Lovingkindness Practice: Concrete Action for the Chaos of Our Times

October 18, 2014

elephant-metta-borderI am constantly struck by how many opportunities we have as humans to be more present and more compassionate. We have truly been given a precious opportunity to continue growing up into more wise and loving creatures. This is one fact that helps me remain in love with and committed to life despite its outrageous challenges and seemingly never-ending pitfalls.

I hosted one of my JAMcamps this past Monday for 14 children ages five through eight. Our theme for the day was “non-harming”. In addition to singing songs and making art and books related to this theme, we practiced a little meditation I call Finger Meditation. Basically, we “promise” or set an intention that “we will NOT HARM people, animals, plants, the earth, or ourselves.” We also “promise” or set an intention that “we will HELP people, animals, plants, the earth, and ourselves.” And we simply commit to doing our best in these areas, and to staying present for opportunities where we can choose non-harming over harming, and choose helping over doing nothing.

These little children understand immediately the power and relevance of these promises and intentions. They comprehend deeply the necessity of making them. They unabashedly want to follow through on them. They literally shine with light and love as we discuss things like why it’s important not to intentionally squash a spider, why it’s a worthwhile endeavor to respect the incredible complexity and intelligence of an ocean and its creatures, why it’s crucial that we treat each other and everything with respect, why it might be a healthy choice to shake off our hands after washing them rather than use yet another tree-born paper towel. The brilliance, intelligence and heart I continually witness in the children I share time with gives me more hope for the future of our planet than most things. They GET it.

It is important for us to find and nourish these sources of inspiration, lest we fall into the traps of apathy, depression, overwhelmth, and fear. For apparently we have been born into a time of great upheaval, change, chaos, even darkness. Most of our political, economic, social and environmental systems are desperately off balance and increasingly sick. If you are awake to what is actually occurring, you certainly feel at times overwhelmed, paralyzed, confused, angry and/or apathetic. Yet we are tasked with the seemingly crazy and impossible job of making sense of all of this, while somehow continuing on with our lives with a modicum of equanimity, compassion, joy and ideally also a dash of optimism and a dose of helpful action.

So what are we to do about it all?

Obviously, there’s no “top ten” list to answer that question. Yes, we should change our light bulbs, but that can’t be where we stop. Unfortunately there’s no single big “fix” we can make in our own personal lives (like moving to the land), or in the workings of the systems of which we are an inseparable part (like gaining control of the Senate), that will turn this ship around. But there is very important work to be done in the world, so we do continue to make choices that are healthy for ourselves and our communities and our environment — some of them big and radical and transformative — and we certainly must continue to vote. And there is VERY important work to be done on ourselves — to awaken to and shatter the forces of greed, hatred and delusion within our own hearts and minds. This has always been true, and it is perhaps even more true and urgent now.

There’s a wonderful Pali word that speaks to this moment we inhabit and how we feel about it: samvega. It basically means, “a sense of shock, anxiety and spiritual urgency leading to wise action.” Certainly one of the best and most effective forms of wise action for us as human beings in the face of today’s immense challenges and the associated difficult emotions that come up for us is to continue and deepen our meditation practice. For this practice has as one of its fruits the strengthening and fortification of our ability to bring more presence and awareness to everything — every moment, person, situation, emotion, thought, experience. And the better able we are to be present, non-reactive, non-judgmental and clear, the better chance we have of behaving in a way that helps rather than harms.

We need to practice (ideally, daily!) in order to strengthen these tendencies and habits — in order to water the seeds of kindness, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and love inside of us, rather than the seeds of greed, hatred, fear, doubt and delusion which we all also carry within. Training our minds and hearts and changing ourselves in this way WILL ultimately change the “outside” world, for we are inextricably woven through with that entire world — all of its molecules, all of its energy, all of its beings and non-beings. There is no true separation we can actually measure. Inter-being is a fact. So the transformative effect of this work we do with and inside of ourselves in meditation practice is not something to underestimate.

Merriam-Webster defines crisis as follows: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention” and “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”. I just love this! For certainly, we are, here and now, alive during a time that “needs serious attention”. And certainly things are both “difficult” and “dangerous”. But notice the “better or worse” clause. It is as if the earth and humanity were infected with an acute disease, and we are right now at or approaching the height of the infection. In which direction will the illness go? Toward death, or toward life? Toward annihilation, or toward a great turning? I firmly believe we can do our part to turn this crisis in the direction of love and healing, starting from our very own meditation cushions.

One beautiful and effective way to fortify the mind and heart and create stability in your practice, especially during difficult times or when emotions are running high, is to practice Metta, or Lovingkindness, meditation, on a regular basis. There are some wonderful guided meditations available on the internet here and here and here, and you can read more about the practice here and here and here. The basic idea is to generate feelings of goodwill in ever-widening circles, beginning with yourself. The technique employed in the meditation is to repeat certain phrases over and over again, dropping them into your heart, cultivating this sense of wishing others well as you go along:

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace.”

In addition to a very beautiful way of loving and caring for ourselves, this practice nourishes the heart, stabilizes the mind, and is generally a comforting place to land. Certainly, we can all use all the comfort we can get these days. And the odds of us being able to find and cultivate this comfort within, taking charge of our own suffering and our own karma, are a lot higher than finding it in any leader or system or anything external for that matter. Yes, we have to mother ourselves. And, in doing so, we mother the world.

