Category Archives: meditation

A wacky way into wordless wonder

Thoughts are formed by words that prompt images of places and times that pull our attention away from here and now, the only moment that actually exists. (All others are memories or imagined futures. Only in this moment are we alive and empowered to set intention, make choices, speak and take action.)

In Vipassana meditation practice, we stay in the present moment by focusing our attention on physical senses, most likely the breath, to release our tight hold on the mental formations that take us far away from this moment.

In many other traditions, Buddhist or not, the mind attains clarity by the repetition of sacred phrases, thus replacing the ongoing thinking-thinking words with ones formulated to create a sense of tranquility, awe, transcendence and even ecstasy. 

These repeated phrases may feel even more powerful when they are in a foreign language. Consider how when the Catholic Church decided to conduct services in everyday language rather than Latin, many worshipers felt a great loss. What was that loss if not for the sense of wonder and mystery from stepping out of the ordinary language used to negotiate everyday life?

Of course, everyday words can form imagery and ideas that expand our understanding and sense of awakening. Think of a wise teaching or a poem that has spoken to you, how it caused an internal shift — an insight that shook up the status quo and sparked empathy, a sense of connection and perhaps a glimpse into oneness that resonates inside you. But breaking out of the patterns of word-thoughts altogether can free our brains to open to this expanded state in a more direct and spontaneous way. You might think of it as the difference between being inspired by a photo of a sunset and experiencing the sunset itself, with all the senses engaged.

Sacred chants from any tradition are powerful for those so inclined. But what if you feel uncomfortable chanting or even silently repeating spiritual words? Perhaps saying them feels false to your sense of self, or feels like appropriation of another culture, or maybe you feel it could be some magical incantation and you don’t know what you’re accidentally conjuring up. Whatever the reason, if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. But what if you want to meditate but you find focusing on physical sensation doesn’t calm your busy thinking mind?

If you have tried various concentration practices that help you focus on the breath but you still feel like your drowning in your thoughts, you might try this and see if it works for you:

Replace those thought-laden daily pattern of words endlessly churning in your brain
with nonsense phrases that don’t activate any concerns.

Settle in to meditate, take a breath or two, releasing any tension, and
then repeat these words in your mind: Mumbo jumbo and gobbledegook.

Mumbo jumbo and gobbledegook? Good grief! What nonsense is this?

Exactly. It’s so silly it works! It’s an effective replacement for all the words that stream through the mind, weaving images, memories, worries and plans. Mumbo jumbo and gobbledegook — or any nonsense words you choose — are not entangling. No guarantee of ecstasy, but at least you may find a temporary release from the daily grind of regretting, wishing, calculating, puzzling, etc. that cause more anxiety, stress and tension in the body. And that’s no small benefit! The health effects of meditating have been long proven, and you can feel it for yourself.

This silly phrase is also a non-judgmental way to bring your attention back to the breath when you’re mind has wandered and you discover you’re entangled. Mumbo jumbo and gobbledegook may feel like an accurate description of all that thinking, and it’s a lighthearted labeling that can then transport you back to your focus on the breath without self-recrimination.

If you struggle to meditate or you have never meditated because you ‘think too much’, then maybe this is just wacky enough to work for you. Worth a try!

Feeling stuck?

For years we’ve had two patio tables that serve no purpose in our garden. I would occasionally think I needed to get rid of them, but there they sat, year in and year out, unused and unappreciated.

Then — who knows why — yesterday morning I got on my rubber gloves, grabbed some rags, soap and water and went out to scrub down the tables. Ten minutes later they were clean enough to give away. I grabbed my phone, took photos and posted them on the Nextdoor app. That’s fifteen minutes that hardly made a dent in my day, and done! Within twenty minutes a neighbor replied, and an hour later she came and picked them up, saying how they would fit perfectly in her little garden. Now instead of sitting out with no purpose, they are being transformed into appreciated items in someone else’s life.

