Tag Archives: meditation

Webinar: Staying Sane While Making the World Better

“What is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver

This is an invitation to take part in a free online series focusing on keeping a healthy balance while working to improve the conditions of the world. These one-hour presentations will be aimed at supporting those already active in the movements for justice, peace and Earth-care, and anyone seeking to find their way to be more involved or supportive.

As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher for over 45 years and a long-time activist since the Sixties, I have for several decades been working with those who seek to integrate spirituality, psychology and progressive social/political action. I believe that this holistic orientation, sometimes called “spiritual. sacred or holistic activism” is the path for truly shifting the consciousness that underlies injustice, war and the destruction of our home planet, Gaia, Mother Earth. It is the path for those seeking to sustain the courage, energy and attitude needed to help bend the moral arc of the universe towards true justice*.

I’ll be doing this through Zoom and will send the invite link to those who request it by replying to this message. Following is a flyer that describes some of the themes that will be part of the series. I hope you feel inclined to give it a try.

Added note: All actions for justice must consider the healing of past injustice. In this regard it is important to recognize that we live on land taken by violence and honor those first peoples and their descendants. Here is a resource for finding out something about who lived on the land you now occupy. https://native-land.ca


STAYING SANE WHILE MAKING THE WORLD BETTER

ONLINE GATHERING  EVERY OTHER MONDAY
   STARTS   –   SEPT. 21   –   7:30 EASTERN TIME

This will be a series of one-hour sessions, each focusing on an aspect of the main theme, staying sane while making the world better. We will focus on teachings and practices with two essential goals: 1) not going crazy or getting stuck in depression or anxiety in response to what is going on in the world, 2) finding a full bodied, fully human, fully YOU way to take an active part in the transformation the world needs. Each session will include an introductory talk, a meditative/inner work experience, and a chance for questions. All sessions will be presented with a holistic view integrating body, mind and spirit.

Below is a tentative outline describing some of the topics we will focus on. Changes will likely be made as things unfold and I receive feedback, comments and suggestions. We are at a pivotal point in human history, we are all feeling it in one way or another, we are all being called to be who we are and do our part.

I offer this for free to activists or anyone who is wanting to become more active but has not yet found a way.

1- Intention – Why do we do what we do? Intention is what determines what we pay attention to and it is what moves us to do what we do. Being able to make our intentions clear and conscious is essential. Wisdom traditions tell us that we each have a unique, core intention or purpose for our lives, but we have to recognize and choose it. We will look at how we can open and align with that core intention. We will also shine light on and recognize the unconscious intentions that distract and sabotage us and move us towards confusion, anxiety, depression and/or destructive behaviors.

2 – Your body and your mind as your primary responsibility – We all need to make our own bodies and minds a first priority. People frequently share the simple metaphor of being on an airplane when there is a problem, the oxygen masks drop down, and you first put on your own and then help children and others. Yet, most folks, especially those helping others, don’t operate this way. We will experience specific methods to bring caring and healing attention to the well-being of your own body and take responsibility for the state of your mind. It’s been said, “Be the peace you want to see in the world.” Let’s BE that.

3 – Being with and Dealing with heavy emotions – It is quite human to react to the things happening in the world with anger, sadness, guilt or shame. There is nothing wrong with that. It is how we respond to these emotions within ourselves that determines how they affect our physical and psychological health, and our effectiveness in our work. We will work with practices for looking inside, sharing in group ceremony or ritual, and finding empowerment in the energy of all our emotions.

4 – Finding your ecological self – You are not alone. You are part of a family, a community, humanity, and the community of living beings of all the realms that are with us here on Mother Earth. Though you may feel alone at times, this reality of inter-relatedness is always a fact of life. Yet, just as our minds have been conditioned to see through the lens of patriarchy and white superiority, we have learned to experience ourselves as separate from and a higher form of life than the rest of nature. We will seek to reawaken to a more unbounded sense of who we are and find support for our activism from the web of life of which we are part.

5 – Being the Peaceful Warrior – The Warrior, as an archetype or aspect of our true nature, works to support and defend an individual organism, group or natural system. While most people associate it with violence, it is more profoundly expressed by the non-violent activists who devote time and energy for social justice and peace, and to protecting and sustaining our natural world. It is a part of your nature in the way your immune system protects your body. It is what gives us the strength to carry on the struggle for a better world. We can learn to call on it for what we are called by our soul to do.

