Mind And Morality: Where Do They Meet? An Essay by Larry Merculieff

I have had a traditional Aleut (Unungan) upbringing in the Bering Sea which guides me in writing
this essay
My people were in the Bering Sea for over 10,000 years, and we are still there.
From an indigenous person’s perspective, I find the question to be critical in terms of the
violence around the world today in all its forms and the continuing decline of life support
systems of Mother Earth. The questions we ask about our plight as human beings are central
to where we go from here. Alaska Native Elders say that we must look at the root causes of
our challenges and not at the symptoms. The root cause of our plight is disconnection from
our hearts—which inform our minds, and our minds then direct what we do.

In today’s society, we are focused on how the brain works and what it produces.
The qualities of mind, according to The Free Dictionary, deal with “thought, perception,
memory and decision.” Merriam-Webster defines mind as “the organized conscious and
unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism.” If this is the case, where is the heart?
The “heart” I am talking about is the inexplicable aspect of us that is in connection with
the divine and guides us impeccably. “Heart” is the source of correct thinking and being.
Einstein is quoted saying,
“we cannot solve the problem with the same consciousness that created the problem.”
I would argue that the consciousness of the mind, as we define it,
is the consciousness that created all the problems faced by humans today.

When veterans returned from Vietnam, thousands came back with a peculiar disorder that the
doctors had to deal with. It was invisible until they put a name to it:
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The vets took to addictions and other behaviors: drinking alcohol, taking drugs,
watching TV for seventeen hours a day, and even isolating themselves in the wilderness or in other ways.
Most of these veterans had depression. They used these coping behaviors to try to escape from their
reality of remembering the horrors of war. To escape required detaching from the present moment
because it was too painful. One definition of an addiction is a strategy to escape the present moment.
These veterans used this strategy to detach, as much as possible, from the heart.
Native Elders say that this is like creating a big stomach that is always hungry and is never filled;
the result is addictions.
The Elders also say that when we swallow feelings we create a stagnant pool inside ourselves
and these stagnant pools create depression. The addictive behaviors were passed along from generation
to generation for coping with anything that hurt one’s spirit, and these behaviors remain with us today.
The addictions, one can argue, are society-wide wherever we take without thought to the consequences
and do harm to others and to Mother Earth.

Prior to the “beginning of time,” all people had an internal guide for how to behave and how to think.
Time began when we focused on guilt, shame, remorse, anger, rage, jealousy, and like feelings; or fear,
which is a projection into the future of something that has not happened yet.
Time began when we focused anywhere except the present moment where the “heart” can be found.
Instead, we simply replaced the present with feelings of the past or future, and so we live there today.
Someone once said, “God can be found in the silence between one’s thoughts” and,
according the Depak Chopra, “the point of power is in the present moment.”
Native Americans say that one who lives in the present moment
is the “real human being”: one who is whole, who knows their place in the world.
In the names they gave themselves as a people and cultures, Alaska Native peoples call themselves
the “human being” or the “real human being.” They understand that human laws and the study of morality
are creations of those who live outside of the present, necessitating that these things be memorialized
and made into laws and fields of study because they have forgotten how to be integrated into life as
real human beings. In the time before time began, we never had prisons. Why? We never had to deal with
human-caused things like warfare, felony, and climate change—the destruction of the life support systems
of the planet.
Why? We never invented the term “sustainability” as a concept to guide how we interact with the earth.
Why? Simply put, the Indigenous Elders say these society-wide struggles stem from a memory lapse:
we have forgotten how to be “real human beings” guided by divinely-inspired laws for living.

We need to listen to these Elders who know. They say that “nothing is created outside [of us]
until it is created inside first.” We are in conflict outside because we are in conflict inside.
We judge others because we judge ourselves first. We criticize and find fault in others because
we are finding fault inside of ourselves first. And we trash the environment outside because
we trash the environment inside. As long as this kind of consciousness exists,
we will never create anything truly new, inside or out.

So, where do the mind and morality meet? The answer is the heart, which directs our individual thoughts,
feelings, and actions if we have the “ears” to listen to what it is saying in any given circumstance.
It is the only aspect of us that guides without doubt or hesitation, and it guides us perfectly.
How do we get back to being heart-guided people? The Elders say that the model for our cultures
should be a two-year-old child. The two-year-old cries when she feels like crying; she laughs in the moment.
When she is angry, she deals with it in the moment, and then she is fine.
Two-year-olds are masters of moving energy.
We need to remember how to move energy to be real human beings’.

Quoted  from Humans And Nature

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We Are Made For These Times by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered.
They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now.
Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the
degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while
endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded,
the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your
spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly
because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning,
practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened
souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across
the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the
history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.
Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the
long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber
is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended
in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by
dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there.
That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet
great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear.
Didn’t you say you were a believer?
Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater?
Didn’t you ask for grace?
Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend
the part of world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to
another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.
It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip
toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more,
continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace,
but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second,or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to
stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul
throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire.
To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy
toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

I hope you will write this on your wall:
When a great ship is in harbor and moored,
it is safe, there can be no doubt.
But that is not what great ships are built for.

By Clarissa Pinkola Estes
American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian Psychoanalyst.
Author of ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves.’

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Making Friends With The River by Bruce Garrard

The Black Line Initiative has arisen as a result of the film ‘Aluna‘ and interest raised in the Kogi people of northern Colombia.
The (much delayed) general release of the film towards the end of last year coincided with two significant things. One was a series of dramatic events – including a massive and lethal thunderstorm – in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where the Kogi live; this has convinced them that they need to be proactive in working with ‘little brother’, the people of the modern world, in making efforts to turn back the tide of ecological destruction that is now threatening life on our planet. The other was that the film’s producer, Alan Ereira, found himself inundated with messages from people all over the world saying ‘great film, but what can we actually do?’