That’s a small example, but often our lives are filled with small things that can add up to an overwhelming feeling of being stuck. It’s a reminder that it often doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to get unstuck. In this case it took intention and minimal effort. Obviously intention alone doesn’t work, because I intended to get rid of those two tables for years. But I had overestimated the amount of effort it would take to fulfill my intention, so I kept putting it off.

We may overestimate the amount of effort
it would take to accomplish our intention.

Here are three important things to notice about being stuck:

  1. The weight of dread from repeatedly thinking about doing something is more burdensome and time-consuming than actually doing it. In the above example, the time I spent reminding myself to get rid of those tables every time I noticed them was much more time than it took to do it. Many things we put off doing are more time consuming than this example, but for me, regardless of the size of the project, the ratio of dread to the actual doing remains the same.
  2. For bigger projects than cleaning tables, it’s a matter of breaking the project down into a series of smaller tasks. I used to take on a big project with intense determination not to quit until I was done. No wonder I would put the project off! it was exhausting! Now I approach large projects in incremental doses, doing them mindfully like my daily yogi job on a meditation retreat. I found out the hard way that there is no benefit in driving myself to exhaustion. In many cases the quality of the work will suffer, but more importantly, we suffer.
  3. When we think of the big project awaiting us, if we don’t break it down into doable daily bits, we don’t do it at all. Is that not the truth? And so there we are with the dread of doing it at all, and a feeling of being stuck.

These are very practical household examples of liberating ourselves from a sense of being stuck, but of course life offers many ways we might feel stuck — in our work, in our relationships, in our practice, in our sense of coming home to our most authentic self.

Where are you feeling stuck?

Where in your life do dreaded chores, research, outreach or decisions weigh heavily on you? 
Take a moment to write down anything that comes up: Things you know you need to do but keep putting off. Maybe you’ve been putting off making an appointment with your doctor, dentist or financial advisor. Perhaps you keep putting off getting in touch with a loved one. Explore the feelings that get in your way: What am I afraid of?

Explore your intention. In my little example the intention would be: ‘To get rid of those two tables!’ With that intention, a quick ride to the dump would have been an easy solution. But the deeper intention, the more wholesome intention, included ‘to enhance someone else’s life as well as my own by finding the tables a home where they can be appreciated.’ So, ask yourself what is your intention, and then see if there’s a wiser intention there. Sometimes without making room for the wise intention to be voiced, we get more stuck. We’re not seeing the bigger picture.

Explore your dread, the fear that paralyzes you from moving ahead with your intention. What is it you think will happen? There may be some dread of what the doctor will find, what the finances will reveal, what the conversation with a loved one might bring up. But the truth is that you don’t know what the doctor or the dental x-rays or the loved one will say, but in general these things don’t improve with time. Holding off from an action out of fear for what will be revealed generally exacerbates the problem. Haven’t you found that to be true? Is there any time in your life when postponing the inevitable paid off? Maybe. But how often did it create bigger problems? Check in with your wiser intention, the intention to be well and to maintain a healthy body, mind and relationships.

Once you have identified where you feel stuck and what’s holding you there in that stuck place, and you’ve set a wiser intention, ask yourself what wise effort would be in this case. Often it’s just ‘make the call’ or scrub the table. But larger challenges may benefit by making a few notes on the various steps that need to be taken, in the order that makes the most sense, and how much time per day will you give the project. (Also, if you have the means to do so, consider hiring someone to do the project or help you manage it. You will be contributing to their well being and giving yourself time to focus on something that has more meaning for you.)

Sometimes the dread has to do with misgivings about our abilities or whether we deserve what we intend to pursue. Dread of a dream come true is a real thing, and if that is what’s happening for you, take time to examine your fears, your opinions about your own self-worth, your patterns of comparing yourself to others and coming up short, or, conversely, thinking the path should be easier for you than it has been for others. Every path begins with one step, as the saying goes, and the path may be uneven and full of challenges. Being on the path is its own reward, if its the path you chose with wise intention. Living wise effort is living in the moment, letting the doing be spacious, pleasurable and sensate. Wise effort is not focused on imagined outcomes, fearful that things won’t turn out the way we hoped.

