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2016-12-23

A BETTER WORLD... EVERY DAY



 

 A BETTER WORLD... EVERY DAY



We are living 
the most peaceful 
epoch of  history.
                          

If this news seems incredible, I have another: we are also living the best era of mankind. It is not only my opinion, is what declares the French philosopher Michel Serres, professor at the Sorbonne and Stanford. In an interview with Stefano Montefiori, he said: "Believe me, ours is a time of peace" (Corriere Della Sera, Oct. 16, 2016). When asked how he could be optimistic, with everything that is happening in the world, he answered with clear facts: Since 1496 before the Christian era, until 1861, we had 3130 years of wars, and only 227 years of peace. That is 93% of the time humanity was at war. This has installed in the collective consciousness, the belief of continuous war.
                                          
   I recall that John Locke, in his treatise on the government (1690), 
considered two states:
 the natural state and the state of war.
 
After two world wars, humanity finally is oriented to a more stable peace.Since the middle of last century, the world in general, has had peace.


 The possibility of violent death, a century ago, was between 10 and 20%. Today, with terrorism, the probability of dying is less than 1%. (Except in Aleppo (Syria), Yemen, or Iraq). For Serres the reasons for hope are obvious. A woman of sixty years today has a life expectancy greater than a newborn in 1700. Europe has enjoyed 70 years of unbroken peace. Improvements in quality of life are indisputable. A century ago, when a man left his family—wife, children, and parents—, they did not know if he would return. The surgery was done without anesthesia. In most countries there was no running water. People lived without heating, no radio, no TV, computers, mobile phones, internet, etc. Fifty years ago life expectancy was of 60 years, now exceeds 80 years. 


Therefore, Serres insists: 

"Believe me, ours is an era of peace." His arguments are not based on the latest news from CNN, BBC or Fox. They are based on the conception of historical reality.  


During the middle ages, when the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan advanced over Europe, it is estimated that decimated 20% of humanity at that time. Centuries later, when Napoleon crossed Europe in reverse, died between five and six million persons, and more than eight hundred thousand French soldiers. After the Battle of Eylau, while going through a field strewn with corpses, Napoleon pronounced: "One night in Paris will repair all this." Today we see these abominable words with horror. But that language was part of a mental state related to an existence in perpetual war.

The trouble is that this interpretation of events continues with the misuse of language. Serrers considers that this attitude responds to thousands of years of reading reality with the constant background of war. The presentation of terrorism as war is wrong, says Serres. When there is a state of war, children are born and grow up with the idea to have an enemy in the neighboring country. This does not happen today across America, not in Europe. 

What we suffer today is an explosive pandemic of distorted or false newsResemble sparks lighting up in the dark, going out, and replaced with the following ones.


 We have gone from rational analyzed news, to chain reactions that multiply the emotionally stressful informative noise. Lately, individuals are becoming more aware that false news can kill. This fact is known since 1938, when Orson Wells announced the "War of the Worlds" with its suicides and irrational acts. Actually, with intensive mass media bombardment and instant communication, people do not analyze, do not check, and do not have enough time to think if what comes to them it is true or false. 

 If we accept the stereotype “to live in the now”, and bad news are hurting us every moment in that time prison, life is exhausted moment after moment, and we are killing ourselves without realizing it.

We do not have to live in the now of emotional tweets, lacking verification about the source and the facts. We must leave the ephemeral moment, for a wider historical and spiritual context. Two world leaders demonstrated how to transcend news of violent events, both achieved the Nobel Prize: the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The first had to escape persecution during China invasion to Tibet. Desmond Tutu went through (with N. Mandela) the struggle against Apartheid, in South Africa. Both lived under constant death threats. Their message is clear: do not complain about adversity. It makes us strong and allows us to appreciate life with intensity and joy. Both Tutu and the Dalai Lama, with the assistance of Douglas Abrams, are the authors of The Book of Joy (2016), (worth as a good present to oneself). 

