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Mariposa Reflections

Mariposa Reflections is a weekly online post by Gay Bradshaw that explores contemplative perspectives and their relationship to Animal and Earth revitalization. Weekly Reflections are stand-alone, but are aligned with ongoing course content of Mariposa Meditations.

Mary, Wolves, and Warthogs

By Mariposa Reflections

A mother and baby Moose pass through the camp of resting Wolves.
A Grizzly Bear winds his way among a herd of mother-calf Cows.
A Puma walks alongside a group of Deer grazing at dusk.
A Lion plays with a Warthog of his own age.
A man strolls to a river’s cool to nap with the Lions at his side.
Another man watches over the children of a wild Brown Bear.
Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening.

These cameos provide a glimpse of the substrate of life where people like Charlie Russell, Gordon Haber and George Adamson lived. They were not distracted by the hustle and bustle of the material world. Instead, they rooted their lives in the listening quiet to see into Nature’s eyes. It is how and why they understood Bears, Wolves, and Lions for whom they really are. It is why, more than ever, we need take the lessons of quantum physics to heart.

When subatomic particles with minds of their own were discovered more than a century ago, modern humans received an incomparable gift – insight into the true nature of Nature. Quantum physics told us that matter doesn’t really matter or rather it does, but it is secondary to what lies within. The tangible world we occupy in its dazzling, myriad guises is window dressing, the explicit expression of what physicist David Bohm called the implicit world. In the comfortable, collectively-sanctioned language of scientific symbols and equations, quantum physics gave us proof of what Charlie and the Bears, Gordon Haber and the Wolves, George Adamson and the Lions, and Mary and Jesus experienced.

We do not need, however, to rely solely on science, nor the word of Charlie, George, and Mary. We only need to reflect on our own experience: the smiling eyes of our Dog, the gentle touch of our Cat, the gasp in awe of a breaching Whale, the joy of a frolicking Horse. These are all visits to the quantum world. These are visits to the world within where all beings meet and live. But brief staycation excursions are not enough. The very fundaments of human culture need to be redirected into this terrain.

The sign posts offered by science, Bears, Lions, Wolves, and their human companions provide vital steps pointing to the path of Earth’s restoration and our own. If we truly cherish the Animals with whom we live, if we truly value the Animals and Forests for whom we stridently advocate, then we must cast aside the security of living at a distance and, like Charlie, Gordon, Mary, and George, dare to become as vulnerable, dare to face the quantum reality, and in so doing, revel in full-bodied living with Animal kin. This is true accompaniment.

Further Reading

Haber, G. & Holleman, M. (2013). Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal. University of Alaska Press.

Adamson, G. (1986). My Pride and Joy. Simon & Schuster.

Bradshaw, G. A. (2020). Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell. Rocky Mountains Books.

New Revised Standard Version. Luke 10:38–42.
Bohm, D. (2005). Wholeness and the implicate order. Routledge.
Watkins, M. (2019). Mutual Accompaniment and the Creation of the Commons. Yale University Press.

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Photo credit: Jeff and Sue Turner

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.

Bears and Samarra

By Mariposa Reflections

A story told by Death: There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.   -Somerset Maugham

Humans kill Bears for the same reason that the merchant’s servant tried to escape to Samarra, an unconscious story line rationale, “Maybe if the Bear is killed then I can escape Death.” Why else? Very few people have ever seen a Bear – or if they have she is on television, YouTube. or sighted during a vacation to Yellowstone National Park, Gästrikland, Sweden, or some other exotica.

Nearly to a one, today’s humans are terrified of Bears. Yes, Bears can harm and even kill a human. But, they don’t do what would be easy for them to do and when they do, the numbers are minuscule. Statistics alone show that taking a shower or driving a car is the surer path to death. These everyday tasks should strike terror in our bones because the threat of slipping, falling or crashing is so great. Furthermore, when a Bear does harm a human, the circumstances are so extraordinary that is accurate to say that fear of Bears is a culturally conditioned delusion unfounded in reality. The extraordinary circumstances are those to which Bears are subjected.

PTSD is a natural response to unnatural conditions. Bears have no food and no way to make a decent natural living. On top of climate change which has forced Polar Bears to leave their icy homes into bare land, Bears must live as refugees. Not only is there ruthless, rampant hunting, in many places using Dogs with GPS collars while hunters sit inside drinking and waiting for the Dog to tree the Bear, at which point the killers can comfortably amble out and, with the nonchalance of a Hollywood starlet stripping, pick up their gun and shoot the despairing Bear. During the drought here in Oregon, Bears, driven to towns and streets in desperate search for a few gulps of water, are shot on sight. Wildlife agency personnel say they will relocate the Bear but, in most cases, the Bear is shot and dumped. There is another dark underlining to the story here.

