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Gay Bradshaw

Angle of Re-entry

By Mariposa Reflections

Like people on the Moon I see, are things not meant to be.
– James Taylor

When a rocket leaves its orbit in space and returns to Earth, it is referred to as re-entry. Before landing, the spaceship must first negotiate the planet’s atmosphere, the nebulous cloak which provides breath for Earth’s inhabitants and gentle protection from direct contact with the Sun’s powerful rays. Beyond this second skin, outside the Kármán line, the ambiguous boundary one hundred kilometers from Earth, lies the vastness of space.

Departure and return are not easy. The struggle to break free of Earth’s embrace is costly – the planet holds on tightly to her own. Re-entry is also demanding. As descent through the atmosphere begins, the spaceship is captured by Earth’s possessive gravitational pull. Free fall is countered by friction created at the interface of ship and air. The heat and noise are awesome. [2]

Surviving this radical transition from space to Earth, astronauts assert, depends almost completely on attitude, the appropriate angle of descent which is about forty degrees. [3] The same might be said about the radical shift that the entire planet is experiencing today.

Humanity has also sought to free itself from Earth’s reaching pull and connection. For millennia, our species has striven to be in orbit, unattached and unattending, in the space of separation. Lift-off succeeded, but soon fuel, literally and spiritually, ran out. We have now begun an unintended descent back to Earth and are experiencing the tearing tension of re-entry.

During the descent, the meeting of minds has become sharp and shredded, relationships worn and frayed from the friction of fear, uncertainty, and mistrust. We are enveloped in the roar of reintegration. To survive, humans must find and adopt the appropriate attitude. But, what does the angle of forty degrees translate to in terms of human re-entry?

The answer is quite simple: being Nature. Being Nature entails peeling away the perceptual, psychological, ethical, and physical barriers which have been erected to create the delusion of separation from Animal, Plant, and other Nature, including fellow human beings. Stripped of these maladaptive dramas and dreams of future and past, we emerge into the present, “in between what might have been and what has come to pass.” [1] By being present, in full contact with each moment, we experience awakening from a seductive, but dysfunctional, dream. The great unhappiness gripping humans everywhere is the grief of non-acceptance, the loss of what we thought could be, but is not.

By aligning our attitude with Nature, our rhythms take on the cadence of the seasons and subtleties of the ebb and flow of change of which we are an inextricable part. Cooling relief pours over the heat of despair as we land and sink into the roots of life, into Nature’s stillness. We discover that during all this time spent in empty orbit, the Animals and Trees have been waiting, waiting and willing us home.

Learn More

[1] Taylor, J. 1971.  Long ago and far away. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmL9EiItUa4
[2] Clark, S. 2020. Dragon astronauts describe sounds and sensations of return to Earth Spaceflight Now. Retrieved from https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/08/04/dragon-astronauts-describe-sounds-and-sensations-of-returning-to-earth/
[3] McGrath, J. 2021. How Do Spacecraft Re-enter the Earth’s Atmosphere?  How Stuff Works. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/spacecraft-reentry.htm

Photo credit: Erwan Hesry

 

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Brown Bears and the Inner Body

By Mariposa Reflections

“Play was important for the cubs. Their world wants to be around play at that age. It was wonderful to be with them. They were always playing and you could not help but feel joy because of their joy. Their roaring around, chasing each other and jumping into the water – it was infectious. Just now, thinking of them, I can’t help but laugh. Once you are able to join them in play, it makes the world completely different. If you see Edge of Eden, like the part when I take the cubs sliding on the snow, they are watching me and trying to figure things out. They aren’t very coordinated when they get so enthusiastic and slide and jump in the air. First, when they try something out, it’s a serious attempt, then as soon as they feel reasonably safe, all hell breaks loose. They test themselves even further, like in the snow, trying out steeper slopes. When they do this, they become a deeper and deeper part of the world they were born in.” [1,2]

Charlie Russell’s snapshot description of young Brown Bears offers insights into both the cubs’ early experience and instruction on the inner body, the delicate interface between consciousness and the material form it inhabits. First, a little more background about the cubs.

After witnessing their mothers killed, the Brown Bear cubs (Eurasia’s counterpart of the North American Grizzly) were stuffed into cages at hunters’ homes or inside zoos. During his stay in Kamchatka, Russia, Charlie was asked, in appreciation of his decades-long experience with Bears, to rescue, rear, and reintroduce captive-held cubs to the Russian wilderness. Over ten years, Charlie squired ten cubs, not including those of a wild mother Bear who hired him to nanny her own while she went off to forage. [2,3]

As soon as their painfully etched fear relaxed into trust, the cubs looked to Charlie for the guidance and care that mother Bears provide. This schooling is conducted in the embrace of an intimate 24/7 three-year relationship during which cub minds and bodies are shaped to match the micro (interpersonal) and macro (wild society) settings in which they will live, raise families, make friends, and die. Critically, during this time, cubs develop ways of knowing and being – an episteme and ontology – which implicitly inform a code of ethics. This perspective is vital for understanding the nature of trauma and its healing.

When the cubs saw their mothers killed and were forced into captivity, in large part, they were not physically harmed. They experienced a deficit of nurturance physiologically, but the most formative assault was in the realm of the invisible. The young Bears were literally torn from the “world they were born into.” Shock and deprivation cut-off fluid access to the stream of consciousness springing from its source, the eternal, timeless, unmanifested. [4] Trauma is a cataclysmic breach of natural ethos.

