arts

 

Compassionate Change
June 27, 2016

by Mirabai Bush

Looking out my window, I see an empty bench under a pine tree, looking like it is not waiting for someone to sit but sitting quietly itself, enjoying the August day, one of the last hot days of summer. It reminds me of sitting quietly in many places—by streams in the woods, in monasteries on a meditation cushion, on a train from New Haven to New York. Those quiet times led me to many adventures in social change.

Looking out my window, I see an empty bench under a pine tree, looking like it is not waiting for someone to sit but sitting quietly itself, enjoying the August day, one of the last hot days of summer. It reminds me of sitting quietly in many places—by streams in the woods, in monasteries on a meditation cushion, on a train from New Haven to New York. Those quiet times led me to many adventures in social change.

I believe that each of us has a unique contribution to make to this world and that right now is one of those times that needs us all. We can create a more compassionate, just, and sustainable society, and I believe that part of figuring out how to do that is by looking within. For 40 years I have been practicing and teaching simple contemplative methods to people in business, education, law, social work, and social justice activism. These practices, like mindfulness, can help us look at who we are, question our view of the world, and be more fully in each moment.

My journey started in 1970 when I learned to meditate in a Burmese Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, India. I had gone there from graduate school, where I was studying American Literature. During my graduate school term, George Wallace had run for president and incited racial storms across the country; Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated; the Vietnam  War was raging; and the FBI had demanded to see my academic grades because of my antiwar activism. After the US invaded Cambodia, the local police took over our campus. It was a violent time, and I was trying to make sense of what was happening.

I traveled overland to India, searching for an answer. When I got to the monastery, the teacher there taught a kind of meditation called mindfulness—also called ‘being awake.’ It is a meditation to help you notice everything in a moment just as it is, without pre-judgments. We’ve all had those moments, sometimes they seem luminous. Simple. But this was a practice to try to find that kind of awareness in every moment.

At first was difficult and I wanted to climb the walls. But I stayed for 3 months. I learned how to be still and quiet, and that when I was, I could see at moments how the mind actually works, how everything is changing all the time. How thoughts and emotions rise and fall. Memories of my childhood—sitting on the stairs the day my father left us; cutting paper dolls with my sister—floated into and out of my mind. Emotions—anger at a graduate school lover who left me for his Australian girlfriend—also floated away. We learned a loving kindness practice and one for cultivating compassion. I began to see how we are each unique but all connected to each other, how we need one another. After that, I spent time with a Hindu teacher, Neemkaroli Baba, made famous by Ram Dass’s bestseller, Be Here Now. He told me to love everyone and feed everyone.

When I returned to the States, I wanted to figure out how these two ways of being fit together. At first, it was very personal. I birthed my son at home (feet first!) and used mindful breathing to do it. With  friends, I taught meditation and yoga to people who wanted to learn. It was very much about the individual.

After some time, my impulse toward social activism returned. Because we needed to support ourselves and a child, we started a socially conscious business called Illuminations, based on mindfulness practices and what Buddhism calls “right livelihood.” Meditation was still considered exotic then, a strange thing that hippies did. We began our meetings with silence; encouraged compassionate actions and generosity; fed everyone great meals; committed to always telling the truth; and questioned the values of our capitalist, individualistic society, imagining what a society based on compassion, respect, and honesty would look like. The business became successful when we made a transparent rainbow for car windows. A hundred people were working together, and now, after 30 years, they are still having reunions.

After that, I helped start the Seva Foundation, an international public health organization. We’ve brought sight to 2 million blind people in Asia who couldn’t afford an operation. For 10 years, I worked in integrated development with Mayan people in Guatemala, and my meditation practice sustained me in the presence of violence and the painfulness of poverty.


Mirabai Bush

That eventually led to what I do now at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, where I develop programs for many kinds of people. In each case, we choose practices that are right for the circumstances. There are many—everyone can find one that fits. We taught:


Mindful emailing, deep listening, and compassionate communication to young Google engineers through a program called Search Inside Yourself. Young engineers who have spent much of their lives in front of a screen need training in awareness and appreciation of other people so they can work better together;
Contemplative music practice to environmental activists. We taught them to pay attention by listening to Paul Winter’s saxophone and the recorded howls of wolves in Yellowstone;
Walking meditation to environmental canvassers;
Compassion to burning-out activists who wanted another way besides anger;
Equanimity and compassion to Army medics, who burn out at a fierce rate.
Doing these practices also helped people ask questions about themselves and their professions or vocations that they were not asking elsewhere.
Lawyers asked themselves and each other whether they can be zealous advocates while caring for the person on the other side of a case;
Activists asked how to transform rather than repress or express anger;
Biotech scientists in business asked how they could shift from products that kill, like toxic herbicides, to those that support life;
Teachers talked about how students could learn in a new way—by painting or walking through the mall and questioning their desires to consume.
Students asked, What am I really called to do? How can I make my best contribution? How can I tell the difference between what I should do and what I feel called to do?

I believe this is only the beginning of a new way of knowing, living, and being. There is so much each of us can do. And we can start by listening to ourselves and questioning. Simply, in each moment.

For more Information on Mirabai Bush please visit

www.contemplativemind.org


Buddhism New York India Spiritual Mindfulness

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


About The Author: Jacqueline Romano

Jacqueline Romano is the Creative Director & Editor of Blindfold Magazine. She feels it is her personal vocation to use her creative skills to raise awareness for people and organizations who are making positive change, both globally and locally.





Advertising
Sponsored Link


Featured Video
 


Socialize


Popular Posts
 
Factory Farming: Caymen

by Suzie Dundas Sea Turtles are truly extraordinar

 
How to End Terroism

by Wesley PritchettJake Harriman graduated with distinction from

 
The Chai Lai Orchid: Whe

by Claire SabatiniWelcome to the Mae Wang Jungle in Northern Thai



Recent Posts






Instagram Feed
@blindfoldmagazine


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 






© 2016 Blindfold Magazine. All Rights Reserved.