In my last blog I spoke about presence. Presence, this deliberately choice to be totally with and for another. A way of being in a space that our mere ‘presence’ says to the other that they are beautiful, special, loved – just as they are. We all know, possibly all too well, what it is like when someone is NOT present to us. So, Encountering the Heart means being deeply aware of the innate dignity of self and the other, choosing to come into the space of encounter as guest and then in that space to go further in choice to be totally for and with the other; presence.
There can be little doubt that we live in a unique time on planet Earth. Recently I was watching footage of teenagers walking through the streets of my home city Brisbane chanting Climate Change slogans. In my teenage years the term climate change was not even in the language let alone the science, spirituality, politics and economics of it all. Who would have believed that a virus originating in a market in a city in China could hold the world captive and change our lives dramatically? Who would have thought that ‘the war’ of the early 21st century would have been a war with terror the symbol of which may well be the twin towers burning in New York City in 2011? And who would have thought that a depreciation in the subprime mortgage market in the United States in 2007 – 2008 would have led to the greatest financial downturn globally since the years of the Great Depression?
About twenty years ago I was engaged in a conversation with a dear friend and they told me they were attending a Miriam MacGillis weekend down in Melbourne. I said, “Who?” Miriam MacGillis is an American Dominican Nun who is passionate about Eco-Spirituality and co-founder of Genesis Farm in New Jersey. At the time I was working with young adults in the Brisbane area inviting them into various forms of Social Justice activism and to live in deliberate / intentional community. So I shared with some of the young adults about this weekend and we registered for it; several weeks later found myself and eight others driving south in a minibus to an experience I knew very little about.
The first night and most of the Saturday of the weekend Miriam broke open the ‘science’ of our intimate, interdependent and interconnected relationship with the Universe and our planet Earth. The input was pretty scientific – not one of my strengths. But at the end of the day I was very aware that there is a roughly 13.7 billion year story or journey of our Universe and that ultimately every single thing we see around us is made up of the same molecular material; star-dust. So in a molecular way all we see is ONE. Many scientists and spiritual writers (eg Sallie McFague, Matthew Fox, Brian Swimme and more) have broken open this story and awareness that the Indigenous of every continent knew intrinsically within; that we are ONE with all that is. The insight of our Indigenous brothers and sisters was that this oneness was far more than molecular but a ‘spirit oneness’ – a complete whole oneness! On the Saturday night Miriam had us walk a ‘Cosmic Walk’ a huge spiral of rope on the floor of a very large space with candles placed at various places along the rope to represent significant events on that 13.7 billion year adventure; the first life forms, the first microorganisms, the first water droplets and more. Slowly over the course of that Saturday and night I was beginning to ‘get it’.
During morning tea on the Sunday I grabbed my coffee and cake and walked outside and found myself looking across a fence to a field next door that had a herd of dairy cattle munching away. Suddenly – I found myself crying – profoundly feeling the pain of the Earth and what we humans (unconsciously) had done to it. Since that time I have grown slowly in my awareness of the intimate interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life.
The other great theme that so many writers, poets, musicians and other artists are turning their energy to in our time is that of conscious awareness. Obviously the two areas are intimately linked; the interdependence and interconnectedness of all of life and the call to grow in conscious awareness. Eckhart Tolle (the Power of Now), Thich Nhat Hanh, Richard Rohr, Joan Chittester and so many other writers are all, in one way or another, reflecting that we as a species on planet Earth at this time are called to be profoundly aware of the present moment and from this awareness to seek ways to be in intentional reciprocal relationship with all of life. The American Indian chief – Seattle – writing in 1854 expressed much of the mind and heart set we are called to have at this time. While there is much conjecture as to whether Seattle actually wrote this piece it does not really matter; it is an excellent reflection on our relationship with all of life around us. I recommend you access the entire speech. One section of the address to the President in Washington reads;
“So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition – the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers. I am a savage and do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be made more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive. What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children that we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all”.
Here in my native Australia we have a similar narrative deep within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spirituality. Two words belonging to different Aboriginal language groups speak to what we are saying here. Uncle Bob Randall from Central Australia would say that his people speak about Kanyini. Kanyini is this deep interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life that we are talking about. But Kanyini goes a little further inviting us to care for Earth – for the whole and know we are responsible to it and for it.
