Thursday, March 6, 2014



When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
in the fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

--Wendell Berry

This lovely poem by Wendell Berry, one of my favorite modern poet/essayists, was sent to me by my dear friend Catherine Larson, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, and is one of my oldest and best friends. It evokes one of the most important fruits of mindfulness: equipoise, or the ability to hold in balance grief and joy, agony and peace.   It invites us to acknowledge our shared fears and despair at the horrors of existence in this apocalyptic time--the vast sufferings wrought by greed, ignorance, hatred, and denial, and the ongoing, seemingly unstoppable devastation of the only living planet we will ever know and all her creatures. But then, on the other hand, invites us, as a refuge, into the quiet beauty, magic, and tranquility of Life in the present moment.

Such equipoise, the ability to fully embrace both the horror and the beauty of life simultaneously, will become an ever-more important skill as we all draw inexorably closer to the bitter end--of our lives, of our security, of our social fabric, and of our planet's climatic stability--as our sustaining ecosystems shrivel and die. Let us therefore remember, at all times, to practice the Five Remembrances and the Four Immeasurables:

The Five Remembrances:

I, my community, and Gaia are of the nature to get sick. There is no way we can avoid getting sick.
I, my community, and Gaia are of the nature to grow old. There is no way we can avoid growing old.
I, my community, and Gaia are of the nature to die. There is no way we can avoid death.
I, my community, and Gaia are of the nature to lose everything we cherish. There is no way to avoid the total loss of all we love.
My actions are my only true possessions. Therefore I shall strive stand on, and live by, my actions; to assume total responsibility for everything I think, say, do. Until my last breath, may all my actions serve to promote the health, competence, and resilience of myself, my community, all others, and Gaia.

Mantra of the Four Immeasurables:

  • (on the in-breath) "Breathe"--in gratitude and benevolence toward all living beings, without exception. (Visualize--the sun, the trees, the crops, all who work hard to provide for you, all whom you encounter)
  • (on the pause at the full) "Observe"--with compassion for all living beings who suffer. (Visualize some who suffer the most, but also those whose inner suffering manifests as evil or cruelty--may all be healed)
  • (on the out-breath) "Let Go"--with sympathetic joy for all living beings who share with me the miracle of life in this moment.
  • (on the pause, emptied of everything) "Abide"--in perfect equanimity and peace, at one with all of life, all things, all the universe, the Sacred.
Such practices can be helpful, when we are overwhelmed with grief, rage, or despair.