So, we must find ways to act, and we must find ways to sit and do nothing. Start off be getting inspired by some human beings practicing courageous and dramatic action in support of the healing of our earth — the Pacific Climate Warriors’ recent efforts in the seas off Australia. And then spend some time on your cushion, loving the earth by loving yourself, being kind to the earth by being kind to yourself, cultivating the wish for ALL BEINGS to be happy, healthy, safe and at peace. This is certainly something we can do.

October Mindfulness Tip: Practice Lovingkindness Often!
Experiment with adding a short (5-minute) or longer (25-minute) lovingkindness practice to your meditation schedule. Perhaps 2-3 times per week for the next month, replace your daily meditation with a period of lovingkindness. Alternately, you can end each of your regular sits with a short period of lovingkindness practice. Or even expand your practice to add a lovingkindness meditation on a day you’ll also do your regular mindfulness practice (For example, when I can make the time, I like to practice Lovingkindness in the morning, and do a regular sit later on. It starts my day off in such a gentle way and sets the stage for kindness and a more open heart all day long). This is also a wonderful practice to do as a “last thing” before you go to sleep. Get cozy, release your the worries and anxieties and stress of your day into the bed/floor/earth, and give yourself a little extra love! Finally, if it feels overwhelming to do the whole practice (starting with yourself, moving to a benefactor or friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, then all beings), just stay with yourself and practice there. You’re worth it!

I will leave you with a song. It’s about lovingkindness and sharing our love, all around. Sing it in the shower. Sing it with your kids. Sing it to your partner. Sing it to the trees and the oceans and the rivers and the skies and the breeze. And sing it to your very own heart.

I love you.


Riding the Wave of Impermanence

September 23, 2014

autumn-leaves-on-branch-cropSummer has come and gone once again. My mind travels back to my Wisconsin childhood and fond recollections of this bittersweet time of year — the air shifting to crisp and cool, leaves turning color and texture, our steps crunching and crackling as we walked home from school, the earth emanating pungent smells of transformation, sunsets arriving ever more quickly each day.

A certain melancholy permeates these memories, for this season called Fall always brought with it a tinge of sadness, probably due to the outward sense of loss visible everywhere — the barefoot freedom and comfort of summer replaced by a slight shivery chill and now-necessary jacket; leaves abandoning the mother tree to return to the earth; black criss-cross branches standing stark and lonely against the sky where before there had been only a vibrant sea of green; geese flying by over head, taking leave in search of longer days and warmer nights; and all earth-rooted beings turning to browns, golds, oranges, reds, and yellows, going out together in a fiery farewell blaze.

The word “fall”, in and of itself, has a poignancy to it, and implies a sense of loss. We usually fall “down” or fall “from” a higher place to a lower, or lose time or distance, or perhaps even injure ourselves when it happens. We fall from grace, fall short, fall apart. Fall implies change, and, semantically and mathematically at least, not always in a positive direction.

But “falling” is our reality. We are always falling toward the earth, falling toward old age, falling toward death. This does not have to be depressing. It can simply be “the way it is”.

For impermanence IS our reality. Everything changes. Everything experiences injury, illness and old age. Everything is born, lives, dies. Nothing escapes this cycle. Not us. And not those we love the most.

We know this, but somehow refuse to accept it on a foundational level. Despite impermanence being the deep and resonant truth of existence, so much of our suffering is brought on by our denial of it — our resistance to change, our inability to find equanimity in the face of the fact of persistent transience, our unwillingness to accept that we don’t have control over the external circumstances in our lives. For example…

My 15-year-old son, Jasper, sustained a concussion at soccer practice five weeks ago. The last month has been an emotional and logistical roller-coaster — attempting to research and figure out the best treatment options, making decisions about how long to keep him out of sports and school so the brain has a chance to fully recover, managing my deepest fears and worries about his well-being and future.

Things had been going so smoothly for him up to this point in all aspects of his life — soccer, school, family, social life. And when his injury occurred and everything came to a screeching halt, I resisted. Every cell of my being fought back against the reality that change was afoot, and a deep, monstrous craving for his return to perfect health (and fast!) was born.

My personal work this past month has been to find a balance between this Mother Bear craving/fear/desire/wig-out and the acceptance that he is injured, and will take some time to heal, and that there is no quick fix, and that the study and treatment of brain injuries are still baby science in so many ways (frustrating!), and that hardly any clear answers are readily available. I have had to find some sanity underneath (and despite) my mind’s deep resistance to the fact that “this is really happening”.

This situation is one where suffering obviously will occur for everyone involved. But, as always in life, I have some control over how bad the suffering gets. I can choose to calm my mind and heart, and gather the strength to be Jasper’s advocate, the courage to believe he can heal, the patience to be present for the process, whatever it looks like, and ultimately the acceptance that much of this is out of my hands. The alternative is to completely lose it and become a tornado of fear and neurosis that is harmful to my son, my family, and my self. So I’m going for the first option. To the best of my ability. And that’s where the practice comes in.