In many cases, such experiences lead to the atrophy and desiccation of the inner body. The psychic tear and stranglehold of confinement are so profound that the captive is left aground, alone in the madhouse of the mind. Many others, however, such as Charlie’s cubs and the infant Elephants cared for by Dame Daphne, are resuscitated. [5] It was not only their needles of understanding and threads of love which Charlie and Daphne used to deftly sew back together the gaping wounds, but the ways and place in which this mending took place. The infants’ torn roots were re-planted in their native soil, their bodies and souls cultivated in harmony to “become a deeper and deeper part of the world they were born in.” [2] The image of Tree re-planting is apt.

Animal mobility plays a trick on the human eye giving the footed, winged and scaled the appearance of less rootedness than their herbaceous brethren and sistren. But while their bodies may move through sky, waters, and land, the Eagles, Salmon, and Bears of Kamchatka possess invisible connection to source as mighty as that of the Trees. Charlie’s inner shape-shifting to a surrogate mother Bear was successful precisely because of this intuitive understanding.

The exhilaration we hear in Charlie’s voice springs from his recognition that connection of the cubs’ inner bodies to source had been restored. The young Bears were re-inhabiting their bodies, the life force was visibly pouring through and invigorating their awkward developing forms. Their joyful play reflects inner revitalization. The “visible and tangible body is only an outer shell, or rather a limited and distorted perception of a deeper reality. In your natural state of connectedness with Being, this deeper reality can be felt every moment as the invisible inner body, the animating presence within you. So to ‘inhabit the body’ is to feel the body from within, to feel the life inside the body and thereby come to know that you are beyond the outer form.” [4] This is the world that the young Bears and Elephants were born into. This is the world to which we must return.

The path to Being begins with the path to being Nature. When we withdraw consciousness from the mind through Nature mindfulness, meditation, and prayer, we re-occupy our bodies releasing the revivifying flow of pure consciousness into outer form. By simply bringing attention to our breath, we touch into Nature consciousness and the stream of all life.

Learn More

[1] Turner, J. & S. 2006. [film] Edge of Eden: Living with Grizzlies.  Retrieved from https://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/6781/The-Edge-of-Eden–Living-with–Grizzlies
[2] Bradshaw, G.A. 2019. Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell. Rocky Mountain Books.
[3] Russell, C. 2011. Grizzly Heart. Vintage Canada.
[4] Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. New World Library.
[5] Bradshaw, GA. 2021. Elephants and Existence. Mariposa Reflections. Retrieved from https://kerulos.org/elephants-and-existence/

Photo credit: Charlie Russell

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Embodied Activism

By Mariposa Reflections

After receiving last week’s Martians and Meditations post, a reader wrote: “Meditation tries to unhook us from thoughts and thinking. But doesn’t tonglen do the opposite when we’re asked to think about someone while we’re doing the practice?” That’s a good question and leads to an interesting topic: the relationship between contemplation and activism.

As many spiritual teachers point out, meditation and contemplative prayer are not activities, but states of un-doing. They guide attention to the inner body, a point of access into the realm of being which is beyond name, beyond form, and beyond incessant thinking.[1] Thinking hijacks consciousness and reduces it to thoughts. In the process, we become hostage to endless stories about the past (whether it’s yesterday’s argument at work or decade’s old rumination about a difficult relationship) or the future (worries about the consequences of climate change or what the doctor will say tomorrow about test results). But, in between past and future is the pause where we can come into direct contact with Nature consciousness, where the Animals live. This is also where tonglen practice is grounded.

“Setting up” for tonglen is not done in haste. First centering in presence is essential. Tonglen instruction begins by asking us to come into stillness and flashing on bodhicitta, the awakened, open heart. [2] Once in touch with inner stillness, gently attending to our breath, we are ready to engage in the practice. As we inhale, we take in heavy negativity – what Pema Chödrön describes as a feeling of claustrophobia. As we exhale, dark negativity transforms into light, fresh, and positive energy. Taking in and sending out in the medium of the breath occurs without thinking. It is an embodied, inclusive practice of compassion. [3]

The next phase of tonglen asks us to bring to mind a difficult personal situation or, in a more expansive engagement, those who are experiencing widespread suffering – the millions of Fish dying from pollution or Seabirds choked by plastic refuse. Thoughts that conjure an image or sense of those in need inform the practice. While meditating, Seabirds are held in presence without thinking. This active connection with others for whom you are bearing witness takes place in the space of clear consciousness, William James’ sea into which all minds are plunged.

In this way, tonglen is a form of activism. It is engaged in the space where we are connected with all life. Practiced in stillness, tonglen is 100% embodied accompaniment because it is being with another in the substrate of love. “I” and “Thou” are linked at depth. This brings an incredible potency to material activism that uses our bodies, thoughts and words in support of others in diverse ways – through petitions, nonviolent protests, actions, letters, speeches and writing, and how we live every day. As bell hooks noted, “The civil rights movement was such a wonderful movement for social justice because the heart of it was love—loving everyone.”[4]

Abstinence from consuming Animals as food, clothing or other uses and abuses is a critical, material act. It is the external expression of our inner connection with Animal kin which we nourish and cultivate through practices such as tonglen and prayer. Inner practices are vital because without profound internal transformation, external change will only reach so far. Words and actions need to be deeply rooted in consonant consciousness, what Franciscan Father Richard Rohr calls, “full bodied knowing.”[5] Oak trees stand tall and long because they are firmly planted in the Earth. Elephant society thrives generation after generation because their consciousness is rooted in Nature’s love. Contemplation in action is the path to becoming Nature. Contemplation in action is the path of human transformation.