The result is the Black Line Initiative, which is just beginning to take shape. In Kogi terminology the ‘Black Line’ is the connection between everything, both physical and spiritual, and in this particular context the link between people all over the world who are committed – within the context of their own local environment – to being part of making the necessary global change. The Kogi are preparing to give direct support to people working in their own localities around the world. This initiative, inspired by the thinking and actions of the Kogi themselves as indigenous people, is different from what we would think of as a ‘political movement.’ The Kogis’ exhortation to ‘make friends with your local river, forest, mountain, desert …’ directly addresses the key problem of modern peoples’ disconnection from the natural world – physical, emotional and psychological. The Kogi are particularly concerned that we should look after our rivers. All this has arrived just as my own project with the River Brue is picking up momentum. I have compiled a history of the river over the winter, and I am planning a five-day walk from the source of the River Brue to the mouth of the River Axe over midsummer in June.

Back in the 1980s, the Kogi had appeared in Alan Ereira’s film ‘Message from the Heart of the World’, to say that the way we treat the planet has to change otherwise it will not survive, and neither will we. The only rational, intelligent thing would be to do as they suggested. At that time, as many people were pointing out, humanity was at a cross-roads; we could go this way, and sort out the mess, or that way, where the consequences would be unthinkable; and we were bound to make the right decision, we are such an intelligent species. But we didn’t go this way, and neither did we think about the consequences of going that way. We sleep-walked towards the abyss. Another quarter century of environmental destruction ensued. The Kogi called back Alan Ereira and made another film: ‘Aluna.’

So, back then it was urgent; now, it is beyond urgency. Perhaps it’s too late. What can we do? What’s the point? But there were the Kogi; they’d called back Alan Ereira to make another film, to re-state their message in a new way – and, in spite of everything, they clearly weren’t giving up. An important part of this message, I had heard, was that we have to look after our rivers. I went to see the film in a crowded café in Glastonbury; and in the mean time I had been thinking about my local river, the River Brue. In the middle ages it had been diverted and the source cut off from the mouth of the river; once it had joined the River Axe and the two had continued to the sea as one substantial stream, though not many people know that now. ‘Aluna’ woke up a feeling that they must be joined back together, at least in a spiritual sense, this connection must be re-made; and people must know. By the end of the film I knew what I had to do: I must go to the mouth of the River Axe and find something, whatever it might be, to take to the source of the River Brue, as an offering. It seemed like a mad idea, but the sense of needing to do this, that this was absolutely the right thing for me to do, was very strong. All of a sudden I was on a mission.

The mission was inspired by the Kogi and their film ‘Aluna;’ it was given shape by the Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and his ‘four point plan.’ Llewellyn has written a lot about what he calls ‘spiritual ecology,’ pointing out the growing crisis that is overtaking the natural world is also a spiritual crisis, that arises from our culture’s materialism and disconnection from any spiritual reality. His message, certainly as it relates to the natural world, is much the same as the Kogis’. Those who have taken note have asked him, ‘What can we do?’ At first he would simply say that it was not for him to tell people what they should do; they should look within and follow their own guidance. But one day in what he described as a moment of inspiration he came up with a ‘four point plan’ for how we can creatively approach this situation on the material level as well as the spiritual.

The four points are: witnessing, grieving, prayer, and action. The first point, witnessing, is actually asking us to stop habitually trying to ‘do’ anything at all. To witness, with awareness, what we and our culture have done to the world. To look for no outcome, no result; to refrain from trying to fix things, but to thoroughly acknowledge how things really are. The second point, grieving, is to allow ourselves to fully feel the pain arising from that witnessing, that understanding of what we as a species have done. This is the honest and appropriate emotion that we must feel, and in a strange sense – in the situation we are in – the greatest gift that we can give to the world. For those of us who are products of white, middle class, English culture, trained through our up-bringing to keep it under wraps, this will not be easy. Praying, even more so. I do not understand or relish the idea of an act of prayer. It is embarrassing. But I am beginning to suspect that the world situation is by now beyond what we little humans can figure out and put to rights ourselves. We, after all, are the problem; not the rest of the world. Perhaps our best hope is some form of divine intervention. Llewellyn tells us that prayer, as a cry from the heart, arises naturally from our feelings of grief. All I can say for now is that I am prepared to go there and find out. And finally, action. Once we have re-oriented our minds through the practices of the first three points, and not until then, not until we can think in a genuinely different way about the task at hand; then we will know what to do.

So far I have made what I think is a good start on the witnessing, and I have been doing this in two inter-connected ways. First, by walking along the river, getting to know it, making friends with it. One friend took me kayaking on the river; another encourages me to go swimming in the river with him. Gradually I am building up an intimate knowledge of the river, what it looks like, what it feels like, the shape of the land through which it flows. The other is by reading about the river and subjects related to it; its history and natural history. I am compiling the river’s story, and it is very interesting. It is a story that mirrors the story of the world.

The River Brue is a disconnected river. Quite literally: the medieval monks effectively cut it in half. And the disconnection is metaphorical too: once the river flowed past the island chapels of saints in a consciously sacred landscape. It was changed from a river to a canal, and finally to a drain, its perceived purpose simply to get rid of the water. In times of flood, water can be deadly dangerous, but that doesn’t stop it being the stuff of life, the most essential ingredient for all living beings – and also the flow of existence. The Somerset Levels are drying out and the millions of birds that once lived there, or visited on their migrations, are year by year disappearing, dying. The river and its story makes an allegory for the whole of the natural world.