We practice meditation every day so that when the crises in life hit, we have a foundation of sanity from which to act. We practice dissolving our beliefs in our thoughts, fears, stories and worries, so so they will not define us and drive our choices. And we practice acceptance of impermanence with an act as simple as watching a sensation in our body appear, transform, and disappear. This is happening all the time, with our breath, in our bodies, with our feelings and thoughts, and in our everyday lives. Rising and falling, rising and falling, rising and falling. All of it. All of the time.

One of my favorite quotes (attributed to Ian Maclaren) goes something like this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Maybe a more non-violent phrasing is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is falling apart.” It can be sad to fall. We feel it in the rawest recesses of our tender hearts. So we love, and we live, and we let go. We accept the reality of impermanence, and that “there’s nothing you can hold for very long.” (Hunter/Garcia, Stella Blue). And we try to do it all from a place of wisdom, clarity, sanity and kindness. And this is called being alive.

Here is a beautiful story from Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life), reminding us of the inevitability, beauty and even joy inherent in impermanence:

autumn-leaves-falling-bkgdI asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’”

That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf.

The leaf, our children, our own tender hearts — we have so much to learn from all of these teachers about impermanence and everything else.

Thankfully, Jasper is doing much better. He is on a healing path, back at school, still slightly symptomatic but improving every day. His mood and attitude have been amazing throughout. We are accepting the reality of his injury and also holding positive thoughts and wishes for his health and well-being and recovery. As always, he has been one of my greatest teachers throughout this process. Along with meditating on impermanence. I highly recommend it. Here’s how….

September Meditation Tip: Ride the Wave of Impermanence
Sitting in mindfulness practice provides a wonderful opportunity for improving our ability to notice and accept the ever-changing nature of all phenomena. We can see impermanence most obviously with the breath. The breath is always moving, in and out, in and out, no two breaths identical. Another place to look for and practice befriending impermanence is with sensations in the body. The next time you have an itch while meditating, don’t scratch it. Rather, bring your full attention to it. Watch it as it grows, or shrinks, or moves. Get intimate with the sensation in a way you never have before. And eventually, certainly, it will recede. Without you having anything to say about it. You can watch any bodily sensation like this: a pain in the knee, an ache in the back, tension in the shoulders, tingling in the feet. Whatever the sensation, bring all your mindfulness to it and just watch it transform. It may pulse, throb, shift, grow, shrink, move, etc. Nothing stays the same. Everything is constantly in flux. This, too, shall pass. Believe it, accept it, and watch your suffering decrease as a result!

Take Time Out for Difficult Emotions

August 20, 2014

“The point of spiritual practice isn’t to perfect yourself; it’s to perfect your love.”
— Jack Kornfield

My kids started school this week, with all the attendant excitement and nervousness. Their feelings around it were somewhat complicated: a mixture of gratitude about getting back into a rhythm with friends and teachers, plus excitement about new opportunities for learning and expanding and socializing, combined with the dread of homework and the loss of free time to follow their heart’s desire that summer represents.

It is always a bittersweet transition as a parent, comforting and upsetting at the same time. I am always left wondering if I have done right by my kids, by requiring them to spend the better part of their waking life in school, despite my own internal resistance to how the education of our children is often approached and handled.

Thankfully, this somewhat anxious wondering always transforms after time into a remembering of one fundamental truth: we cannot “protect” our children from life. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we cannot create the “perfect” life — in terms of external circumstances — for our kids. We need to do our best to set them up well, and then realize that heartache will come, in one form or another. And that this is not bad, and it doesn’t mean we have failed. It just means we are — all of us — alive. And that as long as we remain authentic and present for and madly in love with them as they go through life’s challenges and ups and downs, this is truly all that is required.

One of my favorite books is When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. Notice that the title reads “When” rather than “If”. Things WILL fall apart. Our job is to continue the work of “perfecting our love” so we have the best chance possible of meeting the tough times (our own, loved ones’, and those of strangers, too) with understanding, compassion, acceptance, and truth.

And just as we cannot actually protect our loved ones from pain, neither can we protect ourselves from bad things happening, or from our difficult feelings. We do ourselves no favors by armoring ourselves against the pain of being human. We do ourselves far more favors by opening ourselves to the tenderness of being alive — learning how to sit with difficult feelings, learning how to let go of control of circumstances outside our control, learning how embrace ALL of our experience.

This is what meditation has the power to teach us, through repeated practice of simple techniques like staying with the breath, bringing our mindful awareness to our difficult emotions, learning how to accept our thoughts but not be dominated by them. There is huge relief and healing in these practices. And when we practice — really practice — we find, bit by bit, that we are perfecting our love.

Meditation Tip: Take Time Out for Difficult Emotions
The next time you feel a difficult emotion coming up, actually put effort into carving out some time to just sit with the feeling. It could be a feeling of sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy, grief, loneliness, anxiety, worry, or anything else uncomfortable. Rather than pushing it away or down (denial), being upset that it’s happening (aversion), or moving into story about it (enmeshment), just sit with the feeling itself, allowing it time and space to have it’s natural movement through your body and heart. Resist attempts to disappear into thoughts and ideas “about” the emotion (a running commentary analyzing why you feel this way, whose fault it is, how you’re going to fix it), and instead stay with the energy of the emotion in your body: what does it feel like? where in the body do you feel it? is it changing, staying the same, growing, shrinking, disappearing? Just “hold it”, like you would a crying baby, caring for the feeling with a non-attached, kind, strong and patient love and presence. And see what happens!