Learn More

[1] Tolle, E. 2004. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. New World Library.
[2] Chödrön, P. 2021. How to Practice Tonglen. The Lion’s Roar. https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-tonglen/
[3] Brach, T. 2018. Tonglen: Radical Compassion – Tara Brach leads a Short Talk and Meditation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1q36_Ac7sw
[4] hooks, b. and Thich Nhat Hanh. 2017. Building a Community of Love: bell hooks and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Lion’s Roar. https://www.lionsroar.com/bell-hooks-and-thich-nhat-hanh-on-building-a-community-of-love/
[5] Rohr, R. 2012. Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation.

Photo credit: William H. Majoros

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Martians and Meditation

By Mariposa Reflections

When I was just the age of starting school, there were two television programs, what would be called science fiction shows. They were not, however, just futuristic tableaus. Episodes always had some odd, almost eerie, twist and carried a message. Perhaps because I didn’t watch television much, I only recall one episode and just flashes of certain scenes that have stayed with me all these years. The details may be a bit muddled, but this is the overall story.

The episode opens with an early 1960’s man at home. He is wearing the business uniform of the time—a dark suit, white shirt, tie, and a hat in hand. After kissing his wife’s cheek and saying good-bye, the man gets into his car to drive to work. But he is startled to see that an unusually dense, enveloping fog has materialized overnight. Visibility is almost nil.

I’m not sure what happens next, but somehow he, his wife and neighbors realize that their entire block has been hijacked by outer space abductors. These un-earthlings look somewhat like giant Lizards. The purpose of the neighborhood kidnapping is to perform an experiment — use the neighborhood as a case study to determine whether Earth is a suitable place for colonization.

The outer space abductors go to great lengths to maintain isolation. Any contact with their subjects turns them into alien Lizards and the experiment fails. The humans, of course, are terrified. This fear changes everything. The once-friendly Saturday drinks and barbecue neighbors suddenly turn into paranoid, hostile, and aggressive enemies. If someone becomes “contaminated,” s/he is immediately thrown out (or it could be that they are killed).

One day, much to her horror, the wife of the business man, discovers a patch of alien Lizard scales on her neck while she is sitting at her bedroom dressing table brushing her hair. At first, she tries to hide the fact from her husband, but soon, he too knows. Both are terrified that the neighbors will find out and she will be expunged.

I don’t remember what happens next, but everyone eventually finds out. The episode’s final scene shows the neighbors, including the businessman and his wife, in a circle holding hands. They have decided to stand together, in solidarity—foil the outer-space experiment to save the planet by turning themselves into Lizard aliens. So how is this related to meditation?

These images arose during a practice of tonglen, what Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön describes as the “taking and giving in the medium of the breath” [1] At first glance, especially today when everyone is overwhelmed by images, experiences, and thoughts of Animal and Earth suffering and that of fellow human beings, tonglen seems utterly counterintuitive. The recent surge of interest in contemplative practices has come about not only because they facilitate the transformation of human consciousness from its course of destruction to one of loving wellness, but they help heal and alleviate the intense suffering we empathetically feel and experience.

Fear, anxiety, grief, and loss automatically create contraction, a pulling away from what is unpleasant. The body and mind are averse to what is perceived as potentially harmful or distressing. Our hand pulls way instinctively when we touch a hot stove, and Deer and Wild Turkeys run, fly, or leave when they hear loud human voices, motors, and noise. Also, when we witness someone in pain and suffering, there is the tendency to look away, resist and block out painful emotions that arise.

In the shadow of climate change, uncertainty, and pervasive violence, these emotions and behaviors of self-protection tear us from life’s substrate of oneness. The retraction into the hard shell of ego increases a sense of alienation and isolation, which in turn produces further fear and pain. Symptoms of this positive feedback loop manifest in a multitude of ways: strained and fractured relationships, increased aggression, and deepening despair. Tonglen seeks to reverse these mental states of contraction.

The practice can be engaged during a structured meditation or, as Pema Chödrön encourages, “on the spot,” in real-time, during a difficult encounter or situation. Tonglen is usually described as a several step process. [2] It begins with cultivating a spark of openness and extension. Then, from this sense of stillness, light, and spaciousness, we breathe in textures and colors of suffering, fear, and distress—a sense of heaviness, darkness, negativity, and heat. When breathing out, we send out freshness, light, and positive energy. In-breaths and out-breaths are accompanied by these visualizations. Notably, instruction for tonglen is accompanied by a caution: be careful to start out gradually and not become overwhelmed. As in any practice, the pace is personal and calibrated to individual capacity.

The next suggested step or phase is to reflect on a personal painful or distressing situation. For example, you may feel hurt and rejected by a friend. Breathe in these feelings for yourself, and at the same time for others who are having similar feelings and experiences. On the out breath, send out compassion, love, and acceptance for yourself and others.

Finally, expand this process to the “bigger picture” by going beyond the personal. This entails doing tonglen for those whom you may not know who are suffering widely. Pema Chödrön recounts how her teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche engaged in tonglen:

When he was eight years old, Trungpa Rinpoche saw a whimpering puppy being stoned to death by a laughing, jeering crowd. He said that after that, doing tonglen practice was straightforward for him: all he had to do was think of that dog and his heart would start to open instantly. There was nothing complicated about it. He would have done anything to breathe in the suffering of that animal and to breathe out relief…It is your connection with the realization that there are puppies and people suffering unjustly like that all over the world. You immediately extend the practice out and breathe in the suffering of all the people who are suffering like that animal. [3]

Millions upon millions of male Chicks in factories around the world are carried on a conveyor belt to be ground up and killed.[4] In the U.S. alone, approximately, 30,000 Chicks are killed every hour. [5, petition below] In addition to activism to stop these cruel massacres, you can accompany the Chicks with a practice of tonglen. You might breathe in their feelings of fear, confusion, and despair, and on the out-breath send relief, love, and blessings. Tonglen can also be practiced for those you consider agents of violence and suffering. The practice is the same. Breathe in the darkness and pain, and breathe out healing and compassion.

