Song Story: I Am the Earth

April 27, 2016

Today’s song story digs into “I Am the Earth”, track #5 on our new “EARTH” album.

I’ve been a practitioner of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) for the last decade. I love this practice partly because meditation helps me manage stress, calm down, stay healthy (emotionally, mentally and physically), and put less toxicity into the world, and partly because I adore and am fascinated by the “insights” at the foundation of the practice — the truth of impermanence, the explanation of the causes of and antidotes for suffering, and the truth of interbeing.

Interbeing is basically the concept that everything is connected, and that there really is no such thing as a separate self. When we remember and then embody this fundamental truth of existence, we naturally cause no harm, because everything and everyone (people, creatures, plants, ecosystems, Earth) is inter-related, interdependent, interconnected — we “inter-are”.

When thinking about Earth and how we frame ourselves in relationship to her, and how we must shift from a power-over to a caring-for dynamic, the acceptance of the truth of interbeing is fundamental. For when we remember that we are literally part of Earth, that she absolutely is our body and we are simply an extension of her body, it is insanity to harm her, or her beings, or her ecosystems. For we are only harming our own bodies, hearts and minds in the process. Even our language becomes limited when we discuss interbeing — there’s no longer really any her, him, you, them, me, I…just, us!

When we in the womb, we literally do not know we are separate from our Mother’s body. Instead, we know that we are one with her. Then we come out, and the convincing sense of separation begins. It takes time, training, lots of experiences, and the development of the brain and senses to create the sense of “otherness” from our Mother and our surroundings that we characterize as reality. In some ways, growing up is the process of unlearning the fundamental truth of connection we are born knowing. But before all of that, we are immersed in and one with our world, not plagued by the fear, isolation, discrimination, and despair that eventually comes once we learn and decide we are separate.

But this separation is at some level an illusion. We truly are all interconnected. The air, the water, the soil, the sunlight…all of it is in us. We wouldn’t be alive without it. We are literally made of earth. The Five Mindfulness Trainings, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village, represent a vision for a global spirituality and ethic that really resonates with me. The first one, Reverence for Life, goes like this:

Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

Wow, do I love that! If we are seeing things clearly and accurately (Right View, or Wise View) we have the Insight of Interbeing, or the understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. And when we remember and embody the truth of interbeing, it is an obvious choice not to harm other beings, or the Earth. All ethical behavior flows from this understanding. All unethical behavior — and our own suffering, too — is a result of forgetting this truth.

So this song, “I Am the Earth”, is a deep exploration of the truth interbeing, through a simple, repetitive chant exploring all the ways in which we ARE the Earth and all her aspects, and the Earth is also us!

I am the Earth and the Earth is me…

I am the rain and the rain is me…

I am the people, the people are me…

I am the love, the love is me…

The chorus underscores the theme:

It’s the truth of interbeing
All things near and all things far
All things seen and all things unseen
We all inter-are

The music for this song is basically just an electronic drum beat and piano…simple! We were originally going to add more piano, and harmonies, and maybe other instruments. But it ended up being very mesmerizing like this, so we decided to leave it straightforward and trimmed down.

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

    • Listen to the song and sing along in call-and-response format, by echoing each line after it’s sung. And make up a dance move to represent each aspect of Earth as you sing along!
    • Draw a picture of yourself “as” Earth.
    • Make up your own version: e.g., “I am the flower and the flower is me.”
    • Teach the song to someone you love.
    • Lie down on your back somewhere on the Earth (outside if possible, but inside on the floor is fine, too), put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, close your eyes if that feels comfortable, and listen to the song, imagining yourself as one with the Earth, your body as part of her body. And relax into that embrace.
  • Consider an item in your home, and explore its path from Earth to your living room. What is it made of? Who made it? How did it get here? Did the sun, rain, air, soil, animals, plants have any part in it? What about the people that invented, built, shipped it to you? What about the people who designed and constructed the roads it traveled on, or made lunch for the person in the factory who built it? Notice the almost endless chain of connection.
  • Listen to our “Meditation for Non-Harming” with your family and think about how it relates to the “Reverence for Life” Mindfulness Training.
  • Practice non-harming in your everyday life!

I hope you enjoy the song, “I Am the Earth”! You can listen to and download (“Name Your Price”) the whole album, “EARTH”, below. And remember…WE ALL INTER-ARE!

Love,
Charity


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.

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