Mother’s Day 2014: Resolutions for The Great Turning

May 12, 2014

J&S@beachnbobaMother’s Day has come and gone once again — an occasion to appreciate and thank our mothers, or celebrate our children, or spend time with family, or take a break from family and care for ourselves, or be grateful for a reconciliation, or sometimes grieve the loss of a mother, or a child, or mourn a damaged bond. Whatever your experience with the day is, it can inspire a moment of reflection on the nature of the relationship between mother and child. And provide an opportunity to observe the health of our hearts in this area.

The greatest mother of all is our planet Earth — our very home, hearth, womb, and provider of all we need to survive and thrive. We transition from mother’s womb to Earth’s womb when we are “born”, but we are as dependent on this bright blue ball for survival as we were on Mama’s fertile haven. We share air, sunlight, water, and nutrients with this beautiful and generous planet. We receive and return. We are, fundamentally, inseparable.

The Earth Mother meets us always with infinite care and unconditional offerings of self. And yet we are failing miserably in our part of the equation — to protect, care for, honor, cherish and heal this earth body. Yes, WE. For while the most massive environmental and human rights assaults are committed by governments and corporations that seem outside of us and beyond our reach, we in fact are the very components that make up and support all the forces creating our future, even these seemingly external and untouchable ones.

Yes, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that our daily choices are contributing to this mess. We call it Climate Change, but, as we well know, the ramifications are far more vast than a simple transformation in the earth’s weather. In my darkest moments, I’m tempted to call it something more foreboding like The Beginning Of The End, but I ultimately prefer how beloved Buddhist teacher and social/environmental activist Joanna Macy reframes this era as The Great Turning:

“The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits–in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.

A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.

Whether or not it is recognized by corporate-controlled media, the Great Turning is a reality. Although we cannot know yet if it will take hold in time for humans and other complex life forms to survive, we can know that it is under way. And it is gaining momentum, through the actions of countless individuals and groups around the world. To see this as the larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage.”Ref.

There is so much scary truth but also sublime inspiration in these words. She goes on to recommend Personal Guidelines for The Great Turning, for this is both a personal and collective journey, an awakening of heart and mind we must go through, working with our fear and overwhelmth and apathy and guilt and shame and helplessness to get to the other side — the place where we can actually DO something about it.

Last year on Mother’s Day I wrote about Lovingkindness and the Beloved Community and our responsibility as members of this human family to practice love and goodwill toward all beings, even those we believe are “the problem” (including ourselves!), with the inspiration that this practice is at the heart of ending violence in our world.

This year, I want to share with you some of the Mother’s Day Resolutions I’ve made over the past several years. I’ve committed to these resolutions specifically with the intention of healing the earth and my relationship with her. They always begin with a behavior I want to shift in order to contribute to the healing of the earth and to lessen my impact, and come from a place that is unshakable, and rooted — literally — in our interbeing with this precious planet and all her inhabitants. And it turns out that this act of love seems to survive in my heart more successfully than something I decide to change for me alone.

I make them at this time of the year rather than on Jan 1 because my deep and sacred love for the earth and humanity feels immediate and real, in a way that the concept of an arbitrary date on the calendar does not. Besides, the origin of the Mother’s Day holiday has at its soul the grandest intention and inspiration of all — working to create peace and end violence in a world gone mad. Now that is a resolution I can really resonate with.

So if you care about the earth, if you want to remain awake and engaged during this scary time, if you want to do something positive for the planet and future generations, I suggest considering some of these changes. In my own life, they have worked magic as daily practices of love and goodwill toward the planet, increasing my capacity for kindness and authenticity and shrinking my store of guilt and fear and helplessness.

And while they’re not always easy, that’s part of the practice, too. Who ever promised there would be no effort or sacrifice required on our healing journeys? And even the act taking a good hard look at any resistance you might find can be a valuable exercise, and possibly the first baby step in shifting something, however incrementally.

Resolutions for Loving the Earth:

  1. Go vegetarian. Whatever your spiritual, political, or philosophical opinions are on the topic of vegetarianism, it’s a mathematical fact a meat-based diet uses far more of the planet’s precious resources than a plant-based diet. So in a world where people are starving and we still tear down rain forests and destroy native habitats and abuse and incarcerate animals to support our addiction to meat and animal products, it makes common sense to stop eating it, or at least reduce consumption drastically. (And the same resource math also applies to “happy cows”, by the way.)
  2. Go vegan. See notes on #1 above, as they all apply. And veganism will shrink your carbon footprint even further.
  3. Divest from fossil fuels. This could mean putting your retirement savings in sustainable investments like green mutual funds, impact CDs, or solar projects. It could also mean identifying one place per week you could ride your bike or walk or take the bus rather than driving your car. It could also mean buying less stuff, almost all of which is produced, packaged and shipped using some form of fossil fuel.
  4. Meditate every day. This is the surest way to love yourself, wake up, see more clearly, build emotional resiliency, remove obstacles, feel a little more happiness, make more ethical choices, and find equanimity in the face of the enormous and potentially terrifying challenge we currently face. And when we inhabit these realms we are kinder to everyone around us, including the planet. See my last blog post for some more reasoning behind this one.
  5. Take care of your body every day. This can mean 20 minutes of yoga. Or a mindful walk through your neighborhood. Or the bike ride in #3 above. Whatever works for you to make a practice out of being in your body. One side effect is obviously physical health. But the result I’m even more interested in is the joy of reconnecting with our physical bodies, as metaphor for reconnecting with the Earth. How we treat our own body — with love and care, or abandonment and abuse? — will directly influence the kind of energy we are capable of bringing to our planet’s body.