We need to live in peace to counter violence at home, in the community and the world. Live in peace in our consciousness has a responsibility: our own. Live in peace does not deny reality in any way, it can promote - as did the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, amid violence - a peaceful and harmonious reality. With a consciousness of violence, we are not going to create peace around us. We must develop courage to abandon the origins of violence, including the one generated by the so - called "sacred texts" when using terms like "war", "dominion", "conquest", "subjugate" and others. We must reject the imposition of unnecessary violence on behalf of a superior being, behind which is hidden a super-ego. We can participate in the world with humility and gratitude, without destructive mood. 

We do not walk to peace, but we must be in peace all the time.


We do not deceive ourselves with a goal far away. What counts is the peace that we live every day. Thinking peace generates peace.


We must be focused on our harmonious being. Our daily struggle is in ourselves, not fighting others. Even Muhammad said it after conquering Mecca, the Great Jihan is the inner fight of each individual. We need to purify the hardness of our resentments, anger, or revenge by the tenderness of love and compassion. To this inner struggle we go armed with prayer, meditation, contemplation, hymns, affirmations, mantras or whatever can be useful for us. 

To have peace for the suspicion of aggression or nuclear retaliation is not peace is inaction, or paralysis due to fear. The true peace comes from the security and love in ourselves, not to prevent action to others.

Attaining our peace, will allow us to experience peace and bring peace to the world. We cannot expect form others to bring us peace. It is our responsibility. There's no other way.
Why do not we see more peace in the world? The philosopher Michel Serres asked to believe that this is a time of peace. Learn to believe seems simple. It is not. It requires renewing our attitude. It is a daily renewal, a re-birth. This liberates the nativity of the child of goodness and innocence inside us. We must take the risk to live with a smile in our eyes. Then it is possible that we may receive another smile to our hearts. Hallelujah! This joy will let us see a new world every day. 






To have peace for the suspicion of aggression or nuclear retaliation is not peace is inaction, or paralysis due to fear. The true peace comes from the security and love in ourselves, not to prevent action to others.
 ©Pietro Grieco

2016-11-27

MINDFULNESS OF THE MIND


 Years ago, when visiting a friend's house, I liked her beautiful garden, except some bushes that gave a bad smell. One day, praising its gorgeous flowers, this friend took me to see her secret: the compost!


Behind the bushes, I thought the origin of a bad smell, where the compost was prepared. I realized that the compost was what allowed her to get the flowers’ perfume. One was the continuation of the other. A good gardener knows how to obtain from organic waste compost to use it properly, not being bothered by the smell, recognizing its usefulness. We can all be excellent gardeners of our minds.
 
In the previous blog we saw how to be aware of our body and its actions: eating, walking, driving our vehicle, etc., all external aspects of the mind. This text will focus mindfulness in the inner aspects of the mind. To apply the transformational use of mindfulness, I have taken “anger” as example. An angry person is represented out of control, with bitter face, red of blood, altered, aggressive, off-center of his own being. Let’s see what happens mentally with anger: how it arises, manifests, affects, dissipates and becomes calm and peaceful.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when anger is observed, we should follow it breathing very closely. Generally when people are angry or upset, are they not breathing more agitatedly and raise their palpitations? Conscious observation of anger prevents it from monopolizing the mind completely. Awareness permits us recognize "the mind is angry, and I am angry"; we see what happens; we are alerted to our mental state. When we do this we put into action "mindfulness".



Being aware of anger, by no means we are trying to suppress anger, or expel it; peacefully we just look at it, watch it. This attitude illuminates what is happening, doesn’t judge, but follows it with a compassionate look, looking after it like a younger brother. We have to remind ourselves, we are not our mind, as a program is not a computer. 

