Three Intuitive Values of an Engaged Ecology

By Rhonda Fabian

Even when the moon is not visible in the sky, we know intellectually it is there, and also on a much deeper level. Like our ancestors, we are mesmerized by the moon’s remote, steady presence, and influenced by her invisible energies. The intuition is like that too, like the moon. It is a steady presence that shines within. A guide in dark times.

Our own and our collective intuition can guide us now on the path of transformation. And by transformation, I mean changing the energy of one thing into something else entirely. The way a leaf transforms the energy of the sun into nutrition for the tree. Or how a lotus uses the mud to become something beautiful.

The time has come to transform our toxic, extractive culture of greed and consumption into an urgent cooperative global effort to survive and thrive based on a set of shared human values derived from Nature, an engaged ecology that can guide us back to harmony and restore our fundamental relationships with the Earth and other beings.

Nature speaks to us intuitively at every moment of every day. Everything we need in order to transform is here and now, present to us through Nature. There is no ‘hidden truth’. Everything is in plain view, in the structures, wonders and limits of our planetary experience. Just in our lifetimes, we have the ability and instruments to look deeply into our galaxies and to the very origin of the Universe, as well as inward to cellular and quantum worlds.

We are Nature. You have only to regard your own hand with your own eyes, to conclude that you are a wonder of Nature, a confluence of conditions and energies that make ‘having a hand’ and ‘having eyes’ possible. If you look deeply at your cells, you will see the sun, the rivers, the nutrients in the soil that have nourished your ancestors and you right up to this moment.

For billions of years the Earth has sustained life – and will continue to do so, with or without us. Just as we rise with the day and rest at night – so too nations and empires rise and fall – entire galaxies and innumerable worlds manifest and dissolve from view. This idea should not make us feel insignificant, but rather miraculously alive. We are present – utterly precious and unique – in the here and now. – a grace note in the symphony of reality. That is why we are called to survive this present human test, to work with Creation, rather than against it.

The first value we can cultivate is awareness, awareness of our essential existence – our true Nature. And to do this, we have to stop running and chasing, stop consuming, arguing, overthinking. Awareness cannot begin without stopping. In my Buddhist practice, stopping always begins with returning to the breath. Many of you have a meditation practice. I encourage you to discover breathing meditation if it is not part of your daily life. The trees know how to sit quietly and breathe. Breathing is a precious gift – with us from the moment of birth until the last exhalation of death. Bringing our awareness to our own quiet breathing while sitting without distraction for even a few minutes every day brings us back to awareness, and back in touch with our intuition.

As the philosopher Sri Aurobindo said, ‘What is…needed for the appreciation of the deepest truth of beauty is the awakening of a certain vision, an insight and an intuitive response in the soul.’ It is only by stopping and becoming aware of life’s wonders that we can truly awaken – see with our soul and hear with our heart.

Openness is another value derived from Nature. Like a river, we too must be open to change and learn to improvise. In the same way that the stream and the bank of the stream are inseparable as an act of co-creation – we, as group workers are becoming more intuitive, continuously adjusting to obstacles and new conditions as they arise. Improvisation and intuition are closely linked. Each is a conversation. Forests and mountains practice openness. No one tells forests how to distribute the sunlight, or mountains how to manage rain. They receive and distribute these gifts without discrimination. By practicing openness and flexibility in our views, we benefit from the gifts, wisdom and creativity of others.

In our little town of Media, Pennsylvania three years ago we opened a Free Store. It’s just like it sounds – everything is free. People bring, people take. The place is always busy – it is a real hub in our community where children come to play, choose books. People find coffee makers, fabric, bicycles, tools… So how do we regulate such a thing? We don’t. How did we make the rules? We didn’t. Our dedicated volunteers – nearly 50 of them –meet and discuss ways to make the Store better. But mostly, by practicing openness, the community self-regulates and we all work together on our issues of consumption, greed, fear and letting go. Please visit the Free Store if you come to our town someday.

From our awareness and openness, a third value is bound to blossom – empathy, which is reverent respect for the experience of others. All living things are engaged in the process of unfolding their innate potential. All life has value in itself, and this value is not dependent on usefulness to humans. And so, we must work to change our view that humans are superior to other forms of life on Earth and to protect the lives of minerals, plants and animals.

Industrial farming, animal testing, the use of animals for public entertainment, and hunting endangered animals all cause great suffering. We can practice empathy by looking deeply at the foods, clothing, and other products we consume and choose not to purchase or use them if they ‘contain’ the unnecessary suffering of people or animals. We can choose local and hand-made goods, Fair Trade and humane products, and simply live with less.

Our children need our empathy most. I think we are afraid to acknowledge the cumulative effects they suffer from excessive exposure to violence and violent sexual content on television, computer games, and the Internet. Our children, like the Earth, are deeply wounded. Many are filled with despair and sorrow. Their feelings are valid. How can we help them?

My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says: ‘Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? –you need to smile to your sorrow,’ he says, ‘because you are more than your sorrow.’

We need to let the children know this – ‘you are more than your sorrow’. We need an educational system that teaches awareness, openness and empathy, and mentors who model reverent respect for all Life. Commit to teaching a child you know the proper way to treat and take care of pets, how to grow a flower, and how to relax and be peaceful. Help children fall in love again with Mother Earth.

What is the best way to cultivate these three values – awareness, openness and empathy?  Follow your intuition to make the right choices. Poet David Whyte says – ‘Human beings have an intuitive capacity and knowledge that somewhere at the center of life is something ineffably and unalterably right and good.’ Look deeply to touch this profound truth inside yourself and help others see it in themselves too.

I’d like to conclude with this poem by the Sufi poet Mansur Al-Hallaj:

You glide between the heart and its casing as tears glide from the eyelid.
You dwell in my inwardness, in the depths of my heart, as souls dwell in bodies.
Nothing passes from rest to motion unless you move it in hidden ways,
O new moon.

This is the true spirit of intuition – if we listen, it guides us, even when the darkness is very great. May it guide us to work closely with others, to continually seek ways to protect and cherish life, and to change the course of our present human trajectory, even if it requires risk to ourselves.

This article is a modified version of a talk given at the World Goodwill Seminar, Oct 29, 2016.

Rhonda Fabian is digital editor of Kosmos Journal and an ordained lay monastic in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.