I invite you in reading this essay to partake in mindful meditations, just as I have throughout the writing of this piece – some of which I have given here.

 

Breathing in…I know I am breathing in. Breathing out…I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in…I am alive. Breathing out…I am here.

Breathing in…I am myself. Breathing out…I am everything non-self.

Breathing in…I am one. Breathing out…I am all.

Breathing in…I am anxious. Breathing out…I welcome my anxiety.

Breathing in…I know I have expectations. Breathing out…I accept my expectations.

Breathing in…I feel calm. Breathing out…I welcome calm.

Breathing in…I feel fear. Breathing out…I know my fear.

Breathing in…I feel irritation. Breathing out…I welcome irritation.

Breathing in…I know I am breathing in. Breathing out…I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in…I feel still. Breathing out…I welcome stillness.

Breathing in…I know myself. Breathing out…I let go.

 

For some time I pondered on what was my Applied Holistic Science? What was I going to do? How was I going to apply what I had learnt? Then I met Holistic Science, embodied. At a retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh I heard, through a language I was not familiar with, the beautiful articulation of what Holistic Science has been for me, both in words and in his presence. From within the Buddhist framework, I was able to recognise the insights that I had met within myself, but had not yet really been able to voice. I found myself flowing with tears at seeing myself in him, and him in me. I felt the freedom that comes from Prajñā, or ‘Great Understanding’. I knew then, that Applied Holistic Science is not a way of doing, or even knowing, for me, but is a way of being, which gives rise to a totally different notion of self and global ethics.

 

This essay is my journey of really meeting the learning from our core modules, in Buddhism. I think there is something beautiful in the meeting of the other, in order to know one’s self, and this is akin to my felt experience on the retreat, of the oneness and wholeness of Engaged Buddhism and Holistic Science. Perhaps though, more importantly, this essay is my sensing of how to use my unique skills to be the learning, particularly after I have left the holding space of Schumacher College.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh spoke to the practice of mindfulness, which generates the kind of energy to be in the here and the now. Mindfulness cultivates our capacity to observe the mental formations of our mind; for example, to know feelings and thoughts that arise in us, and to be able to recognise them and call them by their true name; “Hello my fear, I know you are there and I will take care of you…Hello, my anxiety I know you are there and I will take of you.” There is no desire to change these feelings or thoughts, but there is an awareness of them when they manifest. We are able to really be with what is arising within us, and are therefore more able to recognise the context within which we are acting.

 

Breathing in…I know I am breathing in. Breathing out…I know I am breathing out.

 

Mindfulness allows us to observe the objects of our mind; everything that is, typically, described as reality, is seen as an object of perception . Thus, everything we encounter is a perception of our mind e.g. a sheet of paper or a flower. The practice of staying with mindfulness, leads us into deep concentration. In staying with this deep concentration a “breakthrough” can occur; the coming to an understanding of the true nature of an object of our perception. Thich Nhat Hanh (known by many as Thay) described this great understanding as an intuitive knowing, which does not arise from deep thinking, but is a deep intuitive vision – the insight of ultimate reality, which has the power to free us from our anger, from our fear, from our suffering. This is the insight of interbeing.

 

The insight of interbeing is the direct intuitive knowing that nothing can ever be separate because everything is. Everything has to inter-be with everything else. Nothing can exist on its own. For example, if we look deeply into a rose, we see only non-rose elements; the whole cosmos, the whole world of non-rose, has come together to help the rose to manifest. The nature of the rose is the nature of interbeing. As Thay describes “a rose is made of non-rose elements, just as a human is only made of non-human elements, if you were to take out all the non-human elements; the mineral, the vegetable and the animal, the human would disappear”. This is the wisdom of non-discrimination. If a rose was to try to discriminate against non-rose elements, she would be discriminating against herself… as we do constantly.