The effect of identification, when the mind is angry, upset, irate, it seems to be as our own being is upset or angry. If we want to eliminate or expel those states, we would pretend to expel our own being. It's that old concept of Alexander Solzhenitsyn over evil: love and hate are in the same human heart and, if we want to expel hate, we should cut off part of our own heart. Who can do that? The parable of the wheat and the weeds to grow both together, suggests the same procedure to let them grow till the time of harvest.
When we are joyful and happy we are pure joy; when we hate, we are hateful; when we love, we are love; and when we are angry and furious, we are all angry, all furious. When we recognize anger or fury, we can be aware that it is energy in us, which we can transmute. But to transform anger into another energy, we need to recognize and accept it. 
This is the beginning of the transformation process. Thich Nhat Hanh gives a beautiful example, in his aforementioned text (Transformation and Healing, Random House, 1993). A container full of organic material, with strong smell of garbage can be turned into compost, and used as fertilizer for beautiful roses. In this process we first see and smell the garbage, then the compost, then the roses, as separate elements. But if we can discern deeply we can recognize that flowers were already in the trash. We know that a flower takes a few weeks to decay. In turn this garbage already contains potentially herbs or flowers. 

I always remember the strange and beautiful story told me by a director of prisons. For his first appointment he was sent to a distant province, where he didn’t know the customs of the land. In order to give the inmates some activity, he asked if anyone knew how to produce strawberries. A young man said he could produce the best known strawberries, if he gave what he needed. The director said he could count on his support, and asked what the need was. The answer left him dumbfounded: the droppings of other inmates! For rural people, the use of cows’ excrement has been the best fertilizer during history. Approved the request, indeed, this convict produced the best strawberries you can imagine. Not only the director, but other detainees also benefited from this transformation of organic matter into beautiful and delicious fruit. 





Duality prevents us from seeing the continuity of processes. 


Duality leads to discrimination between the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, between sweet and bitter. Due to duality we reject the whole reality, and accept only a part. We should not fear the compost, or reject it. The same with anger, no need to despair, it is an energy that can be transformed. Anger is a kind of garbage, which is in our power to transform and use. This knowledge makes us accept anger, or wrath or rage. And contemplate it; doing so with mercy, gives us some calm, some peace. Gradually we can transform anger, hostility, and irritation, into a harmonious, joyous, happy situation.

This procedure is better than growing anger or ire, and giving it an argument, encouraging and accelerating the process; causing much damage to the mental and physical wellbeing. However if we look at anger (or whatever), with our breathing we calm down the situation, anger can continue, but will be less dangerous, lose strength, and it will be transformed into other energy. Mindfulness as a light, resembling the effect produced by solar photons on plants: let them grow, flourish and bear fruit.  The practice of mindfulness of the mind, will place the spotlight of our awareness on an aspect of our own mind, and as sunlight on plants, transform negative mental states into better ones.


If we suffer anger and return violent thinking to the people who produced anger in us, for their abuse, malice, inconsiderate brutality, cruelty or dishonesty, which can be real or imaginarily exaggerated, will burn more anger in us. The problem is anger in us, not what others did. When there is a fire, we cannot start insulting heaven; we must extinguish the fire, so that it does not spread. With breathing and meditation you can inhale and say, I recognize my anger, as you exhale you can mentally repeat: I know the anger is still in me. As you inhale repeat: I recognize that anger is an unpleasant feeling. As you exhale repeat: I know this feeling as it appeared will also disappear. As you inhale say: I know I can    take care of this feeling. As you exhale repeat: I calm this feeling
We embrace the feeling of anger like a mother to a child crying: with care, tenderness and understanding. When a mother puts her heart and mind to embrace and cuddle her baby with love, the baby will calm down. In the same way we can calm our minds. Some people to calm anger, fury, ire and other negativities use walking meditation combining breath and movement, paying attention to every step, and the contact of the feet with the ground. Little by little we will see how the effect of meditation calms, strengthens and gives serenity.  