Living in fear is punitive, and delaying doing something is a way of compounding whatever problem we are afraid of. This is how we get stuck. How we get unstuck is to notice that we are stuck, to really examine the nature of that sense of ‘stuckness’ in a non-judgmental way, to see how uncomfortable it is, how much time it takes to think about, how many ways, often unskillful ways, we go about avoiding thinking about it or doing anything about it. Then we can see that we are creating this feeling of stuckness and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Wishing won’t change it, but looking at our intention, making sure it is wise, and then acting on that intention with wise effort, causes a shift for the better.

Image by suju from Pixabay

What is the sound of many cell phones ringing?

The sweetest thing in the world — besides a baby of any species — is a sangha in silence on a meditation retreat. The quiet is delicious, like fine wine mellowing as it ages. Each day of the retreat the sangha (community of meditators) becomes more synchronized and sensate. Slowing down in the silence, there’s presence, awareness and a loving sense of mutual support.

Silence is golden and a sangha in silence is magical. So it was surprising to hear from a student about her husband’s experience at a meditation led by Mark Epstein where attendees were asked to keep their phone ringers on.

Whaa? Phones ON? Anyone who’s ever attended a meditation class or retreat (or a yoga class or pretty much any kind of civilized gathering) knows to at least turn their phones off and preferably abandon them altogether. It has become increasingly difficult to do as these phones have become extensions of ourselves, either in hand or close at hand, the part of ourselves that is connected to the wider world. To silence that connection may cause FOMO (fear of missing out). But meditators have learned to do this, especially in community, respectful of the silence we are co-creating. So to hear that a meditation teacher requested everyone keep their phones on was surprising. 

Well, not really. After all what we are practicing is how to cultivate calm in the middle of a busy world. So learning how to be with the sounds of cell phones going off randomly throughout a meditation is a worthy practice. We are cultivating internal silence, not expecting the world around us to cease making noise. If we can meditate in a room full of cell phones ringing, beeping and buzzing, we can meditate in an airport lounge or anywhere else. And this is a great gift!

We can notice how we create enemies of sound, as well as anyone responsible for a sound we don’t like. We can see how we pick and choose between pleasant sounds (maybe birds chirping, water flowing, rain, etc.) and unpleasant sounds (maybe leaf blowers, jack hammers, traffic and the errant cell phone accidentally left on by a fellow meditator). 

At the moment we notice that we are reacting to a sound, identifying it as pleasant or unpleasant, we have the opportunity to recognize that this reactivity is a jumping off point into thoughts that will take us on a journey far away from ‘here and now’. It all happens so fast we may not even realize how we ended up twenty years ago or a thousand miles away to a place or time that the sound triggered in our brains. Fortunately, once we notice it, it only takes an instant of awareness to gently bring our attention back to the moment. This moment, just as it is. Sounds and all.

Here’s a poem I wrote back in 2006 about an experience on a retreat at Spirit Rock:

Breakfast, Day Four

The dining hall clatter becomes symphonic.
The ecstasy of scraping chairs and utensils!
I have never heard anything so beautiful
as the sound of a sangha in silence
earnestly clearing their plates.

Sound can remind us to be present, and to cultivate a pattern of receptivity, kindness, compassion and equanimity, returning again and again to the calm rising and falling of the breath, letting whatever sounds arise to be simply sounds, part of the Symphony of Now, never to be repeated in just this way. How precious is this unique moment in every way. And phhp! It’s gone and now this one, oh so precious, and phhp! Can we gently greet and release all that arises in our spacious field of experience?

On another retreat I attended, teacher Howie Cohn brought all the bells from the Spirit Rock store into the meditation hall and rang them in a random pattern throughout the meditation. It was both pleasurable and helpful in bringing me back again and again from wherever my mind would wander, back to the sensory moment here and now. 

A cell phone symphony might be like that. Still, I hope it was a one-off experiment and not a trend. Because truly there is almost nothing as sweet as the sound of a sangha in silence.

Image above digitally created using an image by Gordon Johnson and an image by David Schwarzenberg, both from Pixabay


Take Wing!

