Mindful Musings

“Nature’s Inspiring Qualities”

The Smoky Mountains vs. the "Smokey Mountains”: Who's Right?It would be an understatement to say that the natural world humbles our very being. For example, how many people have climbed to the top of a mountain and experienced the sentiment of feeling inconsequential? It’s impossible not to.

Anyone who has made the pilgrimage up a summit reports feeling profoundly humbled. For on the majestic peaks, our souls are moved by the sheer majesty of views that await us: a gorgeous colossus of trees, the mesmerizing stature of nearby mountaintops, the noble presence of soaring eagles and those subtle but dazzling flashes of white light that sparkle against the backdrop of a midday Sun.

As we inhale a slow, deep breath of the crisp mountain air, we become instantly aware of our own insignificance in relationship to the Cosmos. In so doing, we come to embrace the notion that humanity is but one tiny wave in a vast sea of oneness.

It’s from Mother Nature’s power to humble that we uncover the source of pure inspiration. We tap into this coveted but sacred energy through the Earth’s reservoirs of natural beauty. When we decide to descend back down the same mountaintop, we carry this feeling of renewal back with us, injecting it into our day-to-day lives.

For some people, this newfound inspiration finds its light through their commitment to previously neglected aspects of their being, such as their family and friends, their life’s work and especially their own spiritual growth. Yet, for others, transcendental experiences in nature will produce sudden and profound personal epiphanies.

In these moments of heightened clarity, we feel as though we’re viewing life through a new pair of eyes. In these moments, the art of existing finally starts to make sense, as one begins to live their life with a greater sense of purpose and awareness. In these instances, it’s not uncommon to make major life changes like leaving a longtime job or long-term relationship to devote oneself to a higher calling.

For others, nature so inspires them, that they’re moved to express these emotions of divine love through creative outlets like poetry, painting, photography and music. For example, well-known writers and poets like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman were all so moved by nature that each felt compelled to share the wonder of it with others.

Further, entire forms of written expression such as Haiku (a unique form of poetry that emerged long ago in Japan) also remain popular and finds their medium through the observation of nature. And much of the remarkable art crafted by Indigenous peoples from around the world depicts various divine aspects of the Earth.

In fact, in my own dwelling, I have a beloved piece of artwork that was made by a Native American artist from the Hopi tribe in Arizona. This work of art is a mosaic of sacred images drawn from nature and painted on a smooth, rectangular slab of clay. This remarkable piece of work reminds me that the natural world is the purest source of creative inspiration.

Finally, cultural anthropologists have long accepted the notion that music—that most profound mode of universal expression—had its genesis long before the development of formal language in the earliest tribes. Today, still, the Indigenous peoples of the world reflect their love for the Earth in song and dance. It’s telling that more traditional music pays homage to Mother Nature. Listen to roots reggae, folk or bluegrass songs for confirmation!

(Excerpt from my essay: “Nature as Divine Love”)

 

Mindful Musings

“Dreams worth Chasing”

By: Forrest RiversThe Significance of Dreams John, a friend of mine from Colorado, shared his dreams with me on a (socially distanced) yet inspiring hike through the mountains together. In the year leading up to the pandemic, this highly talented sound engineer and music booker spent around 80 hours a week working at a music venue. While he found his work satisfying, he confided in me that the long hours and breakneck pace of booking bands six nights a week and running sound for those same acts had taken a toll on him emotionally. Like many skilled workers in the entertainment industry, John suddenly found himself unemployed when all bars and music venues were forced to shut down as COVID-19 began its rampage through the United States. But he was one of the lucky ones. In contrast to the countless millions of frustrated and desperate laid off workers that would follow, John experienced a smooth transition to the unemployment rolls. He related to me that the time away from his job has provided him with greater balance and fulfillment in his life. It has also strengthened his relationship with his wife and filled him with more gratitude for all the positive things in his life. Most of all, his hiatus from the daily grind has given John the courage to chase his dreams and live life to the fullest. His dream is to move off to a remote and beautiful track of land his mother owns outside of Moab, Utah. Specifically, John and his wife want to live on that land in an RV that they recently purchased. In inspiring fashion, the couple has decided that there is no better time then now to pursue their dream and take a courageous leap into the unknown!

