I don’t view things like meditation and prayer mere “spiritual” activities. They are not abstract, esoteric activities. In the modern world of increasing virtual reality and stimulation, we need to intentionally do things that do not stimulate us. Sitting still and watching my breath opens up a completely new dimension for me precisely because I simply have to deal with one thing: myself. No distractions. Same thing with liturgical prayers or walking a labyrinth or other contemplative exercises. It changes our brains. It breaks us out of the stream of endless stimulation. It centers us in what is, and gives us the ability to simply be. Imagine — your life has no screens, no electronic entertainment of any kind, and yet you are never bored, content only with life as it is.
“Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously, and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous sustained effort.”
Mindfulness is simply being aware, being here, now, in the present. It is an effortless form of concentration.
Last night at the beginning of sunset. Out for a climb up onto the glacier at “the toe.” Overlooking the valley where the town of McCarthy sits.
Most days, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a meditation tool. It is a prayer of provision for my well being and the well being of others: Give us this day our daily bread. It is a prayer of compassion and forgiveness: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And it is a prayer to end the cycles of abuse, coercion, and exploitation: Deliver us from evil. Like all meditation tools, it can be used for deeper contemplation into specific things that we feel the need to explore more thoroughly.
Keep working for change, friends. People know that our country has a lot of problems and that the cliche political answers and typical quick fixes of the major parties haven’t worked.
In the 1880s and 1890s, a prairie wildfire swept through American politics. The generation of pioneers that had taken the risk to head out west and take advantage of Abe Lincoln’s Homestead Act, where our government literally gave away free land to any poor and working class people, had successfully battled terrible weather and intense loneliness. They had worked their butts off to become farmers and ranchers, and made a good life for themselves. But when railroad barons, Wall Street bankers, and oil monopolists began to squeeze them and make it tougher and tougher to make a living farming and ranching, they rose up and started organizing a populist movement that changed American politics and policies. States like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma rebelled against pro-big business politicians, and much of what they demanded- breaking up the big corporate trusts, tougher financial regulations, easier credit, Social Security, a minimum wage, an 8 hour work day and no child labor, women’s suffrage, stronger labor unions- eventually became incorporated in the reforms of the Progressive era of the early 1900s and the New Deal of the 1930s.
Prayer, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines are acts of silence and solitude. However, silence and solitude have driven many to insanity. On the other hand, quiet isolation has been the vehicle for many seekers to achieve serenity and greater self awareness. Intentionality is one of the key differences. Forcing someone into a prison of solitary confinement is torture, and it is quite likely to bring the madness. Yet I have read stories of medieval Christian monks who built up four solid walls around themselves — with no doors or windows — so as to devote themselves to prayer, meditation, and a life of contemplation. Here in McCarthy, Alaska, the two dozen or so locals who winter here do so, in large part, because they enjoy the quiet serenity of the winter mountains. Extended time spent in solitude and isolation brings us into contact with some tough internal shit. However, by daily engaging a spiritual practice — gently, intelligently, and at a safe pace — it is possible to confront and move past the inner demons and the difficult parts of our personality that trouble us.
My writing quote of the day.
Once we find a spiritual practice that resonates with us, we must commit time, daily, in order to really benefit and grow. One of the things that is necessary for a daily practice is faith, which is simply trusting that the practice will work. But faith and trust are difficult to come by for modern folks. We have incredible and unprecedented access to information and knowledge, which gives us the ability to study all about a spiritual practice, as never before. That is a good thing, but with knowledge often comes cynicism. It is hard for us to open and to really trust in anything when we learn about all the ways that governments, corporations, politicians, religious institutions, priests, pastors, gurus and spiritual teachers have all grossly abused their power and position. We are not naive, and so trust can be hard to come by, and understandably so. For me, however, having open-hearted faith in my practice has been absolutely essential in motivating me toward dedicating the time to daily meditation. And with time it gets easier for me to trust the practice, as I experience the benefits of my daily sittings. It just takes patience and time.
This is one of the things that motivates me to work for change:
Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.