Observing the origin of our bad mental states, we discover their roots, which can be lack of information, clumsiness, resentment, or bad habits in us, or the people who originated our anger. But we can also see and discern the liberating elements of our own suffering, which usually accompany the annoyances or disturbances. A compassionate vision, understanding and love liberate us of suffering. Angry people believe that their anger will pass away releasing the negative energy of their hearts through aggression, insults, destroying things, or locking themselves in a room and shouting to subside. These forms of combating anger to physical exhaustion can be dangerous.

They don’t use their own energy nonviolently for something healthful and higher. 



Anger arises in us, because the roots of anger are hidden in us. The society and other circumstances are secondary causes. The main causes are our desires, our pride, our agitation, our doubts, our suspicion, our confusion, our ignorance. When yogis or  prophets went to the desert, caves of the Himalayas, or forests to meditate, went to practice mindfulness of the mind, the conscious observation of their thoughts of doubts, ambitions, fears, desires. Nelson Mandela learned to meditate and used the system to transform his mind, so he passed from armed violence to nonviolence. He understood how other people's minds worked to be merciful and compassionate. He used his energy to build a society without racial discrimination, hate or injustice.

Yes, with mindfulness of the mind we can change and transform the world, because it allows us to go to the depth of the mind to observe the thoughts, for (if necessary) to transform, and produce the healing of our thinking. The Bible tells us to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2). This is the most important spiritual activity to refine our being, and rise in the scale of being. As Shannon Peck well wrote, "love heals". The opposite: hate, anger, rage, can make us ill. Knowing how to transform negative energies into love, we heal ourselves and the world. 

How to transform violence into peace, anger into harmony, discord in harmony,
and sadness into joy? First is to recognize the problem, then apply the appropriate treatment. We can transform mud into bricks, iron into pots, gold in jewelry and trash into roses. And spiritually, it is possible to transform sick and aggressive thoughts into compassionate and healthy ones. 
The Dalai Lama, (along with Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams)   in The Book of Joy, (Il Libro della Gioia, Garzanti Srl, Milano, 2016) argues that what ails the mind are negative toxic, harmful thoughts. If we do not eliminate them, we develop a kind of unhappiness, discontent that leads to frustration and anger. He proposes to eliminate the psychic pain developing “mental immunity." This immunity creates a healthy disposition of the psyche that makes it less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings, because if we are weak, the smallest virus can be dangerous. Similarly with a vigorous mind any attack can affect us a little, but we will recover immediately. Instead with a troubled and unstable mind, any small problem can cause a crisis. 

When anger, rage or fury takes over mind, the individual is identified and transformed into a mad, angry or furious one. Then the individual and anger state are merged into one.

The prodigious thing is that being’s consciousness has the light of love not judging or condemning, but contemplating, enlightening and transforming. This let anger deflate, transforming its energy into something positive. Thus the cause of suffering is removed, restoring health, immunity and wellness.

The practice of mindfulness allows us, in the words of Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet):

                           You would touch with your fingers
                           The naked body of your dreams.
                           .......................................
                           And the treasure of your infinite depths
                           Would be revealed to your eyes.

Being in the present moment observing one’s mind consciously, we avoid being manipulated by the appearances of the world, ensure our freedom of conscience, and reveals de treasure of freedom and healing to the world.
© Pietro Grieco


2016-10-16

MINDFULNESS



When we are eating, are we aware of it, or just watching TV, chatting, or thinking about a response to something?   When we are driving one vehicle, are we aware of it, or are we thinking about other drivers’ behavior, a problem at home or work , or ...? When we work, are we aware of our task, or are we wandering in the stratosphere? Most human problems exist because our life, most of the time, is on one place and the mind on something else. Or as John Lennon sang: "Life is what is what happens to you while your busy making other plans". It seems that in postmodern life we are lost in unconsciousness. This attitude sometimes brings tragic consequences. The opposite of unconsciousness is "Mindfulness". 
                                                                     