During this period of crisis, stories like John’s are growing in frequency. With far more time off to spend contemplating our lives, many people are coming to the realization that now is the perfect time to finally pursue their dreams. With death staring us in the face and with the highest percentage of people out of work since the Great Depression, this moment has carved out an existential crossroads that we are all being called to navigate. Some of the questions we may be asking ourselves are as follows:

  • Once this crisis ends, do I really want to rejoin the “rat race” once more?
  • How might following a different path enrich me spiritually?
  • Is it really too late to change directions and follow my dreams?
  • How can I contribute to the uplifting of the human race?

 

As more of us begin asking these questions, we will inevitably come to find our answers through spirited moments of contemplation. And in these precious moments, the answers we seek will become clear as day like it has for my friend John. Despite its tragic death toll, COVID-19 has also been something of a blessing for many people who have felt “trapped” in the capitalist machine for far too long. The conditions are ripe to pour one’s time and energy into pursuits that more meaningfully serve the highest qualities of the human spirit. For other people, like my brother soul Alex, this pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse has only confirmed for him that he wants to take decisive steps in the next year to leave his well-paying engineering job and follow his dream of co-founding an off the grid peaceful community with other like-minded beings. In his mind, the economic system has badly failed far too many people and he would like the opportunity to show that a better way his possible. He envisions a community that serves the dual aims of providing a space fully conducive to spiritual growth while being grounded in the spirit of service. A beautiful and noble dream indeed! So beautiful and noble, in fact, that I hope to co-found this very community with him!

It is fully within our power to shift our perspective of COVID-19 from one of “doom and gloom”, to that of seeing this moment as a rare opportunity to follow our dreams through the grace of suffering. If we can manage to flip the dial of our awareness from pessimism to hope there is no limit to how far we can evolve in our consciousness and in our union with the One that has been called by many names.

Mindful Musings

To the disappointment of many activist-minded folk, it is becoming resoundingly clear that little change in the way of peace will ever occur through politics.As many people worldwide are beginning to realize, our global political system is thoroughly corrupted to its core. In their quests to secure money, power and fame, wealthy politicians respond only to the narrow concerns and interests of their big-money donors and corporate constituencies.

Viewed in this light, the popular political vehicle of voting is a charade played by the wealthy and powerful few to promote the illusion of choice. It is also a cynical ploy designed to win our allegiance to a system that we all know to be morally wrong.

Voting is also a superficial and ineffective means to bring about peace. Expecting peace to arrive through electing people whose impulse it is to wage violence is about as sensible as hiring a known scam artist to manage your finances. Henry David Thoreau was correct when he once wrote the following about the futility of voting:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or back gammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it.

While the horrors of institutionalized violence will not end through formal political channels, nor will it cease through violent confrontation with the system itself. Much to the disappointment of self-described ‘anarchist’ youth everywhere, employing violence to dispose of the system’s warmonger ways is definitely not an effective moral strategy to bring about peace. Pure anarchism neither condones violence nor welcomes chaos as an organizing principle of human relationships.

As ruthless as governments and corporations can be, meeting their institutionalized violence with mob violence only winds up begetting more violence! As the wise Jesus eloquently put it millennia ago:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

If we as a species intend to ever transcend our bloody cycle of aggression, we need to ground our actions in love and understanding. Everlasting peace can be achieved in no other way.

How can you expect to inspire cynics of world peace, if all they see is violence in the streets that’s meant to achieve otherwise noble goals? Governments and corporations are made up of living and breathing people, with the same capacity to feel as you and I.

One of our responsibilities as humans is to encourage others to come out of the darkness of hate and into the light of love. Employing violence to bring about peace is an internal contradiction. There is a reason that great leaders like the late Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are so fondly remembered. Both men won over the hearts of even their most bitter adversaries through peace and love.

The limitations of protesting for peace


Non-violent, direct protest has been the most popular path by which people have attempted to address grave social and environmental injustices. This collective tactic has proven effective for bringing about peace, only when its participants manage to transcend the political theater of separation. Ram Dass, an infinitely wise spiritual teacher, fully captures this point in saying:

You may protest if you can love the person you are protesting against as much as you love yourself.