Bird on nest about the take flight

We all ride the worldly winds of life, but are we flailing, falling or flapping our wings more than we need to? Or do we think we can avoid the winds by cowering in our nest? We can’t. The Buddha’s Eight Worldly Winds (Gain/Loss, Pleasure/Pain, Praise/Blame, and Fame/Disgrace) are a metaphor for life itself. As long as we are alive we will be in relationship with them in one way or another.

In this week’s class, a student brought in a book that contained a partial quote by Pema Chodron: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land.”*

My student was both intrigued by the idea, but disheartened by the ‘no-man’s-land’,  the image of desolate arid emptiness between warring factions. I suggested that it might be the skillful ‘I don’t know’ mind or the First Noble Truth that life is suffering. But as a writer I was bothered by the mixed metaphor of a nest and a no-man’s-land as they seem to have no relationship. So I suggested that if we are always being thrown out of the nest, perhaps it’s because we are meant to fly. Our practice of meditation and our compassionate self-observations help us to learn how to spread our wings and ride the currents of the Eight Worldly Winds that blow through all of our lives. Through our intentions, words and actions we contribute to the creation of causes and conditions, but many causes and conditions are beyond our control. There’s no use making enemies of the Eight Worldly Winds. It’s more skillful to notice our tendencies to chase after some and run from the others, making our happiness dependent on which way the wind is blowing. Seeing that pattern we can choose instead to learn how to ride the currents.

I am thinking about this lately because for the past month I’ve been enjoying riding a current as buoyant and pleasurable as a fresh summer day. I feel a sense of contentment about where I am in my life right now, both professionally and personally, with a sense of purpose but no pressure or urgency. I enjoy doing what I have to offer the world and many people seem to appreciate my offerings. What could be better than to feel that what comes naturally in your life, is also of some benefit to others, whether to one person or to followers around the world?

Then something happened that sent me soaring beyond that pleasurable current, taking my general sense of well being and inflating it with surprise and elation. I was suddenly a bit breathless in the thin air of the stratosphere of amazing possibilities, hanging onto a balloon of hope.

At one point the current dipped. I assumed I was in a tailspin and was ready to crash and burn, relinquishing all hope. Imagining my little balloon lying on the ground, burst and ragged, I quickly turned away, embarrassed, and directed my thoughts elsewhere. But the person who, out of the blue, had offered me a hand-up, did not see balloons, inflation or deflation. He saw the facts. 

I was astounded to see, having read the same email response sent to both him and me, that while I just saw ‘NO’, he saw the offered name and email of the person to reach out to next. Where I saw rejection, he saw opportunity! (Is this a guy thing? Women in my family were taught to ask ‘Who am I to put myself forward in any way?”) Suddenly I understood how he had built a career not just out of talent, experience and an extensive knowledge-base, but out of the ability to see clearly and simply forge ahead. While I had built a tidy safe nest that I was afraid to leave.

This experience was a gift to me. It revealed a blindspot in my navigation in the world. Just like all of us, I am being repeatedly ‘thrown out of the nest’ and am always in a state of learning to fly in the confusing mashup of the worldly winds. And then along comes this other bird who seems to know how to navigate a current that I have always found particularly problematic. And just by flying the current in a natural way, he showed me how it’s done.

Does the metaphor of being ‘thrown out of the nest’ feel familiar to you?
Where in your life are you experiencing that?
What challenge is life giving you that you are either bravely learning to navigate its challenging currents or fearfully clinging to the nest as if you weren’t given wings to fly?

If so, how about this: Don’t cling! Take wing! And if you’re not sure how to fly, observe how others do it. We’re all birds of a feather in this life. Let’s fly together in a joyful murmuration!

Photo of bird on nest by Thomas Pedrazzoli.

*Full Pema Chodron quote: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

Radiate!

The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, when the nights are shortest and the days are longest, brings to my mind two key aspects of Buddhist meditation practice.