If something resonates, go for it. If you have a better idea, go for it. If you find resistance, sit with that. We have to start where we are. And it takes an immense amount of courage to face our contribution to another’s suffering, including that of the planet — and especially if we are complicit in it — without just sticking our heads back in the sand. So we are brave, we are strong, we are full of love, and we are waking up!

I’ll end with a jarring yet accurate reminder from the past and a people who understood interbeing in a way we have sadly and clearly forgotten:

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” — Cree Prophecy

Let’s remember our responsibility, and the fact of our interconnectedness. Let’s relearn how to care for this planet, our collective body. Let’s start with a deep heart-analysis of our current relationship with the Earth — the ways in which we harm her in our daily life, and the baby steps we can take to repair all of this.

She loves us, unconditionally. Let’s return the favor.

And as always, I’ll leave you with a song. This one was a love song for my babies, Jasper and Silas, back when they were little and sweet and still sat on my lap for stories and mixed magic potions in the mud and wore capes that really gave them the power to fly. They’re still sweet, and they still constantly amaze me with their wild and deep spirits and infinite capacity to give and receive love. They have taught me almost all of what I know about love and life. And they are of this earth as much as they are of me. Here is a moon hug for all of you, your mothers, your children, and all beings.

Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.



brothers_littleMoon Hug

come here
I’ll give you a moon hug
hug you all day long
and all night wide
while star kisses
rain down around us
we’re catchin’ ‘em here in our hearts
now we’re shinin’ inside

like the mountains
climbing tall
like the ocean
waves that fall
like the wind
breathing through
that is how I love you

like the sun
huge and hot
like the tiniest
like the buds
opening new
that is how I love you

like the roots
diving down
like the branches
reaching ‘round
like the forest
standing true
that is how I love you

like the earth’s
gentle turning
like the stars’
fiery burning
like the moon
round and blue
that is how I love you

from Party Like a Twinkle Star, released 01 January 2010

All content copyright 2009-2014 Charity Kahn.

Earth Day 2014: The Morning After

April 23, 2014

It is an uncommonly peaceful morning. I’m sitting in my sunny living room which is clean for once, walls joyfully papered with the marker-and-crayon musings of my own children and those from JAMcamp. My glowy-green matcha is the perfect temperature and especially yummy. I hear seagulls singing while they fly and little birds chirping on the wire. A mellow incense fills the air — a gift from a long-lost college friendship recently restored. This is a rare calm and happy moment, and I am appreciating it.

But despite appearances, all is not right with the world.

motherearthtree_cropEarth Day received a lot of press yesterday. Many scary and earnest emails and articles made their way around the internet, pairing the ways in which we are in climate-change-related dire straits with recommendations for doing our part to clean up the mess. It feels good to see the most important topic of our time finally discussed in a wider way and with the urgency required. It is heart-breaking to open up to the reality it describes. It is terrifying not to really understand how we as individuals can help turn this ship, the ice berg now so close we can taste it. We are humans, parents and citizens of the most resource-intensive country in the world. We care, but we also contribute. We don’t want our children to suffer. We don’t want anyone’s children to suffer. We don’t know what to do.

The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“concluding four years of intense scientific collaboration by hundreds of authors from around the world”) finds that “the world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming.” Yet, as the New York Times states, “However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

We are being silent. We are being small. We are not really talking about it. Biking more and replacing our lightbulbs and signing petitions against Keystone XL are all important, and we should all absolutely be doing all of that. But something more drastic and immediate and powerful is additionally required, certainly from our governments and corporations, but also from us, individually.

Of all the analyses I’ve read, the Buddhist view and approach is the only one that gives me any real satisfaction; the only one that truly gets at the ROOT of what’s going on, how we got here, and how we can move through it; the only one that describes a path that feels possible, holistic and sensible; the only one that tells the whole truth. If you have a few minutes, read this article by One Earth Sangha in its entirety, and see if you agree: “The Earth as Witness: International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change”. Here is an excerpt:

“The Dharma (body of teachings from the Buddha) informs us…that craving, aversion, and delusion within the human mind are the root causes of vast human suffering. Just as these mental factors have throughout history led to the oppression, abuse, and exploitation of indigenous peoples and others outside the halls of wealth and power, craving, aversion, and delusion are also the root causes of climate change. Climate change is perhaps humanity’s greatest teacher yet about how these mental forces, when unchecked in ourselves and our institutions, cause harm to other people and the living environment. Led by industrialized nations, the desire for evermore material wealth and power has resulted in the reckless destruction of land and water, excessive use of fossil fuels, massive amounts of solid and toxic waste, and other practices that are disrupting the Earth’s climate. However, by acknowledging and addressing these internal mental drivers, we can begin to resolve the external causes of climate change.”

The statement goes on to discuss the importance of engaging in ethical conduct which honors all life and helps to restore the Earth’s ecosystems. This includes making healthy and loving choices when it comes to our own consumption and behaviors, and also speaking truth to power and standing up to those interests that block the path to putting the same forces of love and peace in motion on a more global level. It requires ENGAGING, both in our own process, and in the processes at work in the world that threaten to destroy our planet and its inhabitants.

