Archive for “February, 2012”

Mind Matters Most

and You Reap What You Sow

(revised and republished from my email newsletter)

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

If you’re not getting the results you want — in your relationships or in your social change efforts — be intentional while planting seeds at the level of mind.

Inspired by S.N. Goenka

Part 1: Mind Matters Most

In our culture there is a general understanding that physical action has the most importance, verbal action has some importance, and mental action has virtually no importance.

My experience is otherwise, and this relates especially to the work that we do in trying to make the world a better place than we found it.

In fact, verbal and physical actions are nothing but indicators of the level of intensity of what I’m calling “mental action”.

Two examples to illustrate my point:

Example #1:

Suppose I see someone with whom I am angry and upset — someone I might consider an enemy of some sort. First my mental action starts: upset and anger come to the surface. I begin thinking, You jerk! You had no right to do what you did. You are so wrong!, etc. This begins just in my mind.
If the intensity increases, only then will I say something. I’ll insult them, perhaps call them a name, or criticize or blame them. (Keep in mind this is just an example.)
If the intensity reaches a certain point, only then will I perform a physical action: I try to beat them up, physically hurt them, try to get them in trouble in some way, or worse.
(If you are a student of NVC, you’ll realize how intense my need for empathy is at this point, and how useful it might have been to address that earlier.)

Example #2:

I see someone in a very downcast or dismal condition, someone really down-and-out; perhaps it’s someone who is homeless and struggling with addiction, or perhaps it is a different circumstance.
My mental action starts: Compassion; I hope things work out for you; May you not only be given fish, but learn how to fish and be relieved of your suffering; I hope you find and develop the internal resources to help yourself, but also that we can effect the structural changes necessary in society to reduce homelessness, and help lift people out of poverty.
If the intensity increases, then I say something: some kind words, words of encouragement; I engage and connect in some way (vocal action).
Only after the intensity in mind reaches a certain point will I actually do something on the physical level: I may give them some food, or some money, or I’ll give them a ride to where they need to go, or I’ll bring them home so they can use my shower, something, but now at the physical level.

Part 2: You Reap What You Sow

Some people call it Karma, some people call it the law of cause-and-effect. Or as the book Redneck Words of Wisdom quotes: “plant a ‘tater, get a ‘tater.” It doesn’t matter to me what you call it. The fact is, that throughout our lives we want positive harvests, but we so often fail to be mindful while planting the seeds.

We sow seeds of fear, anger, and bitterness, and yet we want to be happy, or we want people to treat us with more respect, consideration and caring.

If I plant bitter cherry, I will not harvest sweet plums, no matter how much I blame my spouse, the system, the man, the patriarchy, my boss, or the industrial growth society. If I want to harvest sweet plums, I need to be intentional while planting.

And what is the seed I’m planting? Is it my physical, vocal, or mental actions? This was the point in Part 1. Our physical and vocal actions are only an indicator of the intensity of our mental actions. This is why the saints, sages, shamans, and spiritual leaders have always said: Know thyself!

This is crucial in our work to make the world a better place. As long as our efforts are characterized by a lack of consciousness regarding our deepest intentions and motivations, we may not be very pleased with the results!

Our work to create positive change in the world is not separate from our work to improve ourselves as human beings.

Four paths to walk

One of my teachers shares a parable of the Buddha’s, that goes a little something like this:

There are four types of people in the world.

Those who move from darkness to darkness.

Those who move from darkness to brightness.

Those who move from brightness to darkness.

And those that move from brightness to brightness.

Let’s break it down:

1) From darkness to darkness:

Someone is not doing well as far as their life circumstances: as far as family, friends, health, money, work, status… whatever.

But they blame others for their situation, and sow seeds of resentment and bitterness.

They are planting seeds of future darkness, and that will be their harvest.

Avoiding responsibility for their current response to their circumstances, energy leaks away from actual solutions to their problems.

They are moving toward darkness.

2) From darkness to brightness:

Someone is not doing well as far as their life circumstances: as far as family, friends, health, money, work, status… whatever.

But rather than blaming others, they approach their situation with compassion and wisdom.

They muster what compassion they can for themselves and for others.

