Jack and I just co-taught a meditation retreat at Spirit Rock with no electricity – until the very last evening. Imagine no hot water and no heat; it was 37 degrees when we woke up before dawn in the cold moonless black velvet night. Turning off my flashlight, I could see the vast starlit trail of the Milky Way as I walked up to sit in the dark hall, semi-lit by a few lanterns. We were all grateful for the kitchen generator and the cooks who provided hot meals to make the retreat possible. All day, the hills surrounding our valley were wreathed in smoky mist as we sent well-wishes for the people and creatures threatened by wildfires north and south. Beloved California is burning. Our hearts and lungs are aching.
Thousands of years ago, the Buddha gave a talk called the “Discourse on Burning”, sometimes called the Fire Sermon. He said everything is burning with the fires of greed, anger, delusion. This world is still ablaze, with suicidal greed torching the Amazon, aflame with the anger of people distorting the reality of climate change, smoldering with the delusion of denial, pretending this is not happening. How do we live with the heightened uncertainty of this time?
Our practice shows us how. We humans are always facing the unknown. As we learn to sit quietly and face the reality of our own internal conditions and fires, we begin to awaken to clarity, wisdom, love. Mindfulness becomes our inner refuge, providing strength to pay attention and see what’s going on in the world within and around us, and how our attitudes affect what we see. Mindfulness enables us to balance the steadiness of equanimity with the courage to do something, to take action with compassion and loving awareness.
As we steady the mind and strengthen the heart we naturally move from fear and despair to empowerment and care. We each can find ways to step up and work together to sustain life on this planet. Of course, one person cannot change the world, but together we can raise the level of global awareness. This is the great work of awakening. Awakening to our own power and goodness, the psychological fires of craving, hostility, and confusion can be quenched in ourselves and then we can bring this understanding to the world around us. The Buddha called the awakened heart “abundant, exalted, immeasurable.” Together, we can embody this. This is our practice!