The statement also reminds us of the path and practice of mindfulness, which will make all else possible, and without which, I increasingly believe, we are lost. When we regularly employ some form of mindfulness practice, we are strengthening our ability to pay attention, to rest in kind awareness, and to gain understanding and insight. We begin to SEE the greed, hatred and delusion in our own being. We begin to notice when our thoughts, words and actions may cause harm to another, while simultaneously growing our capacity to choose a more ethical approach. And we get deeply in touch with the lack of separation between ourselves and each other, and between humans and the earth. When we are in connection with the truth of interdependence, it becomes much more difficult to stay asleep, wear the veil, and just say, “Whatever.” Apathy and denial become more painful than the alternative. And we awaken.

So my recommendation for “Earth Day 2014”, for whatever it’s worth, is to meditate. Every day. For even 1 minute. Sit in your body. Relax your shoulders and your belly. Find your breath. Come into this moment. Drop the worries and stress and fixing and planning and remembering and regretting and blaming and judging. Stay with the breath. Listen to the breath as if your life depended on it, because it just might. Do this for a few moments every day. This practice plants seeds. They begin to sprout. More practice waters them. They grow stronger and taller and sweeter. They are made of love and kindness and joy and healing. This is the garden our earth needs.

Do this alone, and do it with your children. As the Dalai Lama famously said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But it certainly cannot hurt to introduce our children to a practice that at its core nurtures compassion, kindness, mindfulness, awareness, and the reminder that we are all one. And it is certainly beneficial to teach our children how to tune in to themselves, so they have the opportunity to learn first-hand that true and lasting happiness comes from within, rather from something or someone external.

And what to do about the fear? The bottomless, overwhelming, vibrating anxiety and terror that can come up when we really dive into the truth of what we are doing to the planet, and what this might mean for ourselves, for our children, for all children, for all beings. Meditate with that, too. Sit with the fear. Feel it in your body. Name it. Acknowledge it. See it. Hear it. Embrace it. It is beautiful. It is an echo of your true self speaking out, screaming that something is out of balance. Stay with it. Love it. Heed its message. Certainly, this way, you will have a better chance of moving through this difficult emotion to whatever’s on the other side (ethical action? acceptance? equanimity? love? insight?) than if you avoid, resist, push down, shut out, numb, medicate, or otherwise block it. It is better to face the truth, no matter how painful. For in the space created by the willingness to see things for what they truly are, we receive the healing.

And the final teaching in this moment — perhaps always — is the reminder of impermanence. We can meditate every day, we can drive less, we can be kind, we can buy organic, we can buy less, we can engage in political action, we can remember the breath. And this will all help — certainly it will help us be happier people, and maybe it will even help the world turn into love. But it is also just a FACT that everything changes. We will age. We will get sick. We will die. We will lose the people and things we love. And our unwillingness to accept these fundamental truths of existence is often the greatest source of our suffering. So put energy and time and intention into planting seeds of love and kindness within and without. And then let go of any attachment to outcome. This, too, is mindfulness. Purposefully being present for what is actually happening, in the present moment, without judgement, without the need to manipulate or control, without expectation. Sitting with discomfort and not running away. If there ever was a time to get good at this, that time is now.

We are literally, in this moment, on the brink, at the edge, under the gun, hanging in the balance. What will we choose to do about it? All may not be right with the world, but neither is all lost. We have our bodies, we have our breath, we have this moment, we have our love. Let’s put them to good use.

In the interest of providing support so this work doesn’t feel so isolated and lonely, I have created a FaceBook page called We Are The Ones where we can find each other and relate around these intentions. If you would like to join me in a commitment to start or continue a regular daily meditation practice, for the sake of our own sanity, and for the future of the planet, please visit me there. I will be posting daily, sharing quotes, resources, tips, observations, and opportunities to meditate in community, both virtually and in person. We can celebrate and support each others’ practices with our virtual Sangha (community), and embody our intention to meditate daily for the benefit of ourselves, all beings, and the planet.

SOTM_TheReminderAnd I will leave you with a song. It’s from the lullaby half of our double album Party Like a Twinkle Star, and is called The Reminder. You can download it for free, or just listen. It is a love song to our children, the earth, the universe, each other, ourselves. No separation, no beginning, no end. I bow to the light within you, for it is the same light that is within me.

I love you. See you on the cushion.



The Reminder (lyrics)

you are the sky
you are the mountain
you are the water
you are the fountain
you are the moonlit meadow moss
under my toes

you are the bloom
you are the butterfly
you are the sundown
you are the morning light
you are the proof
that something inside of us knows

you are the moon
you are tides turning
you are the galaxies
you are stars twirling
you are the road
everything comes, then it goes

you are the nugget
right at the heart of things
you are this moment
empty of everything
you are the song
that rises up
and forever grows
on and on and on and on and on…

you are the wind
you are falling leaves
you are the soul that shines
you are the heart that grieves
you are the raindrop
you are the ocean
you are the magic words
you are the potion
you are the message
speaking through everything
you are the sage who smiles
you are the child who sings
on and on and on and on and on…

Consumption Meets Compassion on Halloween

October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013 is here. Hello creativity, greed, magic, consumption, playfulness, unconsciousness, celebration, exploitation. Has there ever been a more complex tradition in the history of humankind? For parents, especially, the contrasts and the conflicts inherent in this holiday affect our families directly, and are begging for our attention.