I understood Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants in this way. Bortoft (2010) describes how Goethe “awakened the intuitive mind, for which the universal is not the same as the general, and which is therefore not reached by abstracting the common denominator from several particular instances. For the intuitive mind there is a reversal of perception here. Instead of a movement of mental abstraction from the particular to the general, there is a perception of the universal shining in the particular.” (p.79) Following Goethean methodology, and with deep contemplation, there comes an awareness of yourself in relation to the plant and a seeing of its true nature. Goethe described that, with the intuitive knowing of the organ of his imagination, he touched the coming-into-being of the plant so deeply that he saw all plants as one. Rather than acting from the thinking centre of consciousness, described by Thay as “manas”, Goethe understood intensively the “multiplicity in unity”, with the living, pre-numerical insight, in which the one is the many. The intensive dimension, or insight of interbeing, is not the observation of the unity of all other things, but is the true understanding that there is no ‘this’ and ‘that’, no ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, no ‘me’ and ‘them’. I find this idea of interbeing an elegantly simple way of alluding to what is nearly impossible to describe in words. In its nature, interbeing is the living wholeness.

 

Breathing in…I am me. Breathing out…I am made of only non-me elements.

 

Rather than dwelling in the living paradox of the meditation above, our tendency is to believe that we have a separate ‘self’. And so we are caught with the idea of our being. From this place of separation the idea of superiority, inferiority, and even equality, comes. Ascribing equal value is to still compare two separate things. The insight of interbeing is to know that we are only made of non-us elements, and therefore we cannot exist without everything. Here, I really understand1 Goethe’s “diversity as the living unity”; where diversity is nature manifesting itself differently in order to be itself.

 

Breathing in…I know I am breathing in. Breathing out…I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in…I am aware of nervous excitement. Breathing out…I welcome these feelings.

Breathing in…I feel fear. Breathing out…I see my fear.

Breathing in…I feel the sunshine. Breathing out…I smile to the sunshine.

Breathing in…I feel calm. Breathing out…I welcome calm.

 

Dwelling in this insight of diversity, there appears a living complexity theory. By which I mean not just to draw comparisons between complexity theory and Buddhism, but to notice how, when residing in the insight, there can be no other than a complex world. In his book Together We Are One Thay says,

 

“If we look deeply into the flower, we see a cloud because we know without the cloud there would be no rain and this flower could not manifest…Looking deeply at the flower, we see the sunshine. The sunshine is in it. Without the sunshine, nothing can grow…When we look into the flower we see the earth, we see the minerals. We cannot remove soil and minerals from the flower or the flower with collapse.” (2010, p.57)

 

This passage, for me, is the living complexity theory ‘way of knowing’ the universe. Complexity theory, in contrast to reductionist science, understands that things cannot be reduced down to component parts, and that lines drawn around things for the purpose of study are only arbitrary lines drawn by us, and do not in any way reflect the true nature of the interdependent relationships that connect everything that is. From this insight of interbeing and non-discrimination the notion of Gaia (as in James Lovelock’s Gaia theory) intuitively makes perfect sense. Understanding that all eco-systems are in a delicate balance of self-regulation, where interfering with one system, to take the example of carbon levels in the atmosphere will, undoubtedly, have unknown and far-reaching consequences for all. For, if each system is a part, where the whole is reflected in each of the parts, then each is crucially important. Again, to reiterate, if in the great understanding of interconnection, what can seem like somewhat disparate teachings of the Holistic Science course, intuitively make sense as an overarching coherent way of relating with our world.

 

Thus, having touched this insight, a deep, intuitive global ethic comes to us clearly and obviously. Holistic Science is so necessarily interwoven with ideas of sustainability because as Stephan Harding so eloquently puts, “we realise that perceptions of wholeness arrived at through active looking are inseparable from a deep sensitivity to the intrinsic value in the being or entity we are interacting with, making it very difficult to do anything that would harm or disturb the ‘inner necessity and truth’ of that being.” (2006, p.43). Thich Nhat Hanh describes the Five Mindfulness Trainings that are the cultivated practice of a global ethic. The following transcript is taken from his talk at the American School in London on the 2nd April 2012.