6 – Finding Your Unique Part – Few things are more frustrating than receiving dozens of messages, each calling for help related to a piece of the puzzle of world suffering, and knowing you cannot respond to them all. How to decide? Where to place your attention, your money, your time, your energy? We will share some ideas and exercises for answering these questions. We will also draw on ways of finding guidance that comes from the wisdom traditions of our ancestors.

7 – Empathy for the “Enemy” – Many of us struggle with feeling hate towards people whose ideas and behaviors are repugnant to us such as White supremacists, misogynists, homophobes or Donald Trump and his allies. There is an almost instinctual feeling of hate towards those who hate. It’s easy to repeat the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But it’s sure not easy to do. Let’s look at how we can be in this world with haters and not poison ourselves or anyone else with more hate.

And lots more if there is interest!

We start Monday at 7:30 Eastern Time, Sept. 21st (International Peace Day and Autumn Equinox) and will meet every two weeks. Attend when you can. I’ll plan to record and make available for those who miss the live event. Email me for link to participate: alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org

Yoga with “45”

(whose name is best left unspoken)

(Note: In 2003, I wrote the following message which I have only slightly edited to reflect that there is a different President and circumstances. I hope it is helpful for some of you.)

For a good while there has been a groundswell, almost a tidal wave of interest in yoga. Yoga studios are open in storefronts everywhere. Yoga is being brought into the executive suites. Video tapes of yoga teachers are selling in supermarkets and chain video stores (a bit outdated, substitute streaming services). The word, from 10,000 years back, is now mainstream. 

I may not have to tell you that yoga, in addition to including stretching exercises that help the body relax and release stress, is a path towards spiritual wholeness. It is a way to move towards union with one’s true nature, the compassionate essential nature of living free of attachment and the entrapments of the reactive mind. There is a belief that when practiced with expanded awareness of the entire planet, its benefits are brought to all living beings.

Well, practitioners are about to have a powerful opportunity to practice yoga in a most challenging, and potentially life-transforming way, and at no charge. The upcoming Republican convention will culminate on Aug 27th with when President 45 will be giving his acceptance speech. It will be televised. He will, among other things, make his case for what he has done to this country and the world over the past three plus years. This is the opportunity for your practice. 

If you choose to watch this event, you will be challenged to maintain awareness of conscious breathing, observe your body deeply, stay centered in the heart of compassion, and allow images, thoughts and emotions to pass through your mind without clinging to them. The benefits of doing this will be enormous, both for your own growth and the entire planet, perhaps having an influence on whether or not he is re-elected.

 From my own practice and teaching experience, I want to share a couple of suggestions. I realize that I take the risk that some will think this is  “New Age” pablum. But as I see it, our civilization’s notions of what is real are as much in question as the politics of narcissism, fear and greed that have been dominant. The truth is, I could not be more serious about the depth and significance with which this process may be held. I offer these 12 suggestions to you for your consideration. Take of it only what resonates for you and feel free to pass it along.

Caution: If you are quite well established in your practice you may choose to do this alone. But most people will find that a group setting brings the necessary support for safe practice. Prepare by agreeing on your intentions. Practice lightly and with good humor.

1) Find an appropriate posture that best allows you to stay aware of your body, a comfortably straight back is good. Allow yourself space, and give yourself permission to move and stretch as your body needs.

2) It’s a good idea to prepare with a deep centering meditation prior to the viewing. You may want to do some movement to discharge tension. Center your awareness in the area of your heart or heart chakra, and allow love to radiate throughout you and the room, including the TV. Recognize the presence of others who share your intention, even those who are not physically with you.

3) As the President is introduced and you first see his face, remind yourself that the Spirit that pervades everything – the Source of Life – is within and all around you, and within and all around him. At the same time, be aware of any reactions that you are having: contractions in the belly, nausea, rage, the urge to flee, scream or break something. Open to these feelings and thoughts, and breathe. Especially be aware of your body. Breathe and relax. Do not be afraid if you feel a sense of empathy. He is, after all, a man, a man caught in a web of immense, almost incalculable influences from sources we barely fathom.

4) As he speaks, pay attention to his face. Notice his eyes, mouth and lips especially. They will help you see more clearly where he is coming from. This will also help you to be aware of your own reactions. Breathe. Stretch and relax. Don’t judge yourself for any emotions or images that appear in your mind. Let them be.