“Kanyini is the principle of connectedness through caring and responsibility that underpins Aboriginal life, linking four main areas of responsibility: tyukurrpa (philosophy, Law and religion), ngura (country), walytja (kinship and family) and kurunpa (spirit, soul and psyche).
There is us, as humans who have been given the Laws of tjukurrpa to apply kanyini to all people. But this was never a restricting thing because the term ‘people’ means all of us. Right throughout my life, old men would point to a forest of trees or a grove of trees or just one tree and refer to it as people. ‘See that mob over there.’ This way of thinking could be referring to the kangaroos, trees, hills or humans. Any of us could be ‘that mob’ or ‘us mob’ could include the totality of that. Throughout my life I discovered, from other Aboriginal groups with whom I have lived, that having that idea of connecting with all things was quite common through the different Aboriginal nations.
Tjukurrpa is creation, the one time in the beginning when all things were created, and which we need to keep alive in the present. This includes not only the landforms and the original plants, insects, reptiles and birds, but also the social laws, the lore, which we have to live by. All this comes from tjukurrpa. This is the bigger consciousness of something that was and is the way to live, the way to live in harmony with all things. Living this is a matter of how we do things in the present. So when we think about time, it is only the now, the present, that is important. In each and every moment of ‘now-ness’ is where we live out the truth of the connectedness of kanyini”.
The other term comes from the people of Daly River. Here Auntie Miriam Rose and her community have coined the term, ‘Dadirri’. Dadirri is a profound, deep heart listening – a listening way beyond sound, a listening to earth, to energy, to feeling, to deep yearning – an all round all pervasive listening and in turn invites a heart response of respect, honour and walking gently upon the Earth – our mother.
So at this time on planet Earth the energy and spirit of the planet itself – the energy of life, is calling us to an expanded awareness and an expanded sense of presence beyond the human to all of life. Truly, all things are connected. In another blog I refer to Martin Buber and his I – Thou, I – It. For too long we have seen the environment, the web of life within which we live and move and have our being – as being an ‘it’ – something ‘out there’ that we can use and abuse to suit us. The planet itself is trying to teach us that all is connected, that the way we treat Earth ultimately effects us – we are not immune or separate from it.
My small home town is Proserpine, a sugar cane growing community in the north of Queensland. For decades my family have grown sugar, have fished on the Great Barrier Reef and run cattle. But now, even my farmer cousins are realising that to get the most from the land they must treat it gently and wisely. The fishing stocks on the reefs are depleted and in some cases coral reefs resemble a desert – a marine desert and they are learning to fish responsibly with a real sense of being ‘stewards’ of the whole.
One of natures great gifts is that it brings us into the now, into the present moment. Nature does this in a way that a computer or video game cannot. Have you ever found yourself in ‘awe’ at a sunrise over the ocean and beach, being carried to some higher place at the crystal clear sound of a bird in the early morning, been caught in wonder at the beauty of a flower or forest? Nature has this beautiful gift of bringing us to the now and helping us encounter the sacred. It is no accident that our forebears legislated for National Parks and Parks in the inner city.
So, if we are to truly encounter the heart we have to dance the awareness of presence beyond the human to all of life. We are called to walk gently, respectfully and with great awareness upon the Earth. We are called to wise stewardship living the words of Ghandi,
“Life simply – so that others may simply live!”
and seeing the ‘other’ as beyond the human. This exciting adventure begins with growing awareness that all is ONE. This is the starting place – a sacred starting place. I get annoyed at the term ‘Greenie’ – in fact someone reading this could label me a ‘greenie’. The label greenie continues the dualism that has got us into this precarious place. Dualism is a mindset that sets up polarities of us – them, in – out, win – lose and one of the greatest polarities is that of nature and human. We are the domineering power and energy that has dominion over the ‘it’ – the land, the sea, the sky. This is the very mindset that has led to the pain of the planet at this time. We are all called to be profoundly green! We are all called to transition to a mind and heart set of oneness with all.
This mind and heart set will invite us into a presence that is extraordinary. You will experience in this presence a wonder and awe beyond anything that you could imagine – something like that experienced at the birth of a child. As you grow in this awareness you will develop new eyes and ears. You will see the interconnectedness of all, you will experience it. You will hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the people of the Earth as one cry. You will begin to experience the interdependence of all of life, all part of the web of life and each with their own beautiful and unique part to play within it. If we can grow into this mind and heart set then our children and their children will truly grow to see the Earth as home in the most profound sense of the word.