Our overconsumption hurts us in the long run in that we lose natural resources and damage the ecosystems that produce our resources. However, there’s also a tragic loss of beauty when life (nonhuman life) is treated as disposable, as just another product to consume as part of our modern lifestyles of affluence.
I took this picture last night, camping in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, near to McCarthy where I am lingering after working the summer. No photoshoping or Instagramming. You don’t really see the sunsets, per se, when surrounded by mountains, but the setting sun can make the peaks glow like they’ve got a giant neon light bulb on the inside. When contrasted with the blue creek water and the trees lined on either side, it is a perfect ending to the day.
Several years ago I spent some time volunteering at a county jail. I was able to see first hand how our current incarceration system makes people worse. It is worse for the offender, worse for their kids, worse for society when the offender is released. Here’s hoping that we can work toward restorative justice and not punitive justice.
The trend is born of a dark flipside: The US, with 5 percent of the global population, now houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates, the majority of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.
Historically, conservatives have pointed to dropping crime rates during the past 20 years as evidence of the effectiveness of the take-lots-of-prisoners laws ushered in during the Reagan presidency and formalized in the 1994 crime bill. But experts say the relationship between prison populations and crime rates is a tenuous one.Research shows that the prison population growth has only had a marginal impact on the dropping crime rate, says Professor Deitch. This realization has come as the public has more broadly begun to acknowledge that over-policing and over-incarcerating means the US is “pouring billions of dollars into prison systems around the country, with not that much payback,” she adds.
Every meditation is filled with mental distractions. But some mornings, my mind seems especially impossible. Like there is a fog in my brain hovering over a sheet of ice atop of which all kinds of distractions scurry, slide and skate around like herds of little rodents. The mind is both slow and busy: it is too slow to react and too fast to keep track of. It’s easy during those times for me to feel that I’ve had a bad meditation, to feel discouraged or frustrated. But usually, having a lot of mental distractions simply means that I especially needed the time of silence. As such, the irony is that my worst meditation is sometimes my best meditation because it is most helpful for keeping me centered even when my mind is not.
Interesting article in the Atlantic on aging. In 1880, the average life expectancy of someone born in the U.S. was 39.4 years old. Now it’s about double that, and we still have a hard time squeezing everything in. =)
“Thomas Perls, a professor at Boston Medical Center who analyzes the genomes of centenarians, notes that Seventh-Day Adventists enjoy about a decade more life expectancy than peers of their birth years: ‘They don’t drink or smoke, most are vegetarians, they exercise regularly even when old, and take a true weekly day of rest.’ But what really strikes Perls about Seventh-Day Adventists is that they maintain large social groups. ‘Constant interaction with other people can be annoying, but overall seems to keep us engaged with life.'”
The Rockefeller family, which made their vast fortune on oil, has announced it will begin divesting from fossil fuel companies. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is joining other foundations and wealthy individuals today to announce pledges to divest from fossil fuel companies. Together, these institutions hold over $50 billion in total assets. In a statement, Stephen Heintz, an heir of Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, said, quote, “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: It is time to change the profit incentive by demanding legal liability for unsustainable environmental practices. Encourage governments to stop accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry. Such funds erode governments’ responsibilities as managing custodians of our world. Divest from fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy future, benefiting the world’s majority. It is no longer acceptable for any of us to seek to profit from systems and industries that threaten our values. Move your money out of the problem and into solutions.
One of my favorite contemplative quotes is, “love will heal you from the roots of sin,” from The Cloud of Unknowing. It is short and to the point, written by an anonymous Medieval Christian mystic. I think of sin less as my personal foibles and follies and more as that which harms and causes suffering — pain inflected on myself, others, or the world. I think it helps to view sin this way because it makes sin less about a showdown between myself and an angry god and more about the core of the issue: addressing the suffering and exploitation in the world. When I take sin too personally, I tend to become (ironically) a bit narcissistic, too self centered. When I view sin more holistically, more in terms of suffering and inflicting pain, then I am inspired by the antidote: love. Love is healing. Healing repairs suffering and seeks to end oppression, domination, and violent exploitation. Love heals us from the roots of sin. Love is a lifestyle and Way-of-Being that we slowly cultivate. It takes work but it brings healing.