A New Approach in the New Year

I am generally not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. If something needs to be changed, I try to address the issue at that time, rather than wait and let the pressure mount and start off the New Year already feeling in the hole.

However, I do love the reflective nature of this season, and I recently read an article in the Fall ’09 issue of EnlightenNext Magazine  which has made me reevaluate how I enter into any given situation.

The article highlighted Roshi Bernie Glassman’s Maezumi Institute in Massachusetts. The Maezumi Institute is the major study/practice center of the Zen Peacemakers, offering training paths, study programs, and hands-on internships.

At the core of the training students are taught to enter any situation:

  1. From a position of not knowing , meaning that you come without preconceptions or prejudice
  2. Bear witness to the problem
  3. Respond with loving action

For me this was both startlingly simple and profound, and I have been coming back to it again and again in my mind as a new way to be in this world – whether in a professional setting, or with friends and family members.

How many times have you walked into a room with an agenda, or at the very least an expectation about how it will play out, or about the “types” of people who are there? This dharma challenges us to walk in with our mind as a tabula rasa, thus clearing the space normally occupied by all of our thoughts, leaving room for receptivity and the fullness of the experience.

From there, students are encouraged to observe the problem or situation. I understand this to go beyond active listening to a place of empathy, where filters are down and we are listening and watching with an open, non-judging, compassionate heart. There is stillness and peace in this state. Words do not spill out and become tangled in the melee.

This process allows the layers of ego and old wounds around the heart to unfold, like the opening of the lotus, one of Buddhism’s Eight Auspicious Symbols. From this place we are inspired to act from love, without thoughts of mores and constraints, but rather in the present moment where we are truly responding to the needs at hand.

You may wonder what all of this has to do with environmentalism. When I looked closely at the reasons why it was so vital to me to be a voice for the earth, I realized it was based on a deep inner knowing that we are all connected and that what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. So, to work to restore the earth to balance and harmony, with anything other than love and peace felt misaligned and counterproductive.

What if world leaders had walked into Copenhagen as Zen Peacekeepers? What if they dropped their personas and bore witness to the people and communities who are most threatened by climate change – and also empathized with the nations who are afraid of change and of the short-term economic percussions that may go along with carbon emissions control? If they saw that they were all acting out of fear in one way or another, would they have felt the thread of oneness that connects them all? And if so, could they have been an example of love in action as they promised to work together with the focus on people, planet and then profit rather than on economies, controls, and penalties?

And on a micro-level, imagine family gatherings where old grudges and resentments were dropped, loved ones were given undivided attention, and people opened their hearts and reacted with love.

While I may not always be able to open up to the Zen Peacekeeper inside of me, I am grateful for these teachings which will illuminate my path as I head into 2010.

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