The other day, someone asked me this question, “How does meditation help you help Animals?” While a narrative about Buddhism, ego, consciousness, Thich Nhat Hanh and so on raced through my brain, I found that the only adequate response was, “Love.” My answer caught both of us by surprise and since he had to go one way and I, the other, without further conversation, I thought he deserved a fuller explanation.
The first thing that came to mind was something Charlie Russell said, “If you love someone, really love someone, then you have to understand them. To understand someone, you need to try and see the world through their eyes. If you don’t, then you are only seeing them through your values and views.”
Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes means that you care and respect them enough to learn what they find meaningful. Otherwise, you are defining them and your relationship by your concepts, your perspectives, and your needs. Charlie, of course, was talking about Bears. This was the core idea that he tried to get people to grasp.
Studying Bears – learning what they eat, where they live, how much they weigh, how long they hibernate – provides information but, as Charlie pointed out, none of this helps or is of interest to Bears. They know all this already – they have to in order to survive. Turning a Bear into an object of study is a one-way conversation that leaves Bears out of the picture and retains the human imperative for control. If we really cared and loved Bears, then we would listen and see them.
We all want to be heard and seen – even introverts – because it means that we matter, we are loved. “Love,” Martin Luther King, Jr, maintained, “is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” Meditation is a way that we can learn how to do this.
Meditation and mindfulness are practices to clear the human mind from ten thousand years of conditioning which has told us that we are separate and superior to Nature. Clearing the mind dissolves internalized conceptual and perceptual barriers and immediately brings our consciousness into the present moment. When we are being present with someone, we aren’t thinking about dinner, paying a bill or making judgments. In presence, we lose our sense of separation and self-importance and enter the space of love. “Love,” wrote Leo Tolstoy, “is a present activity only.” This is how and why Charlie and Bears lived so well together.
If we want to save Bears and the rest of Nature, if we want to connect deeply to the nonhuman world, then the vital first step is learning how to be fully present – to actively pour our whole being into the being of Bears and other Animals. In other words, we have to learn how to love. By learning how to love we open our hearts and minds and enter the space where the Animals live. This is what meditation can help us do.
~ Dedicated to Tommy ~
Photo credit: Charlie Russell and Maureen Enns
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