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Joanna Macy writes:

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As the rug is progressively pulled out from under us, it is easy to panic, and even easier to simply shut down. These two instinctive reactions — panic and paralysis — are the roadside ditches that border our pathway to a livable future. To fall into either one is the greatest of all the dangers we face, for they deaden the heart and derail the mind. If ever we needed spiritual practices and disciplines for staying alert and connected, it is now. The greatest gift we can give our world is our presence, awake and attentive. What can help us do that? Here, drawn from ancient religions and Earth wisdom traditions, are a handful of practices I have learned to count on.

1. Breathe

Our friend the breath is always with us. When we pay attention to its flow, it merges mind with body, and connects inner world with outer world. Mindfulness of breathing in and breathing out can center and steady you. “Feel how your breathing makes more space around you,” writes the poet Rilke. “Pure, continuous exchange with all that is, flow and counterflow where rhythmically we come to be.” Notice that you are not deciding each time to exhale or inhale; it’s rather that you’re being breathed. Breathed by life. And so are all the other animals, and plants too, in vast rhythms of reciprocity. Feel that web enlivening you and holding you. The felt flow-through of matter/energy brings a measure of ease, and opens us to the flow-through of information as well. This lowers our usual defenses against distressing information, and begins to unblock the feedback loops, so we can more clearly perceive what we’ve caused to happen.



what does it mean to “accept things as they are”?

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Sometimes I get annoyed when I turn to someone with a personal conundrum, only to be told to “get over it.” What it sounds to me is that the thing’s not worth paying attention to and that I may be stupid to give it so much thought. At least that’s what the little voice of insecurity has me believe.

Tilopada (988–1069), the founder of a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, is credited with the line: “No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself.” And the Heart Sutra, consisting of 16 sentences that summarize the essence (the ‘heart’) of Buddhist teachings, contains this stanza:

All things are empty:
Nothing is born, nothing dies,
nothing is pure, nothing is stained,
nothing increases and nothing decreases.

Throws a different light on my troubles, doesn’t it. It situates them not as stupid or unworthy of consideration, but as self-made and imagined. Sure, life’s path is studded with obstacles –illness, disagreements, disasters, war, old age, death, for instance — but things themselves are mere things, often random and without apparent cause, mostly beyond our control.

My young “get over it” friends may be closer to the truth that I (and even they) realize. Much of what I see as life’s difficulties is not inherent in life itself, but in the ways I react to its unfolding. Instead of scheming for ways to manage or overcome obstacles, I’m invited to seek their root causes inside — and beyond — my thinking mind. Sitting still and becoming aware of my breath will take me there. Along the way, as Ugo Betti assures us, “The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sage steers by.”

p.s. “My young friends” is code for a composite of people who subscribe to a “Do it!” (Nike slogan) attitude; perhaps it’s a generational thing. image: The Heart Sutra as a calligraphy practice at