I recently attended the First International Symposium on Contemplative Studies, an area I am active in and will inform you of more in the next newsletter. In the opening speech, Jon Kabat-Zin used a phrase “contemplative activism”. Now that makes you stop and think: “what is that?” Maybe that is the “active contemplation” itself! It also highlights a growing need to wake up and an increased interest to do so. Then, as I am leaving the conference, I drive by all the homeless people and am left wondering how to get the message out this far, can this mind stuff and things we practice help the destitute, hungry and unmotivated? Or are those base concerns to be taken care of first before considering levels of practice, which is usually the instruction. Is it that it takes many lifetimes? Yes. But when does it kick in? I once more or less asked Pattabhi Jois this. And his answer I will use here: “I don’t know”. In other words, it’s not easy and sometimes it’s even disconcerting seeing how people treat the world right in front of our eyes or behave like robots eating, drinking and imbibing anything that is dished out by the powers that be. It could leave you having an Arjuna (as in Gita) moment, freaking out, anxious and bewildered, wondering why go on…. Is any of this familiar? Again, I have to look at myself and watch my own behaviour and responses, be thoughtful and caring as a priority. So back to “it’s not easy”. Here lies the solution though, we must get on with what we have to do and do it well, every day. This is our most basic “contemplative activism”. On top of that we may pursue and deepen our practices (which I recommend) and even get into study and research on it all (more to come on that), going a few steps further in this “activism”.
What I would like to say though may seem contrary to the usual advice but please take it on, as I have to myself: if you’re feeling challenged, down or overwhelmed, though the practice is of benefit, and do take time to clear the mind, but even more immediate is to get the things done in your life that need to be done. It is said our suffering (“dukkha”) comes from not taking care of things in our life that need to be done. If you are thinking, ‘I am out of balance and off-center’, then do what has to be done.
You can take that as daily activities and tasks, regular commitment to practice, or the use of time for family. So, put it all in perspective, prioritize and help where possible but take off the personal pressure by knowing, I can’t change the world today but I must be ACTIVE and CARING with my bit. Perhaps that’s it, but really, I don’t know.