While teaching courses on how hunters can bait a Bear to make their stalking and killing easy, Wildlife “services” actively discourage any other human-Bear contact. Humans who dare to normalize relations with Bears are penalized to the extent of jailing. The reason is clear: if the public learns the real truth about Bears, Cougars, and other Wildlife – lose their fear and begin to feel the natural kinship and empathy with Animal kin – Wildlife services will lose revenue. Hunting and Fishing fees are a major source of salary and research funding.

As the tale of the servant in Samarra shows, none of us can escape Death. When we watch a Bear, Cougar, Racoon, Skunk, or other “pest” killed, there may be a moment of delusion that we have escaped Death, that we are in control and masters and mistresses of our fates. But, what we have really done is hasten our own demise. Killing an Animal kills our souls, kills the Earth upon whom our lives depend.

When we are born, we are gifted with an incredible opportunity: to fully embrace the inevitable passing of our material lives and, brimming with effervescent love and fearless joy, dance with our Animal kin in wild abandon. This is the true lesson of Samarra.

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Photo credit: n/a

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.

They Have More Places To Go Than Us

By Mariposa Reflections

The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.
The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.
But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life
knee deep in the summer
roadside grasses,
he just smiled and said
they have places to go too.

-Birdfoot’s Grampa, by Joseph Bruchac

 

Reflection: What ways can you shape your life to be Birdfoot’s Grampa?

 

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Photo credit: Gary Tresize

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.

Half-Full or Half-Emptiness

By Mariposa Reflections

Maurits Cornelis (M.C., as he is better known) Escher was a Dutch artist of the early twentieth century. Criticized for many years in art circles as being too “mathematical,” Escher’s work has emerged as an iconic deconstruction of dualistic reality. The woodcut-made-into lithograph, Relativity, illustrates.

It shows a maze of staircases where multiple individuals are ascending and descending. At first, the exactness of the figures and architectural precision beguile the viewer into believing they are seeing a facsimile of everyday life. But closer examination reveals that the figures are moving impossibly perpendicular to each other, each subject to a different gravitational field. Perception and reality are destabilized. In his ink and watercolor, Two Birds, Escher treats the viewer with a palpable experience of this uncertainty and vertigo.

When the eye fixes on the painting’s white, it sees white Birds flying through a sea of patterned blue. In contrast, when the eye toggles and fixes on the blue, it sees the opposite, blue Birds flying in the other direction, leaving the mind taxed with wondering which is real. While the question may be dismissed as merely an intriguing sleight of hand in the realm of the imagined, a painting, ceramic, or other creation, as many artists insist, has meaning in (real) life.

We experience this ambiguity when looking in the mirror. The face staring back holds the memory of the highs and lows, dramas and traumas of life. But, with a toggle of the eye, we are aware of and experience another self, simultaneously present. This “other” self is an inner witness who sees the face in the mirror but is not the face. Unlike the mirror self, the witness self is more like a catalyst, present and partner to life’s material processes, yet unchanged with time. Two selves, two realities or both in one? All of this comes into breathless focus when confronted with dying and death.

When the body of a beloved, their form that has ignited such joy, warmth, and love, begins to stumble, fade, and disintegrate, we are confronted with what appears to be a final ending, a ragged jagged discontinuity in the book of life. But, is there really discontinuity? Or as Escher’s visual koans suggest, are we failing to see the whole reality by focusing only on a piece? Are we failing to grasp life’s essence by limiting our attention to the water in a half-filled glass and ignoring the emptiness in which it is held? I think that the answer is “yes.”

When we are able to drop the conditioned crust that has hijacked and held human minds hostage for thousands of years and dissolve in Nature consciousness, the half becomes the whole. Trees are not graceful brushstrokes on a tableau, but living, breathing voices and arms speaking and reaching out to us. Deer, Bears, and Birds are walking, flying, testimonies full of rich and welcoming visions. We have shed and left the ego rumpled on the shore and joined into this river of the cosmos where stories never stop and lives never end.

Take a few minutes and stand in front of a mirror. Do you experience a “witness self” as well as a “mirror self”? Describe your experience and how they might be related in your life.

~ Dedicated to Tommy ~

Photo credit: fair use

 

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.