The term “mindfulness ", originated in Sanskrit, it means being conscious to perceive what happens with intensity every moment. To be fully alert and vigilant of what happens without being distracted.  In his book Transformation and Healing (Sutra of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness), Thich Nhat Hanh analyzes the text on ways to establish "mindfulness". He mentions the word satipatthana composed of "sati" which means "remember" or mindfulness, and upatthana meaning "dwelling place". In Chinese, the Sutra is expressed as "Nian Chu". Nian means "Be aware", "put the spotlight on ..." or, "remember". Chu can mean "the dwelling place", or "the act of dwelling”, “the act of being present", or "the act of establishing oneself". Therefore, I interpret "mindfulness" as: remember to be aware and present in our own mind, in order to avoid being manipulated by the appearances of the world. 

 The practice of mindfulness

The practice is to be aware, and focused on what happens during each moment. This does not mean sitting in a zen position, it can be applied to any daily activities: eating, walking, driving, thinking, etc.  Shunryu Suzuki said: "Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine."  (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind). The practice of being aware and concentrated is done through meditation or contemplation. In this sense we must remember that, in every day’s life mind has a preset "instinctive" program to satisfy desires and avoid suffering. Any stimulus triggers the instinctive result of an innate program. We did not participate in the "installation" of it, however we are controlled by it. Therefore the mind operates thoughtlessly always centered on itself. Meditation therefore is to gain control over one’s mind, to refocus it on higher, unselfish, compassionate and virtuous ways. Experience has taught me that only constant practice can achieve preset effective changes in attitudes.

If a person reads a score of music, but does not learn to play an instrument, he or she will never produce music. May produce annoying noises at the start, even in the absence of harmonious results, the person can feel frustrated. But practicing with patience and persistence, with the first chord, the persons will feel joy; with the beginning of a melody will feel excited, and persist harder. Finally, the person will produce music. The mere reading does not do it. It is the constant practice, persistence, and patience that will give dominion over the art. With mindfulness is the same.
The original text (Sutra), based on the teachings of Buddha, over 2500 years ago, speaks of four kinds of mindfulness: 1. Mindfulness of the body; 2. Mindfulness of feelings; 3. Mindfulness of the mind; and 4. Mindfulness of the objects of the mind. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Transformation and Healing, offers a synthesis. In the practice of being aware of the body, who practices must be fully aware of breath, body position, actions of the body, of the four elements of the body, and finally the decomposition of the body. In the practice of being present in the feelings, it is necessary to be alert to pleasure, to pain, to neutral feelings as they arise, lasting and disappear. Distinguish feelings of a psychological origin, from those having a physiological basis.

The goal of mindfulness is to go deeply into an object to observe it. This way of looking causes the boundary between subject and object to be dissolved, and then the subject and object become one. This is the essence of meditation.  It has been said that the mind-brain can never touch the object. But this is from the Western point of view of the subject-object duality. From the Hindu and Buddhism point of view, mind can penetrate the object and be one with it. It is considered that only, and only when an object is known interiorly can be understood and comprehends totally. For Buddhism it is not enough to stay out as an outside observer. Therefore the Buddha's teaching was observing the mind from the mind, and emotions from within emotions.  

Here are some exercises suggested by different authors: 

Conscious walking
"The walking meditation is performed by noticing the movement of lifting, placing each foot forward in every step. Help completion of each step completely before lifting the other foot. ‘Lifting, moving, placing, lifting, placing, move.’ It’s very simple. Again, Joseph Goldstein says in The Experience of Insight, it is not an exercise in movement. It is an exercise in mindfulness”. The purpose is to use the movement to develop an alertness and understanding. The goal of this exercise is to be aware, without being distracted, and stay alert to what happens step by step. The author argues that something as exciting as walking through New York, can be an excellent exercise in meditation if the person observes her or his breathing, if he or she stays calm inside, and keeps the mind to be attracted by the huge amount of external stimuli. Even if attracted by desires for power, sex, or any other, let them come and let them go. Thus the mind is held in meditation space, without getting lost in the desires, or the panoply of stimuli that build on the senses. 



