I’d like to propose a fundamental shift that many of us are recognizing as critical to the future of humanity and of our fellow species on planet Earth. This shift may sound simple, but it is profound. It’s a shift from the head to the heart. Humanity is facing complex challenges, primary among them the clear dangers of climate change and the significant social-economic disruption that could ensue. We could be looking at profound chaos and tremendous human suffering in the near future. Hopefully, we will find some way to make changes before the situation deteriorates and becomes catastrophic for the planet, for ourselves, and for all species.
A World in Distress
Climate change is accelerating and developing its own momentum. Governments worldwide seem to lack the will to do anything about it. In the general population, however, concern, awareness, and the willingness to find solutions are all growing. There has been tremendous innovation attempting to address the problem. Yet some people feel that technological innovation will not save us. Many people feel that not much is going to save us. I would like to think there are things we can do. It's about developing a carbon-neutral or non-carbon economy, and lifestyles that are not carbon dependent. That is a huge fundamental shift in the way we've been organized since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Climate change has accelerated tremendously with the use of fossil fuels that drive the engine of economic progress, and certainly, there has been tremendous economic progress, but at the same time, this progress has come at a terrible cost to the environment.
What do I mean by this shift from the head to the heart? As we evolved as human beings, we became fascinated with our cognitive abilities and our ability to tell ourselves stories that develop narratives embedded in time, perpetuating the illusion of past and future. We developed identities based on those narratives, which reinforced the false self or the egoic mind. In doing so, we created a fundamental split between the mind and the body. This split is an illusion, but nonetheless, it's a split, and it has profound impacts. We all know René Descartes’ dictum: "I think. Therefore I am." That concept puts our thinking mind, our cognitive capacities, at the very center of our existence and creates this idea that I'm not my body.
I remember reading The Great Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert when I was young. In one of the books were characters whose life was purely cognitive. They existed in lifters that suspended their body in space. And so, they never made any physical effort at all. Their body just became this completely placid blob supported by some kind of lifters. I don't know what they were driven by, but they had the ability to hold the body up in space. They were purely thinking beings, talking heads with no connection to the body or to earth. Our bodies are made of the same elements that the earth is made of, the same minerals, water, and so forth. We are earthlings. We're made of this Earth. Our body is our way to connect to Earth, with our feet on the ground, sitting on the earth, being on the earth. Disconnecting from our bodies, living in our thinking mind, and developing our whole sense of self and even existence around these narratives of past, present, and future, we have created an illusion.
We have separated ourselves from the body and from the Earth. A completely disconnected mind and a disconnected self can see the world and our planet as simply a source of raw materials that we can extract to satisfy a never-ending thirst for more material comforts, material pleasures and advancements. It requires a completely disembodied self and mindset to think that we can pillage the Earth endlessly for our own benefit. And that we could do so primarily to benefit the most privileged, the wealthiest, and the most powerful at the expense of everyone else, and certainly at the expense of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren if the human race survives in future generations.
Human extinction or mass extinction among humanity is a scary thought. Maybe a few of us survive. Maybe not. Maybe no one survives. It’s shocking that we're talking about that possibility in our lifetimes. It’s heartbreaking. I feel it is necessary to look at this prospect and let our hearts break. Many of you may be familiar with the wonderful wisdom-holder and teacher, environmentalist Joanna Macy. She encourages us to grieve the habitat and species loss we have been witnessing and participating in for decades. She has been speaking out about species loss and our impact on the planet for a long time. She has wonderful processes like the Council of All Beings to help us look at and embrace the cost our modern consumer culture has inflicted on all of the species with whom we share this planet. We need to recognize the incredible loss that's already happened. Not only see it but feel it and grieve it. This is not about shaming ourselves or each other, it is rather a necessary part of our collective awakening.
Why is that important? Because it brings us into our hearts. It brings us out of our heads, where we might want to just argue endlessly about the realities of climate change which are getting harder and harder to argue with, or fantasize about technical, logical solutions, or find someone to blame, or just continually evolve our opinions so that we can feel like we're in the right group with the right set of opinions about climate change and its dangers, and getting involved in the politics of it. But are we willing to face the reality of what has already occurred and what is occurring right now? If we're willing to face that and feel it, to mourn and grieve it, that brings us out of our heads and into our hearts. That's the essential shift that will determine whether we're going to survive on this planet for another generation, a few more generations, or many generations.
Our survival is not going to be grounded in our material or technological progress. Technology may play a role. We are embracing renewable forms of energy and forms of technology that are not carbon-dependent. But what it's really going to require is a shift to the heart, to come back into a relationship with our bodies, with our home, with our first mother, the Earth.
The Heart Knows
The heart realizes that there are no such things as inanimate objects, disposables, limitless resources. The heart knows the Earth is a living being just like we are. That everything in the natural world is alive—even the rocks. We can feel the aliveness and the sacredness of our home in the natural world. Grieving is a principal modality for reconnecting with our hearts: grieving, mourning and feeling sadness are essential. Informing ourselves about species loss in the last ten to twenty years and that is occurring right now is enough to break our hearts. I encourage us to spend time with this data and have it not be just data. Amazing documentaries have been made on climate change, species loss, what's happening to the environment—the melting polar ice caps, the disappearance of glaciers, the disappearance of glacial ice and snowpack in our mountain ranges.
The other avenue into the heart is to become more embodied. There is a direct line, a direct relationship from the heart to the body to the Earth, from the Earth to the body to the heart, and directly from the heart to the Earth.
I've been teaching an embodied approach to mindfulness-awareness meditation practice that I call Neuro-Somatic Mindfulness (NSM). NSM has a particular emphasis on connecting with our being at the deepest, unconditional level. This deeply embodied approach to mindfulness meditation allows us to connect with an abiding physical presence, a tangible energetic aliveness and dynamism that is there all the time–the experience of being fully present and aware in our bodies and deeply connected to our heart. We call this meditating with the heart or heart-centered meditation.
I encourage us to have this be the year where we shift our locus of perception, our locus of decision-making, the central focal point for our whole being, how we operate, from the head to the heart. When we're able to let go of the egoic thinking mind and drop into the body and heart and feel this abiding flow of energy, this subtle energy presence, qualities of sadness, fullness, joy, even bliss arise at the deepest level, with no involvement from our cognitive faculties. No thought. Completely non-conceptual direct experience of the body, the heart, subtle body, and subtle heart.
I'd like to invite all to consider proactively taking steps to make this shift from the head to the heart through embodied mindfulness and other embodiment practices in our daily lives. Another way to speak about his heart center perception is with the hearing faculty. We're listening from the heart and slowing down to listen to ourselves, to listen to the world, to listen to the cry of the world, and being with each other with our family members, spouses, children, loved ones. Taking the time to just really sit and listen, using the body to disengage from the thinking mind. Instead of resting, we are feeling. We are present with ourselves, with each other, with the Earth and with all our fellow species on this Earth.
I hope this is the year that we collectively wake up as humanity and re-establish a healthy relationship with our mother, the Earth, and begin to really embrace the incredible challenge we're facing to turn our culture around, to turn our economy, our social system, the whole way we operate around, to get off of this carbon dependency and make the shift that could prevent the worst of the catastrophes that we might be facing if we continue the way we're going.