"I am the Breeze that nourishes all things green." (Spirit Song, Hildegard of Bingen)
Our ability to delight in little things has as much to do with solving the environmental crisis as the regulation of industry or the introduction of new technologies.
Let us widen our capacity for the small. When we nurture the heart's joy, the mind is quiet enough to find sacraments in the ordinary -- a breath of wind on our cheek, the sound of raindrops, the taste of a locally grown strawberry. This will diminish our consumption of earth's resources as much as any restriction imposed by government. The capacity for small delights is the fruit of an inward spiritual practice that is essential for sustainable living.
Green is the color of the abundant heart, the heart of contentment. When the heart is green, the mind does not grasp for the wealth of the world.
Our environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. We consume our earth, desecrate wilderness, and make war on nations to fill our tanks with energy. But the tank that must first be filled is the soul. Most wealthy Americans suffer a secret fever of lack. Beneath our designer labels, make-up and cologne is the physiognomy of enervation, stress, and drain. Conspicuous consumption is only a symptom.
Environmental activism is nourished by inner stillness. A renewal of contemplative spirituality is crucial to the environmental movement. Through daily meditation, the green activist charges her soul with Inward Light. The Inward Light is a green radiance. Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th Century mystic and prophet, called it "the greening power of the Holy Spirit."
Only as we taste the wild green radiance of the Spirit will we cease devouring the earth. Only when simple necessities become sacraments rather than disciplines, can we live in harmony with bees, salmon streams, ancient forests. To be content with less is not a virtue imposed by looming disaster, but the dividend of meditation in a heart overflowing.
If Americans walked more gently on the earth, we would have fewer enemies. George Fox, founder of the Quakers, wrote: "Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every person." Sioux elder, Black Elk, said: "Let every step you take upon the earth be as a prayer."
When we touch our own land, we can allow Muslims to recover theirs. People who live in relationship with their soil are not interested in empire.
Breathing from the souls of our feet, we remember how to walk. Slowly and delectably, we listen to the inquiry of a cricket, a bell thrush, the sun-dappled cottonwood leaves rattling in the afternoon. Walking barefoot, breathing, noticing the vast wealth of the small: this is world-changing political action. The central question for our world leaders is: "Do you know how to take a walk?"
Friends, there's a relationship between our politics and our spirituality. If our spirituality is unearthly, our politics are as disconnected from the world as our souls. We are violent, exploiting and disinheriting other human beings from their native soil. But when our spirituality is rooted in the earth, our political systems aim to recover lost relationships between land and people.
A clash of civilizations? This clash has more to do with our relationship to the earth than with our relation to Islam. The West wants to own and sell the Arabs' chief natural resource - oil. Arabs no longer agree to be corporate serfs. Is that so hard to understand?
In truth, every "terrorist" attack is seen from the Arab perspective as an act of self-defense. When Western oil companies act as business-partners instead of feudal lords, Arab hostility will abate, for Arab citizens hate and fear us only in proportion as they feel disenfranchised from their own land. They do not "hate our freedom and values," as Neocon propagandists claim. They want their own freedom back. They want to walk on Arab soil.
People uprooted from economic relationship with the soil grow desperate and angry. When white Americans disinherited Native Americans, natives fled their pain through violence, alcohol abuse, and the peyote Church. Now the West is doing the same thing to the people of the Middle East, exploiting the resources under their feet.
Because we have disenfranchised many Arab citizens from any politically meaningful and economically viable land-relationship, young Arab intellectuals express their alienation through Wahabi Islam or radical Shiism. Despairing of any reconnection with the earth, dwelling like aliens in a land once theirs but now controlled by Western profiteers, they compensate for that lost land-relation by seeking an unearthly paradise. They make a violent sacrament of their final disconnection - as suicide bombers.
Will Americans learn to walk prayerfully upon the earth? Will we learn to use the land for meditation instead of fuel? Could we live in bigger hearts and smaller houses? To our Third World brothers and sisters, might we be stewardship-partners rather than landlords? May we walk beside them instead of driving over them in humvees?
Terrorism will cease when a Muslim, bowing in prayer, no longer feels an American boot between her forehead and the soil.
Churches are burning, temples are falling,
mosques exploding from inside.
Priests, rabbis, imams make war.
It's revelation time!
Time for a newer testament,
time to spill the ark
and see what God really has to say;
time to rip off the temple veil
and gaze into the Holy Empty.
But this time, let's keep it simple:
No scripture but your sighing -
no temple but your heart -
the Master's form, Awareness itself -
the Master's word, I Am -
his anointing, your fingertips
on the petals of a rose -
his Spirit, your breath -
his Kingdom, your body -
his Second Coming,
If you're not ready,
wait another thousand years
and I'll tell you the same thing.