While tonglen  may seem counter-intuitive, it can be incredibly healing for oneself and others. By taking in pain and sending out healing, there is a recognition of connectedness, and appreciation that we are not isolated and not alone in our suffering. Neither are those for whom we practice tonglen. Similar to the abducted neighbors who decided not to abandon and attack each other, we can re-connect by reversing the contraction of pain to expanded inclusion. This sense of shared life and care brings us back into presence and oneness.

Learn More

[1] Chödrön, P. 2012. Opening the Heart. SoundsTrue.
[2] Chödrön, P. 2021. How to Practice Tonglen. The Lion’s Roar. https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-tonglen/
[3] Chödrön, P. 2021. Practicing Compassion with Tonglen Meditation. Spirituality and Practice. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/practices/view/27815/practicing-compassion-with-tonglen-meditation.
[4] Egg Truth. 2021. Retrieved from https://www.egg-truth.com/
[5] Animal Equality. 2021. [petition] Baby Chicks Killed for Being Worthless. https://animalequality.org/action/ban-chick-culling?utm_source=google_cpc&utm_medium=ad_grant&utm_campaign=awareness&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4NX7laHf9AIVIiCtBh35dgE0EAAYASAAEgLJ0_D_BwE

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Revelation is Relational

By Mariposa Reflections

I wonder what I ought to tell you about the friendship there was between me and a falcon? —Carlo Carretto, I, Francis

 

Last year, I completed a book. I am listed as the sole author, but the content and essence of the text were guided by a Rabbit. In many ways, the collaboration was no different than others. Diverse authors, including scientists, ascribe their discoveries to sources other than their own analytical operations. The fantastic science fiction of Felix Eberty sparked Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. A coiled snake in the dreams of chemist Friedrich Kekulé led to his imagining of the benzene ring. Helen Cohn Schucman maintained that she played no part other than passive amanuensis for an unknown voice to create the dense spiritual tome, A Course in Miracles.

C.G. Jung and other seers attribute these exchanges to expressions of the psyche’s vast, fluid nature which is inextricably connected to the entirety of life. While the material world may appear as an assemblage of individual entities embedded in empty solitude, in actuality we live in William James’s world of accidental fences which, one by one dissolve into the authentic matrix of Nature’s unseen world.

Usually, when the word “Rabbit” or other Animal name is used, there is an intrinsic objectification and diminution. What is said or written is instantaneously subjected to a different set of inferences and judgments relative to those associated with humans. But as our species is slowly learning—whether from science’s admission of cross-species neuro-comparability, traditional Indigenous views, or personal experience—judgments based on externalities alone are misguided and incomplete. Fences might make good neighbors, but their separation is illusory. The ego is a remarkable magician whose masterful sleights of hand create interior and exterior barriers and boundaries which give the appearance of such solidity, such stability and permanence. Yet even the most seemingly impregnable walls inevitably crumble, fumble, and disappear into the dusty arms of mother Earth.

While my co-author navigated the world as a Rabbit, her form was only a medium of practical expression for operating in the material world. She heard and played life in the scale of Rabbit because that was how she was differentiated when she entered into form. Her life essence was communicated through a Rabbit interface of reflections and feelings much as mine enter through the form of human.

We spent twenty hours a day, side by side. For four years, we co-existed in what fifth century theologian Pelagius described, “the luminous pause between the two great mysteries.” When she was no longer able to use her back legs, we moved in together so I could provide her with what she was unable to do herself. Others knew us by our assigned names, yet we spent most of our time in life’s invisible reality. While they were intertwined in everyday tasks of cleaning, caring, and eating, our lives flowed and unfolded below the fractured, frantic waves of the materialed mind.

Her physical limitations were minor brush strokes on the limitless canvas where her lifelines were drawn. This boundlessness was extended to me. Each day, as she lay on the futon beside me, I read aloud what I had written as she diversely munched on kale, Italian parsley, cilantro, and wild blueberries which had become staples because of other health issues.

I do not think she understood individual words that made up my writing, but she understood the content and intent. She accessed meaning by listening carefully, fully present, her ears tuned to subtleties of rhythms, tones, and textures of phrases I spoke. The meaning was not only communicated to her verbally, but through embodiment. German philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of language mean the limits of my world.” We became freed from this constraint because our language did not rely on words.

I was awed that she cared so much to push through my layered shell of human conditioning to the “deep I.” Her dedication was transformational for the both of us. She became almost translucent from the radiance that grew from within. Our coordinated internal shifts affected how we heard each other, our respective senses silently directing toward and sensitive to any subtle movement in each other’s field. I unconsciously and automatically adjusted my perceptions as I listened to her wordless reflections. My writing was fed in part by our interactions, but largely informed from the shared timeless space we occupied together. From here, thoughts would shape and percolate upward, differentiating as they entered into my human mind, finally rendering as words spilled out onto various pages.