Nature’s Practice

By Mariposa Reflections

We are delighted to announce that our Mariposa Reflections and its companion Meditation gathering, have started up again after the summer sojourn. Mariposa Reflections explores Nature Consciousness, ways to connect, commune, and support kindred Animals and Plants. Please join us!

Aman caressing an Elephant’s trunk, a woman nuzzling a Horse, another planting a tree, a child holding a Cat, friends camping under the stars – all are cameo portraits of humanity’s pull to contact Nature. This yearning has intensified exponentially with the dramatic onset of climate change, COVID, and mass extinctions. All of a sudden, Nature – everything that is not human or human-made – has become terribly precious. Precious because the Animals and Plants we have taken for granted are disappearing, and precious because we realize how damaging the now globalized culture has become. More and more people are searching to heal the primal wound of separation and re-connect with Plant and Animal kin.

Re-connection entails more than physical contact. Although industrialized culture strives to physically buffer itself from Nature’s rhythms and ways with things like air conditioners, heaters, fruit and vegetables on demand, and plastic, human life cannot separate from Nature. We cannot escape connection. Every aspect of life is connected – the air we breathe, the soil upon which we walk and live, the wind upon our faces. . . The feeling of separation comes from within, fed by the idea and perception that humans are somehow apart from the rest of the cosmos which has led to a damaging and disrespectful connection. Re-connection, then, speaks to something else, something beyond skin deep of a very different nature.

We know this intuitively when watching Dolphins arc through ice blue waves, Deer float through seas of grass, and Ravens lace the clouds. We feel their seamless oneness. They belong, they are home, they are Nature. How can we become like them? Albert Einstein knew the answer.

The great physicist once said that problems can’t be solved with the same thinking that created the problems in the first place. In other words, to “re-connect,” to feel at home in Nature, means that we have to jettison the ways of thinking that have led us to believe we were separate and better than Nature. Reconnecting with Nature is learning how to think like a Dolphin, think like a Deer, and other Plants and Animals. Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, describes it this way: “You sit and you sweep the garden and it doesn’t matter how big the garden is. You steady yourself, you quiet your mind, you tend your body and heart until you feel a kind of presence and courage and compassion, love, and then you get up to the garden of the world and you bring that in.” Thinking like Nature is bringing Nature inside.

Nature consciousness has served Animals well. Elephants, Octopuses and the amazing, spectacular diversity of other species have lived and thrived together for millions upon millions of years because they think the same. Each and every one embodies the same ethic. Each and every one follows the same principles which spring from Nature Consciousness. Our path of return to re-connection begins with a practice- the practice of Nature mindfulness.

What does Nature Consciousness mean to you?

~ 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.

Being Nothing

By Mariposa Reflections

The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness. – David Bohm

Afternoon sun gilded the room where my friend and I sat drinking tea. Tea – it suited her so well – a golden elixir melding and mellowed by years of natural refinement. We often sat in silence listening to the Songbirds lacing the treetops and blossomed brush. This day, however, held a ghost of blue – some other presence with a Mona Lisa smile.

I reached out and touched her hand, “You seem somewhere else.” She looked over at me and as she spoke, tapped her wooden chair, “At eighty-nine, I am more often elsewhere than here. The unseen keeps gaining ground. It’s like standing on the beach. Wave after wave, moment after moment, gradually pulls the sand from under your feet until you suddenly find yourself ankle deep, water swirling round and round carrying whispered voices of the past.” She paused, then added, “It’s all part of learning what it means to be nothing.”

I leaned forward, my mouth beginning to form words of protest, ready to pour forth how she was anything but “nothing,” how she had managed to check all the boxes of achievement over the arc of her rich, deep life- a loving family, academic accolades, the luxury of living in peace in the beauty of the land, and so on, but before I could say these things, she held her finger to her lips, signaling not to speak. “Being nothing,” she continued, “is a wonderful achievement. Realizing that I am nothing is an outstanding un-achievement – just like an Unbirthday.” Obviously, surprised and pleased with this image of the Mad Hatter’s Unbirthday party, she started to laugh, one of those laughs which rolls through the air catching everyone and everything with its contagious joy. We laughed and laughed until we were worn out, breathless, gasping sighs and streaks of tears. Only a handful of days later, she passed.

I had met her in my twenties, she in her fifties, and over the years our intersection evolved into entwined dialogue of soul. Our time together took place in that space beyond form so it was natural that while I feel the pinch of loneliness, missing the companionship we shared for so long, she has never left my side. The conversation continues, her words come with the wind passing through the chimes.

