Tag Archives: crisis

Crisis as Meditation

*This is based on my notes from a recent training I offered to staff who work with teens in a crisis home. It involved a meditation, experiential body-awareness exercise, and group discussion about the relationship between crisis and deep embodiment. If you are interested in having a similar workshop or training at your agency, write to me

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

― Archilochos

How we react to crisis is how we react to life. The way we train for crisis is to practice in our life. This means that what is needed is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year practice routine. The bad news is you don’t get paid for this. The good news is that this is one of the keys to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

We live in a disembodied society. There is very little about the reward mechanisms of our culture that promote self-awareness, especially the awareness of our bodies. Our jobs, education system and daily lives are increasingly becoming more cerebral, and the barrage of instant and constant gratification on our phones creates an opportunity to be distracted each and every moment of the day.

And we have enshrined this in our modern mythology. Our Sci-fi movies show us a future where our consciousness is no longer confined to these pain-and-disease-ridden bodies. There are people in Silicon Valley trying to figure this out right now. This modern myth encapsulates our culture’s highest values: We view our bodies as a mistake to be overcome.

But what I am offering today is a possibility that our bodies, rather than being a mistake, are actually the greatest gift we have. They are the vehicle of our consciousness. Our consciousness is not just housed in our brain but, at the very least, is infused throughout the body. This is the barometer that receives information from our environment. The more we bring our attention to this great tool, the more we can act with the best possible information. This is especially true for crisis.

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A Spiritual Response to Crisis

The belief that we are all One is not spiritual if it blinds us from injustice. It is only spiritual if it reminds us of our interdependence- that none of us are free until every last one of us is free. Belief in in the Perfection and Harmony of the Cosmos is not spiritual if it allows us to gloss over suffering, but only if it empowers us by aligning our actions with that Cosmic Arc of Justice. Even prayer is not spiritual if it becomes a substitute for action, but it is a bold act of resistance if it fuels us in the fight for justice.

A spiritual response to crisis is not a justification of it, or a belief structure awkwardly imposed over it.  A spiritual understanding of crisis is that which allows us to see the world as it is, and this in turn inspires deep and heartfelt engagement. The spiritual map is that which leads to a more just world. The spiritual worldview is a way through crisis, and its very truth is both found and expressed through action.

Do your duty without any attachment to the fruits of your work, for only by acting without attachment can you realize God (Bhagavad Gita 3:19)

This is the true spiritual work. This is what sweeps us up in that Great Eternal Force. It’s working to make change, and doing so without any aim for personal gain. It’s living our Dharma. It’s marching. It’s organizing. It’s writing or making art that inspires. It’s growing a garden. It’s living by our values. It is speaking up against racism and sexism. It is tirelessly working to end all forms of oppression. It is a deep listening that allows us to authentically feel this great and painful grief- the firm realization that we are not progressing as we should, that we can do better. That we must do better.

If we cannot feel this then we cannot move forward in a real way. Our activism will be stunted, and its motives will be suspect. To truly make impactful change, we need to live with this collective grief and cradle it close until its painful message can emerge as wisdom, enriching our actions and drawing us closer to a world of freedom and justice for all.

A truly spiritual worldview allows us to do this. A spiritual worldview connects us to an innate and inexhaustible power that can live with grief and bear witness to pain. It is not a buffer that protects us from the atrocities of the world or that justifies oppression using cosmic wordplay. The spiritual worldview reminds us that such protections are not needed, that they only serve to dim the light on the indestructible nature of Being.

The Bhagavad Gita could, in one sense, be summarized by the words of Neem Karoli Baba, “All action is prayer.”

I have found that this is only true if I actually take time in my day for contemplative practices. These practices not only spirtualize my activism, but they make it more effective. The more I get in touch with myself, the easier it is to see where I am caught. This widens my perspective and fine tunes my awareness. I can begin to see more clearly the oppression in our culture and to resist it in the wisest and most skillful way.

But to practice with the wrong perspective can actually strengthen my narcissism rather than to dismantle it. My time in meditation and payer can be become an escape, and this can further enhance the view that I am the center of the Universe. Activism, service and Dharma help remedy this and make my contemplative practices more honest, real, and alive.

Thus I have found that contemplative practice and social engagement are both strengthened by the spiritual worldview, and in turn this worldview is fed and informed by these two practices. If I am ever going to successfully overcome my selfish tendencies of mind, I am going to need the full force of the spiritual life to do so. And until I do, I am just another cog in the wheel of the dominant, exploitative, capitalist culture.

“In the Name of God, the All‑Compassionate, the All‑Merciful” (Quran).

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