It is with pleasure that I welcome a guest columnist, Lyla Yastion, to this space this month. —Jason Stern
We know in our hearts that peace in the world is the direct reflection of peace within ourselves. When inner peace radiates from a critical mass of people then outer peace spreads its harmonious vibrations around the globe. Confucius describes this expansion of peaceful energy as the key to a moral society. He says:
If there is righteousness in the heart there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation there will be peace in the world.
Every religious tradition speaks of this work of establishing harmony in the world by changing the way we feel and think, the way we view other human beings and other creatures. If we see other people—and species—as companions in a cooperative web of life the probability of a peaceful world increases. But if we continue to buy into the illusion of separation and believe that conflict is inevitable, then negative energies grow. Even as nuclear bombs are poised to expel their power and ecocide stalks the planet is it but a dream, a fantasy of the imagination, to think that we can harness our collective consciousness towards a shift in worldview that will issue in a reign of peace?
Let us consider this question by first proposing that the level of stress, violence, fear, and disconnect from Nature in the global society has risen in direct proportion to a fall in the collective level of conscious awareness. If we were aware that what we do to the planet we do to ourselves, surely we would stop. So the antidote is clear. A conscious impulse is needed to remind us that Creation is a web of interdependent life forms. This impulse is found at the heart of all religions; it is embodied in the art of being-present. Presence is the engine of spiritual—and planetary—transformation.
When we are present…awake…aware, there is a good chance that we will act with intelligence and compassion. Our thoughts and actions will be in harmony with our surroundings. As Thoreau, the iconoclastic American philosopher who retreated to the woods in order to awaken to himself, said in Walden:
To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face? We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake by a conscious endeavor.
How shall this awakening take place? First, we need to realize that we are usually asleep—lost in daydreams, beset by anxieties, preoccupied with mind-chatter. Let’s be honest: we are absent more than we are present. We go through our daily routine on automatic pilot. This habitual tendency to be “somewhere else” can be observed in ordinary events. If I walk into a room to get something and then have no idea why I am in the room, where am I? In a dream. If I lay down my car keys while thinking about what to fix for dinner, how shall I find them later? If I tune out during a conversation with my husband, how can my response to him be honest, let alone coherent?
There is an alternative. I can learn to be present and stay present by waking up to the moment through a very simple but understated means: sensory awareness. For example, if I turn now from the computer to stroke my cat and feel the silky, smooth fur and the warm life breathing under it, I am awake. Anytime we are consciously listening…seeing…tasting…smelling…or touching, we are awake. Choice as to what to say or do is available, at that moment. Intuition rises to the surface of the mind. Compassion stirs the heart.
But because the habit of absence is strong we need to practice connecting to the senses in a conscious way everyday. This is done through a practice I call pausing. Pausing is periodically stopping whatever you are doing and sitting down for a few minutes to consciously activate each of the senses in turn. I usually conclude the pause with listening because it sends the attention outward into an expansion of consciousness that ultimately connects with the vast web of life of which we are a part and allows us to rest in infinite awareness.
Pausing is the perfect antidote for our 24/7 culture. As pausing becomes more frequent and more regular, the light of presence illuminates the day. Ordinary activities such as speaking, working, thinking, and relating to others are imbued with intelligence and power. A growing recognition of our oneness with all Creation arouses empathy. As the collective spiritual evolution of human beings accelerates the planet is bathed in healing energy and reveals itself as a habitat of peace and abundance for all. Indeed, the fruit of a re-awakened life is healing—for ourselves, for society, and for the entire Earth community.
Lyla Yastion is the author of Pause Now: Handbook for a Spiritual Revolution. She has a PhD in Anthropology and teaches ecological anthropology at SUNY New Paltz.