THIS, JUST THIS…BLISS
The first aspect is mindfulness, the ability to fully inhabit the present moment. Staying in touch with the seasons helps to keep us present. The changing seasons teach us that it is natural to let go and open to whatever arises. By staying fully present we can learn to notice and appreciate whatever nature offers in the way of temperature, light and moisture in this moment, giving our preferences a rest from always dragging us out of this moment into a state of longing or complaining.

Inspired by the natural world of which we are an intrinsic part, we practice being present to what is and letting go of regrets and nostalgia for the past. There are no do overs. There is no going back. Wishing doesn’t make it so, but it does make us unhappy and blind to the joy that is possible in this moment.

At first our attempts to stay fully present may feel like standing on the head of a pin, it’s such an unstable awareness. But eventually this foundation of the present widens and supports us more fully. The regular practice of meditation with the intention to stay present, guiding ourselves gently back to this moment just as it is, again and again, develops this ability.

Nature is teeming with life and growth. We too may feel ourselves opening and expanding, entering a time of relaxation or easy bountiful productivity.

With our days so full of light, let’s remember our own lighthearted nature, our capacity to laugh at the silliest things, and hold all life in a lighter more open embrace.

If current conditions of your life are not supporting lightheartedness, if you are grieving or in great pain, feeling sad or afraid, let nature’s wisdom nurture you now. This too is life. This too shall pass.


RADIANT METTA

Another aspect of Buddhist meditation that comes to mind for me especially at this time of year is how the infinite radiance of the sun is like the infinite radiance of metta, loving kindness. Like the sun, metta shines on all without discrimination. Metta is not just for those who are ‘worthy’ or ‘lovable.’ This radiance is not something we have to earn. It is our birthright to feel the sun on our skin when it shines. It is our birthright to feel the infinite loving kindness of the universe supporting us. And it is our intention as meditators to be conduits for that radiant loving energy, offering it without the filter of judgment to all beings everywhere.

Sending metta to ourselves when we get upset helps us let go of a story that might have ruffled our feathers and kept us unsettled for hours, days or years! It is empowering and releasing at the same time.

By being present with the changes of the seasons, we can break out of the bondage of our habitual nature. We can celebrate the summer solstice by rising earlier in the cool of the day to enjoy the fresh morning, relaxing in the heat of the afternoon, and by getting out and enjoying the extended evening light. By recognizing that we are loved, have always been loved and will always be loved, held in the buoyancy of infinite metta, we can be infinitely generous with sharing loving kindness with the world, holding it in an open embrace.

THREE NEW GUIDED MEDITATIONS ON INSIGHT TIMER
For those of you who have the free Insight Timer app or would like to download it and try it out, three additional meditations have been added to my published offerings, each one geared toward a particular challenge: Anxiety, Sleeplessness and Anger/Hurt Feelings. They are receiving lots of five star reviews and grateful comments from around the world. Check them out and please share them with anyone you know who might be suffering from any of these. We’re all in this together!

Image by Valentin Sabau from Pixabay

Whoa! or Wow! or Whatever!

It’s said that newborn babies lack object permanence so when something is gone it’s gone from their minds as well. Maybe we all lack object permanence because we recognize only the most obvious portion of the continuum of life. We see birth and death as the beginning and end. Beyond that, we may have strong beliefs, vague wondering, suspicions or speculations, but most of us see death as an ending to life, maybe even the opposite of life. And we may be like toddlers furious that the party is over, not able to imagine that whatever comes next could just as likely be another aspect of the continuum of being, an infinite loop of life nourishing and regenerating itself.

It could be anything! If we are being honest with ourselves, seeing through the patterns of all our fears and wishes, we don’t know what, if anything, there is beyond our ability to observe it with our physical senses.

And that’s okay. Accepting that we don’t know may be one of life’s great challenges, but the ‘I don’t know’ mind is also one of life’s greatest gifts. It keeps us open, flexible, grateful and joyous as life keeps us in a state of ‘Wow!’