She not only changed my life, Tommy changed my reality. She showed me that an individual self does not exist in the singular. While immersed in Nature’s beauty, humans egregiously mistake this diversity as difference. It is only when we understand that differences in form are nothing more than glove to hand, that the miracle of Nature’s magnificent splendor is realized. Beneath these dazzling forms is the one. The bodies we see and touch are merely diverse guises. When we gaze at the rugged face and torso of a hundred foot Ponderosa Pine and realize that his self is intermingled with our own, we are awestruck. This revelation is similar to the discovery that one is not a single Herring, but an entire school of Herrings, not one Starling, but the entire murmurating flock painting the sky. Our authentic self, the true self, emptiness, the Christ, Buddha nature, presence or however it may be described is, by definition, plural. “I” is indivisibly “we” and revelation, relational.

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Elephants and Existence

By Mariposa Reflections

A s we saw before, moments of deep love can break through internal walls and release us from the ego mind. This story of Elephants and their human family shows how it is possible to live like this, without difference, and create a culture of oneness.

 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is located outside Nairobi, Kenya. For more than six decades, they have rescued injured and orphaned Elephants, now numbering over 260 individuals. After re-joining Wild herds, many have gone on to further revitalize their ancient culture by giving birth to infants as they once were. The vast majority of rescued babies would perish without the skills and heart of the Trust. Not only are their lives saved, but the sensitive and wise care developed by founder Dame Daphne heals physical and psychological wounds enabling the orphans to be reintroduced and become part of Elephant culture repair.

The Trust emulates the natal family, the nucleus of Elephant society, which is typically comprised of a leading matriarch and group of allomothers (aunties) who shelter and care for their own and other infants. From conception onward, the brain, mind, and ethics of an infant pachyderm are shaped not by one, but an entire constellation of Elephant minds and bodies. At the Trust, infant care is trans-species, made up of human and Elephants who recreate a natal quilt. The ties that bind transcend species.

Recently, three former orphans who previously had recuperated and rejoined other Wild Elephants arrived at the Trust. This in itself is not unusual. Often, many ex-orphans pay a visit and introduce their children to their human family. This day, Yatta, Chyulu, and Sidai, three ex-orphans now grown, came with their children, Yetu, Yoyo, Yogi, Cheka, Sita, and the newborn Silas. The Elephants’ visit, the Trust carers were soon to discover, was more than the makings of a baby shower.

Sidai had a poison arrow wound in her rump. The Elephants had turned to their human family for help in this life and death situation. Without medical assistance, it was likely that the poison eventually would kill Sidai. Immediately, medical care was mobilized. Despite being darted with a sedative that made Sidai lie on the ground, the other Elephants remained calm, fully cognizant of what was going on. They gathered round while Sidai received necessary care. Thankfully, the poison had not found its lethal way and she recovered.

In the wake of her recovery, Trust carers reflected on what must have transpired. While they showed great joy at seeing their friends, the Elephants were nonetheless “gaunt,” indicating that the family had travelled a great distance under hardship. The Trust carers deduced that the Elephant mothers had been challenged by a difficult decision—make the trek to the Trust for vital medical care or stay near a stable source of water vital to the vulnerable infants. The mothers chose wisely.[1]

There are so many layers to this glimpse of life, but perhaps first and foremost, the great love and trust the Elephants mutually share with human family and friends. Identity and self are unbounded by form, indeed beyond the concept of difference, a mental habit that is so deeply engrained in modern human culture, minds, and perception. We are literally programmed to see and judge immediately whether someone, something, is either this or that. This habit is not only unnecessary for living, it is also the root of widespread violence and suffering. There is a way, however, of perceiving and living without defining difference.

Instead of contracting into egoic “me” and “them,” we might train our gaze to see the whole without breaking it into pieces, as we might when admiring a Turkish rug that is rich in colors and textures, yet exists as one unbroken whole. Encounters and relationships then become the one-beyond-form experienced by two forms. This ethic of oneness is associated with the idea of “accompaniment,” whose etymological root relates to the Spanish compañero, “friend” and the Latin, ad cum panis, “to break bread.”[2]

Accompaniment is how a Leopard Seal in the Antarctic attended to a human diver she believed was in distress.[3] Although she diverted precious energy and time to an unrelated species with no expectation of a “return on investment,” the Leopard Seal existed and acted beyond ego in the space of oneness. Similar to the Seal, the Trust carers and the Elephants were not reaching out to someone else, but to themselves. Elephants, Seals, and other nonhumans are born into and come from oneness. As American psychologist William James described: “There is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir.”

Learn More

[1] The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 2021.  Sidai’s Saga- and Her New Arrival. Retrieved from https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/news/updates/sidais-saga-and-birth-of-silas
[2] Watkins, M. 2019. Mutual Accompaniment and the Creation of the Commons. Yale University Press.
[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2021. Leopard Seal Compassion. Retrieved from https://omere.ca/essays/leopard-seal-compassion

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

The Duck and the Ego

By Mariposa Reflections

T his week we delve further into what the experience of ego and egolessness might be, and how our nonhuman kin, while living with a full sense of self, are not compelled to close over natural openness with the shell of separation.

 

In the third chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice and a medley of Animals stand together trying to figure out how to get dry. [1] They had all become drenched to the skin from slipping into the pool of tears that was created by a distraught young Alice when she had eaten a little cake and grew to “ten feet tall.” [2] The Mouse in the group had an idea of how to solve their soggy situation. His solution was to give a lecture on English history because history, the Mouse asserted, “is the driest thing I know.”

“Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria,” the Mouse began, “declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable—

“’Found what?’ said the Duck. `Found it,’ the Mouse replied rather crossly: `of course you know what “it” means.’ `I know what “it” means well enough, when I find a thing,’ said the Duck: `It’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?’ “

Likely, the Duck would also question the meaning of another abstraction—“ego.” Although it may not be visible, the ego is something palpable that we experience whether we know “it” or not. Perhaps it’s easiest to grasp what the ego is by first experiencing what egolessness might feel like.

