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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is part 2 of 6 in a series of posts about the Five Principles and Supporting Practices of Conscious Social Change

Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering
The first step in cultivating presence is practicing self-awareness. This begins by exploring the root of suffering. When we inquire into the nature of our own pain, anxiety and fear, we can better understand where it comes from in others. Every person suffers to some extent, mentally, emotionally and physically. For many circumstances, our deepest discomfort comes from simply wanting things to be different: we want what we don’t have and we don’t want what we do have.  

First, we’re always seeking what we don’t have – whether that is greater influence, personal relationships or more economic security.  These desires can even be rooted to our positive change work – a desire for more success, publicity or funding for our work.  We can easily become convinced that our happiness hinges on obtaining that which we want.  And yet, it is this grasping or “attachment” itself that causes our discontent. Through self-awareness, we discover our ability to withstand our anxiety, and we begin to discern between what it is that we desire and what it is we actually need.

Second, we all also go to great lengths to avoid pain and suffering. Whether we fear failure, inadequacy, a loss of power, embarrassment, physical pain, poverty or another unwanted condition, our efforts to protect ourselves are often at the expense of another. Again, it is the aversion to the situation – the “I don’t deserve this” thought – that causes us suffering. Through self-awareness, we come to realize we actually do have choice in every situation: acceptance or action, and we are empowered to pursue a path of conscious change with compassion, rather than unconscious action.

Supporting Practice ONE: Mindfulness Meditation
One practice that supports deepening self-awareness is mindfulness through meditation. Mindfulness is opening to the present moment whatever it is, without judgment, without attachment, without preference and without aversion. Just paying attention to what is. In order to be mindful in our actions we have to first cultivate mindfulness and presence in ourselves.

Meditation is a practice of sitting and practicing mindfulness of the self.  It is a mental discipline that helps us clear the mind so that we can achieve not an intellectual understanding, but a deeper wisdom or insight about what is in us.  Meditation trains us to be with our discomfort and pain without reacting or pushing it away. We just notice it, and we come to see that emotions are impermanent as they come and go. Mindfulness through meditation supports us in moving beyond all the blocks that separate us from others and dusting off the essence of who we truly are underneath.

A Story
On one particular day a few months ago I phoned a friend 30 minutes late for a scheduled conversation.  Everything was running over that day and I had all sorts of to-dos stacking up in my mental in-box.  I apolgized with a flurry of excuses and dove into an overview of our agenda until my friend stopped me and asked slowly, “How are you?” 

Her words were like a long deep breath.  She listened to my assessment of my current stressful situation then asked another question slowly, “Is there anything it feels like you need to do right now that would help take some pressure off you?”  I took a moment to meditate, empty my mind, breathe, relax.  A simple solution came to mind and quickly all other stress melted away. 

Ever since that afternoon, I ask myself regularly when I feel the tell-tale signs of stress taking over, if there is anything I feel I need to do, then I dive into a moment of meditation and breathing.  Without fail I always emerge in a clearer state. I think meditation and mindfulness of one’s emotional and mental state are powerful regulators of peace and balance, and are accessible anywhere, anytime. But they require practice, just like with exercise. The more I practice meditation in moments of solitude and silence, the better able I am to bring mindfulness into situations of chaos and activity.

5 Principles of Conscious Social Change

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I’ve been working to distill and articulate what I have come to define “Conscious Social Change” and its core principles and supporting practices.  In the next five posts, I will describe each of these five principles.  But first an overview.

CONSCIOUS SOCIAL CHANGE: A DEFINITION 
Conscious Social Change is a process led by responsible and ethical change agents, who engage in their own practice towards deeper self-knowledge and personal transformation, while striving to advance positive change for the common good.  When an individual chooses to serve as a change agent, the experience of making a unique contribution to a greater whole can be deeply meaningful and can also accelerate a person’s self-actualization.  In turn, when an individual interested in creating social change chooses to deepen their self-awareness, they have a greater likelihood of making mindful and wise decisions, undistorted by personal agenda or abuse of power.  These two components of inner and outer transformation are integral and essential for a whole, just and compassionate society.

Who needs to know this?

Activists and people serving the traumatized need to be able to know when there is a need for self-care and to reground self and intentions to protect against burn-out, disillusionment, attachment to agenda, abuse of power, demonizing the enemy and violence.

Women and those working on women’s rights need to be able to allow for deep inquiry around structures that have been established by patriarchy and which have come to legitimize or even tolerate violence against women by exploiting women’s inclination for self-sacrifice on behalf of community and others.

Social innovators have the opportunity to discover radical new innovations and creative possibilities through embracing consciousness and personal transformation principles, because they will be unobstructed by self-limiting paradigms.  

