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Lions Roar : March 2007
IN THE PAST FEW DECADES there has been a growing aware- ness that we are all “down river”—that what goes around does come around. We can no longer dispute the health implications of air, water, and soil pollution. The toxins now showing up in mothers’ breast milk point to the fact that our bodies have become the ultimate dumping ground. As bleak as the current ecological picture looks, though, there is hope: more and more people around the world are growing intolerant of environmen- tal harm and conscious of the need to protect the earth and all its species and natural resources. There is a common misconception that meditation leads to passivity and inaction. Buddhist teachings emphasize the impor- tance of developing a foundation of mindfulness in order to cul- tivate a clear, nonreactive awareness. This does require a certain amount of introspection, quiet, and meditation. Yet mindfulness supports equanimity, which is not indifference but an ability to see and be with the truth of how things are. What is often over- looked is the fact that this clear seeing forms the basis for act- ing wisely and skillfully. When we lack clarity and equanimity, we are usually reacting out of anger or fear, which compromises our ability to contribute positively to the world in that moment. With mindfulness and equanimity, we can still be passionate about wanting to transform suffering and prevent environmental harm, but it allows us to do so from a balanced, clear place. Engaged Buddhism wishes to bring change that is genuine and transfor- mational, as opposed to a cosmetic or quick fix. The ideal of Buddhist practice is to bring wisdom and compas- sion into the world and our relationships and to relieve suffering in all walks of life. Contrary to the idea that Buddhist monks retreat from the world, in Thailand monks have not only taught meditation, but also have become healers, educators, and pivotal sup- porters in the well-being of village life. In recent times this outreach has begun to include taking care of the earth. For example, as Thai forest monks watched the woods around their monasteries being decimated by logging, they started to ordain the ancient trees of the forest to protect them from being cut. Not only can awareness of our interconnection fuel our activism but it also can transform our way of seeing it. Author and eco- activist John Seed practiced meditation for many years in his home in New South Wales, Australia. Some years ago he received a call from friends alerting him that a logging company was about to begin clear-cutting an old-growth rainforest near his home. A large protest was forming to delay the loggers, since protestors were awaiting a court decision that would ban logging in that area. Seed heartily agreed to join, and during the protest he talked to police and loggers and helped block access to the logging vehicles. Standing in the middle of the protest, he had an insight that transformed his life. He explains what happened in the book Thinking Like a Mountain: “There and then I was gripped with an intense, profound realization of the depth of the bonds that connect us to the Earth. I knew then that I was no longer acting on behalf of myself or my human ideas, but on be- half of the Earth... on behalf of my larger self, that I was literally part of the rainforest defending herself.” In that moment, he grasped the thread of interconnection and the power it has to transform. Since then, Seed has worked tirelessly to protect rain- forests in Australia and beyond. When people understand the living connections between things, great change is possible. Although meditation can seem like a prac- tice that turns away from the world, it is not a way to avoid problems or difficulty. We meditate partly to have the strength to confront the challenges in our life and world. As you allow your meditation practice to grow, it naturally opens the heart and helps you to connect, feel, and care more deeply for the natural world. With practice, you can allow your own deepen- ing awareness of your inter- connectedness with all life to inform how you take action to protect the things you love and hold dear. ♦ From Awake in the Wild: Mind- fulness in Nature as a Path of Self- Discovery, by Mark Coleman. © 2006 by Mark Coleman. Reprinted with permission of Inner Ocean Pub- lishing Inc. MARK COLEMAN is a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He leads backpacking retreats and retreats for environmental activists in the New Mexico and Vermont wildernesses. You Don’t Just Sit There The practice of meditation deepens our connection to the environment and informs how we act, says MARK COLEMAN. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 49