Inspired by the Kogi I went walking along the river, sometimes on my own and sometimes with groups of friends, bit by bit during the summer walking the whole length from above Bruton down to Glastonbury, then across the moors where only remnants and ditches remain to show where the river once flowed, into the Cheddar valley and along the River Axe. Finally I visited the mouth of the Axe at Uphill near to Brean Down, where I collected a handful of beautiful sea shells tinted in a variety of pastel colours. I took them to the source of the River Brue, where there is a little stone structure like a miniature shrine to the river goddess, and I gave these sea shells to the water as the offering that I had intended, what the Kogi would call a ‘payment.’ I cannot explain quite how or exactly why, but the result was extraordinarily profound. Somehow, in my mind, in ‘Aluna’ perhaps, I was making a first step towards healing that disconnection. In the silence that followed the river quietly said that it was pleased.

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Four Element Breath Exersise from Sufi Chivalry by Pir Zia Inayat Khan

Aligning with the Four Elements:

If you would befriend the four element greet them each morning after rising.
Stand before an open window or outside.

Turn your entire attention to the breath.
Breath in through the nose and out through the nose 5 times.
This is the breath of Earth.
The direction of its current is horizontal, like the ground spread out before you.
Its colour-yes as your inner eye opens you will find that even the breath has a colour- is ochre.
Feel the bones in your body: these are the stones in you .
Sense your flesh: this is your loam.
Hear the rumbling call addressed to your skeleton by the granite and sandstone in the ground,
and the answer your skull and bones intone. The qualities of earth will show themselves to you,
God willing, and you will touch the virtues of patience endurance and humility.

Next breath in through your nose and out through your mouth 5 times.
This is the breath of water.
Its direction is downward, as water flows.
Its colour is green, the colour of the sea of oasis and the genius of water himself Lord Khidre.
Feel the pulsing flood of blood and lymph surging through your arteries and veins.
See how the waves in your veins are a piece with the storming, gushing frothing deluge
that tumbles across continents and seeps into all things.
Witness the unbounded generosity of water.

Now breathe through your mouth and out through your nose 5 times.
This is the breath of fire.
The direction of its current is upward, the direction of the flame’s flicker.
The colour of the fire breath is red , the red of burning coals and tongues of fire.
Feel the heat of your body, how it warms your flesh and sends its radiance into the surrounding space.
The sunlight warms all that it touches.
The whole of the earth and all who walk upon her are bathed in the sun’s glow,
warmed to the marrow of your bones.
Fire is vision in the mind and ardour in the heart.

Finally breath in through the mouth and out through the mouth 5 times.
This is the air breath.
The current of air is zigzag, moving inscrutably this way and that.
Its colour is the blue of the sky, the azure of sublime immensity.
Feel the sky engulf your body, rendering it insubstantial- pure breath.
Give yourself over to the exaltation of freedom from every earthbound encumbrance.

When you have finished, return to your natural respiration, sensing the presence of earth, water,
fire and air balanced within you.

Saracen Chivalry

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Musings On The New Earth by Ronel Geldenhuys

The substance of the new earth that was born permeates everything. It is the substance that makes it possible for someone like Anna Breytenbach to speak to animals. Others suddenly know the healing properties of a plant they encounter. We each have our own intimate way to enliven and work with it.
Whatever our personal way of doing this, it is essential that we craft our future from the intimate… connection with this substance. The deeper we grow in our understanding of it, the more we live in the new world that is being born. It is not everyone’s talent to speak to animals, but we might find our way is a conscious understanding of something we have known all our life, not connecting the dots to make it conscious. More often than not we will think that everyone else knows and have our understanding, when actually our knowing is meant to be our particular gift in the choir of all the songs coming together.
This is a whole new understanding and an incredibly exciting venture opening up for each one of us that want to live in and create what Eckhard Tolle had called The New Earth, others called the new Golden Dawn. Whatever we call it, this world is crafted and expanded as each one of us enter our own deepening understanding and experience of it.
I have seen how an organisation can be run, guided by this connection. I believe that one’s individual purpose and life mission can become a sweet dance with this substance. The more aware you become of it and listen to it, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more it nourishes you and the purpose that you are living.
The more you are aware of this nourishment and consciously commune with it as a global entity nourishing and feeding all others who participate, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more it sustains all others who had discovered this sweet secret.
Those who had entered her delicate and delightful presence, who had been blessed enough to walk and move and be guided by this very aliveness that brings magic to life, should never look back.
As we grow in our understanding of the truth being hidden in fairy tales, I can see this experience of life is what was portrayed when a whole kingdom came alive after 100 years of sleep in when the prince kissed the girl who pricked her finger in Sleeping Beauty. The various stories of the toys that come alive at night, also touch on this quality.
Sometimes it is just like that for me. Sitting in a room, every piece of furniture comes alive. It is almost like they sit there in humorous presence, waiting for me to interact with them. Being in this matrix, one can know when a washing machine breaks if it is a small thing to be adjusted, or you can feel the energy field of the machine had left and it had died. If a bird flies into the window, you can know whether its neck had been broken and it is time to die, or whether it is just in deep shock.
These are just some of my personal experiences.
I know there are much more to this than we have discovered. Everyone will have their own unique experiences. Bringing these personal stories together will enhance the understandings of others, growing them to grow the whole to enhance others…
There will be huge power in groups coming together to sit in this power and nourish the earth.
All the canvassing and struggle to stop people from abusing our animal kingdom, fracking our earth, and letting our species go extinct is taking on the problems on the same level that they were created. Imagine the power of a group holding these problems in mind, and then giving it to this magical presence that ultimately belong to the Divine part of the earth.
The essence of all transformation on an individual level is the bringing of a problem to an inner part that spins at a high frequency, to be transmuted. In groups, says Llewellyn Vaughan Lee, we can now do the same for the Earth.
Coming together in groups to do this work could be our only chance of salvation after the collective global choices we have made in the last couple of years.          Ronel Geldenhuys director of Living It South Africa

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Shall We Stop All The Talking? Justine Huxley

Justine Huxley writes:  “I’ve just returned from four days in Oxfordshire where I had the privilege to take part in the Call of the Time programme.  Call of the Time brings professionals in areas of global influence together, to look more closely at the spiritual dimensions of transformation in relation to major issues of world concern.  This year the organisers (who include Peter Senge the dialogue pioneer) took the brave decision that instead of dialogue, the programme would be focused around 48 hours of silence.