5) Remind yourself that you are watching a television or computer device. When your mind starts to pick up a stone to throw at the image on the screen, remember this: This machine is made largely of petro-chemicals (oil) and it is consuming electricity coming from energy sources that are part of a global empire, an empire expanding at the expense of the life of this planet.  Acknowledge that you are complicit in the human activity behind this man and what he is advocating. So am I.  Breathe. Let the tension soften. Accept how imperfectly you are able to release the contractions in your body that result from judgementalism. Accept the degree of release you are currently feeling. Breathe.

6) Open to recognize the forces that are behind and all around this man.  What do they feel like?  Do you have a name or image of what they look like?  Perhaps they are the same forces that are behind his apparent friends in Brazil, China and Russia? Perhaps they are the forces that sometimes work through you and me, perhaps  right now. Breathe. Consider the intensity of being really in the grip of these forces. Perhaps images that come from the Tolkein trilogy or Harry Potter will come to mind. Perhaps you’ve heard of Wetiko? Recognize how your body and mind react in the face of this. Call on your strength to stay in your heart and feel the light of compassion. Let tears or rage rise and let all feelings be in the fire of your peaceful intention.

7) Remember that we are in the flow of time and that as you breathe the present is forming into the future. The quality of your mind, your thoughts and intentions are helping shape the reality that is becoming, just as is the mind of 45. Be aware of what you are putting into the system. Know that you can be responsible for your thoughts. Breathe. Release judgement of yourself for not being perfect at this.

8) Continue to look at 45 and listen to his voice. If you find it difficult to stay centered, invoke the presence of all the peaceful warriors that have sought to bring humanity to more harmonious consciousness and behavior through teaching, healing, the arts, and through organizing activist movements. Remember your ancestors. Breathe.

9) When curses and gestures of rage are felt, notice how they effect your body. If you contract, move into that and exaggerate it, then release. If feelings of helplessness and grief arise, be aware of your breath and feel the strength of the life force within you.

10) Be aware of the people of color, the refugees, those currently demonized and made to seem “other” by this man. Be aware of the animals, plants, rivers, oceans and land. Picture as clearly as you can, the faces of actual men, women, children, babies separated at borders, abused by police and disempowered by the system of thought 45 promotes and amplifies. Be aware of the tens of thousands of  young American men and women who are required to enforce his commands and fight for him. Consider their families and your own relationship to these people. Allow whatever feelings you have to rise up into your full awareness. Let the awesome tide of suffering be in your view and in your heart. There is an ancient Jewish prayer that I find helpful in such moments: Shiviti Adonai L’negdi Tamid. “I invoke the presence of the Holiness of Life throughout and around me at all times.”

11) When 45 says “God Bless America”, remind yourself of the highest, deepest Reality that truly does bless ALL that is and helps that which it blesses to become more awake to the boundless love of the Source of life.  Feel that in yourself and in all your relations. Bring your hands to prayer position in front of you and bow humbly to that Presence even in this man.

12) Allow time to continue to be with the feelings and thoughts you are having during and after the speech. Allow your thoughts to gradually open to the question of what it is that you are called to do about what you are experiencing, about what is going on.  If you are with friends, perhaps a healthy discussion would help.

Perhaps you can do something to help.

Namaste (I bow to the divine spark within you)

Got Time – Sit Quietly Awhile

“We can only have insight and wisdom when our vision is clear. 2020 is the year for that vision. For generations into the future, people will remember you as heroes and sheroes for your sacrifice and your vision.”
               –”Commencement talk” from Sister Boi Nghiem to class of 2020

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
       
–Arundati Roy

A thread of wisdom is weaving its way through all the pandemic confusion and fear: this time, this Covid-19 time, is giving each of us (and humanity as a whole) the chance to reinvent ourselves. From the social and political systems that we have taken for granted, to the patterns of inter-personal relating, to the understandings of who and what we are and what we are here for; everything is up for review. What better time than now.

Spiritual teachings have always offered us the pathways and methods for seeing more deeply into ourselves, beyond, above or behind our ego personality, to a truer, more awakened way of Being. We live in a time that allows us to hear the voices, and sometimes see and be with, people who have devoted their lives to these teachings from the different lineages of the world . They are able to share with us what can truly be called medicine for our minds and hearts. What better time than now.

