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Lions Roar : March 2010
65 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 the multiple dimensions of intelligence, we are hampering our ability to find creative solutions and outcomes for problems that don’t admit to simple- minded fixes. It’s like having a linear view in medicine that sees health care solely as fixing people up—an auto me- chanic’s model of the body that doesn’t understand healing and transforma- tion, doesn’t understand what happens when you harmonize mind and body. The element that’s missing in that me- chanical understanding is awareness. Genuine awareness can modulate our thinking, so that we become less driven by unexamined motivations to put ourselves first, to control things to assuage our fear, to always proffer our brilliant answer. We can create an enormous amount of harm, for example, by not listening to other people who might have different views and insights. Fortunately, we have more of an op- portunity these days to balance the cultivation of thinking with the cultivation of awareness. Anyone can restore some degree of balance between thinking and awareness right in this present mo- ment, which is the only moment that any of us ever has anyway. The potential outcomes from purposefully learning to inhabit awareness and bring thought into greater balance are extremely positive and healthy for ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, if we continue to dominate the planet the way our species has for the past six or seven thousand years, it could be very unhealthy. Regardless of the beauty that’s come out of civilization, we could continue on a path of colossal upheav- als that basically come from a human mind that does not make peace with itself—war, genocide, famine, grossly inadequate re- sponses to natural disasters. These upheavals could destroy ev- erything we hold most dear. Earlier you talked about the promise of mindfulness being much greater than simply focusing attention. What are some of the keys to bringing about the profound effects of mindfulness that you’ve been talking about? Ultimately, the path is uncertain. All we can do is listen deeply to the calling of our own hearts and of the world, and do the best we can. One of the ways that I have tried to bring the heal- ing and transformative potential of the dharma into modern everyday life in the West has been through attempts to develop an American vocabulary, a Western vocabulary, for speaking about things that until now we haven’t really had a vocabu- lary for except within religious tra- ditions. I emphasize the universality of the power of mindfulness and awareness, but I’m not talking about a universal church or a universal re- ligious movement. I’m talking about understanding the nature of what it means to be human. I don’t even like to use the word “spiritual.” Can we simply address what it means to be human—from an evo- lutionary point of view, from an historical point of view? What is available to us in this brief moment when the universe lifts itself up in the form of a human sentient body and being, and we live out our seventy, eighty, or ninety years (if that), and then dissolve back into the undifferentiated ocean of potential? A lot of the time we become so self-absorbed, so preoccupied, that we don’t pursue the kind of fundamental inquiry Aristotle proposed when he made the comment that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In addition to developing a universal, nonreligious vocabu- lary, I have tried to stress the critical importance of the non-dual aspect of meditation by emphasizing that it is not about getting anywhere else. This of course immediately brings up a lot of be- wilderment in people, because almost everything we do seems to be about trying to get somewhere else. Why on earth would you not want to get somewhere else? If you’re in a lot of pain, or if you have some kind of illness or whatever, you always want to get back to where you were, or get to some better place in the future. It sounds almost un-American just to settle for what is, but that is a misunderstanding of the potential for living in the present moment. It’s not a matter of settling. It’s a matter of recognizing that, in some sense, it never gets any better than this. What do you mean? Quite simply, the future is not here, even though we can create as many illusions about it as we’d like. The past is already over. I’m talking about understanding the nature of what it means to be human. I don’t even like to use the word “spiritual.” ➢ page 78