Think back to the feeling when, for example, you were walking down the street and suddenly, you see an old, dear friend whom you had not seen for many years, or, after waiting anxiously at the clinic to hear results of your Dog’s operation, he bursts through the door and runs into your arms. At these moments, everything in the mind seems to vanish. Pure joy breaks through any mental and emotional blocks. There is crystal clear connection. As Charlie Russell put it, “no one and nothing else matters.”[3].

But, too often, the ego steps back in and takes over. Almost instantly, even though your arm wraps around the shoulder of your long lost friend or as you and your Dog lovingly make your way home, old stories, worries, and schedules start to creep back and fill the mind. Before you know it, the sun of the golden present is covered by the preoccupying past and future. Moments of union—the indivisible us, the experience of a world beyond ego—are replaced by separating “yous,” “mes,” and “thems.” Ego resists taking a backseat in life.

Nonetheless, these tiny, but momentous, gaps between the fortressed ego and the spaciousness of awareness provide a taste of egolessness. They are breadcrumbs of realization which, if we follow, can lead us to life’s substrate of oneness. Unobstructed moments of our true self sans ego, which meditation, prayer, and mindfulness invite, are portals into unconditional love, a quality and state of egolessness.

As we heard the London teacher, Kendra, speak about the Gecko with whom she lives: “He always loves me just the way I am,” Animals are often described as showing unconditional love. Certainly, humans are rarely or never met with condemnation from a forest of Pines and Fir. Unless they have been abused or grievously harmed, nonhumans do not seem compelled to paper over others with labels and judgement—they retain an open, present self. As Dame Daphne Sheldrick testifies, their capacity to forgive, the refusal to don the armor of ego, is breathtaking:

“During the 50 plus years that I have been intimately involved with Elephants in Africa, and the rearing of over 80 orphans, I am astounded about how forgiving they are, bearing in mind that they are able to recollect clearly that their mother, and sometimes entire family, have perished at the hands of humans. . . .And since Elephants never forget (which is a fact), they demonstrate a level of forgiveness that a human would in all likelihood have difficulty in achieving.”[4] A decade later, the Sheldrick Trust has rescued 263 forgiving orphans.[5]

By relaxing into Nature consciousness—releasing ourselves from the grip of ego to re-join the rest of the unbroken cosmos—we become part of the unconditional love that surrounds us. When awareness is allowed to shine without the vigilance of ego, we begin to hear what the whispering wind and gaze of a Raven are telling us. We learn what it means to become Nature again.

Putting Practice into Action

While sitting in prayer or meditation, indoors or outside, explore if and how your perception of a Tree, your family Cat or Dog, or other being begins to shift. When you recognize that these beings are as (or more) aware and conscious as you, does this change how you behave? Share these ideas and your experiences with family and friends and discuss concrete ways in which Nature consciousness can infuse every day human life to support Nature.

Learn More

[1] Carroll, L. 1865. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Macmillan.
[2] Slick, G. 1967. White Rabbit (song). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WANNqr-vcx0; retrieved 20 November 2021
[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2020. Talking with Bears: Conversations the Charlie Russell. Rocky Mountain Books.
[4] Bradshaw, G. A..2009.  Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity (pp. 115-116). Yale University Press.
[5] The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 2021. Retrieved from https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/

Photo Credit: Biel Morro

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

The Mountains Are In Us.

By Mariposa Reflections

W elcome to Mariposa Reflections! In our first post, we begin by exploring how the intersection of science and contemplative practices reveals the portal for deep connection with Plant and Animal kin. When mind and body relax and the thoughts and emotions to which we cling, fade, the I/other gap of separation created by the ego falls away and pure awareness emerges into the presence where Nature lives.

 

Let’s start out with these three quotes:

He loves me just the way I am.” – Kendra
She is there for anyone at any moment, with empathy and love.”- Andrew
No matter what happens, he lives in harmony, centered, and nonjudgmental.” –  Jeremy

Are these testimonies of love for a cherished friend, partner, or spiritual teacher? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Kendra, Andrew, and Jeremy are three humans talking about Animals in their lives: Kendra about her Gecko, Andrew, a White-Tailed Deer, and Jeremy, a Crane living on a Kenyan lakefront beach. Yet, they speak of something more than companionable care.

If you listen carefully, these descriptions echo such qualities as Buddhism’s metta (lovingkindness) in the Gecko, the Hopi value of nami’nangwa and Islam’s rahmah (compassion) in the Deer, and hózhǫ́, the philosophical heart of the Diné, in the Kenyan Crane. Their human friends agree – and so does science.

Among neuroscientists, finding qualities formerly assumed uniquely human is unsurprising. Animals are used routinely to study human minds precisely because we share comparable neuro-capacities. This scientific understanding was openly reified in 2005 with the diagnosis of Complex Post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) in free living Elephants, and seven years later, in 2012, when eminent neuroscientists and Nobel Prize winner Stephen Hawking declared that all vertebrate and invertebrate Animals are conscious. [1,2,3] But, there is much more to this realization. Fundamental species’ differences do not derive from unequal minds, but from how these minds are used. While human minds create thoughts that lead to guns and genocide, Salmon, Eagles, Elephants, and Oaks, do not. Why not? Animals and Plants feel and think, but they do not lose themselves in ego.