Shakespeare wrote, "The quality of mercy is not strained." Our mercy will soon be tested.
Few Americans sense the approaching cloud of grief. It will sweep over our land as waves of soldiers return from war, wounded and dispirited by post-traumatic stress. Until now, civilians have been strangely exempt from sacrifice. The soldiers' work will end. Ours is just beginning.
If we supported the Iraq war, now let us show it. Help a soldier carry war's everlasting pain. If we were opposed, holding compassion more noble than war, now let us give that compassion to the warrior. Never again neglect the veteran, as we did after Viet Nam. And if we blame, let us blame the dreamers of this war who never fought, not the fighters who shoulder the nightmare.
Connect with a veteran's family. Share meals with them. Listen without judgment. Breathe a soldier's trouble into your heart. If they can't speak about it, don't abandon them to isolation. Keep returning to say, "I'm here for you." Walk along a beach beside them, skipping stones into silent water.
We are chastened yet wiser now, called not to the arrogance of empire, but the quality of mercy.
(First published in the Seattle Times, May 28, 2007. Also published in the Tacoma News Tribune, December 8, 2008)
I teach Old Testament and World Religion courses to soldier for college credit. It's a distance learning program, and most of my students are in Iraq. I ask them to write their own Psalms and Laments, using the ancient Hebrew literary forms and filling them with their own experience. The following 'Soldier's Lament' speaks for itself. It was written by a soldier who has been in the infantry for 16 years. Thank you, D.L.
A SOLDER’S LAMENT
Lord, be with me and watch over me, because those who plot my death are many and dangerous.
The dangers are many in this place where I dwell; home is so far away and the days are lonely.
The faces are strange and the language so different; hate can be seen in their eyes each day.
My family I have left, so that I can protect those who cannot protect themselves; but who protects me in this place that is not my home?
Trouble and death fill my heart, because this could possibly be my last day.
Lord, be with me and keep me safe; bless my courage and strength.
Keep my enemies away, dear Lord. Weaken their hearts' desire to rise up against me; cast down their will to fight; and make my strength endure their hatred.
You have never forsaken me; you keep me close to your bosom.
Bring me home to my wife and children, so that my eyes can see no more death and pain.
I have wept for friends you have called home to you, but your love has kept me here.
Strengthen my hope and courage, so that I can strike down my enemy.
I crave the courage to perform every day, but it is you, dear Lord, who feeds that hunger; I need to go on.
Strengthen my hope and courage so that I can strike down the wolf that stands at my door.
I feared death and wanted to cower; you comforted me, and became my sword and shield.
Let peace fall unto the children of Babylon, so that the Eagle may depart the unforgiving land.
This is what you do
0n patrol in the woods,
Fort Lewis, Washington,
when no one is there:
You happen upon a trillium
white and secret as God in a shadow.
You bow down saying,
"Thank you for showing me
Six months later
on patrol in Fallujah
you happen upon a girl
three days dead in the rubble,
her body cut nearly in half
by American fire,
your fire, my fire.
Her large intestine blossoms in the desert sun,
a terrible sweetness in your nostrils.
You bow down saying,
"Thank you for showing me
It is your last war.
"The Glory of God is humanity fully alive!" (St. Athanasius)
In scripture, a "new Jerusalem" descends from the clouds. But the new energy that transforms our world will not descend from above: it will emanate from the atomic structure of your body. Your body will radiate the New Creation. Your radiance will transform the earth.
Our religions have all shared a mythological hope of leaving the body for a "higher" world. But in the age now dawning, there is communion through sensation in the body. In the Lord's Supper, we taste a tiny portion of bread and wine. The central religious rituals of Holy Eucharist, Jewish Sedar, Hindu Puja, are prophetic meals. Their symbolism foreshadows this age: God is here, now, in the ordinary sacraments of daily work. Let us value this human body as the temple of initiation. We need no other church. In Jesus' words, "Your whole body will be filled with light." In the most ancient cosmology, the Vedic scriptures of India, one of God's original titles is "Narayana." "Nara" is the Indo-European root of the English word, "nerve." "Yana" means "control." God is not beyond the body, but the "controller of the nervous system."
"Honor every sensation as an angel of light...."
We can abandon the old three-story house where soul, mind, and flesh form a hierarchy both ontological and moral. What was "low" is now exalted; the body is as good as the spirit. Greek philosophy and Christian asceticism regarded the body as the "prison-house of the soul." But our body can be a shrine where we honor each firy atom as the Holy of Holies. Our flesh is sacred ground where Moses meets God. This brain-stem is the Burning Bush, lit with the Lord's electric "I Am." This nervous system is the Tree of Life in a garden of Paradise. Honor every sensation as an angel of light.