Why is it needed? Why does inner change and outer change have to happen at the same time? 

Those of us who are called to be change leaders to advance a more just society, also have a responsibility to create that change with the same principles of integrity and justice we hope to see in the world – even with regard to our perceived enemies or opposition.  That requires that we work on the unexamined parts of ourselves that cause us to act unconsciously out of anger, impatience, disillusionment, resentment, fear, envy, or a sense of superiority or separation. Through our direct experience cultivating consciousness in ourselves, we develop a deep understanding of the path of conscious change, which we can use to advance social justice more broadly.

The overarching practice of the path of conscious change is being fully present in every moment.  There are five steps that change agents can take to cultivate presence, and it begins by practicing self-awareness. The more we look deeply into ourselves and listen to our emotions without reacting, we come to understand with clarity the underlying reasons for our anxiety, pain and fears. As we begin to see the root of suffering and the path of change in ourselves, we can find compassion for the difficulties of suffering and the challenges of change in others. [1]  

The second step is to be proactive in addressing our own wounding, fears, limiting beliefs and shadows that can distort our perspective and cause us unconsciously to harm others while protecting ourselves. The unexamined self has been at the root of many activist movements that have turned violent and leadership attained through oppression and prejudice.

The third step is using presence for self-care.  By committing to ongoing personal transformation practices, we can more easily attend to our own need for balance so that we avoid burnout, but stay whole, grounded and completely available to do our work in the world.

The fourth step is using presence to stay attuned to the changing needs of those we aim to serve, so we do not stay stuck on our own agenda or abuse our power. This presence also helps us determine the wisest response (which may include no action) in any moment so that we not only avoid harm, but we transform suffering.  This transformational paradigm is inner-driven with a focus on serving the highest common good.

Finally, the deeper we listen to our inner wisdom, the more likely we will find our unique purpose, which will guide us in manifesting change towards social justice and a more conscious society.

This overarching process of cultivating presence invites a balance of engagement with the outer world, which is always providing opportunities for learning, and an investment in inner inquiry, which allows us to integrate and utilize each lesson. The journey for consciousness is something that we must do every day of our lives, especially if we aim to advance social change for a more just society.

In my next five posts, I’ll go deeper in exploring the five principles and supporting practices that support consciousness and presence in social change.


[1] Rothberg, Donald. The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Miracle Journals

Friday, September 25, 2009

I invite you to start your own miracle journal. It has the most extraordinary effect of helping one marvel at the beautiful, the coincidences and the simple things of every day that we so often pass by. And it has helped me see concretely how much the energy, perspective and sheer presence that we bring to every moment affects the way in which we experience that moment.

Let me share an old story of the Taoist Farmer: A farmer one day has his horse run away. His neighbors express their concern that this has been an awful event as he needs his horse to farm his land. He responds, “maybe”. When the horse returns with two wild horses, his neighbors come by and say, what great fortune for you. You are now a wealthy man. The farmer responds, “maybe”. In the process of breaking in the wild horses to help with tilling the field, the son breaks his leg. The neighbors come by and say what a terrible thing it is to lose his eldest son during the farming season. He says “maybe”. A short time later when the army comes through the village seeking to conscript young men but cannot take the son because of his broken leg, the neighbors say what a great thing. Again the farmer says “maybe”….

One thing this story means to me is that I should be mindful of the fact that much about what happens to us depends on how we perceive it. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is opening to the present moment whatever it is, without judgment, without attachment, without preference and without aversion. Just paying attention to WHAT IS. Mindfulness allows us to examine our intentions that come from wanting to fix things. It allows us to pay attention to our feelings so that we understand where they come from and we don’t react and cause harm. Also, when we focus intently on whatever is happening now, we may realize the impermanence of life as we watch our feelings come and go. In fact – it is said we spend 90% of our time thinking about the past and the future, which means we are missing what is actually happening right now! If we miss what’s happening now, then we are missing our entire lives.

And so, an amazing first step in cultivating mindfulness and presence is keeping a journal every day of what you experience as miraculous. Whatever seems to you to be a miracle – a beautiful flower, a close call or a discount at the grocery store. Here are a few of my entries to get you thinking:

Saturday: I saw a moose while walking up a trail in the woods. It was a beautiful day

Monday: I had been trying to get a meeting with this one professor at Dartmouth for months and then I ran into her at the gym and we are now going to have dinner.

Wednesday: I noticed the beauty of all the colorful fresh vegetables arranged at the local co-op.

Friday: I called my friend’s office and the colleague who answered offered to volunteer to help my non-profit.

I’d love to hear who is inclined to start one – send me a miracle in response to this post and let’s inspire each other.


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