Essence: Silence

                                            “Silence is a source of great strength” ~ Lao Tzu

(Thanks to Jonathan Kingston and Natgeo travel for this image)

(Thanks to Jonathan Kingston and Natgeo travel for this image)

My attempt to quietly contemplate led to this week's musing on the tug and pull of silence and sound. Seeking silence in New York. Seeking silence in my mind. Both felt impossible. To the point where I shifted my attention towards the seeking of quiet, which felt more tangible. In my aim to cultivate quiet in my life I was met with noise - the chatter of my mind, the blaring music of my neighbor's TV, the screech of the subway tracks, the talk, relentless around me. And there is the necessity to meet social expectations and to engage  (I’m quite chatty, did ya know?). 

I realized that I could not alter my surroundings, so I focused on my own mind. I turned to meditation to hamper the chatter. At first there was a lot of lists- to dos, to wears, to packs. The bell would chime at 10 minutes and the organization occurring in my brain would just be slowing down. So I stopped the timer and let myself sit.  At around the 15 minute mark my mind would tire. I could focus on my breath. I decided to try using sound to help focus my attention.  I found a subtle crystal bowl and gong meditation that lasted for 20 minutes. I sat, I focused on my breath , and experienced the sound vibrations interacting with the energy released from the atoms of my own being. At around minute 17 I met with something. Something familiar, but also profound. Something that was of me, but also older, wiser, timeless. In the quiet, I met my spirit and it was so strong and wise and... 'wow I'm meditating for real! What should I eat for lunch?' GONE. This glimpse of what was lying at the core of a quiet calm mind was encouraging, if also fleeting. 

I used to feel connected to my intuition, my inner wisdom and guide. I felt confident of decisions and allied with my true desires. After years of medical training my confidence has been degraded. I'm constantly reminded that to know something is to have proof; to be an expert demands countless hours of reading and years of experience. Like so many others in the field I became uncertain of anything except that which I have memorized, committed to memory, and studied thoroughly. What I used to feel intuitively I started to feel there had to be scientific evidence to prove. 

Doctors are largely under appreciated, considering the selfless hours they pour into helping their patient’s; however, despite their years of training and expertise in the workings of the human body, many are also a little broken and isolated, and completely out of tune with their spirit. Today, doctors do not seem like the only ones who are fractured and undernourished by our collective unconscious. Men are taught to be unemotional and tough; women are taught to be small and scared. Children are taught to conform instead of express and create. Maybe this is why people want and buy to fill a void; take from Mother Earth without thinking of sustenance or preservation. Some become powerful by control and fear; others willfully let themselves be controlled despite the human desire for integrity and authenticity. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems.  All I know is that I saw my spirit guide for a brief moment and it felt good. I feel empowered and ready to connect again. To merge that quiet powerful force with the chatter box and grow towards my full potential – to face life's choices with less fear and confusion.

I went to The Big Quiet event today up in Harlem. Joining 1800 New Yorkers in a moment of meditation was incredible. After the meditation, there were performances by a number of musicians and singers. At one point a drum circle filled United Palace with soulful beats.  One man at the front of the venue stood up and started clapping and dancing wildly. My body wanted to join him in moving to the primal rhythm, but I was shy. I was on my own at the event, and not comfortable being solitary, dancing in my row alone. Slowly one by one people rose -  first as brave lone soles, then in groups. With the groups I stood, safe with the 25% of those standing to clap and sway with the beat. 

Lao Tzu said, “Silence is a source of great strength”. I had a glimpse of this strength within myself over these weeks of contemplation. It will take practice, patience and more quiet moments to connect more fully, but I’m dedicated. One day I want to be the first on my feet to dance to the beat of the drums.

Essence: Interconnected

" For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world" ~ F. Dostoyevsky

One day before the US election results were out, I chose to focus our contemplation on a Dostoyevsky quote on interconnectedness. The next day my adoptive country was split. My new hometown of New York City was filled with shock, tears, anxiety and fear. All around the country people with identities diverting from a 20th century male Caucasian normative questioned their safety.

While it is scary to think about how fear and small mindedness has been strengthening across the globe, it has been healing to spend the last few weeks contemplating how diversity promotes synergy and strength.  It is undeniable that as humans our fates are irrevocably intertwined with one another and our environment. Basic proof of this is seen in scientific dioramas of how our weather systems work. Our world is a large ecosystem – the sea and the air influence one another. Atmosphere can warm the waters, and exchanges of heat cause pressure fields in the atmosphere. Hurricanes and storms feed on this transfer, and the El Nino is a perfect example of how a single weather system can affect the whole globe. On a positive side, the oceans are the reason why we have as temperate a climate as we do, allowing for transfer of precipitation onto land promoting the beautiful flora and fauna that supports our lives. The theory of evolution distills the basic truth of interconnection – we have developed onto this earth due to thanks of over 4 billion years of slow growth and development of single celled organisms, plants, reptiles and then finally mammals and our closest ancestors – the great apes - all interacting with the environment and one another to prosper and support life.