Mindful eating
Who has visited or participated in a retreat in a monastery, or Buddhist temple, knows that the act of eating is important as part of learning the practice of meditation. You have to eat calmly, quietly and almost as a ritual. In the act of eating there is a huge amount of thoughts involved with the process. Is almost normal a desire for food pleasure, greed by the amount or accumulation. Just a bite or two and sensations appear. If we eat thinking about something else, we not even enjoy the act. The first is to look at the food, then to think, "I see," "I see." Then there is an intention:  "intent". That intention causes movement of the arm: "I move", "move". Successively, when the hand or spoon touches the food comes the feeling of contact; raise your arm, open your mouth, place the food in your mouth, feel the texture, chew, feel the taste. You must be mentally present during the process. 

Mindfulness of the mind

Meditate on the mind is to be aware of every thought, how they arise and how the mind "thinks" or processes. This is the whole point, it is not to be involved in the content, observed, but not identified, or angry, or upset, or form part of a chain of thoughts, like one wagon after another of a moving train. It is to be aware only, during that instant what thought is happening. Some consider it helpful to write: thinking ... thinking ... thinking ... and record what you think. Make notes can help.


It is observing, without judging, the center of meditation on the mind. Observe calmly without reacting to the content of every thought (like a train with its load), without identifying with the load. When consciousness identifies with the thought, then the thought is the thinker. If merge, they merge into one. When this happens there is alienation. Being as consciousness it is dominated with that identification. The individual, controlled by those thoughts, does not think, it is thought by those thoughts!  In this confusion, can become a fan of a religion, a political party, a football team, an ideology or anything else even meditation!

This can occur even with a meditation driven or focused on a specific purpose. By keeping your mind on that purpose, is not going to elicit mindfulness. It is therefore considered safer to use one undirected meditation, which sends the mind in automatic default mode, the natural sleep mode. Mindfulness clarifies the mind of cobwebs, redefine priorities and provides a sense of contentment. We must be present, yes but in what place? In one's mind and during the same moment we are living. In the next blog, I will return to this subtle internal aspect, not visible to the eye. 

Many times we suffer from stress and anxiety because we ignore the benevolent part of reality. The media give us the worst news of every day, hiding to our mind all the beautiful things happening around us and the world greatly. By understanding the whole and the details, it gives us a new light to discern the why our actions, feelings, pains, diseases, traumas. Discerning, without judgment, we can, rather than suffer them, use them as an opportunity for our transformation.  


Mindfulness is a state of being that allows us to be aware of the reality more clearly. We must be present, especially when driving a vehicle. This brings understanding, better decisions, inner peace, self-esteem, well-being and happiness. We must practice mindfulness constantly. On the contrary, if we are not alert, we ignore ourselves and deny what is happening around us. Not having a peaceful mind, a clear mind, we are tied to the noises of a city, and the entertainments absorbing the attention of the senses.


A moment of pure consciousness (Pure mindfulness), it is a beauty. It is a unique event. It occurs when the consciousness embraces the beauty of the universe effortlessly. It is a state of grace.
©Pietro Grieco

PROVERBS and EPIGRAMS

PROVERBS and EPIGRAMS
A moment to be quiet and think...A time for contemplation.

THINKING PEACE...

We do not deceive ourselves with a goal far away. What counts is the peace that we live every day. Thinking peace generates peace.

My Formal Library

  • Handbook for the Spirit, e.R. Carlson & B. Shield
  • Journey Of Awakening by Ram Dass
  • Tao Te King por Lao Tse
  • The Bhagavad Gita. Translation from the Sanskrit by Juan Mascaro
  • The Upanishads (Penguin Classics)

BE IN PEACE ALL THE TIME

BE IN PEACE ALL THE TIME
We do not walk to peace, but we must be in peace all the time.