Rather than blaming others, they take responsibility for their current response to their situation.

They compassionately and sometimes with much effort keep getting back on the horse called “I will do the best I can.”

They are planting seeds of future brightness, and that will be their harvest.

By owning their current response, they are building their internal reserves, they are generating rather than squandering the goodwill of others, and they are more likely to be in a generative place with regard to solutions to their problems.

They are moving toward brightness.

3) From brightness to darkness:

Someone is doing quite well as far as their life circumstances: as far as family, friends, health, money, work, status… whatever.

But they think it makes them better than others.

They put down and criticize others whose life circumstances are not equal to their own.

“The reason I’m so well-off (rich, healthy, famous, etc.) is because I am such a great person (smart, good looking, etc.,) or because God likes me better than them because they are lesser than me.”

They are planting seeds of darkness, and that will be their future harvest.

So rather than generating compassion and goodwill in the world, they are sowing seeds of negativity.

They are moving from brightness to darkness.

4) From brightness to brightness:

Someone is doing quite well as far as their life circumstances: as far as family, friends, health, money, work, status… whatever.

But rather than put themselves above others, or use their situation to pump up their ego, they approach it with wisdom and compassion.

Wisdom: this may or may not last. Either way, I too will some day die. May I live and love fully, however much time I have left.

Compassion: how can I help? How can I make a difference? Somebody is having a hard time or going through a difficult situation: this does not make them a bad person. We are each always doing the best we can with what we know. Perhaps they made a poor choice that will give them an opportunity to learn and grow. Perhaps life threw them a curve-ball as it inevitably does to all of us from time to time. How can I be present, true to myself, and compassionate at the same time?

They are planting seeds of brightness, and that will be their future harvest.

They are moving from brightness to brightness.

The upshot:

We cannot always control the circumstances that surround our lives. Often we can’t.

But what we can control is what seeds we plant.

As you plant, so you will harvest.

If your current life circumstances are in brightness or darkness is actually irrelevant.

Just be mindful of the seeds you are planting, and make sure that you are part of the second group or the fourth group: always moving toward brightness.

Situate yourself in deep time

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.
~Albert Einstein

Every culture has its creation story. Ours is the big bang.

And it’s an amazing story, full of poetry and wonder.

Out of nothingness, the Universe dreamed itself into being. Wow.

And then expanded in every direction at the speed of light. Whoa!

For the longest time – over two billion years – there were swirling clouds of hydrogen that slowly coalesced. As they clumped together and became denser, the heat and pressure caused some of these massive clumps to ignite, and the first stars shined.

Our solar system was born from the supernova explosion of one of these first-generation stars, given the name Tiamat by some cosmologists.

As the Earth cooled, it was just rocks and storms, and eventually the most basic life forms emerged.

Single-celled organisms evolved into multi-cellular organisms, and the land was soon populated with plants, and eventually flowers, forests, and animals.

The dinosaurs gave way to the rise of mammals, and humans emerged.

For over 90% of human existence we have been nomadic foragers and hunters. The “agricultural revolution” is only 10 or 11,000 years old.

The industrial revolution is only 300 to 500 years old, depending on where you draw the line.

The information age can be measured in decades at the most.

Your life goes back generation after generation after generation. How far?

The story of the unfolding, emerging Universe is also your story.

Do you have any doubts that you are made of stardust?

Alan Watts was quoted as saying, “The individual is an aperture through which the universe becomes aware of itself.”


Take a moment, close your eyes, and situate yourself in deep time.

Do you see?

You are an emergent member of this unfolding community of manifest existence.

You are the Universe aware of itself.

Strive to consciously participate in that evolution and unfolding.

The orchestra of LIFE delights in you playing your part.


More resources:

In my research for this post I found what looks like an amazing movie:

The trailer for it is also here:

Here’s a cool video from a series with evolutionary philosopher Brian Swimme: The New Story

Want a more detailed timeline?

For more, search for “the great story”, “the universe story”, and the work of Brian Swimme.


This video speaks for itself. Worth the entire 9+ minutes.

Live the questions

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, 
in Letters to a Young Poet

So – what are the questions that you are living with now?