There were twenty of us, from at least eight different spiritual traditions, and several different countries – China, Tibet, India, Europe and the US.  Our home for the weekend was a stunning two hundred year old mansion set in acres of lovingly tended gardens, meadows and woodlands.  We were fed delicious home cooked food, slept in luxurious bedrooms overlooking miles of rolling countryside, and rose before dawn to meditate, either together or alone.  We were treated to the gift of time and silence.  And our community included a nonstop chorus of birds, from dawn to dusk and through the night, whose song was made infinitely sweeter and more audible by our own wordlessness.


Silence and silent retreat are a significant part of my own practice, and have been for 20 years.  Silence feeds and informs my work as it does every aspect of my outer and inner life.  However, this was the first time I had been offered that experience in a multi-faith setting with the explicit intention of nourishing and deepening the work we all contribute to and the networks we convene.  It was also the first time I’ve shared retreat with a group of professional partners and collaborators (such as Marianne Marstrand from Global Peace Initiative of Women, Scherto Gill from Guerrard Hermes Foundation for Peace and others). The weekend marked a turning point, a response to an inner inquiry that has been with me for a while, partly influenced by our programme Re-imagining the Sacred.  My question now is how to integrate its fruits into my own work and the life of St Ethelburga’s, and this blog is a reflection on some of those thoughts.

Doing nothing

It seems to me that at this moment in time doing nothing is at least, if not more, important than doing something.  Empty space, and how we create that, might need to be much higher up the to do list.  In fact, personally, I may start an Anti-To Do List and give it equal attention.  There are so many reasons to take this seriously.  Consumerist culture has built our future on economic growth and has all but destroyed our collective relationship with what is most meaningful in life.  When we are overly busy, the chances are we have been unconsciously sucked into that paradigm.  Busyness doesn’t just hinder our sense of reverence for life, it actually contributes to the destruction of it.  Even if what we are busy with appears to be very worthwhile.

A long-term view

As the ‘moneyless man‘ Mark Boyle, pointed out to us when he came to the Centre last year, being busy can also be a way to avoid fully facing the situation we are in collectively.  Scientists have now shown us that climate change is irreversible.  Anyone who has counted extinct species, seen images of Tar Sands or the pollution of the Ganges, knows in their heart of hearts, that humanity has lost more than it knows.  We will never see those species again, and it may take longer than our own life time to clear up this mess.  It’s not easy to look that in the eye and feel the pain of it.  As Mark suggested, many of us who have given our lives to build a better future, can end up using busyness as a way to avoid sitting with the grief of it all.  Yes there is, as Charles Eisenstein says, a ‘more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’.  If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.  But whereas for the last fifteen years I’ve expected to see that world and live in it before I die, now I take a long term view, and make whatever contribution I can for the sake of future generations.

That is not a small change.   I’ve been involved in interfaith dialogue for over ten years, and have always seen it as part of a bigger work  of values shift.  I love being part of a vibrant network of change agents who seek to transform the way we think about difference.  I’ve loved engaging with diversity, collaborating across divisions, learning to see conflict as a window into systemic change, and making my small contribution to a world based on understanding our ‘interbeing‘ with each other.

But now I’m questioning my own priorities and what is really possible.  Walking in the glorious gardens and woods at Global Retreat House, listening to the poetry of larks, and nightingales and owls, made something clear to me.   In the past, I experienced the outer world of nature and the inner world we touch in prayer and meditation as full of magic and secrets and intimately inter-related.  These days, I find both those worlds depleted in painful and unexpected ways.   I am not talking about what is obvious – the absence of faith in God in mainstream life, or the road to hell that Monsanto or shale gas fracking are leading us down.  There is something else, something deeper, which seems to go largely unnoticed.  As if life’s miracle, its meaning, depth, and archetypal resonance – has been eroded while we have been either playing with our smartphones, or absorbed in increasingly desperate activism, or both at the same time.   As if the magic we are no longer supposed to believe in has given up believing in us too, and retreated into its own loneliness.  It feels important to notice that and bear witness to it  – how a whole dimension of life has been dramatically diminished, both inwardly through our denial of the unseen worlds and outwardly in our commodification and destruction of nature.

The Buddhist teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and Joanna Macy have both said that to save the Earth, we have to fall in love with Earth again. This weekend of forests and silence and birdsong, was for me part of that falling in love.  But it goes hand in hand with an infinitely painful awareness of what is gone.  Like falling in love with someone who is dying.  At the deepest moment of the retreat, a faint little melody arrived and sung itself in my head.  It took a while to realise it was Laura Cantrell’s melancholy folk song, ‘Bees’, about someone who returns to their old home and experiences a bleak, threadbare emptiness, and a longing expressed in missing the bees and the taste of their honey.  This for me is a reflection of where we are as a collective.  Missing a sweetness and meaning that used to be everywhere in life and now is increasingly hard to find.

