Touching the Earth

Touching the earth

I love this description from Susan Murphy, an Australian Zen teacher, of how she integrates Australian Aboriginal ways into her Buddhist practice, in “Indigenous Dharma: Native American and Buddhist Voices,” an article she co-authored in Inquiring Mind:

“When you know the place where you are, practice begins,” says Dogen. One could say that every stage of Buddhist practice, including realization itself, forms and deepens a covenant with the Earth. We bear witness to the Earth by learning to really be here, and when reality breaks through and shakes us to the core, it is the Earth reciprocating that intimate gesture of custodianship. It is one elemental act of kindness being met by another. The testimonies [in this article] from Native American and Buddhist teachers bring to light some of the affinities of Buddhist practice with the old, native Earth-based traditions and their protocols for creating and tending good relations with the Earth, the source of life.” (Travis, Duran, Wahpepah, Fox Davis, Allione, & Murphy, 2005)

I was inspired to find the way these teachers describe the earth and the Buddha touching the earth has much in common with my posting “The Heart of the Practice.

The “earth” here is not a concept to be believed in, it refers to the way deepening experiencing transforms how we experience self, others and the world and orients and empowers us. I understand this in the light of my own practice, oriented to emotion-focused theory and epistemology, which carries in its heart Eugene Gendlin’s psychological and philosophical work, and I also find inspiration in my secular Buddhist roots. Cognitive science and emotion theory agree with the Buddhist principle of dependent arising that consciousness emerges co-created by processes within us and around us. This means, as Winton Higgins points out here in his (2015) “Heidegger for Dharma Wallahs,” our being arises already participating in a reality that continually transcends us. Our bodies resonate with situations, situations that co-create us. We can come alive to this by allowing the felt sense to arise, deepening our experiencing of the felt sense, and making sense of and reflecting on the next small step it implies — that’s what feelings are for. Coming alive to our whole felt sense of how things are in the moment has implications for how we live. 

I also love how Iain McGilchrist’s (2009) recent revisiting of the right/left brain divide highlights the significance of finding ways to become more grounded in right brain perspectives, discovering how, coming alive to our whole current situation, we also fall in love with its particulars. Left brain ways of engaging the world are more abstract, superficial, work on what we already know, and are key for getting, grasping and manipulating things. The right brain is more relational, embodied, alive to the whole situation in all of its particulars and sensitive to the emergence of fresh information and ways of experiencing. McGilchrist argues that our society is out of balance because we are primarily oriented to left brain perspectives. It is better to be grounded in the right brain: it can then inform and guide the left brain and how we engage with the world..

Travis et al.’s article, “Indigenous Dharma,” reminds me of Neil Douglas-Klotz (1990, 1995) engagement with ancient native middle eastern spirituality. Check out his video “The Meaning of Abwoon D’Bashmaya,” how he translates the Lord’s Prayer from the Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, revealing themes of resonance, participating in a birthing wholeness in love with all its particulars, and how attuning to and deepening our experiencing of this has direct implications for how we live our lives. Like the Native American Buddhists in the article below, Douglas-Klotz describes how coming alive to the earth empowers us with a “can do!” attitude.

I find something similar in how “unprogrammed” Quaker worship involves coming together as a community to listen to each other’s silence, how this brings them alive to something divine they refuse to nail down into religious doctrines, but which they can experience and express, and which has direct implications for how they live. One Quaker community, Carlisle Friends, has been using Gendlin’s focusing to renew their living connection with their traditional practice.