True movements for peace are deeply rooted in love and aim at purifying the hearts of all people. The anti-Vietnam War and civil rights protests of the 1960s are powerful examples of peaceful action. Both movements began as political demonstrations against war and inequality, but eventually evolved into spiritual testaments of love.

The 2016 protests by indigenous peoples against the construction of a massive oil pipeline, near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, is an inspiring example from current times.

In that instance, indigenous peoples from around the world united against the proposed desecration of the sacred Earth. For several months, these brave souls camped out, kept continuous prayer circles and endured savage displays of cruelty at the construction site. Despite the violent reactions by authorities, the original peoples remained peaceful as a testament to their faith in humanity and their indigenous traditions.

However, each of these examples are exceptions to what commonly occurs during peaceful protest. All too often, demonstrations become muddled in the illusion of separation.

This is the challenge that all sincere peace activists must eventually confront and transcend. For whenever protesters fail to love the persons they are protesting as much as they love themselves, they descend into the murky waters of self-righteous action. The result is that some activists wind up releasing the same negative vibrations of fear and hatred as the groups they are protesting against.

History is rife with examples of once-peaceful protests becoming violent or consumed by divisiveness. From my own past experience as an anti-war protester, I can recall two instances when anger built up within the hearts of the participants and escalated into verbal conflict. Such experiences only reinforced the false ‘us’ versus ‘them’ duality and severely damaged the credibility of our message.

The problem of maintaining momentum in protest is an added issue that impacts the success of peace movements. Unquestionably, though, protesting remains among the most dramatic and effective ways for bringing attention to mass violence.

Marches, pickets, boycotts and symbolic occupations are all effective tactics for uniting otherwise disassociated groups in society. However, once awareness is raised and interested groups begin unifying under a common banner, the inevitable question arises, “Where do we go from here?”

Often, the answer to this question is to direct the momentum of protest activity into influencing political elections. This strategy may very well result in the achievement of significant short-term victories for peace—particularly within our local communities. Still, in terms of advancing the vision of peace, electoral politics accomplishes little when it comes to striking at the root of our aggression and violence in the first place. That root is ego.

We all need to look within


While non-violent protest can be a powerful means for bringing awareness to and mobilizing activists for peace, it alone will not alter our tendencies to inflict harm on one another. If we as one human family wish to work toward an everlasting peace, we must each find our own inner peace by looking within through the power of prayer and meditation.

Imagine if all human beings learned to pray and meditate regularly. Two positive outcomes would immediately result. First, every person would refuse to inflict harm on any other being. Second, as a collective, we would no longer support those structures that are fundamentally unpeaceful.

Once we all learn how to achieve peace within ourselves, violence will no longer be an issue. Aggressive outcomes like war and environmental devastation are collective reflections of our inner states of turmoil. If we hold fear and hate within our hearts, then hate and fear will guide us in our power roles as statesmen, corporate officials, law enforcers and even protesters.

The key is to cultivate the peaceful intentions of tolerance, forgiveness, compassion and love within yourself. Before setting out to change the world, we must first change ourselves.

Each individual’s path to awakening may take years or even lifetimes. And that is OK. We are each endowed with the ability to awaken. The path to becoming a peaceful being begins with tapping into that natural space of stillness that resides within us all. This space has been called many different names—Oneness, God, The Great Emptiness, the Atman or Absolute Being.

The Chandogya Upanishad—a sacred Hindu text from the larger collection of Upanishads—describes this space as far beyond fear, separation and ignorance. It is a space of faith, unity and wisdom that is more vast than the mind can comprehend.

As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in this world or not, everything is contained in that inner space.

The text goes on to describe the feeling of bliss in this space:

The self is hidden in the lotus of the heart. Those who see themselves in all creatures go day by day into the world of Brahman hidden in the heart. Established in peace, they rise above body consciousness to the supreme light of the Self. Immortal, free from fear, this Self is Brahman, called the True. Beyond the mortal and the immortal, he binds both worlds together. Those who know this live day after day in heaven in this life.

