As I teach, I encounter a great deal of anxiety about the pandemic, racial injustice, and political polarization. But the pervasive sense of separateness, divisiveness, and fear are not totally new, they have been present long before this year. To respond we first need to hold these struggles and collective fears with compassion. And then we have to look deeper at the root causes of our global problems–and potential solutions.
It has become quite obvious that the remarkable outer developments of science and technology—of supercomputers and the Internet, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, space technology, and more—will not stop ongoing warfare, racism, environmental destruction, inequality, and injustice. These sufferings are all rooted in the human heart. Humanity is now called upon to match our remarkable outer developments with an equal level of inner development. Otherwise we will remain, as a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated, “a nation of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
Humanity is now called upon to match our remarkable outer developments with an equal level of inner development.
Looking deeply, we can see that human suffering is born out of greed, hatred, fear, and ignorance. These primitive responses are wired into our nervous system early in development. However, there is another compelling human possibility, one which has been studied by contemplatives for thousands of years. This is the ability for humans to live with love, generosity, compassion, and wisdom. This invites us to open beyond our small separate self, to sense our interconnection with all.
The fostering of this positive human development is central to the work of Mind & Life. Mind & Life has been at the forefront of a revolution that bridges science and contemplative wisdom, and promotes the widening understanding and use of the best inner tools for human flourishing. Through 30 years of efforts they’ve helped to create and advance a whole new field of contemplative science worldwide.
Contemplatives have been the inner scientists who have mapped these possibilities. For generations they have explored the vast range of states of consciousness, detailing positive human development, and discovering tools to transform struggle into ease, hatred into love, and ignorance into wisdom. Without this inner understanding we can easily lose our way in life, or get polarized in the many conflicts around us. Contemplative practices show us that we are more than this body and our daily tasks—we are consciousness itself, we are spirit or timeless awareness born into the mystery of these temporary bodies. This understanding brings perspective, and inner freedom. With contemplative wisdom we can see the dance of life with greater ease and trust, like the beautiful Ojibwa saying, “sometimes I go about pitying myself, when all the while I am being carried by great winds across the sky.”
Contemplative practice can teach us about our minds and show us how to navigate our place in the world. Precise maps like the Buddhist Abhidharma describe hundreds of states of consciousness and the complex processes that govern the well being of mind and heart.
Contemplatives have stood under the stars, lived in caves, danced their way to insights and love, explored the nature of consciousness and created powerful communities. Inner explorers have developed strategies to awaken us to interdependence, freedom, and compassion. They have discovered skillful means to foster forgiveness, gratitude, and mutual regard, and promote healing and profound well-being. In doing this work, they have bequeathed humanity with ways to quiet the mind, open the heart, and stand in the mystery of life.
The tools and skillful means of contemplation guide us in the most important questions of life: how we choose to live and what stars should lead our way.
With the help of Mind & Life, these powerful tools are now becoming widespread. The adoption of beneficial contemplative practices of breath and body, of mindfulness and compassion, of emotional wisdom and interconnection are now being taught in modern forms. Thousands of clinics and hospitals nationwide are using mindfulness-based interventions to promote healing. Schools and businesses are employing social and emotional learnings derived from contemplative wisdom. Athletes and artists are benefiting. Even the federal courts are learning the practices of forgiveness.
Contemplative traditions have developed the practices and understandings we need in this uncertain time. And Mind & Life has brought these into the world through the lens of science and scholarship, so they can be used by people everywhere.
Our global contemplative traditions are a treasure house of knowledge and tools necessary for the next steps of human evolution, for individuals, and as a global society. With these tools, and the scientifically-based evidence of their power, humans can become more gracious, kind, wise, clear, and loving.
What could be more important!