Us humans and our words

Yesterday, with my diverse group of travelling companions, we emerged from our beautiful silence back into the world of words.  We rearranged ourselves around human language with all its wonders and pitfalls.  As a facilitator, I know how hard this can be to manage – to move from a depth of experience into the sharing of words and concepts, which so often take us into the mind – the ‘slayer of the real’.  While I was struggling with this apparent descent, a huge swarm of bees gathered immediately outside our window.  A dark little cyclone of heated buzzing amassed just a few feet from where we were sitting.  The swarm had arrived the day before and many of us had wondered at them and recognised their meaning for ‘the call of the time’.  But in that moment, the presence of the bees barely made a dent in our human dialogue.  We commented and carried straight on talking.  Somehow, very unexpectedly, that broke my heart and released a wave of grief I couldn’t explain.

This difficulty returning into a people-generated frame of thoughts and ideas led me to reflect on our place in things.  It’s easy to see how our Western conditioning has over the centuries, completely relocated the Divine and the natural world to the margins, and defined human desires and individualistic thinking as in charge, as what matters.  Society is set up like that and we are now so used to living that way, we hardly notice.  It is our human words and perspective that one way or another always dominate, rather than the much bigger picture we are woven into.

But what if it is not about us?   What if it is about existing in relation to vast unknowable mystery?  How can we as a society even begin to reclaim that way of being?  How can we step outside the paradigm of our own hubris?  What would it take for those two worlds to come together, for us to remember that this Earth does not belong to us?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  But what I learned this weekend was that it is possible for people of different traditions, with different beliefs and practices, to enter into that mystery deeply and experience it together.  And that this radical act of non-doing is infinitely more important than most of the things on my to do list.  As people of faith, as peace-makers seeking ‘reconciliation’ in the deepest sense, maybe our words, dialogues, ideas, networking, and plans for action that once seemed so vital, are now no longer the most important thing.  They may even get in the way.  Whereas simply being together, reaching into humble wordless dialogue with the Divine and with His beautiful creation, recognising what we have lost, reaching across differences and divisions of all kinds, joining hands and hearts to remember reverence for life and to protect what is most meaningful  – that, to me, is the Call of the Time.   I am hoping I can find a way, from within our particular mission and vision, to make this work more present at St Ethelburga’s.

With gratitude to the The Call of the Time and to our hosts, Global Retreat House.

 Justine Huxley’s blog

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Darkening: A Four Point Plan by Llewellyn Vaughan- Lee

The sacred moment of dying:

“However you look at it we are a dying civilization. We are , for the first time, one species that has almost destroyed a whole ecosystem.
We need to witness it with awareness and not pretend it is something else, because then we start to go into fantasyland, and we do not honour the dying that is taking place And all of the species and all the animals are giving themselves to this dying.
And if we are old enough and wise enough, and mature enough and stable enough in our (spiritual) practice, to witness this dying, maybe we can also be present with what is being born, or may be born later. We hold the seeds of the future. But if we are not prepared to welcome and witness the dying of our civilization how can we honour what is being born”