I certainly don’t know. But that doesn’t keep my patterns of thoughts from devising interesting and at times compelling ideas about what ‘lies beyond’ and whether the wall between life and death is permeable. Just like everyone else’s, my mental patterns are by nature untrustworthy, but if I hold them lightly they provide me with intriguing thoughts. The other day I remembered a dream I had after my brother died two years ago. Released from the pain of his wracked body, he was joyfully traveling (by bus!) all over the country seeing all the sights. That dream came back to me recently when my husband and I were deliberating whether to take a major trip. All the planning and expense of transporting, feeding, clothing and sleeping necessary to allow me to experience a different place just seemed overwhelming. And I had the thought that this would all be a lot easier to do later on when I don’t have a body to tend to!

Whoa! or Wow! or Whatever!

(Having such a thought doesn’t mean I’m in any hurry to discard this body that serves me well. And if you are in such a hurry, please seek help from the suicide hotline immediately.)

Because I’m a practitioner and teacher of the Buddha’s concepts, as they’ve been handed down over the millennia, you might assume I’m a believer in reincarnation. But the Buddha’s focus was in this moment and how we are in relationship to all that arises in our experience. He encouraged his followers to see for themselves what is true. Well, how can we see the truth of what lies beyond the cessation of our breath until that happens to us? Until then thinking about it is a distraction and useless speculation, because we just don’t know.

So let’s be here now. Let’s value all beings in this life just as it is. Let’s take care of ourselves, our communities and our planet, and increase our understanding of how best to do that. And let’s relax around the compulsive need to know what lies beyond this precious experience of life here and now. Because we can’t know. We don’t have existential object permanence.

Photo credit: Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Cultivating my mama bear energy

Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you to all of you who are mothers — birth mothers, adoptive mothers, step-mothers, foster mothers, mothers-in-law, and to all who bring forth loving protective energy in the care of what you love.

Of course I am remembering my own mother. Lately I have been thinking most about her passion for world peace and the energy she put into working toward it, using her particular skills to create a better world.

She inspires me as I bring more sharply into focus my attention to my lifelong passion for preserving and protecting the earth and all its inhabitants from environmental destruction. I am reminded of the chant ‘The earth is our mother, we will take care of her’*. So Mother’s Day is also Earth Day. And every other day needs to be Earth Day too, if we are to develop the healthy habit of taking care of the earth instead of mindlessly and callously destroying it.

Mama bear energy is exactly what the earth needs from us now: Attention, love and protection, in order for our species and all life, to survive.

It’s pretty easy to activate the sense of protecting the earth if you have children and grandchildren who will have to cope with the exponentially increasing devastation in the wake of the many poor choices made in the distant past out of obliviousness, and then for the past many decades overtly and covertly but in any case knowingly continuing, out of greed and shortsightedness.

The idea of our offspring suffering in the future for what we fail to do now is, well, insufferable. Yet somehow there are people in power with grandchildren, perhaps even great grandchildren whom they profess to love, who lack the foresight or concern for their futures. Perhaps they believe that amassing fortunes and favor will save them. Last I looked, climatic chaos doesn’t check bank accounts before wreaking havoc. Just ask those whose palatial estates have been decimated by flames, debris flows, floods and other disasters.

Maybe in the past people could convince themselves that it made sense to believe that ‘as long as I’ve got mine and my family’s okay, why should I care about the rest of the world?’ But we are beginning to see ever more clearly the truth of our interconnection. Just the way when one thread in a sweater breaks and gets pulled, pretty soon you have a jumble of yarn and not a sweater that can keep you warm. The interwoven nature of all life is like that. It’s crucial for us to recognize that dying coral reefs or melting glaciers cause universal changes that affect us all. We are all of us, without exception, interdependent, and the most tenuous of connections can be the very broken thread that unravels it all.

Our regular practice of quieting the mind and cultivating awareness and compassion, increases our ability to sense the inter-connectivity of all life. Practicing in nature deepens our understanding of interconnection and the nature of impermanence.

It is important to learn both of these universal truths together. If we come to terms with the nature of impermanence but don’t sense the connection of all life, then we easily fall into depression, hopelessness, unrelenting grief and loneliness. We forget our vital role in the scheme of things. When we grow in our delight of life, just as it is in this moment, and feel this fleeting body-mind we call ‘I’ and ‘me’ as one expression of it, then we are able to openly embrace whatever arises with interest and compassion. Instead of fear-based cravings and aversions, making an enemy out of everything, we can recognize the ways we are impacting all life through our behavior — both beneficial and destructive. We are not insignificant. We are crucial, as all life is crucial.

