822nd Week: Honoring Our Earth-Kin
As I begin to put together the year-long offerings of audio meditations on my website, I’ve been thinking about the focus for the coming year. Lately, I’ve had a deepening awareness of the importance of experiencing all the other life on this beautiful planet as “earth-kin”. We are all related, all children of the same mother planet, and many of us humans have been taught that we are somehow superior or “more evolved” than our other earth-kin.
I recently read a book, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”, by Frans de Waal, that addresses this humancentric bias. De Waal offers many examples of how our research on other earth-kin has tended to orient to human assumptions and human ways of doing things. One of my favorite examples had to do with making a mark on an elephant’s face or head and then having this earth-kin look in a mirror to see if he or she recognized themselves. They didn’t and someone realized that the problem wasn’t that elephants can’t recognize themselves but rather that the mirrors weren’t elephant sized. Once large enough mirrors were provided, the elephants immediately recognized that something was on their face and responded appropriately.
Another example had to do with research on gibbons, where researchers decided that they weren’t as intelligent as other primates because they couldn’t do a particular task that required them to use their hands in a certain way. A young researcher noticed that the task was oriented to human hands and not to the way that gibbons use theirs. When the experiment was retooled to reflect gibbon digits and manipulation, not surprisingly they performed as well as any other primate.
It can be both surprising and startling to know that slime mold does very well solving the challenge of a maze, better and faster than some other kinds of earth-kin. It can also be surprising to know that some species chose to evolve toward more complexity while others chose to evolve into less complexity, each and all having their own style of measurable intelligence. Here’s a link to a quick video about slime mold moving through a maze and also creating a complex network of connections that match the design of the Tokyo rail system. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyzT5b0tNtkRead More “822nd Week: Honoring Our Earth-Kin”
893rd Week: A Meditation on Our Earth Family
One of the themes that has accompanied me throughout most of my adult life is how to support a shift away from our everyday humancentered thinking and behaving and to move toward the recognition that we are part of an Earth family. This kind of shift offers us a perspective that invites us to honor and respect the vast array of our other-than-human earth-kin, all the life and beings with whom we share this planet.
So much of Western philosophical and religious thinking has divorced our physical lives from our “spiritual lives”, holding an attitude that part of our journey here is to transcend this physical world. Thankfully, I think that this is no longer a dominant attitude to the degree it used to be, but it has been a source of great harm to our planet and our other earth-kin.
Thankfully, people such as Daniel Siegel, a psychiatrist who has become a dominant figure in the trauma resolution community along with others have developed approaches that challenge our tendency to put the individual before our collective. Here’s a link to a brief talk by Dan about his approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo8Yo4UE6g0
It orients us to our larger collective and is an important perspective to have in place when beginning to shift away from a humancentric and individualistic orientation. It invites us to collective well-being and it’s not a huge leap to include our other-than-human earth-kin as well as our human kin.
When I was in graduate school many years ago now, I wrote about what I called Psychoecology, focusing on the place of humans within the larger ecological context. I never developed it beyond that but there are many other people who offer perspectives that move away from humancentric thinking and behavior and I recommend exploring these more deeply if you are interested. Look up Animism, Pantheism and more on google.com. Here’s a piece from the BBC about humans and the natural world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gWGP34-4tY
And, many indigenous cultures have always experienced humans as part of Nature, as part of an earth family with whom humans must cooperate if we are to survive. Here’s a clip of the voices of young indigenous people who are involved in climate change efforts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nm8Ctb2w81Y
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I offer the following guided meditation that offers an opportunity to explore shifting away from humancentric thinking:Read More “893rd Week: A Meditation on Our Earth Family”
855th Week: Cultivating Empathy
As I thought about what to write for this week’s practice in conscious living, I found myself pondering the painful lack of empathy, kindness, and care that seem to characterize our human family’s interactions in my country. It has been quite disheartening to watch people focus so fervently on their own well-being and self-interest. For just one example, to know that countless people are currently losing their homes because they can’t afford rent due to the pandemic is heart-breaking. It’s as though we forget that we’re all in this together and that nothing happens in isolation or outside our collective social life.
This week’s practice may feel heavy if you choose to do it, but it also is a heart-opening and heart-expanding practice. Empathy requires our heart perception, even when it’s painful to go there, as it opens us to an awareness of the experience of others. Deepening empathy also deepens our sense of connection and belonging to a larger community of being. It expands our sense of identity beyond our personal self.
So, for this week, I invite all of us to deepen our experience of empathy. This means being able to imagine how something feels to someone else, to imagine how we would feel were we in their situation. For example, notice how you feel when you imagine that you don’t have enough food to eat today. Or that you are saying goodbye to your home and have nowhere else to go but out on the street.
Empathy can expand to include our other-than-human family, as well, and our earth environment as a whole system. For example, empathy might extend to polar bears who find that their environment is changing so drastically that starvation is a constant possibility, an ever-emerging reality.
Here’s a brief practice focused on empathy and it draws from the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness.Read More “855th Week: Cultivating Empathy”
667th Week: Practicing “Ahimsa”, Harmlessness
One of the truly challenging practices for many of us is to live with harmlessness, called “ahimsa” in Sanskrit. A question that arises is, how do we engage the world actively without causing harm? I remember someone once saying that the Buddha said it’s impossible not to cause harm in many small ways, simply by living. We eat other beings as food, we inadvertently step on insects when walking around, we use and then throw away many things throughout the course of our daily lives. And, when it comes to social action, how do we engage that if we have a commitment to ahimsa?
Read More “667th Week: Practicing “Ahimsa”, Harmlessness”
846th Week: The Qualities We Engender in Our Environment
I’m in the process of preparing a webinar for professionals on the subject of cultivating a sense of connection with the world around us. One of the things we contribute ongoingly, but usually unconsciously, is the essence, the quality of being that emanates from us in every moment, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. We add to the quality of the world around us by the qualities we radiate into our environment.
I’ve mentioned many times about the importance of the frequencies with which we resonate. So this practice will be a reminder to many of you, and I figure we can’t be reminded enough to pay attention to the frequencies with which we resonate in any given moment. For example, if we resonate with the quality of kindness, chances are that we will emanate that frequency into our environment and into the interactions we have with others along the way. Because of this, we may discover that we encounter kindness from others more often than we might otherwise experience. If we resonate with a quality of irritation or anger, chances are that we will emanate that frequency throughout ourselves and into our environment, and it will have an impact on the quality of our interactions with others as we move through any given day. Frequencies, qualities, essences matter.
I want to make a distinction between upsetting moments, jarring experiences, and blissful times of elation and the fundamental qualities/frequencies/essences with which we resonate on a deeper and more habitual basis. We all have moments of shifting emotions and up-and-down qualities of self-talk. That’s inevitable. What we can cultivate, though, is a foundation of qualities that we consciously choose, frequencies with which we want to resonate, frequencies/qualities we want to radiate within ourselves and out into the world around us.Read More “846th Week: The Qualities We Engender in Our Environment”