Darkening: A Four-Point Plan

One of the first responses I received to my recently published book, Darkening of the Light: Witnessing the End of an Era, was that it was “a tough read,” and “I wish he would have been clearer as to what steps we can do in our complex lives to try the best we can to return the soul of the world to its former strength and beauty.” Normally I am reluctant to tell people what to do, as we each have our own inner wisdom, our own guidance and way to reconnect with the soul of the world. But this request struck a chord and in a moment of inspiration I came up with a “Four-Point Plan” to respond to this darkening.
The subtitle of the book, Witnessing the End of an Era, is really the first of the four points: Witnessing—an awareness of what is happening in the inner and outer worlds. It means a state of awareness that sees without judgement, without expectation, without wanting anything, and in particular without wanting anything to change.
This is a very, very important esoteric spiritual practice—to witness, to watch. In Sufism the witness is called shahid. Part of our spiritual practice is just to watch—to witness. Initially you watch your self, you become aware of your self just through witnessing. You watch your reactions; you watch the patterns you live by. You don’t try to change them, because only too often when you try to change patterns you use the same attitude of consciousness that created them—then you just create a variation rather than any real change. It is actually a very important step “on the spiritual path not to want anything, not to try to change, but just to be aware. This gradually creates a quality of consciousness, or awareness, separate from the ego and its patterns, desires and fears—and is the beginning of bringing the consciousness of the Self into your life.
The work of witnessing that we practice on an individual level can also happen on a global level. Sufis have been called “a brotherhood of migrants who keep watch on the world and for the world.” We watch what is happening in the inner and outer worlds. The outer world is of course more visible, more directly perceived. But as mystics and spiritual practitioners we also have access to the inner worlds, the world of our individual soul and the world soul, the anima mundi. For example, through meditation you can begin to be aware of how the light within you changes, when you have access to more light, greater inner clarity. You may also become aware of how certain outer actions or inner attitudes effect your inner light, or how your generosity or loving kindness changes, grows or lessens depending on your behaviour—what Sufis call your adab. Just as you can be aware of these changes within your self, so you can become aware of changes within the Greater Self—your soul and the world soul.
We watch our self and we watch the world. Nothing is separate, everything is interconnected. And in today’s world it is much easier to keep an awareness of what is happening in the world. For many years I have begun each day with a practice of inner and outer awareness. I like to get up early, and I begin with a cup of tea, followed by meditation, followed by prayer.  In my morning meditation I create a receptive space and inwardly ask if there is anything I need to see or be aware of during the day—I am inwardly attentive. Then, after praying for others, I listen to the news on the radio or read the news on the Internet to see what is happening in the world. So I begin my day attuned to the world. This was something my teacher Irina Tweedie taught us—she was often awake in the night and would listen to the BBC World Service on the radio, and she said it was like seeing a game of chess, an invisible hand moving pieces around the board of the world. In this way we can see things happening in the world not from any judgemental point of view but just from an awareness—a witnessing.
Then, as the first light comes, I go for a walk. I am fortunate to live in nature, and my walk beside the wetlands with the changing tides is a way to consciously connect to the natural world—to begin the day aware of its beauty, its rhythms and quality of presence. Through these simple practices I start the day with an attitude of witnessing, a communion with the world which is also an inner prayer. I am aware of the interconnected world of which I am a part, and I bring my consciousness into this inner and outer web of life.
We are part of this living world. Thich Nhat Hanhsays very clearly: “We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth or we will not survive at all.” Part of our next step in evolution is an awareness of this living unity, this oneness which is life itself. We are now a global community, and I think as responsible global citizens we need to be aware of what is happening in the world, whether it is the oil spills in Nigeria or the nuclear disaster that is still unfolding in Japan. Nothing is somewhere else, everything is in our backyard, and we need to hold an awareness of what is happening—like a light shining in the darkness.
Although as a culture we only value action—doing—there is a power in witnessing that can stop something getting worse in a particular way, the light of consciousness can hold back the darkness. While there is an outer awareness of our ecological devastation there is little awareness of what is happening in the inner worlds, which is part of the reason I wrote Darkening of the Light. And during the last five or six years I was made to witness this tragedy unfolding in the inner worlds, what I have called the loss of the light of the sacred. I saw what was being lost and it was so painful for me that I would block it out, sometimes for months at a time. I did not want to see, but something made me witness the inner effect of our outer actions—how the outer ecological crisis is reflected by an inner crisis that is even more tragic because it is unreported, unacknowledged, hardly witnessed. The darkness of our culture of greed and global exploitation, of forgetfulness of the sacred, is covering the light of the inner world, of the world soul.
Witnessing is more important than we realize. There is a mystical tradition that we are the eyes and ears of God in this world. Ibn Arabi says “the mystic is the pupil in the eye of humanity” because the mystic sees with the single eye of truth. In Shakespeare’s King Lear there is a very moving passage towards the end of the play, when the ageing king and his favourite daughter Cordelia are imprisoned, and he talks about how they will hear what happens at the court:
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
And take upon’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies.
Like Lear and Cordelia, we are God’s spies, aware not only of the outer play of events, “who loses and who wins,” but also the inner truth, “the mystery of things.” And part of the inner truth that is overlooked at this time is the effect of our outer actions and attitude on the world soul, the anima mundi. This also needs to be witnessed.
The second of the four-point plan is Grief. Over the last few years, as I have witnessed what is happening to the inner worlds, I have felt deep and at times almost overwhelming sorrow—the sorrow at how the sacred is being neglected and the light being lost. Recently, when I was on a recent panel at Bioneers with Joanna Macy and Dekila Chungyalpa, they each spoke about how environmental work at this time evokes an extreme feeling of grief, as those involved witness what is happening to the natural world, what is being needlessly destroyed and in some instances lost forever. They said that for people in the environmental community the grief is sometimes too much to bear. But Joanna specifically said it’s really important to acknowledge the grief, to feel what is happening.
While witnessing is an objective act, feeling sorrow or grief engages us in a different way. There is the enormous grief over what we are doing to this beautiful planet, and there are places in the world where it is like an open wound. For example, on Midway island in the Pacific, one of the most remote places on earth, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses are lying dead, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Chris Jordan has filmed this, and he writes about his profound grief for the life that is lost. But he also says how he:
came to discover that grief is not sadness. Grief is love. Grief is a felt experience of love for something lost or that we are losing. That is an incredibly powerful doorway. I think we all carry that abiding ocean of love for the miracle of our world.
Grief draws us towards love, opening us to our love for the world. And nothing is more potent or vital at this time than our love for the Earth. Love for the Earth, the most fundamental connection of our heart and soul with our planet, has to be the foundation for ecological work, in both the inner and outer worlds, to quote Thich Nhat Hanh:
Real change will only happen when we fall in love with our planet. Only love can show us how to live in harmony with nature and with each other and save us from the devastating effects of environmental destruction and climate change.[ii]
I think it requires a certain maturity to be able to feel and hold the tremendous grief at what we are destroying. But it means our hearts are engaged, our love for the Earth is present. This is our Earth, which has given us so much, and this is where our children and our grandchildren will grow up—and what we are doing is almost unspeakable. It is a betrayal of life itself. And we need to feel this, to grieve and to love.