Now, I too, enjoy feeling like I am nothing. It is a familiar feeling, one that harks backs to childhood before the lacquer of ego took hold. It was easy to feel like nothing when you feel like everything – the Planaria and Water Skimmers in the creek, the Chickadees, heads cocked as I wound my way through Sycamore branches, azure blue enveloping and pressing down as I lay on the green, green grass of summer. Today, it is the brush of a Black-tailed Deer and glance of a Wild wondrous Turkey who open the door to nothingness as we enter side-by-side.

Photo credit: Igor Xandtork

~ 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.

Being Salmon

By Mariposa Reflections

I’m going to die. Time is running out for me and for my companions,  my brothers of the river who, like me, were born in these waters four years ago…Our lives are coming to an end after a long, dangerous journey but we have made it here to the place where we first emerged into the world, the place where we have chosen to die.

This is the voice of a Salmon narrated in the documentary, Land of the Giant Bears. [1] After several years of living in the wide Pacific, the Fish return home to spawn, lay or inseminate eggs in the stream bed gravel where they were born. The journey is arduous and many have begun to die even before they give life.

Their bodies, weakened by labor and age, become splotched by skin-changing Fungi. Yet wherever they reside – from ocean saltwater, stream highways and byways, to reaches of tiny, natal creeks – the Salmon are home. An appreciation for the unity of Fish and water is reflected in the now popular phrase, “like a Fish out of water,” coined by Geoffrey Chaucer. The fifteenth-century English storyteller drew on our scaly kin to describe the extreme unease and awkwardness that we feel in unfamiliar, uncomfortable places or situations. [2]

Certainly, the last legs of the Salmon’s journey home are physically uncomfortable. Their bodies are spent and natal waters often require deft navigation to successfully wind a way along the rocky spines. Indeed, there are many moments when they are “Fish out of water.” Salmon who travel up the creek running below our cabin are two plus feet in length. In many places, they are too big for the waters to cover. You can sense the Salmon’s relief when a glistening green pool is reached where she can rest and literally catch her breath. But, even under less stressful conditions, Salmon are in physiological tension every place they occupy.

They are anadromous, meaning that they are Fish who live in both salt and fresh water. In both cases, the composition of their environment is radically different than that of their own internal systems. On average, ocean waters are three times as concentrated with ions (salts) as the Salmon’s interior. In freshwater, the opposite is true. Creek waters are much more dilute. To thrive and maintain wellbeing in these environments, Salmon use osmoregulation.

Young Salmon emerging from their freshwater birthplace do three things: drink a lot of water, decrease kidney production of urine, and initiate molecular pumps in their gill cells which push ions (salts) out. [3,4] These processes reverse when the Fish return to freshwater. By this evolutionary magic, the Fish’s internal fluids retain a healthy profile. Salmon are a perfect illustration of Thich Nhat Hanh’s re-configuration of the Four Noble Truths.

These four truisms might be thought of as cornerstones of Buddha’s spiritual home: the existence of suffering, causes of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the way, or path, to cease suffering. Thầy (Teacher), as the nonagenarian is affectionately and respectfully called, suggests that instead of defining and describing the Four Truths in terms of suffering, we approach them from the perspective of wellbeing. “Even Buddha and Bodhisattvas suffer, but the difference between them and us,” Thầy explains, “is that they transform suffering into joy.”[5]

We see this miracle every moment in Nature. Salmon retain wellbeing through physiological transformation of chemical compositions, which would otherwise cause them great suffering and death, into solutions perfectly tuned to their internal needs. Every undulation of the Salmon’s body and fins is flawlessly aligned with the lines of moving water. Inside and out, the Salmon follows a path of wellbeing. Even when stretched out on the rack of pending death during the last moments of the spawning journey, Salmon stay the course of wellbeing. Suffering and death are synonymous with joy and life.

Learn More

[1] Planet Doc. 2014 [film]. The Land of Giant Bears. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltvxKi9rEkI
[2] Geoffrey, C. 1977. Canterbury Tales. Penguin.
[3] Toolson, E. 2021. Acclimation of Osmoregulatory Function in Salmon. https://www.unm.edu/~toolson/salmon_osmoregulation.html
[4] Sakamoto, T., & McCormick, S. D. 2006. Prolactin and growth hormone in fish osmoregulation. General and comparative endocrinology, 147(1), 24-30.
[5] Hanh, T. N. 2009. The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Parallax Press.

Photo credit: Igor Shpilenok

 

~ 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.

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.