The practice of body awareness is not sensuality. Sensuality was in your past, before you started meditation, when your awareness was annihilated in physical experience. Your consciousness went to sleep in the body. You needed more and more crude stimulation to feel anything at all. This is the chronic drowziness of him who has no spiritual practice, or the workaholic who is functioning on auto-pilot. This state can become a downward spiral of compulsiveness, depression, or addiction. But body awareness frees you from such patterns of sensuality and dullness. Attending mindfully to sensations, you need less stimulation, not more. Sensation can be refined and purified by consciousness, until just dwelling in the body is ecstatic.
"Attend sensation in the present moment... dwell more in the body and less in thought."
Dwell more in the body and less in thought. You will attune to the energy that irradiates the planet as earth passes into a new region of the galaxy, where there is a much higher sub-nuclear vibration than earthly matter has ever felt. This new frequency will vibrate"up" through the atomic nuclei of the body, not "down" through the soul or the mind. Those who do not attune to it through their bodies will experience chaos and confusion. Those who practice body awareness will experience a smoother transition.
The nucleus of a single atom contains boundless energy. Each particle of your flesh is a portal to infinity. The light of God and "the light of the body" are one light. Therefor, in times of transition, trust the sensations that emanate from your body, not the fearful imagery of your thoughts. In Matthew 25, Jesus warned, "When you see the abomination of desolation prophecied by Daniel, stand in the Holy Place!" The Holy Place is the energy-field of your own body. When you sense the chaos of the world around you, shift your attention inward: not to the mind and its thoughts, but to the vibrancy of your nervous system. Rest there and be sustained by the Manna of an unexpected delight...
Beware of the mind. Mind is destroying the earth. We look to intellectuals and technocrats to save us, but mind is the problem, not the solution. See what chaos the think-tank PHD's have brought upon the earth! Do you really believe that the world will be saved by the Harvard School of Business, the Project for a New American Century, the Heritage Foundation? Ideology drives humanity to war and makes excuses for the exploitation of the innocent. The time of the intellectual has passed. Blessed are the intuitives: they shall inherit the kingdom.
"Envelop each sensation in a glow of awareness, as a flame envelops a candle's wick."
Those who dwell primarily in ideas will know great anxiety and mental illness in the coming years of transition. But at any moment you can shift to body awareness and avoid much suffering. In meditation, attend sensation in the present moment. Apply consciousness to the body without intervening thought. Envelop each sensation in a holy cloud of pure awareness, as a flame envelops a candle's wick. Divine light will flow up through that sensation. Sensation will dissolve into prayer....
"To dwell in this body is a political act..."
Being consciously and intentionally in the body leads to the age-old goal of political philosophers: “the simple life.”
The simple life is the good life: a life content with nature and her necessities, without greed for extraneous luxury, hoarding of wealth, class envy, or addiction. A deepening awareness of the body is the key to these long sought Utopian goals.
Being fully aware in the body is not "materialism" or "sensuality," which are, in truth, obsessions of the mind. Materialism, addiction, and lust occur in persons who are profoundly OUT of touch with their bodies. The simple life of body-awareness is a profoundly spiritual life, a sacramental life where each sensation is infused with radiant attention. In this state, a person's body becomes the body-politic: a harmony of personal needs with the needs of the earth.
What is the political consequence of living a simple life, a life in which just dwelling in the body is happiness? Imagine millions of Americans gladly forfeiting their habits of energy-consumption, addiction and waste, content to live moment by moment in the wonderful sensations of this body!
When we are spiritually alive to the joy of this body, we are alive to the body politic. Each breath connects us to the atmosphere of the planet. Each tear is a measure of the ocean’s health: we weep when the water is not pure. Each tree cut down needlessly is a nerve in our body. Our bones feel the harrowing of coal and copper from mines. Without abstract theories or statistics, the body teaches us to conserve and cherish the earth’s resources. In every sensation we learn what ideology can never convey: to dwell in this body is a political act.
The level of body-awareness in most Americans can be described as numbness. Most of us are as disassociated from this body in our waking life as we are in our sleep. Our attention is primarily with thoughts in the mind, not sensations in the body. Mental images of the past and future mesmerize us. Deadlines drain our joy and empty the present moment of significance. Unconscious of the air in our nostrils, the soil at our feet, the breeze on our cheeks, or the song of a bird, we function on auto-pilot. Busily multi-tasking in our thoughts, we haven’t the slightest clue what is actually happening right here, right now, on earth. We cannot see reality: only the reflection of reality in the mirror of our thoughts.
This state of semi-conscious living, absorbed in disembodied thought, falls easy prey to the hypnotic imagery of TV, radio and internet, all of which are used by the corporate media to fill us with desires profitable to their agenda. Our thoughts entrain to their chatter, which repeats one word over and over through a thousand images: “Buy!”