So if Halloween is your favorite holiday and you don’t want to spend any time thinking about the associated problems, you might not want to read any further.

But if you, like me, have some anxiety about what we’re teaching and allowing for our kids and our communities on this day every year, maybe some of these thoughts will resonate, or be helpful, or inspire ideas YOU can share to shift things in a different direction on down the road. I’m all ears. This is not an easy one to figure out.

boysinwheelbarrowardenwoodfarmsLets’ start with some happy, grateful thoughts! Here are the things I appreciate about Halloween:

  • I love the magic and joy and excitement and creativity leading up to and surrounding the day itself.
  • I love seeing my kids and all kids get inspired about dressing up and taking on a persona for the day, and ideally making or recycling at least part of their costume.
  • I love carving pumpkins (or letting the squirrels carve them!)
  • I love discussing with my kids the history of Halloween, and its roots in and associations with Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and onset of winter) and Day of the Dead (the ancestor-honoring festival celebrated in Mexican and South American cultures).
  • I love walking around outside with my family and friends in the brisk chill of late autumn, while the sunlight fades from the sky and the candlelight shines from so many one-of-a-kind jack-o-lanterns, celebrating together a magical moment and memory-in-the-making in our children’s and our lives. Beautiful!

Shifting gears now! Here are the things I fret about:

  • Americans are estimated to have spent $2.4 billion on Halloween candy this year, with 75% of that being chocolate candy of some sort. That is an insane amount of candy! Some estimates say it’s about 600 billion pounds — of nutrition-free, unhealthy, non-food that rots teeth and guts and harms humans and the planet. What else could we be spending that money on? And I always wonder how much of it ends up in the landfill, after all that? The amount of waste and mis-used resources is overwhelming to think about.
  • Most popular chocolate manufacturers are not fair trade compliant and, despite ongoing pressure from communities and human rights organizations, have not evolved their policies to protect children and people in general. And the waste and environmental issues involved in candy creation are not insignificant. These are huge corporations not necessarily following good environment practices or holistic and sustainable business models. When we purchase and eat this candy, we are supporting their violent choices with our money and actions.
  • There are lots of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and dyes and otherwise unseemly ingredients in most of this candy. In addition, of course to the requisite sugar. What does this do to our kids and to all kids, both in the moment (can you say “bouncing off the walls”?) and longer-term?
  • Even if you participate in some sort of buy-back program (like Operation Gratitude) via your dentist or directly, you’re still sending the candy somewhere. Someone is going to eat it, and Operation Gratitude’s web site says that much of the candy sent to the troops is handed out to local children to “build relationships”. So it can rot their teeth and guts while we buy friendship with candy? I think we’re missing the point here. How about we bring the troops home instead, and offer humanitarian aid to impoverished communities world-wide in the form of healthy, nutritious food? We certainly can afford that, if we can afford to buy $2.4 billion in candy every year.

So what are we supposed to do about this dilemma?

If we let our kids eat all of their candy, it’s unhealthy for them, for other beings, and for the planet. If we don’t let them eat all of it, what do we do with the candy that’s left over, since its very existence is unhealthy for people and the planet, and just trashing it is so wasteful? And if we go to the extreme and refrain from allowing our kids to participate at all, we are potentially marginalizing them in a way that is hard on them socially and doesn’t solve the deeper problem anyway.

FThallMy response this year will be to let my kids have at their candy for a few days (within reason…no uber-binging, as my personal philosophy is just to not allow that, in any context), and then collect the remainder in return for a couple of delicious fair trade organic chocolate bars of their choice, to be eaten and enjoyed leisurely over time.

And accompanying that action will be perhaps the most important piece of all: a lot of discussion about all the topics mentioned above in the “fretting” paragraph…everything from why buy fair trade, to why eat organic non-GMO food, to why make choices not to consume more than we need, to what happens when corporate and human greed is allowed to go unchecked, to the biggest one of all: how do we, as individuals, families and communities, make ethical and loving choices in the context of a consumption-based culture that is constantly messaging, modeling, pushing and embodying the opposite?

Finally, after I trade in my kids’ candy for those organic fair trade bars and I’m left with a big pillowcase full of nastiness, what are we gonna do with it?

The best idea I’ve heard so far is to let the kids do science/cooking experiments and really get messy with it. Cutting, melting, freezing, soaking, mixing, blending, chopping, stirring…whatever! Another good possibility is to make art with the left-over pieces, maybe even inviting a bunch of families to pool their left-overs and make a huge collaborative piece — a community-based awareness-raising “collage of compassion” or “sculpture of sustainability”!

Or maybe we’ll just compost the insides and recycle/trash the outsides, making note of how much of the earth’s rare and beautiful resources went pretty much directly into the landfill as a direct result of this tradition. Quite often, the truth hurts. And feeling that pain is not a bad thing. For touching suffering with a tender, open heart is the beginning of being able to experience true compassion.

I am not interested in penalizing or punishing my children for being born into this culture or getting swept up in its hallowed traditions. And I don’t want them to feel bad or guilty about their participation and the joy they experience while celebrating it all.

