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Archive for April, 2009

A Breakfast Meditation

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This morning I decided that each day of my fast I would do two things – one personal and one for social change. I invite you to join me:

1) A breakfast meditation: During the time you might normally have breakfast, consider doing a 5-10 minute meditation. It will help clear your mind and bring awareness to your connection to those suffering in Darfur. Here is a short explanation on how to do a meditation. I will later try to record this as a video that it can serve as a guided meditation while you actually sit:

Sit cross-legged on a mat, pillow or carpet or sit in a chair with your two feet on the floor. Rest your hands with palms down on your legs or loosely together in your lap. Try to sit in a way that is noble, with your spine straight, as if there is a string pulling on you from the top of your head. Now, close your eyes. Draw your attention to your breath. Take a few deep cleansing breaths, and then relax your breathing. Try not to hold your breath or even pause between the in-breath or out-breath. Notice where they connect if you can. Take a few moments to bring exquisite focus to just your breathing. If a thought arises, just notice it. Say to yourself “there is a thought” and then let it go and refocus on your breath. Next, bring your attention to your body. Feel your sitting bones placed firmly on the earth or your chair. If on a chair, feel your feet planted squarely on the earth. Feel this connection with the planet and other people walking on this same soil. Draw your attention to your face and release any tension in your forehead and jaw. Next, draw your attention to your neck and shoulders and release any tension you find there too. Keeping your spine straight, release any tension in your back, arms and legs. As you sit relaxed and breathing, take note of what you sense in your immediate environment – the temperature, smells, sounds, any breeze passing over you. Now notice your internal emotional space. What are you feeling right now? Allow these emotions to arise and bring to you any wisdom or clarity. Do not try to push them away if they are uncomfortable, just be with them.

As you completely embrace your self as mind, body and emotions, allow your attention to consider the people suffering in Darfur. Drop for now all defenses and open to your knowledge of that suffering. Let it come as concretely as you can…concrete images of your fellow beings in pain and need, in fear and hunger, in IDP and refugee camps. Relax and just let them surface, breathe them in…the vast and countless hardships of our fellow humans. Notice how this affects your body, breathing or emotions. Just be with that awareness without too many thoughts. Breathe in that pain like a dark stream, up through your nose, down through your trachea, lungs and heart, and out again into the world yet…you are asked to do nothing for now, but let it pass through your heart…keep breathing…be sure that stream flows through and out again; don’t hang on to the pain…surrender it for now to the healing resources of life’s vast web. If you experience an ache in the chest, a pressure within the rib cage, that is all right. The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large. Trust it. Keep breathing. Shantideva, the Buddhist saint, guides us by saying: “Let all sorrows ripen in me.” We help them ripen by passing them through our hearts…making good, rich compost out of all that grief…so we can learn from it, enhancing our larger, collective knowing.

Now, as you breathe in, imagine that you are breathing in the brightest light into the crown of your head and down your spine into your sitting bones that are touching the ground. When you breathe out, let that light flow back up your spine again into your heart and then let it radiate outward to the people of Darfur. Let it radiate out to those who are perpetrating the genocide. Let it radiate out to the decision-makers who are paralyzed with fear, apathy or indecision. Continue this light-breathing until you feel a sense of peace and completion, that you no longer hold onto any anger, grief, pain or suffering. Open your eyes.

2) An act of social activism: Each day following your meditation, take the time to do one act of social activism for Darfur. Take a look at the Act Page of the Darfur Fast for Life website and then call the White House, text Secretary Clinton, contact the media or email your friends and family.

Each day approach this fast from the inside and the outside.

The Miracle of Water

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This morning I woke up extra early to a slight stomach ache. Day 3 of my water fast. I admit that I have allowed myself a cup of coffee, as I haven’t been sleeping well and I think I need a bit of caffeine to function. And yesterday I had a small glass of tomato juice (70 calories). This is not easy. But what I’m thinking about even more so than the lack of food is the access to water. We have access to cool clean water to help keep us hydrated during this time and help fill our stomachs. But when I was at the refugee camps, I saw women lining up all day to wait for water rations that would fill their single jerry cans.

I know in Rwanda a family uses at least 2 jerry cans a day for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning. But in Darfur and Eastern Chad, where finding water is already almost an impossible task, they also have to deal with the intense sun and heat – temperatures that frequently climb above 100 or even 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to mention, in the refugee camps I visited there were few sources of shade. The only choices were some spiky trees, sitting in your tiny and sweltering UNHCR tent, or gathering under a lattice roof made of twigs. How do they manage not to get so dehydrated! What is happening to their access to water now? And why can’t the US or UN initiate an air drop of food rations? How could we get them water from the air?