Mindfulness of the body is a political act because it is a rebellion against this consumer hypnosis. When we are truly awake in every cell, corporate propaganda can no longer find room in our brains, manipulating our fears and addictions. This is the beginning of freedom.
Just breathing is joyful, a glass of water is thrilling, the touch of earth beneath our feet is ecstatic. Our addictions diminish. We no longer need to consume expensive food, waste money on trendy clothes, dull our nerves with loud entertainment, drink an excess of wine, or cruise the mall searching for the momentary thrill of a purchase. Conscious sensation is never addictive: it diffuses the power of addiction by weakening the force of desire in the mind. The truth is, we are addicted to our desires, not to our sensations.
Citizens who are truly incarnate form an enlightened body politic. Let the words of the ancient Mundaka Upanishad define it: "Heaven is her head, the sun and moon her eyes, the four quarters her heart. From her feet came the earth, from her eye the sun-illumined sky... In the landscape of her body, the seas and mountains arise. From her skin spring the rivers and the herbs... Her own life is the one life shining in the heart of every creature."
Can we take responsibility for the world in our bodies? Can we sense the ecology of the whole earth in the quality of a raindrop on the tip of a twig in our own back yard? Then we will be citizens of the Kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven."
Arguing the primacy of science or religion is a waste of time. It is like arguing whether Spring is more important than Fall, whether music is more important than words, whether the right foot is more important than the left.
It is desperately silly for a scientist to claim that God does not exist. It is even sillier for an evangelist to disclaim the mechanics of evolution based on chapter one of the Bible. Just as a laboratory experiment can never determine God's being, the fundamental equations of physics will never be solved by a hymn. Science and religion are not conflicting but complimentary realms of human experience: particle and wave, the apple and its flavor.
When we engage science and religion in debate, or argue that one should explain the other, we forget that neither are bodies of fact. They are, rather, methods. They are utterly different ways of seeing. A human being who wishes to be whole must learn to use both, just as we learn to see with two eyes.
There are those who claim to have "proof" in either camp. They have data proving the existence of God, or data proving humans to be the bastard children chance; data proving creation in seven days, or data proving multiple random universes. We must once and for all get this point: we can always find data to support our prejudices. In the realm of faith, proof is meaningless.
Science is a not a method to prove or disprove religion, but a method to arrive at laws and techniques for transforming our physical environment. To achieve this pure material end, science sets up rigorous tests under "laboratory conditions." The laboratory method is a tool to satisfy our need for food, warmth, shelter, bodily health and protection. Science is no more, no less.
But laboratory method cannot explore phenomena such as rapture, compassion, prayer, or the light of self-transcendence. Science must kill these experiences in order to study them - like frogs in freshman biology. Science dissects what is on the table, not what is outside the carefully constructed boundaries of the experiment. Science may analyze the human brain, but can never know anything about the consciousness who analyzes that brain. For as soon as the scientist turns his attention from the brain on the table to his own awareness, he ceases to do science and begins to do meditation.
It is equally true that rapturous, self-luminous cosmic awareness will never solve the equations of string theory, or run the engine of my car when I need to get to the hospital.
Let the scientist meditate before entering the laboratory. Then she might better decide whether to use her research for peace or for war. At the same time, let the man of faith study physics to enrich his wonder for the incomprehensible majesty of God's creation.
Science and religion will only converse when they take up the invitation of the poet:
Out beyond the boundaries of right and wrong,
there is a field:
will you meet me there?
This new dimension is Awareness. It has always been here, in the background of our thoughts. But now pure Awareness - clear, empty, boundless, unlimited by the contours of a single thought - must emerge from background into foreground as our fundamental experience.
Human beings have been using Awareness, but have not been living the experience of Awareness. When a threshold percentage of our population finally comes to rest in the direct experience of their own Awareness, they will cover the earth with blessing. A new dimension will dawn, through which unexpected solutions will emerge in such a spontaneous way that people will declare, "Why of course! Why didn't we think of this before?" But these solutions will not come from our thinking. They will emerge from an inner silence deeper than thought. We call this phenomenon intuition.
Complexity is not resolved in the political, economic, or scientific theories of the intellectual. The intellectual remains fixed on the level of the problem, answering complexity with complexity. A complexity at the level of the problem is only resolved by a simplicity at another level. Einstein wrote, "A problem cannot be solved on the same level of thinking that produced the problem." That is why, when we get stuck in an intellectual quandary, it is usually solved only when we abandon it. We go for a walk, or we go to sleep, or we have a talk with a child. Suddenly, the solution dawns from an unexpected source.
In the coming Age of Awareness, world problems will solve themselves through the joyful interactions of intuitive people, in anonymous sacraments of the local and the ordinary. Global crises will dissolve as a matter of scale, when Awareness confronts the vast in the commonplace, a world in a grain of sand.