Eckhart Tolle defines ego in this way: the identification with form that includes thoughts, emotions, and the material body, all of which disappear with death. [4] When we identity with stories of past and future thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, we disconnect from the present. Our minds contract into a bubble of isolation, our ego, and our seamless connection with the world is cut. Our perception of Nature, experiences, and relationships are reduced to objects whose value and meaning are defined from inside our egoic fortress. Accumulated over time and maintained through custom and culture, ego became collectively codified as civilization, defining humanity as apart from and superior to Nature. In stillness and meditation, however, when ego retreats, pure awareness is allowed to shine in the unobstructed present. This is where the Animals live. This is where we re-discover that our true nature is Nature. This is where we listen and learn how to be Nature, again.

Surprisingly, science has ended up partners with contemplative traditions in dismantling the human ego. By demoting the primacy of the human species through its democratization of consciousness, science has also demoted the primacy of form. One species is no “better” than another species. One form is no “better” than another form. Fur, feather, skin and scale are merely beautiful, diverse costumes that temporarily clothe consciousness. This is what John Muir evokes when he wrote, “We are now in the mountains and they are in us.” [5]

Next week, we delve further into how the human ego affects connections with Nature consciousness.

Home Reflections

Sit or lie somewhere quiet, indoors or outdoors. When you are settled and comfortable, close your eyes and gently bring attention to your breath. Don’t try to change it- just lightly lay your attention on the in and out breaths. Notice any tension in your body, your shoulders, neck, legs, and use your out-breath to relax your mind and body. After a few minutes, sit or stand near a Tree or if indoors, bring up an image of a Tree you know, someone you may pass every day on the way to work or one who lives in your backyard. Or instead, you might listen and feel the wind. Refrain from thinking about the Tree or the Wind. Just keep relaxed and hold the image or sensation as you breathe naturally in and out. If your mind becomes active or emotions begin to rise, return to your breath, and then bring your attention back to the “real” or imaged Tree or Wind. Listen to the Tree (or feel the Wind). What do you hear? What are you experiencing? Try this practice over the week and watch if any shifts or changes in your perception develop.

Putting Practice into Action

Learn about your Tree by asking and listening in to the Tree to see s/he is in any danger or need. Support and explore what other Trees and Forests are in need of protection.

Learn More

[1] Bradshaw, G. A. (2005). Elephant trauma and recovery: From human violence to liberation ecopsychology (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute).
[2] Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Elephants on the edge: What Animals tech us about humanity. Yale University Press.
[3] Low, Philip, et al. (2012). The Cambridge declaration on consciousness. Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Cambridge, England.
[4] Tolle, E. (2006). A new earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. Penguin Group.
[5] Muir, J. (1911). My first summer in the Sierra. Houghton Mifflin.

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly e-post paired with Mariposa Meditations, a biweekly online Nature mindfulness and meditation gathering. Sign up here to receive weekly Mariposa Reflections. Learn more and register for Mariposa Meditations here.

Ground Squirrel Aesthetics

By The Tutortoise

Looking back, I have learned that it is the unexpected which has had the greatest influence in my life. Often, these events happen quietly, as if in respectful consideration of coming consequences. So it was, one early fall day.

I was sitting where forest meets field, enjoying the peace of near-sunset. Autumn daylight hours are shorter than those of summer’s green, but they seem much longer. Perhaps, the evening is tricked by the sun’s sleight of hand which make the pockets of sunlight lingering in the scatter of red and orange leaves seem like daylight still reigns.

It was at that moment of celestial pause when my gaze happened upon the Black Oak—the aged centurion standing guard next to our tiny cabin. Beside the Tree is a tall basalt rock. Atop it that evening was another kind of sentinel, a Ground Squirrel.

He was standing on two tiny-clawed feet, hands clasped high on his chest, staring out over the field. His face wore a transcendent expression of awe and appreciation. There was no mistaking that the Ground Squirrel was—similar to me—taking in the beauty of the day’s last light. He was in rapture.

This realization was startling. Before this, Ground Squirrels were not on my best friend list. They intruded on everything and everyone. Nothing and no one was safe. They shamelessly and fearlessly push away full grown Deer and Wild Turkeys to get at the seed spread out on the grass. They ravage shoes, boxes, bags—anything that serves for their nests. The cabin’s dining room floor sank a good eight inches underneath the iron wood stove after vigorous Ground Squirrel tunneling. In all fairness, how were they to know, or care, that the pioneer-aged cabin was built directly on Nature’s skin and that their work would eventually open a crack large enough for the slender form of a Rattlesnake to enter the room and take residence under a chair next to the kitchen. I regarded Ground Squirrels as marauders—cute, but marauders all the same.

All these less than positive thoughts vanished when I discovered Ground Squirrel aesthetics. Suddenly, the objectifying wall behind which I stood, vanished. But, the moment passed quickly. In that short space of time, when the day’s gold became evening’s gray, the Squirrel left for home.

Brief as the encounter was, my perception of Ground Squirrels and life shifted. My sense of reality changed; its centroid sank into a space far and away from the choppy surface waters of conceptual mind to the depths of quiet. This is where I had crossed paths with the Doe.

When the Doe and I met, it was an awakening to Nature consciousness. I became aware that the space of soy este where I had occupied during the majority of my childhood, was where I interacted and shared with Animals and Trees. The resonance that the Doe had woken, opened wider when I met Asa. Until then, while I meditated, I sat in the space where the Doe and I had met, in the vista of soy este. Asa changed this.

She demanded that I move, go further, walk with her in this space. So I did. I made a point of going to Ground Squirrel zendo—to the grassy slopes that roof their burrowed castles, the places they dig and plant their stores, under the Oak and Pine Trees where the Deer rest in the heat of day. I followed the Squirrels – as best I could – as not only are they remarkable agile, but Ground Squirrels have a knack of telescoping their seemingly boneless bodies and vanishing, snakelike, into hairline cracks. This was more than a tracking exercise. Asa wanted me to see her world from her point of view, travel, sense, see and smell Nature the way she did.