To Cook or Not to Cook…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I’m having people for dinner tomorrow night. This was arranged long before I decided to do the fast. Though it is an opportunity to create a dialogue around the Darfur crisis, I can’t help thinking I’ll feel weird and awkward sitting there not eating when I have guests. Why does that make me feel uncomfortable? Why do I have to eat in order to experience community? What will cooking be like? That will be quite a test. Day three and cooking a feast in which I will not partake….

On Grace

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

As I was nearing dinner time last night, I was reminded of the grace my family used to hold hands and say – sometimes almost on automatic – before we’d dig in. The word “grace” conjures up a meaning for me that is a combination of gift, abundance, magic, gratitude and loving-kindness. Rather than “saying grace” before dinner, I think the essence underlying that intention was actually to give thanks for Grace. Although, we now often forget to do that when we get together…

Another family I adore simply takes a moment of silence before they eat. I always appreciate that. I could feel all the tension from the day’s hectic pace just slip away. We’d close our eyes and take a deep breath, then open our eyes again and just look at each other in silence.

In a Buddhist retreat I attended a few years ago, we would eat in silence, contemplating the food and where it came from and how it connected us to the earth and to those beings’ suffering, as we allowed the food to nourish us. Here is a short grace that is resonant with that same intent:

At this time of Thanksgiving we would be aware of our dependence on the earth and on the sustaining presence of other human beings both living and gone before us.

As we partake of bread and wine, may we remember that there are many for whom sufficient bread is a luxury, or for whom wine, when attainable, is only an escape.

Let our thanksgiving for Life’s bounty include a commitment to changing the world, that those who are now hungry may be filled and those without hope may be given courage.

I’m also thinking more of what bounty and abundance actually means. I went into a grocery store to buy water yesterday, as I wasn’t in a place to refill my bottle, and I really noticed the beauty of the vegetables and fruit. What abundance there is all around us! Once a friend who had been having money troubles took some time to meditate on her concepts of abundance and the wealth she desired. She reached a place of clarity, deciding that it wasn’t that she needed more abundance in her life to be comfortable, but she needed to find a way to see that she already had “just enough”.

Certainly the people of Darfur do not have enough of many things – safety, security, food, water, sanitation, justice, freedom and other fundamental human rights. And we know they experience an abundance of violence and hardship. Yet I recall how humbled I felt when I heard their stories during a visit to eastern Chad. They openly shared their experience as well as their hope with me. But they would always end their remarks with “Inshallah” or “God-willing” – seemingly with profound acceptance that their fate was tied to something greater than themselves. Is this too Grace? And so as I continue this fast, I am holding a vision for the possibility Grace might allow a sharing of abundance so that we never have prolonged, unnecessary suffering and so that everyone has just enough.

Starting the fast, breaking the disconnect

Monday, April 27, 2009

I’ve decided to commit to a water-only fast for as long as I can, but I am aiming for a week to start. I’ve fasted before, but never beyond 5 days and never without juice, tea or broth. So that I set about doing this from a conscious place, I decided to write down why this fast is important to me.

First and foremost, a fast for me is a personal choice to step back for a moment and to bring mindfulness to a specific purpose through personal sacrifice. I don’t think fasting always has to be publicized. It can be a very intimate, sacred opportunity to reflect. It gives our bodies a rest from constant digestion. It gives our emotions a chance to filter upwards from where we might unknowingly stuff them with unconscious eating. It allows our minds space for new wisdom to arise when we invite more time into our normal schedules of eat, work, eat, work, eat…. Physically I also feel refreshed by a fast when I can detoxify all those naughty things I like to eat and drink and start over again with some thoughtfulness to the food I buy, grow, cook and enjoy.

But this fast is more than personal and should be public. I am committing to fast to try to break down the disconnect that separates us in the West from those suffering in Darfur. To remind myself and hopefully others around me that a million people are now or soon will be without food and water since the aid communities have been expelled from Darfur. It is about recognizing and honoring that we have choice – that we can choose to eat just as we can choose to vote and choose to act. (Non-action is also a choice.) It is about feeling the interconnectedness of all people, allowing my friend Adam Mussa who has been living over 5 years in a Darfur refugee camp, to stay on my mind and help guide me to find compassion and inspiration daily. And it is about being a part of a collective movement to continue to pressure those in a position of power to intervene to end this crisis.

There are also some things that this fast is not, and I have to remind myself of this. It is not an ego-driven competition to see how long I can persist – it is not about me and my will-power (or possible lack thereof). It is not about collapsing into guilt because of my privilege, but it is finding the wisest way to leverage my unique place in the world to create change. It is not about PR for the sake of publicity or shame, but it is about consciously raising awareness and inviting dialogue that can be constructively channeled into action.

So with these thoughts, I am standing in solidarity with those in Darfur and those in other corners of the world who have joined the Darfur Fast For Life.


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