Responding to the needs of the many people seeking solace in their grief, fear, anger and confusion, there are now many daily offerings of guided meditations by experienced teachers. I’ve gathered together some that have come my way and want to share them with you. Please save this as a resource and share widely. What better time than now to deepen your practice of meditation and attunement with the true nature of the one you are, and to find the peace and strength to face all that is arising around and within you.

May you and all beings be healthy, safe, happy and free.

Sister Boi Nghiem lives at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, (one of several monasteries in the world founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. In this video “dharma talk” we have a beautiful expression of the consciousness of wisdom, happiness and compassion that comes from devoted meditative practice. Addressed to graduating seniors, but relevant to us all:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhipUITeVWM

Sharon Salzberg is a widely known and beloved teacher of meditation. She has been offering free teachings online during the pandemic and has generously created a site with many other free or low cost teachings available on a daily basis. This is an amazing resource:
https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/covid-19-resources/?fbclid=IwAR1xRjD4Pkdl9iuk_aEiulIO4rHKwXZYgsSLVijiIc0fZXh-Jfg9zdi5dLo

Krishna Das is a world traveling chant master and teacher of meditation. He is offering what he calls “Chai and Chat” sessions online. Some are for a nominal fee. (Everyone still has to pay rent). This link is for one on June 6th, and you can find others dates from there. 
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/group-chainchat-with-krishna-das-india-tickets-106136920386?aff=enews

Dr. Tom Pinkson (Tomás), offers a weekly online talk and exchange, “Live Love Now – Soul Support in the Time of Covid-19”.  Tomás apprenticed for many years with Huichol shaman and presents prayerful, inspiring messages of  “wisdom guidance from Great Spirit to enrich your life.” This is a Facebook gathering:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/874420176244116/about/

Jonathan Gustin, is the founder of Purpose Guides Institute and its new projects: Climate Change & Purpose, and Pandemic as Practice.  At the following link is an interview with Joanna Macy on these subjects and you can get more information about his online meetings by sending a message toinfo@purposeguides.org
https://www.purposeguides.org/free-webinar-pandemic-as-practice-1#unique-id

By the way, Sharon Salzberg, Tomás Pinkson and Krishna Das each are featured with extensive interview in  Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, available at CrossingTheBoundary.org.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

In the modern secular world, it takes courage to cross the boundary from watching the events of the world, to becoming an activist in bringing about change and transformation of the direction of society. Likewise, even for those immersed in a religious tradition, there is a boundary to becoming a truly spiritual being. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. crossed both of those boundaries and changed our world. I was honored to be asked to write a piece about him for the Fellowship of Reconciliation which I’ve linked to here.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

                                                                                    –Alan Levin

“Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hate never yet dispelled hateOnly love dispels hate.” – Buddha (from the Dhammapada)

 

With an iconic figure such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose brief life shook this nation forever, people pick and choose what they want to see of his multi-faceted legacy.

Currently we have the literal whitewashing of his very radical message as politicians who want to discredit affirmative action and impose voter I.D. laws use quotes from Martin Luther King to justify their supposed “color-blind” objectives.

On the other hand, activists of the Left often overlook the fact that Reverend King was a truly religious, spiritual man. He was a Christian. But more so, he was a holy man in the prophetic tradition that transcends any one religion.

I have no knowledge of King’s inner life, but from what I do know of his life and statements, he regularly sought counsel from the divine within for guidance and tried to walk and talk in alignment with that.

 

I do not know if he ever studied formal meditation from Eastern teachers, but he found deep friendship, mutual respect and admiration with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was after his talks with Nhat Hanh that Dr. King came out publicly against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In any case, King found from his inner sojourns, his reflections and prayers, his own unique understanding and expression of many of the deepest teachings of spirituality, East and West.

Everything is interconnected. Everything affects
everything else. Everything that is,
is because other things are.
–Basic Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality … And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Commencement Address at Oberlin College, 1965)

 

His call to, “remain awake” as a primary goal testifies to the importance King placed on consciousness, not just our behavior as humans, as activists. He wanted us to be awake not just to the suffering, or even the systemic causes of suffering, but awake to the nature of reality. In this, he is in alignment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.”

I believe Dr. King understood from his own experience the need to take time to cultivate that spiritual consciousness, to cultivate a heart filled with compassion and love in the face of injustice, hatred, and violence. This cultivation is the very heart of meditation.

