros and Anthony Ward
At Sunrise we want to come together to explore how can we make the world a more peaceful, harmonious, sustainable place where the creativity, wealth and resources of people and nature are treasured and protected and celebrated rather than misused, exploited and destroyed for personal or corporate gain.
We know from a psycho-spiritual perspective if we look outside of ourselves for answers we will inevitably meet our inner enemies in painful feelings of fear and separation from people and nature and in harsh judgements of anger, and blame and we risk burnout, alienation and despair.
One of the biggest problems of our modern world is that we live mostly in our thoughts and in our heads rather than grounded here in our bodies and in our place in the vast interconnected web of life that is Gaia and the Cosmos.
But is ‘Mind’ or ‘Consciousness’ or ‘Awareness’ really in our heads”? Is it in the heart? Is it in the stomach? Is it inside you? Science used to say ‘it’s obviously in the brain’ but recent neuropsychological research shows that although we know a lot about the brain, we still haven’t found the mind ‘in the brain’ and traditional wisdom may offer a wider understanding of Consciousness or Self.
Consider that when somebody accuses you and says , ” I know you stole my money,” for example, and you answer ,”You mean me?” You point to the centre of your chest, not to your head. Most of our sense organs are in the head in our eyes, nose, ears etc
Yet when we say we feel something really deeply, we often point to our heart. And when we dont feel well we may point to our belly, the physical centre of the body ( which in Chinese Medicine the true energy centre too)
We get further ‘out of our heads’ in ecstatic experiences of sexual union and childbirth and in other peak experiences we can experience the boundaries of self and other shifting and even disappearing!
The mind then may be empty like the sky, why? Because if you think of a deep, vast, blue sky, it’s all-encompassing. Where does the sky begin? “It’s not, “This is my sky, here’s your bit, and there’s my bit.”
40 years ago in ‘The Book on the Taboo against Knowing who you are’ Alan Watts wrote “this sensation that “ I myself” is a separate centre of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body – a centre which confronts an external world of people and things..is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves”, the universe “peoples”. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature” (P15).
This is the essence of what Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of Engaged Buddhism, calls the truth of “Interbeing’ :the basic interdependence and ‘co-arising’ of all events and conditions and circumstances in the universe. We are all part of the web of life and this web is constantly changing and impermanent, birthing us into the world, co-creating the conditions in which we live and in which we must die. We belong together. Together we are one.
So we belong to life but how shall we live in a world where humankind is now experiencing the pain and suffering of living beyond the physical and ecological limits of the natural world and facing catastrophic earth changes?
In Buddhism as in most spiritually based ethical systems the foundation of interbeing is in cultivating mindfulness so we can practice non-harming and non-violence and a compassionate caring for life in all its forms.
In the 35 years since Thich Nhat Hanh published his classic ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ there has been a mindfulness revolution sweeping through western psychology and psychiatry and new scientific research has shown that the practice of mindfulness can be effective in creative positive changes in brain chemistry and immune response as well as treating pain, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction.
Furthermore Frederickson (2008) found meditation practice increased purpose in life and social support and reduced symptoms of illness. Brown (2009) suggested mindfulness practice was associated with lower financial desires and higher subjective wellbeing so mindfulness may actually promote the perception of “having enough”!
This confirms the observation of Buddhist scholar B Alan Wallace that the root practice of mindfulness in Buddhism (‘Sati’) goes beyond teaching present awareness and non-judgement ‘to distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome, and beneficial and unbeneficial tendencies’
Today Thich Nhat Hanh has established a worldwide Community of Interbeing dedicated to promoting mindful living that addresses the global eco- spiritual crisis via the spread of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
Below is an edited summary of the Five Mindfulness Trainings which are based on the five ethical precepts of the Buddha:
FIRST MINDFULNESS TRAINING
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals….
SECOND MINDFULNESS TRAINING
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals….I will practice generosity by sharing my time with those in real need….
THIRD MINDFULNESS TRAINING
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society….
FOURTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering….
FIFTH MINDFULNESS TRAINING
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 practising mindful eating, drinking and consuming….
Former researcher, journalist and teacher Anthony Ward started eco-campaigning at 16 with the Wessex Environmental Action Group and in 2007 helped found Transition Glastonbury. These days he manages the orchards at the Chalice Well Trust in Glastonbury and practices mindfulness in the Community of Interbeing (Touching the Earth Sangha Glastonbury).