Animals are often referred to as “teachers,” but that has not been my experience. Although Asa and friends purposefully helped me, I do not believe they see me as a student— a somewhat limited, unschooled friend, perhaps, but not a student. Their profound ethic of equality and equanimity precludes any sense of hierarchy upon which humans always seem to insist.

Of course, Ground Squirrels and other Animals know the difference between a human and one of their own. Yet, as I experienced Asa, the real medium of connection lay far deeper, well below form, beneath the individual suits we wear. She demanded something more from me than had the Doe. Asa commanded me to take a step deeper, drop another veil of human privilege – the composite of imperceptible barriers which tell us that we, humans, are different and apart from Ground Nature.

First encounters together stretched from many minutes to much longer. During these sessions, Asa would periodically return to her burrow under the Douglas Fir, store a few berries, then return next to me to resume breaking bread. she was one of many Squirrels who regularly raided hearth and home, but unlike others, she had a head tilt. While she foraged well enough, the disease or injury-caused condition put her at some disadvantage. We soon took to meeting in the evenings and sharing morsels of baguette, berries, and wine (the latter I saved for myself). It became a daily ritual. The other Squirrels obviously understood the exclusive nature of our meetings, as they never tried to partake of Asa’s fare.

When Summer eased into Fall, Asa’s visits shortened until one day, she did not return. By that time, the train of storms had begun to roll by and the Squirrel community had—as their name bespeaks—gone to ground to hibernate. Because Ground Squirrels sometimes venture out briefly when the cold temporarily lifts, I put a few berries and a piece of baguette at Asa’s door. Once, I was lucky enough to spot her coming out to retrieve her goods. She poked her head out, looked at me—head tilted to one side, the upside eye meeting mine—then dragged the food in and disappeared. It was the last time I saw her.

I don’t know whether she died during or after hibernation. It is possible that when she emerged she was grabbed by a Fox, Bobcat or Raccoon. Sometimes, drowsing Ground Squirrels are dug out by hungry omnivores. Other than her head tilt she showed no signs of decline, and by the season’s end she was quite plump. But, Ground Squirrels and Bears are known to pass in their sleep.

I don’t think I have ever grieved so deeply. It was not the acute, piercing, debilitating kind of grief which has possessed me on other occasions. The grief for Asa was a soft pain, a headache at the level of the soul. To this day, I mourn her.

I no longer mutter in frustration when I see the Ground Squirrels push their way to Turkey seeds or scramble up the water heater in the garage to tear apart more ceiling insulation for their nests. These days, I go out of my way to support the Ground Squirrel community by putting food at their burrow entrances and handfuls of combed-out Dog, Rabbit, and Cat fur to line their nests.

I hope when Asa and I meet again, I will have evolved to Ground Squirrel consciousness.

Elephant at sunset

Paying Attention

By The Tutortoise

A Maple reaching more than forty feet stands just outside the studio. The tree is statuesque and elegant. Every year, as summer begins to wane, our game begins. I try and catch the Maple turning color. It starts off easy. For several weeks, the change from green to pink proceeds leaf by leaf at a measured pace. I keep a careful watch, checking every so often to assess the progression of color.

Then, suddenly, it happens. One day, despite my vigilance, I look out in dismay to find that the Maple has transformed from a green gown spattered with pink to a vestment colored entirely in the warmth of reds. It is another year of defeat. Disappointed, I concede victory to the Maple. I cannot help but detect a smile of satisfaction beaming from the delicate folds of her leaves.

The game with the Maple is a lesson in attention, and my lack, thereof. The Maple does not transform overnight. It only appears so because my attention has strayed. The tricky thing is, I don’t realize that my awareness has drifted away and that I have failed to notice the passage of time since I last scrutinized the Maple. The Tortoises do not have this problem.

You might say that they are ectothermically hard-wired to their surroundings unhampered by the endothermic buffering of our species. By the time I notice the Maple leaves turning, the Tortoises are well into their preparation for brumation (reptilian hibernation). They perceive the minute shifts in light which begin after Summer Solstice, what is imperceptible to the human eye or silenced by an overactive mind over matter.

Not all of the fifteen Tortoises respond to the seasonal shift in the same way. I think the differences derive from a number of factors—age, experience, and personality. Qaletaqa, who is thought to be the oldest, nearing 70, is a confident brumator. As the summer slides into fall, he moves in and out of his burrow, eats or does not eat, with military precision. Tangekwanu, on the other hand, is in his late teens. His regime is less routine, more tentative, perhaps because he was made captive before he could acquire the cultured assurance that Qaletaqa developed after years of living through temperamental climes.

States of health also play a crucial role. When they arrived in sanctuary four years ago, the Tortoises were in precarious health. The majority were “pulled” from brumation halfway through the winter because of poor health. During dreamtime, we quietly lift them from their hay filled hibernacula every two to three weeks to weigh them. If they are losing too much weight too fast, they are taken from their cool slumber, gradually warmed, soaked in rehydrating tepid water, and offered food. If this fails to brighten them, the Shelled Wonders are chauffeured for a medical exam and treatment. Last year was a good year. All slept through the six months and emerged ready to conquer the world.

You don’t have to be an ectotherm to hear Nature’s pulse. The Deer and Turkeys are as hot-blooded as any human, but are also skillfully tuned to the nuanced patterns of the wild. They have to be. Their lives depend on it.  So do ours.