 

 

“The Five Mindfulness Trainings are based on the insight of interbeing and on the insight of non-discrimination. The First Mindfulness Training is about protecting life on the planet Earth. According to the insight, humans are made only of non-human elements, and if you harm other species, we harm ourselves. We are not something separate from the environment; we are the environment. The First Mindfulness Training is to protect the right of life for other species. Our way of life should be reverence for life.

The Second Mindfulness Training is about true happiness; looking deeply you see it does not depend on fame, wealth, power and sex. True happiness would be impossible without understanding and love. To reach happiness we should cultivate understanding and compassion. Understanding is about understanding the suffering inside, and the suffering of the other. Bringing compassion to this means that you no longer feel anger; you no longer want to harm or bring suffering to the other…

The Third Mindfulness Training is about true love. True love is born from understanding. If you do not understand someone it is impossible to love them, or bring true happiness to them…True love always involves respect and reverence; the nature of my love is reverence…The four ingredients of true love are loving kindness (the capacity to offer happiness), compassion (the power to transform the suffering of the other), joy and inclusiveness / non-discrimination; in true love there is no “I” and “you” anymore - your suffering is my suffering, and my happiness is your happiness.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training is the practice of loving speech and deep listening - this is a very important instrument to restore communication and to reconcile…We have a tendency to believe that we alone suffer, but if we suffer then they suffer also…If I look deeply and see the suffering in that person I will not want to harm them anymore, but my compassion will help me to help them to suffer less…Listening to someone’s suffering is a very deep practice, because the other person may have the tendency to blame, and it is difficult for us to listen. So, we must bring the mindfulness of compassion to our listening. Psychotherapists all have some degree of mindful listening if they are successful; they must listen so deeply that the other person feels that they suffer less...

The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about nourishment and healing; about mindful consumption. To consume in such a way that you will not destroy your body and your mind with toxins. Because of this emptiness we tend to

consume in order to fill this vacuum. Among the things we consume are alcohol, drugs, TV, magazines, and even conversations full of anger and fear. So by consuming these we make ourselves sick. We learn to eat and to drink in such a way that preserves the well-being of our body. In the 5 contemplations we read every time we begin a meal; this food is a gift of the cosmos and we vow to eat in such a way to preserve compassion in us, to eat in such a way to reduce the suffering of other living beings on Earth and to help preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming. To live in such a way to help make a future possible on our planet and for our future generations.”

 

 

In these trainings I see the deepest philosophy behind Holistic Science; that of deep ecology; where to discriminate between human and nature is not right. To live your ecological self is to understand this deepest insight of non-discrimination, (Nhat Hanh, 2010). I would, however, like to draw attention to the idea that, just as we see that to discriminate between us and our environment is to create our own suffering; where harming the Earth is harming ourselves, so too this applies to discrimination between people. I think it is easy having had an experience, like that at Schumacher, to meet people who have not come across this way of thinking, who have not been “Gaia’d” and are living in disconnection with the world, and not know how to communicate with them. To stand in judgment, or to feel frustrated. Here, the practice of mindfulness enables a different way of relating; because when coming from the place of this insight there is no inferiority, no superiority, because there is a deep understanding that I am not without the other; the knowing is not without the un-knowing. 

 

In the sutra called The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion (2010), the Buddha has a conversation with his student, Subhuti, where he asks,

“What do you think, Subhuti? Does an Arhat think like this, ‘I have attained the fruit of Arhatship’?”

Subhuti replied, “No, World- Honoured One. Why? There is no separately existing thing that can be called Arhat. If an Arhat gives rise to the thought that he has attained the fruit of Arhatship, then he is still caught up in the idea of self, a person, a living being, a life span.”

(Arhat means one who has transformed all afflictions and desires.)