There are two primary channels through which we can access the inner space described in The Chandogya Upanishad: the first is through the power of prayer, and the second is through the practice of meditation.

Prayer can be thought of as an invocation or act of soulful communion during which one shares their faithful intentions and conscious desires with the Universe. Meditation is the act of stilling your mind and tuning your soul towards the vibrations of the Universe. In the depths of meditation, one learns how to listen for the Universe’s insights and guidance.

In accessing this inner space, it is important to understand that prayer and meditation are not duelling counterparts. Just as joy and suffering are part of the same cycle, so it is between prayer and meditation.

No seeker of peace may be said to truly know the one without the other. Our faithful intentions and conscious desires cannot be fully known and expressed in prayer without us first coming to know them through the stillness of meditation. Conversely, we won’t fully know how to listen for answers in meditation if we have not yet learned how to cast prayer onto our hopes and dreams.

Benefits of the inner path to peace


As we begin to pray and meditate with some regularity, we will intuitively come to recognize the growth of three positive qualities.

First, we will become more compassionate. As we begin to sit in meditation and prayer for longer intervals, we will feel the space around our hearts start to loosen and our love for all beings increase.

Further, as we learn how to direct intentions of goodwill to all life, our practice will enable us to act with greater compassion in our day-to-day lives. In fact, a deep and persistent yearning to devote their lives to serving the Earth and humanity will come to nag at the souls of peaceful beings.

It is no coincidence that some of the most dedicated social reformers from the past have also been some of the most compassionate people. It is also not a coincidence that these same individuals spent considerable amounts of time in meditation and prayer, cultivating feelings of goodwill.

Such inspiring figures for peace, such as Christ, Buddha, King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, were also known for their uncompromising commitment to inner work and personal transformation.

The historical time periods and regions they lived in were different, but the essence of their message was the same. True peace can only be achieved when we each make the choice to look within and offer the peace we find to the world. As Gandhi beautifully put it:

I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and peace.

Through prayer and meditation, we also cultivate a deeper faith in the Way of Things, the Universe, God or IT. When we still our minds and open our hearts, a vast world of inner knowing is revealed. This space of serenity bursts forth into our consciousness to command more focused attention. As we tap into this space, all events and happenings on the physical plane of reality are imbued with a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and perspective.

Suffering through sickness and disease, landing in prison, being trapped in an abusive relationship, losing a home and experiencing the loss of a loved one are all trying life experiences. In lessening the emotional pain of each event, it makes little difference whether we pray or meditate. Regular prayer and meditation allow us the experience of being present with our suffering, and the ability to be present offers new perspectives from which we can view our own suffering.

Pushing nothing away, one can simultaneously confront the profound emotions of sadness and despair, while gaining deeper insight into the reasons, lessons and potential for growth that arise from suffering.

The ability to be present, while keeping our hearts open, opens a window into the higher realms of conscious action and pushes us into union with the Mind of God. Faith is the direct outcome of this communion. And from faith comes love, the fruit of true wisdom.

As we pray and meditate with greater frequency, a third quality will begin to emerge: an absolute sense of clarity as to the connection of all things in the Universe. The poet Nancy Wood powerfully conveys this feeling of oneness, in the spirit of the Taos Indian:

Now this is what we believe. The mother of us all is earth. The father is the sun. The grandfather is the creator who bathed us with his mind and gave life to all things. The brother is the beasts and trees. The sister is that with wings. We are the children of the earth and do it no harm in any way. Nor do we offend the sun by not greeting it at dawn. We praise our grandfather for his creation. We share the same breath together; the beasts, the trees, the birds, the man.

Within the depths of both prayer and meditation, we can’t help but feel a deep kinship with all beings of the Earth. It is this profound sense of interconnection that sparks monumental shifts in consciousness and breaks down barriers of separation. It is the illusion of separation that frustrates our attempts at world peace. Anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, nationalism and class ism are all faces of a false reality that pictures the web of being as a collection of unrelated parts.