King’s good friend Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk, deeply involved himself in Eastern philosophy and spirituality. He counseled us to “withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness … not in order to preach to others but to heal in (ourselves) the wounds of the entire world.” And yet, King did preach once he felt his voice was a channel for that greater whole.

Somehow, through his inner searching and his confrontation with the realities of the world, King realized for himself that freedom from the fear of death is the promised land of spiritual work, the realization of the greater awareness that lies beyond the phenomenal world. What else could he have experienced that brought him to say:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

As I was writing this, a good friend, Sister Dorothy Maxwell, sent me a profound article, “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson in Orion Magazine. In it, Bahnson quotes the seventh century Saint Isaac of Syria, “An elder was once asked, ‘What is a compassionate heart?’ He replied: ‘It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists.’”

Surely, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was actively engaged in transforming his heart towards that fuller compassion through his meditations, his prayers, and his activism. Surely, it is our task to carry on that work.

Alan Levin is cofounder of Sacred River Healing. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alan is involved in a range of initiatives in New York’s lower Hudson Valley that engage the intersections of racial justice, peacemaking, ecological sustainability, mind-body healing, and spiritual awakening.

Photos: (1) Rev. King with Thich Nhat Hanh in June 1966, courtesy of FOR Archives & Plum Village Monastery; (2) Photo by Bob Fitch, used with permission, FOR Archives.

A Good Jewish Boy

A good Jewish boy. It’s an expression I grew up with, sometimes applied to me, often to Jewish men who made it big on the world stage of science, entertainment or sports. It evoked special feelings when we spoke about those who weren’t obviously Jewish, (e.g.: Tony Curtis, Harrison Ford, Peter Coyote). I apply it here, with a taste of Jewish humor, in speaking of the truly good man, Krishna Das. I had the great pleasure to see Krishna Das, (or KD as he likes to be called) just last night as he led a beautiful kirtan, singing Hindu and Buddhist chants at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Wappinger Falls, NY. And yes, Krishna Das, raised as Jeffrey Kagal, is (or was) Jewish.

 

I say “is or was” referring to a primary question in my book, Crossing the Boundary, for which I interviewed KD. Does a man or woman born to Jewish parents and raised with Jewish identity continue to be Jewish when they embrace and immerse themselves in an alternate spiritual path? Just where and when does Jewish identity cease to be relevant in describing someone (or oneself)? In writing the book I asked around for people who made that journey, crossed that boundary, knowing that I could not easily tell by names or looks. Starhawk, Sat Santokh Singh Khalsa, Krishna Das don’t sound like typical Jewish names. I wanted to know if these folks still considered themselves Jewish, that that identity still described who or what they are.

 

Last night, Krishna Das sat beneath a 50 foot golden Buddha statue with surrounding Buddhas and hundreds of Tibetan Tankhas depicting Buddha in his many forms around the temple. He sang chants, which are mostly repetitions of the names of Gods and Goddesses in

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the Hindu tradition, and told stories of his time with his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, the Indian saint who continues to be the source of divine guidance for him. The room filled with a sacred glow as people participated in the call and response chanting and sat in meditative stillness or danced to the rhythmic beat of the tabla and bells accompanying KD (who played a droning harmonium). At intervals, KD told stories of his time with his guru and offered teachings about awakening to our essential nature, opening our heart to God/Love, and honoring those great beings from many traditions who continue to guide us on our path.

 

KD didn’t mention Torah, Moses, Abraham, at least not last night. From what he shared with me in his interview for Crossing the Boundary, it’s not part of his repertoire and not really a significant aspect of his consciousness. Jewishness is the neighborhood he grew up in. He was turned off by the hypocrisy he saw in his own family and community, went through a difficult and rebellious period, and found grace and freedom in far off India, he found a different neighborhood in which to live; he found home. He told me that he has no animosity with his family or the Jewish people, they are a part of the larger human and spiritual family he embraces. He still loves Jewish humor and the Jewish way of talking or shticking, but it just does not define who he is.

 

As I watched him, I thought of our (his and my) Jewish ancestors. What came to me was the very ancient ones, the mythic wanderers and vision seekers in the wilderness. I felt their presence right there. The Divine One and her/his Angels (Gods and Goddesses) that appeared in fire, sustained the people in the desert, sent messages from the mountain for right conduct in this world, are right in there with Neem Karoli Baba and KD. What more do they ask of us than to wake up and spread the Light and Love of the Divine through the world?

 

Thank you, KD, kirtan wallah, mensch.