This is not self-puffery. it is recognizing the importance of taking responsibility for our actions. We are earthlings and our current behavior as a species is causing massive destruction and extinctions of species important to our own survival. Because this is us. All of us. Together.

There has always been a resistance to making changes in our daily life in order to live in a way that at least minimizes harm. For some it just hasn’t felt all that important. For some it’s important but it falls to the bottom of the ever-growing to do list. For others there is a sense of guilt that is so uncomfortable, they put off thinking about it. There are those who feel such a sense of hopelessness that there seems no point in doing anything. Others feel so small and insignificant, they can’t imagine anything they would do would matter. Some think that we are fooling ourselves to think that what we do makes any difference, that what we need is to wait for some brilliant new savior technology that will take care of it all. And there are even some who look forward to the end, forgetting that before extinction comes a lot of suffering.

Pause for a moment to consider where your focus lies, and whether making a significant reduction in your carbon footprint and/or actively working on behalf of the earth and all its inhabitants, is a priority for you.

If you have done all you can do to date, and are willing to do more as part of your ongoing loving practice, I say thank you! Deep bows.

If you feel that the environment is not really your issue, I say, um, yup, it is your issue! All the other issues depend on this issue being addressed with full and unwavering attention. For example:

Are you concerned about immigration? Wait until you see what climatic chaos will cause, and is already causing, in the way of massive populations needing to migrate because their land is disappearing or depleted of the ability to produce food to sustain them.

Is your issue gun violence? Then surely you can see how much more of it there will be when people are fighting over resources.

Any issue you can name, if you really look at it, will reveal its deep connection with the earth — the air, water, soil. If your issue doesn’t rely on any of these for your ability to breathe, to have health and nourishment, then what planet are you on?

As I mentioned, my peace activist mom was an inspiration to me, but she was also at times a cautionary tale, because she would get burned out and fall into despair. The world seemed always on the verge of or actively involved in war. Her children were being told to hide under their desks in case of nuclear attack. She saw young men her children’s age drafted into a senseless war in Vietnam. Her own government was inclined to warmonger. She would be saddened to see, thirty years after her death, that the US is still actively engaged in war, and has a president who thinks saber rattling is a reasonable tactic in world affairs. Ah me. But even so, one aspect of Mom’s volunteerism helped to put someone in congress who made a major difference for many years. And who knows how things would have turned out without her effort? We never know. We can only put forth our wisest earnest effort, living our lives with loving purpose.

In that way, we rise above hopelessness. The current administration pulled us out of the Paris Accord (the agreement by the majority of world nations to reduce carbon and do whatever possible to at least slow down and avert the worst of climate change destruction), but many state and local governments have stepped up to meet and exceed the original agreement. For this and many other reasons — electric car sales have jumped 81% this year and the auto industry is manufacturing many more model. Many corporations are stepping up to the plate, even if the federal government won’t, And the nonprofit Earthjustice (because the earth needs a good lawyer) has won 90% of its cases against the president’s unwise anti-environmental decisions. The current crop of presidential candidates are making the environment an important part of their positions, when four years ago it was barely mentioned. So let’s not fall into despair. Instead, let’s stand strong and visible, like a mama bear protecting her cub. We need to show our power, individually and collectively.

At the very least, we need to be vigilant in our personal choices and work to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. As citizens we need to inform ourselves, spread the word and vote wisely, making the planet’s (and therefore our own) well-being a central issue for all potential elected officials. Then we need to follow through and hold our leaders accountable so they make wise environmental decisions. And to whatever degree we are able, we need to use our unique skills and gifts, as well as our time and energy to save the only planet we have to inhabit.

Because the earth is our mother, and she can’t take care of us if we don’t take care of her.

*Song credited to the Hupa tribe of Northern California and Southern Oregon.