But once you understand that the outer world is just a reflection of the inner world—which is an ancient esoteric teaching—well, sometimes I am glad that no one can see what I have been shown in the inner worlds and what this means. My own journey, my witnessing, has made me see what I find most tragic: the pollution and desecration of the inner worlds. Twenty years ago where there were still inner places of beauty and sacred meaning, now there is just a wasteland; where there were flowers, where there was still a spring, now something has been lost that cannot be replaced in our generation—and I don’t know what it will take to redeem it.
What for me is most tragic is the loss of the light of the world soul in the inner worlds. This light of the soul is what is most precious within our individual self and within the world soul. Without this light we cannot see, cannot find our way—the sacred meaning of life becomes covered over, obscured, almost lost. And seeing the inner worlds polluted, desecrated by our greed and endless desires to such a degree that this substance, this light, has been diminished—in some instances almost extinguished—has evoked an almost unbearable sorrow, the sorrow of my own soul for what is being lost. And this sorrow, this cry from the depths within me, brings to the surface the most primal cry of the soul, a prayer to God: “Remember the Earth, remember the Earth.”
The first stage is Witnessing, the second is Grief, and from this grief comes the third stage, Prayer. Prayer is the soul’s most basic response. It is our cry to God, to our Beloved, in times of distress. And my sense is that this primal cry from the soul is also the Earth’s prayer—the Earth is crying to God through us—our prayer is the voice, the calling of the Earth.
Each in our own way we pray, we cry within our heart. It can be the simple prayer of placing the Earth in our hearts and offering it to God—with our love, our grief, our sorrow at what is happening we lift our hearts to our Beloved. Or it can just be the few words of “Beloved, help!” or “Remember the Earth.” Prayer is born from need, and the Earth is in need of our prayers. Grief has opened our heart, our sorrow has cried out and this cry is our prayer.
I feel very strongly that grace and the power of God are needed to heal and transform our suffering planet. Too much has been destroyed, too much darkness is present for humanity alone to redeem the wasteland we have created, the light we have lost. Only through love and the presence of the Beloved can our world be healed.
I found it poignant that at the end of the interview I had with Oprah, she asked me, “Do you have one thing—main thing you want to say?” And something within me responded and said, “Yes! That the world belongs to God.” We have forgotten that the world belongs to God—in our hubris we think that we are the masters of creation, the lords of the world. But I don’t think that with all our effort we can heal the world—the destruction has been too great. We don’t have the understanding, nor do we have the power. Only through grace can the necessary healing be given.
The forces of darkness are destroying this world, whether you call them multi-national corporations, the oil business, or pure greed and corruption. In the last few years these forces have become more globally dominant and are now rampaging over the face of the world. Personally I am convinced that they are forces of darkness. Not only are they enacting ecocide but they go against everything that is sacred in life. They are destroying our fragile web of life, and also attacking the inner world, the light of the sacred and the world soul.  They are merciless in their exploitation. What we do not understand is that the outer world can regenerate itself much more quickly than the inner world. Nature can push back, “rewilding” can take place. But when the light in the inner world is diminished to such a degree, it is very, very difficult to regenerate. This is particularly true at this time, as we have lost much of the wisdom of how to work with the inner world. How many shamans are left who really understand how to heal the inner, particularly in our present culture that denies the very existence of inner worlds—that does not even know about the world soul?
In the face of this darkness and our own ignorance, our prayers are needed. We cannot fight the growing darkness, its tentacles are too pervasive, its grip on (or within?) our culture too strong. But we can pray—we can cry out to God. And we should never underestimate the power of prayer, the power of this primal connection and communion with the Creator, with the Power that is behind all that exists. In the moment of real despair our cry can be heard and real help and healing be given, the miracle of rebirth can happen.
And from this prayer we can also discover the action that needs to be done. Action is the fourth stage. We live in a world that needs us to act, to respond outwardly just as our prayers are an inner response: in the words of the Shakers, “Hands to work and hearts to God.” The problem with most action at this time is that it comes from the same mind-set that created the problem, the same conditioning and values that are destroying our world. This is why first we need to pray, so that we are aligned with a different set of values, a consciousness that is not conditioned. First prayer, then action.
Through prayer our hearts and minds can become aligned with the real need of the Earth and its wisdom which is deeper and older than our surface solutions. Hopefully we can be open enough to be guided towards the real work that needs to be done, rather than continuing the distortions of our present culture; a culture which rarely sees sustainability referring to the whole of creation, but rather as sustaining our present materialistic, energy-intensive lifestyle. Through prayer we can respond from a place of real wholeness, and a deeper knowing of the patterns of interconnection that run through all of life. Then our hands can work together with the energy of life, an energy that can restore and heal, that is responsive to life’s needs rather than just our desires.
Personally I do not feel now is the time for big projects. I don’t think there is yet the power, the energy or knowledge to support them. I think they will too easily get caught in the ideologies of the past, the mechanisms and framework of how our present civilization is constructed. I like the work of the English “recovering environmentalist” Paul Kingsnorth who says we have to accept that it’s over, this civilization is over. There is no point in trying to patch it up. It won’t work, and too often then you just feed energy in to the same ideology—you think you are doing something when you are just spinning wheels going nowhere. Yet action is required, and we should begin with what is small but essential, as when Mother Theresa says “small things with great love.”
To counter the darkening caused by the global corporations we need to return to what is most essential, the simple acts of care and loving kindness towards the ecosystem and each other. This is where healing will be born, in the small communities that are already growing around the planet—a return to simple human values that are not based upon greed. To act in our communities with care and concern—caring for a sick friend, cooking a meal with real love and attention—living with right action, mindfulness and common sense, and not being caught in the monster of consumerism that devours so much of our energy and light. How can we live simply and mindfully, with reverence for all of life? How can we once again learn to listen to life, the Earth, to our hearts, so we act in harmony with the real forces that underlie creation? How can we return to the values that sustain our souls as well as our bodies? What do we really need, rather than what we want? And how can we contribute, how can we help others and the Earth? How can we live the generosity that the Earth continues to teach us?
From this awareness, and the actions to which it gives birth, life can regenerate, organically, holistically. Life evolves and is a living organism that can recreate itself. But this will not be an easy transition, because our world is so out of balance. Our civilization has been running on empty for too long, our way of life too unsustainable. If we continue  our future is too bleak, the inner emptiness too desolate. In pursuit of a few material pleasures we will have lost what is most precious and most meaningful in our existence.  We will have to confront our fears and our weaknesses, find courage that we did not know we had. Nor do we know how long this transition may take. We may be just creating the seeds for a future that will blossom in a hundred years or more. But with grace, commitment and care, with a heart open to grief and to love, life can once again regenerate—together we can create a way of life that is truly sustainable. The light of the sacred will rekindle, and once again the soul of the world will sing the song of creation: the hidden mystery within all of life.   Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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Water Spirits Message by David Spangler