Humans are blessed with great intelligent and ingenuity, but it seems that we lack foresight. We have become little kings unto Mother Earth. In our smog heavy cities, we fight one another for power and resources. While we hear of more species becoming endangered we continue to cut down forests to plant corn, then we marvel at the diabetes epidemic spreading across the globe. I’m not sure if its lack of time for contemplation of our place in our vast and complex ecosystem, or the limitations of our still evolving brains, but it seems we miss the interconnection again and again.

As the Trump presidency has started to become a reality in our minds, another battle is being highlighted in the media. The Dakota pipeline. To me this issue crystalizes human interconnection with one another and our environment. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has set up a camp to actively oppose the development of the Dakota pipeline; a pipeline that would cross North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois as well as go under the Missouri River. The tribe argues that the pipeline would not only damage religious and culturally significant sites for the tribe, but they are also protecting the region from environmental damage, and risks to the water supply. The US government and the developers of the pipeline, Energy Access Partners, argue that the 7.4+ billion barrels of potential oil in the region would decrease dependence on foreign oil, that pipelines are one of the safest methods of transporting oil, and that the development of the pipeline would provide 8-12,000 construction jobs, and bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income tax to state and local governments.

The Standing Rock Tribe has been joined by environmental activists, celebrities, and members of other tribes, to stand their ground and oppose the pipeline development. I have felt puzzled.

Do you ever look out into the vastness of the universe on a beautifully clear night – first you look at the stars and their beautiful constellations, and then ponder at the deep dark blackness that stretches on and on; eventually you start to think about your place in the universe, and it is dizzying. That is how I feel when I think about the Dakota pipeline. I have deep respect for the Sioux tribe. They are standing up for their land, their heritage, and Mother Nature. Protecting our environment is a cause I feel strongly about, and promoting the need for alternative and renewable sources of energy is imperative. But my pull to stand with them, to join those on my feed and post my support on instagram, to oppose big government in support of the beautiful land and its creatures, is halted. Frankly, posting my solidarity would feel hypocritical and uneducated. This issue isn’t just about the environment or the Sioux tribe. For the tribe, the issue can be distilled into an issue of protect their land. That argument is sound, that is their right. But me? Who am I to be on one side of this matter. Yes, I always side with Mother Nature in my heart – but what about my lifestyle? The global and US economy? International relations and safety? I recycle, I even carry a glass jar of water everywhere.  I also recognize that my lifestyle is hugely based on the access to crude oil – ease of transportation to see my family across the continent and my husband a state away, extra income to enjoy luxury items and eating out, products that make my life easier and more efficient.  And what about the devastation in the middle-east fostered by our reliance on their oil? What about the poor people in those states that need jobs to feed their families? I fundamentally support our need for more renewable sources of energy, and the need to fight and push for it. But, for me, the interconnectedness of these great issues is… dizzying.

image:http://solpurpose.com/tag/ira-ratry-art/

image:http://solpurpose.com/tag/ira-ratry-art/

In contemplating the theme of interconnection this week, diversity and synergy came up again and again. Forests and Jungles do not thrive with a single genus, they promote a myriad of different species to develop and thrive. There are countless examples symbiosis aiding in prosperity throughout our world – bees and flowers, fungi and trees, humans and our microbiomes. As humans, diversity is our strength, but short-term mindedness is our weakness. I don’t have answers, only a prayer to inspire hope in those reading.

 

I recently read an interview with a senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh, Phap Dung, who described his teacher's focus during significant global events: “he puts more effort into our community to nourish people with trust, compassion, love...The future is built with the present moment and how we take care of it. If you are fearful the future will be fearful. If you are uncooperative, the future will be divisive.” Phap Dung continued to describe the importance of community and mindful action in our present to build the future we dream of. My heart is filled with admiration and respect for the courage of those defying the Dakota pipeline, and I have great gratitude for their support of Mother Nature. At this time of change, we should be inspired by their courage. We are all interconnected, so if we all turn to our communities, and provide nourishment, compassion and love to those around us in whatever feels right for us I believe we can build a better future. We are diverse and so each of us will bring something different, and together we can be the rainbow warriors of the Hopi Prophecy: “there would come a time, when the earth being ravaged and polluted, the forests being destroyed, the birds would fall from the air, the waters would be blackened, the fish being poisoned in the streams, and the trees would no longer be, mankind as we would know it would all but cease to exist. There will come a day when people of all races, colors, and creeds will put aside their differences. They will come together in love, joining hands in unification, to heal the Earth and all Her children. They will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding and healing everywhere they go. “

Interview with Phap Dung, senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh:

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/11/22/13638374/buddhist-monk-mindfulnes