 

This sutra beautifully alerts us to the inherent requirement that in order to be ‘in the insight’ there is no “I” who understands and “you” who does not understand; because ‘being’ in the insight is to let go of the idea of a separate self. As Joanna Macy writes, “the awakening to our true self is the awakening to the entirety, breaking out of the prison-self of separate ego. The one who perceives this is the bodhisattva – and we are all bodhisattvas because we are all capable of experiencing that – it is our true nature.” (1990, p.61).

 

Thus, it feels to me incredibly important to understand this in the context of Schumacher College, or those involved in this movement towards a more Holistic Science. If, in leaving the college, I am not able to understand this interconnection – interbeing - between myself and those who have not had this experience, I think I will suffer deeply. I think I will feel lonely, isolated and not understood. I will be angry and resent those people I see as destroying the planet. And I am sure that this will happen…frequently! But, staying in the here and the now and bringing the insight of interbeing; that my understanding is their non-understanding and vice-versa, is the power to free me from my suffering.

It is in this place of knowing that as I am only made of non-me elements I cannot separate myself, because to do so is to go against my true nature – I would be trying to discriminate against myself, which will only ever cause me suffering. Thus I can cultivate the non-separation, bringing the oneness of my non-me elements into harmony. Here, I can continue the enquiry, where I started my journey, into the Psychology of Change. I do not have to stand in judgment or feel angry, but instead, the notion of interbeing helps me to bring a renewable and endless compassion and deep understanding to listening to the suffering of others. As I understand that if they suffer, then I also suffer.

 

This insight helps me to understand how I can communicate deeply with people outside of my Schumacher experience. Thay, in his talk, described how everyone has an inherent need for love and understanding, which is so seldom met in our culture of disconnection. He argues that through this lack of love and understanding, we find ourselves in a vacuum of emptiness, which we attempt to fill with consumption; food, TV, distraction and material goods. Thay stated that through listening deeply we can help someone to feel truly understood; but this deep listening is extremely difficult. In order to really listen deeply, to prevent conversations becoming a debate, and to prevent a person’s wrong perceptions triggering in us reactions of anger, irritation or suffering, we must bring a mindful compassion to our listening. This mindful compassion is made possible from both cultivating the practice of mindfulness, and from the foundation of interbeing, where you are in the lived understanding that their suffering is your suffering because they are you, and you are them. Through the process of deep listening we can cultivate a true understanding of that person and their journey. We can develop a true love for them, and with that comes the wish to bring them happiness and reduce their suffering.

It is in my first essay that I began an enquiry into the struggle to connect deeply to nature because of this deep disconnect we have watered and because of the shame fed in our society. I can see that in the continued observing of mindfulness I can bring an authentic compassion for people where they are, without judgment. I can, through this practice of deep listening, come to really understand a person’s journey, bringing with that understanding an authentic love and acceptance, which will help to reduce their suffering2. This love and understanding has the power to create opportunities for the void of emptiness to be replaced with self-generated fulfilment and happiness, rather than the mass consumption that is destroying our precious planet. I can contribute to this world, and apply my skills, from a place of love and engagement, rather than fear and separation. I can see that this might just be my way of being Holistic Science in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Bortoft, H. (2010). The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe’s Way of Science. Edinburgh: Floris Books.

Harding, S. (2009). Animate Earth: Science Intuition and Gaia. (2nd edition). Green Books: Dartington, Totnes.

Macy, J. (1990). The Greening of the Self. In A.H. Badiner. (Ed). Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhist and Ecology. Parallex Press: California

Naht Hanh, T. (2010). Together We Are One. Parallex Press: California.

Naht Hanh, T.(2010). The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion. Parallex Press: California.

Naht Hanh, T. (2010) Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way. Parallex Press: California.

Naht, Hahn, T. (2012) Applying Buddhist Teachings in the Classroom Talk given at the Educators Retreat held at the American School in London on 2nd April 2012. Available at: http://www.livestream.com/plumvillage/video?clipId=pla_a24cb40b-d909-4d56-a107-e8d2ecf81c4a

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