Worse still, our culture teaches us that all other parts are to be feared and dealt with aggressively. Through prayer and meditation, we can learn to overcome the dark forces of ego and achieve a state that the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn calls ‘interbeing.’

The inevitable march to world peace


The path to world peace will not be easy or predictable. It will likely unfold as a bumpy road filled with many surprises along the way. Some of these surprises will be pleasant, while others will not be quite so. However, it is inevitable that humanity will one day find peace, because the essence of this universe is love and righteousness.

There remains one question that both activists and spiritual seekers might ask: How, exactly, does each individual’s awakening consciousness translate to the forging of a collective consciousness of world peace?

To answer that question, as more of us begin to awaken spiritually through prayer and meditation, our personal acceptance of violence will wither away. Men and women who once turned a blind eye to rampant militarism may one day refuse to support the war machine with their presence and dollars. Police officers, who once acted violently due to their fear of other races, may find themselves unable to engage with their brothers and sisters in that way. The people of the globe may no longer tolerate the misdeeds of their megalomaniac rulers or the predatory corporate schemes that threaten the Earth’s ecosystems.

Upon awakening to Oneness, it will be seen as a spiritual necessity to protect our beloved Mother Earth from the misguided plundering of her resources for short-term profit. Conscious citizens will demand much more from their governments in the way of regulating the destructive tendencies of enterprises. It is also likely that protest will remain a widely popular and effective vehicle for bringing about change and demanding accountability from public officials.

However, there will be a profound difference between how we demonstrated before, and how we demonstrate after the moment of our spiritual awakening. Previously, most of us have viewed the people we were protesting against as bitter adversaries and have labelled them ‘the other.’ In the future, our peaceful marches, pickets, boycotts and occupations will become passionate declarations of our faith and compassion. Crucially and powerfully, such declarations will transform those who we are trying to reach through our peaceful actions.

We will come to find that both our ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’ are equal reflections of ourselves. When we adopt this view of a unified existence, our feelings of love for all beings will be so strong that we won’t be able to sit by as innocents suffer from others’ unmindful actions.

The act of protest, then, will transcend the political theater of separation and become a collective rallying cry of our souls’ desires for peace, unity and love. The potential for world peace is boundless when we attain such awareness in action.

It is worth concluding this urgent call for meditation, prayer and peaceful action with these inspiring and prophetic words from Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Medicine Man, found within The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953):

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”

 

Mindful Musings

“Sub Ek” (All One) June - Global Heart for Oneness Meditation & Invocation | Children ...
The form and the formless
The senses emerging and then withdrawing again
The breath rising and falling
The Earth’s transcendence ends where it begins
No mind but inside and outside all emotions
The union of energy and matter undefined
Without an origin before the act and nameless when it sleeps
Beyond the range of all perceptions and limits
Pure creation

You are:

Pure creation
Beyond the range of all perceptions and limits
Without an origin before the act and nameless when it sleeps
The union of energy and matter undefined
No mind but inside and outside all emotions
The Earth’s transcendence ends where it begins
The breath rising and falling
The senses emerging and then withdrawing again
The form and the formless.

Mindful Musings

“The Uncomfortable Side of Comfort”

By: Forrest Rivers

The Wheel of Life - Samsara | Thangka Mandala

Clay, a dear friend of mine once said: There is nothing more uncomfortable for the seeker of truth than a comfortable place. I think his comment is wise. Comfort can breed complacency if one is not present or self-aware. Finding a comfortable place—be it at a long-term job, geographic location or even in a romantic relationship—can trap one in a monotonous routine challenging for personal growth. Now, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with wanting to lay down roots. For that is an inborn yearning we all have. However, we should be mindful of the fact that change is as essential to the soul’s evolution as food and water are to the body’s sustenance. So, at the moment when you begin feeling exceedingly comfortable in your “place”, stop for a moment and also access that space within yourself that acknowledges the discomfort which lies in feelings of comfort. After all, all happenings in this glorious Universe are always changing and in constant flux. The seasons change, stars are born then burn out and whole galaxies are created and destroyed. God designed things this way. If all of creation is tied in one infinite web, why would we not also spin along on the same wheel of change?