But I do want to raise them in a way that allows them to open (and keep open) their eyes, wake up, and always be at least be aware of the consequences of their actions. I want them to understand that no matter what the cultural norm is, they always have a choice to act independently and from their hearts. I want them to remember that their bodies and the body of our precious earth and its plants, animals and minerals are deeply worthy of their love, protection and stewardship. And to know that it is well within their power to choose compassion over consumption, in small or big ways, again and again.

The word “hallow” means “to respect or honor greatly; to revere.” Let’s reclaim that definition, and insert as much respect and honoring and reverence for all beings and the earth as possible into our observance of this day. I hope you all have a magical night under the stars with your beautiful children. I’ll be out there walking around with you, knowing that we are together shifting and transforming and moving always closer to love, one tiny thought, word, action, or little piece of candy at a time.



Imagine What a Whole Day of Ceasefire Would Mean to Humankind

September 20, 2013

jamcamp_peacesign_0611It is the eve of the International Day of Peace — a.k.a. “Peace Day” — originally created in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. Their goal was “to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as the whole of humankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways.” [*

Peace Day is also a day of ceasefire — both political and personal. Given what’s going on in our world — i.e., more and more violence rather than less as time and life pass and we hurtle around the sun — we could absolutely use a day devoted to political and personal ceasefire.

We obviously need more than just a day — we need a lifetime, an entire future, of moment-by-moment and ongoing ceasefires. But since that’s apparently not our reality right now, we have to start somewhere. So let’s start with a day, and let’s start with ourselves.

As the folks from the Culture of Peace Initiative put it, “imagine what a whole day of ceasefire would mean to humankind.”

Yes, imagine that.

From that spaciousness, who knows what healing and transformation might arise.

Here’s an easy and beautiful way to mark the occasion of Peace Day with your family, while joining with a worldwide community of peace-loving people: As part of Peace Day 2013 (Saturday, Sept 21), millions of people around the world will practice a global moment of silence at noon in each time zone. Let’s join this beautiful intention by doing our best to remember to STOP what we’re doing for a few minutes at noon tomorrow, and perhaps take four mindful breaths, calm our bodies, minds and hearts, find a bit of peace inside, and then breathe this sense of peace outward into the world around us.

I can’t seem to shake that old hymn from my head right now…”let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…let this be the moment now.” For it is as true a cliche as any: if we want world peace, we must start here and now with ourselves, and the violence that occurs right in our own hearts and our own minds, in the form of anger, greed, judgement, reactivity, hatred, jealousy, and all the many and varied forms of delusion we humans experience and indulge in.

So if we truly want peace, we must accept that part of our work here on this planet is to practice creating peace inside ourselves, and we must help our children learn how to do the same. The results of our commitment to and experiments with peace in our immediate sphere will certainly emanate outward and go a long way toward creating peace in our relationships and interactions with others, and, by association, in the world at large.

This is a beginning, and a very fine place to start.

Here is a very simple practice you can use to cultivate an energy of peace and calm any time within your self, or within your family. It is also useful as a grounding exercise after experiencing a period of wild emotions (tantrums, sibling fights, parent losing her/his cool, etc).

To set the stage, you might choose to have a little “peace chat” with your child(ren) exploring the meaning of the word, some examples of how it manifests (or doesn’t) in your daily life or in the world, and why it is an important value or quality.

Here are some thoughts on peace and possible inroads to a conversation with your child:

Peace is relaxed, calm, spacious, and the absence of tension or anxiety. Peace is relief — relief from conflict, turmoil, pressure, pushing, pain. Peace is harmony, and agreement.

You can think of peace as if it were a beautiful song in which all the parts resonate and blend together to make a lovely sound. Outer peace occurs when people get along, work together, collaborate, co-operate, work in harmony, behave with compassion, listen to each other, and refrain from judgement. Inner peace occurs when our mind takes a break from the drama it so enjoys creating — when we get the monkey off our backs, even for a moment.

Ask your children to describe some times where they felt a sense of peace, inside or out, and what that experience was like for them.

The opposite of peace is disagreement, disharmony, argument, tension, fighting, conflict, war — whether without or within.

Ask your children to describe some times where they felt a lack of peace, inside or out, and what that experience was like for them.

Now here is the practice.

Peace Meditation

Sit with your child and say:

It’s time to enter our quiet bodies. Our quiet bodies are always there waiting for us, like a cozy bed or comfy chair, to land into and relax. Your only job is to sit and pay attention to your breath. If you feel strong emotions moving around inside your body, that’s ok; just let them be there and remember your friend, the breath.

Now, take a deep breath. On the in breath, say to yourself, “Breathe in the peace”. On the out breath, just relax as completely as you can.

Now place your hands on your head and say, “I have peace in my mind.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Next, place your hands on your heart and say, “I have peace in my heart.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Then, place your hands on your belly and say, “I have peace in my body.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Next, place your hands on your thighs/knees and say, “I have peace in my family.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Finally, fold your hands together, or hold hands with each other, and say, “We have peace in our world.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

After this, it is nice to take four mindful breaths together in silence.

Relax and sit for a few moments noticing the sensations in your body. Smile at each other ;-)

May you be peaceful!

With love, Charity


All words copyright 2013 Charity Kahn.


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