In the midst of increasingly visible threats to our planet, who doesn’t yearn for the healthy balance that all life forms rely on to stay healthy themselves?
However, our desire to implement global solutions to global problems may be inherently doomed to failure. It may be that the health of our environment depends not so much on sweeping legislative responses to breakdowns such as “climate change” and “income inequality” but on each of us developing feelings of connection and engagement in our own hearts.
It is not a prevalent belief in our modern societies that it makes much difference whether or not some of us find a home in our own hearts. When we think about planetary issues, we tend to immediately retreat into a perspective that makes us feel disempowered and insignificant: “I want to be a caring person, but I’m too small to make a difference.”
And what is this heart anyways? Emotions are easily mistaken for heart-centered feelings, but they aren’t the same. Emotions make us unbalanced (anger, resentment, infatuation, avarice, etc.), and they operate in our heads, not our hearts. Emotions are repetitive thoughts with an edge that engender a sense of separation from others.
I recently attended a talk by a man from Columbia who emphasized that dialogue is vital to the time in which we live. He is a “Mamo” of the Aruhaco tribe. As part of his training, he spent years of his childhood living alone in a cave. This unusual kind of preparation for life became known to the outside world when the “Kogi”–another of the four tribes who have lived on the Sierra Nevada mountain for centuries, with no contact with the outside world–made two films: most recently “Aluna” (available through Amazon).
After a silence of six centuries, the Kogi, themselves a non-industrialized people, felt an urgent need to share what is happening on their mountain: pitiful snowfall atop their four mile high mountain, failure of streams to feed the land, and stagnant pools choked with mining sludge, in place of rivers that once flowed back into the sea.
Both the Kogi and Aruhaco are indigenous people of Columbia, whose Mamos (teacher-priests) spend their early years in isolation, separated from society. The Mamo who spoke in Santa Fe is now traveling in Europe and America, motivated by a sense of responsibility for Mother Earth, at this time when she is under unrelenting siege.
His sensible words about what is happening to our planet didn’t feel much different from what most of us are already thinking. But remembering that he had come down from a mountain microcosm of our planet (a geographic pyramid rising from sea level to a height of four miles on a base the size of Rhode Island)–descending from the enclave of a society that has been cloistered for centuries, in order to dialogue with the peoples of the world—underscored the reality that we are at a tipping point in the history of our planet. Like ghostly ancestors at the edges of the room, the importance of this moment came forth from the shadows.
His message is familiar from other spiritual traditions: that the best contribution we can make to caring for the Earth is to become friends with our own hearts and to learn to be open to other people, no matter how different from our own their views may be.
Less familiar was his assertion that phenomena such as “climate change” will never be solved by treating them as something to work on through legislation, committees, and our own strong opinions on how others should behave. The only way we can help address the accelerating forces that are harming our planet is to connect with our own hearts. As an indigenous man from Central America, it was not surprising to hear him connect the health of our hearts with the health of the Earth, nor for him to urge appreciation for what our own traditions have given us.
His belief that appreciation for our individual traditions gives us a window into the nurturing Earth, gave me pause. I realized that I do not feel grounded in my own traditions; I perceive myself as having, by choice, moved beyond their arbitrary pronouncements and become a knowledge-shopper among the wisdom traditions that have become available in recent decades. (Although perhaps I can claim some grounding in that I have stuck with the few that speak directly to my innermost heart for forty years.)
I want to keep pondering the truth of his message and its relevance for my life. I spend far too much of my energy feeling angry about the behavior of others—blaming the indifference of the powerful for sweeping away respect for what has come before and for hurting people who have no voice in decisions that affect them.
It feels like a good time for me to remember Kafka’s advice “Let the face that is full of loathing fall on its own breast.”
This morning, an old, largely forgotten, realization came unbidden to mind. Karma provides a perspective from which to respond to the inconveniences of life and a way to deal with problems–not as walls to hit our foreheads against, but as messengers from a larger context. A more traditional statement might say: Karma is a residue from previous lives which we should work with, now when we have the chance. What a great idea! Why not take this opportunity to develop a deeper draft, unfurl a larger sail, and really cover some leagues upon the open sea of this lifetime.
Here’s another piece of evidence in favor of not being too intimidated by appearances and our reactions to them. The turning on its head of the “flat earth” view came about from astronomy (noticing that a globe orbiting on its own axis provides a simpler picture of the universe we can see from our front lawn), and also because sailors noticed that tree tops came into view before they could see the waves lapping on the shore of an island in the distance.
When we cultivate our curiosity about the mysterious context in which we find ourselves, and treat whatever arises as an emissary from beyond, we may discover bottles with private messages just for us, bobbing alongside in the middle of an ocean far too vast for us to ever personally cross. Messages like: “Fear not. There is no edge to fall off, not anywhere, not at any time.”