I want to talk today about Meditation and Action. Even before this pandemic, I have been wrestling with the ideas and practices of contemplation, meditation and how these are linked to action. This particular time in our shared history brings this ever more present and crucial for me.
We all know that meditation, while subtle, is a powerful practice for waking up to ourselves…and to one another. We learn how to be present to our immediate experience. The more we sit still, the more the mind becomes calm and clear. Our awareness becomes less distorted and less judgmental. Our heart is more open and compassionate toward others. When we do get upset or thrown off balance, we are much quicker to regain our composure and find our seat amid all of life’s inevitable ups and downs. It is meditation that has helped me to find gratitude in the midst of this pandemic.
But I also believe this is not enough, especially now. We also need to act. But let me also say that without meditation or contemplation in our lives, our actions will not be as powerful or fruitful or done out of love, which I believe true positive change originates from.
I believe we are being called now, more than ever to bring about a revolution in our way of living our everyday lives. I love that some have called this the Great Pause. I also love that some people are acknowledging that we shouldn’t return to normal because normal was fraught with problems. So how should we return to our lives and living?
We live in a world whose people and the planet are in deep pain, and have been for a long time. Some of this pain is a product of economic inequality which the pandemic has made more evident. We have long known that millions suffer and die from hunger each year. Obama recently said in his speech to graduates, “A disease likes this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country, We see a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question, and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questions.” He goes on to say – what I believe is crucial here for us today – “Injustice like this isn’t new. What is new is that so much of your generation has woken up to the fact that the status quo needs fixing, that the old ways of doing things don’t work, that it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick, and that our society and democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves but about each other.”
Pope Francis declared May 16 to the 24th as the 5th anniversary of “Caring for Our Common Home”. He too asked people to respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
The pandemic has shown our willingness to make sacrifices – at least to some degree – to protect our fellow humans and we have shown the same willingness to make even small changes to protect and heal our earth.
The most curious of all lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. Our special gift is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire populations of life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that.
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide.
Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me. The human love that works to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the love that comes together in defense of the ocean and of all else around us that is good. The love that lets each of us see we’re not the most important thing on earth, and makes us okay with that.
Over these past several months I have witnessed many examples of this love. While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those that others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
No longer should we be asking – how can I maintain my special and secure status – instead the question needs to be how can we all grow and change together.
The transformation we need cannot happen internally without also happening in the way we live our lives. Likewise, the need for external transformation must not preclude inner development and peace. The two must go hand in hand.
The practice of mindfulness, the practice of meditation, consists of coming back to ourselves in order to restore peace and harmony. The energy with which we can do this is the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of energy that carries with it concentration, understanding, and love. If we come back to ourselves to restore peace and harmony, then helping another person will be a much easier thing. Caring for yourself, reestablishing peace in yourself, is the basic condition for helping someone else.
I believe the time is now to vision a new society, a new way of being. What aspects of returning to normal can we take a deep breath on, allowing new possibilities to grow up around us like wildflowers? It is the well being and sustainability of our communities, wherever we live, that gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. We need to put forward a vision of the world we want. And what better time than now? Contemplation and meditation will help us create this vision and will give us the tools to put the vision into reality. Ordinary awareness always essentially betrays itself and returns to its usual picture of self-defense and self-justification. That is why mediation is that much more important today.
Maria Shriver recently asked in her online blog, What are 3 wishes you have for the world. A friend of hers responded with – that we become better listeners in politics and in our homes. That we commit to service and that people continue to do more for others with no expectation of anything in return. And that we commit to human relationships, that family dinners become important again and that we spend more time with our friends – without our phones present. Another friend wished that America leads again with virtue and values, not might and money.
I want to pause for a moment. And I want you to think about what is your wish or hope? Take some deep breaths again and listen to your heart and soul.
Would anyone like to share their wish?
All of our wishes are entirely possible. We’re capable of all of them right now. They can be concrete desires that each of us works towards and activates in our lives and in our communities, right now.
Maria Shriver ended her blog by saying that she wishes that every person feels deeply loved, deeply seen, deeply understood, deeply heard and deeply valued in their homes and in our country. Because when you feel deeply valued, loved, seen, heard, and understood, you move through the world differently. When you feel that way, you intrinsically desire for everyone else to feel that way as well. You do whatever you can to make it possible for others, one person at a time. That’s what moves humanity forward. That’s what makes a community and a country great. So that is the action – based on deep contemplation and meditation – that I am hoping for – a rebuilding of our communities into places that accept and cherish all of us!
Thich Nhat Hahn writes, To love is to be there, to be present to yourself, to those you love and to life. I know that all of us being grounded and rooted in love will have the power to change the world – community by community. It takes meditation AND action.