I’m posting the following story at the request of a water spirit I encountered four or five days ago. I’ve held off sharing it partly because of the holidays and partly due to wanting to make sure that it was a valid contact. After some reflection, I believe that it was.

I haven’t had an experience quite like this one before. I had just filled a glass with water from the tap, and as I was lifting it up to drink, there suddenly appeared in the water in the glass a small being that identified itself as a water spirit. It spoke with great urgency and passion and said, in effect, “When you use water, please send loving, healing, and uplifting energy (Light) to the kingdom of the water spirits for many of our kind are suffering and are under siege from the continuing and increasing pollution of water by humanity. We need your support and blessing from which we can draw strength.”

This was a heartfelt appeal, and I had an image of water spirits in rivers and in the ocean trying to cope with the disruption of their environment by all the ways we are polluting the water. I felt a concern, even a despair, on the part of this little being that there could come a time when pure or drinkable water would be a rarity, and all life would suffer.

The sense I had was that many water spirits were weakening under the onslaught of the toxicity that human beings dump into their realm – not that they are poisoned themselves but that their contact with the water is weakened and they are driven back, so to speak….it’s hard for me to explain.

But the request seemed to suggest that if we sent love and Light and gratitude and good subtle energies to the spirits of water, that they could draw on that to renew their strength and energy in trying to keep the etheric and energetic qualities of water clean and strong.

As I said, I’ve never had an experience quite like this, and I wanted to sit with it for awhile before sharing it to make sure it wasn’t my imagination. I’m not an alarmist, but the appeal of this being was so heartfelt that now whenever I pour myself a glass of water or take a shower or bath, I tune in to the realm of water spirits and elementals and offer my Light and blessing and strength.

From The Examiner

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The Spirit Of The Bee Came With A Message

‘We are having  a problem, because the human family is having a problem

One Saturday afternoon in May 2013 I was at a gathering in The Meadow Orchard, a community growing project in Crouch End, London N8. It was an informal gathering where Starhawk had been invited before she returned to San Francisco after her visit to the south west of England. It was a lovely afternoon. We lit a fire and circled around it. At one point in the afternoon a constellation group process took place, Debbie Warrener  was a facilitator. the question asked in the constellation was, How can we support the bees? This work, also known as family Constellations was developed by
Bert Hellinger
in Germany after world war 2. I was an onlooker. Half way through the process the spirit of the bee came. It was very large. Totally captivated I watched the presence of the bee spirit above us. After awhile it came down and walked in and around the people of the constellation group. The spirit of the bee was bemused, could not understand what was going on, what was being enacted, and said, “We are having a problem because the human family is having a problem”. What a message!

The message penetrated, stayed till I understood the enormity of it. I began to enquire, to look into the nature of the bee, in order to understand it. What I saw was the bee has a very sensitive nature much like a child who absorbs all that surrounds it, can be traumatised in the same way a child is who experiences disharmony and discord in a dysfunctional family. While out and about in the density of London sometimes I hear a child screaming inconsolably. It is clear to me they are being effected by the swirling energy of fast, many looking worried and stressed people, traffic, mobile phones and the never ending onslaught of consumerism with its advertising messages all around. It must be very difficult for them to be brought through all of this in their buggies, having to face the dense and fast frenetic movement of it all. And I thought of television and newspapers, the bombardment of negative messages sent out daily that is impacting on whole populations! An enormous picture of human disharmony laid out daily before us! The fear it generates, the shutting down of the senses it creates. And the bee has to navigate through these entangled air and mind waves of known and subliminal trauma, greed and insensitivity! If I were such a small creature I would be beyond trauma and in a state of collapse! We know pesticides are a cause of the bees demise, what is not talked about is the human mind and activity that makes and spreads these pesticides that bees absorb. What has happened to us, the human family, that we make and spread on our growing food such toxic substances? The Buddha said, ‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world’

When I go into my heart with sincerity I have to say my problems start and end with me.
So many of us have learned this in therapy and in seeking to make a more fulfilling life for ourselves and family. Now many are talking about, and many now know we are part of a larger family, not tribal, but a global one. Many of the wise amongst us are asking us to live in harmony with the earth and each other. Now the spirit of the bee is asking us to acknowledge we are their problem. Our trauma, our wars, our in-humanity to man pollutes the air and mind waves, saturates the history books being daily written, penetrates every cell and pore of the bees and all that lives. Chief Seattle said, “ The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” One of my poems, titled, I Inherited Suffering, ends with, “Its time for a new start, a new inheritance, inheritance of the heart.” I shared the spirit of the bees message with some who were at the gathering that afternoon at The Meadow Orchard, which has stayed constantly burning inside of me till one morning on waking I knew it was to be shared with anyone who is open to receive the bees message. “We are having a problem, because the human family is having a problem”.

Deborah O’Brien

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Changing The Story: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and David Korten

‘In recent years there has been an important discussion about the need to “Change the Story.” The story that defines so much of our collective life and behavior is at present one of materialism and economic growth, a story that is not only unsustainable, but fundamentally destructive to our planet and its ecosystem. People around the world are now working to help birth the transformation to a new story, one that confirms the interrelated and interdependent nature of all life on Earth. A recent article (in Yes Magazine) by David Korten, Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time,  is a very clear articulation of the need to participate in this newly emerging story.

And yet in all of this discussion I have found that an important element is not present. Real stories that can change our collective existence are born from the inner, symbolic world. Unless this new story emerges from the depths, in the inner world, it will be just another idea in an already crowded marketplace, lacking any real power. Thus there is a need to include this inner dimension if we are to transition into a new story for humanity’. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Read Llewellyn’s article: Changing the Story,  on the Working with Oneness   website.

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