“Real meditation practice is about living our best lives from moment to moment to moment … until those moments end, as all things end, and return to source.”
~ Savages on the Beach ~
At sunset, we pushed Kalea off of the beach and set sail on the final leg of our journey to Rarotonga. I took the midnight watch while Captain Bob and the others slept. I must have accidentally dozed off sometime in the early morning hours.
When I woke up, we were anchored just off the beach of a massive island with lush forests and three majestic mountains with peaks hidden high up in the clouds. All the others were still asleep, including Captain Bob.
How could this be? There were no islands like this shown on the nautical chart anywhere in this region. We had been sailing in a west-southwesterly direction for at least four hours before I dozed off. That would have put us roughly forty nautical miles away from Atai. This made no sense!
I went to rouse Bob from his bunk in the pilothouse. “Bob, where the hell are we!” I begged him to explain what was going on. But he seemed just as confused and disoriented as I was.
Just as he was finally about to speak, we heard faint chanting and drum beats coming from behind the trees on the beach. The strong rhythm and noise of the drums had the feel of what one might hear coming from a ‘drum circle,’ though the sounds grew louder with each passing moment.
Like in a drum circle, the rhythm was not particularly precise in its rhythmic articulation or perfect in its patterned structure but did lock into a powerful groove that could trigger the psychic state of ‘group mind’ from the shared presence—the kind of sensory stimulation that gives rise to ritual, rapture, and trance. And danger.
Dozens of men suddenly burst through the trees with canoes and paddles in hand. Their bare upper bodies were decorated with bright red and yellow paint and they had bandanas tied around their foreheads. They launched the canoes in the surf and headed right for where we were anchored. Bob and I looked at each other with mouths wide open and hearts pounding wildly.
Their chanting and drumming got louder and louder as they approached. There must have been two hundred of them. One by one our unwary passengers came up on deck only to stare in utter bewilderment at the shocking scene unfolding before them. Bob had no words to explain, and I was no less confused than anyone else.
The islanders surrounded Kalea. When they had fully encircled the boat, the drumming and chanting stopped abruptly. Silence. We were terrified.
Chef Lua was last to emerge from her cabin. She had barely stepped onto the deck when the menacing flotilla of islanders erupted in loud cheers. Two of the larger fellows in the group quickly scrambled onto Kalea, ran up to Lua and lifted her onto their shoulders. The army of natives cheered even louder as she waved to them. They carried her back to the biggest and most beautifully decorated canoe and all headed back to the beach leaving us shocked and stupefied.
One small, solitary canoe had stayed back, though. In it was a young man who seemed confused by our reaction to the event that had just unfolded. Unlike the previous two men, he asked politely if he could come aboard.
Captain Bob hesitated for a moment, looked at me briefly to see my reaction, then agreed. The young man tied off his canoe to the rear crossbeam and jumped up onto the trampoline, nimbly making his way to the deck where we were all huddled together.
“Welcome to our island. My name is Kanoa. You seem a little confused and frightened by our homecoming celebration. May I ask why?”
“Homecoming celebration!?” Captain Bob blurted out, utterly bewildered.
“Why yes. This is how we always greet our Chief when she returns home after being away from the island for so long.”
“Chief!? You must mean Lua, our chef?” Bob was really confused now.
“Chief Luana! She has been traveling with you and now she is back home. We missed her greatly and are celebrating her return. Who is this ‘Chef Lua’?”
~ Chief Luana ~
The young islander went on to explain that Chief Luana is the elected leader of the tens of thousands of people that call the large island their home. Her name, Luana, means ‘content’ or ‘happy’ in Hawaiian.
She was chosen by the people to be their leader because she was the most knowledgeable, the most generous and the most joyful person on the island. He went on to explain many interesting things about our masterfully veiled crewmate.
“Chief Luana has taught us many things. One of the most important is the meaning of true freedom, which lies in consuming lightly, sharing much, and a a habit of lifelong learning—because it is culture and knowledge that build better societies, not riches.”
He said Chief Luana believes that there are no ‘poor’ people on our island. There are many who have very little, but they feel no sense of poorness, as they have no desire for more and know that others will be happy to share in times of need.
She disagrees with the belief common among mainlanders that power corrupts people—it just reveals who they really are. She believes very strongly that the only true leadership is leadership by example—all other forms are hypocrisy and exploitation.
She prefers being called ‘Laughing Lua,’ rather than Chief Luana, because it is less formal and she believes laughter is what gives people the fortitude and flexibility they need during difficult times. She says that a day without laughter is a wasted day.
And Chief Luana never wastes a day.
~ Connected In The Deep ~
Of all of the arts, she has the greatest appreciation for music. She believes ‘civilization’ is spread most effectively by singing songs together, since everyone can sing along at the same time, but only individuals can participate in conversations, one at a time.
Singing together unites people who disagree or don’t like each other, if only for a short time, which may be all that is needed to begin building bridges of tolerance and mutual respect. Singing brings community into harmony. It can be a spiritual practice as deep and uplifting as prayer or meditation. It can heal and soothe.
Music education for children is vital to making good citizens on the island. If children learn music and how to play an instrument, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance—the essential building blocks of beautiful hearts and minds.
And songwriters on the island are celebrated as master storytellers and educators for their ability to engage listeners and help them understand reality better by adorning important teachings with captivating melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and emotion.
Chief Luana describes ‘pure music’—music without lyrics—as the ‘signal in the noise,’ beckoning just beneath the cacophony and confusion of daily existence. In its own mysterious wordless and alluring way, it conveys a sacred truth: all is One; thou art that.
Propelled by wonder, fear, and desire, we are together moving for a brief instant as fellow travelers on this Good Earth, on a journey of learning and growth, through space and time, in a vast, deeply mysterious and profoundly beautiful evolving universe.
Surely there would be far less taste for wars if more of the world learned music, because music reveals our common humanity in its own mysterious way. As William James noted, “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
And even though we may lay claim to being brutally honest and rational in observing that we are born, live, and die alone in this world, music hints at the possibility that just maybe we’re not as isolated—or separate from each other—as we may believe.
“Listen carefully to the music,” Chief Luana says, “it will tell you so.”
Music—a powerful civilizing and harmonizing force—might just provide the key to unlocking a new consciousness that brings about the elusive universal peace we all desire. “People underestimate the power of group singing and of the human voice,” Chief Luana says. “Making music is one of the few human activities in which a group of people with a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and abilities can interact as a group and as equals.”
Chief Luana also believes that much of the world has foolishly turned its back on silence and the vital practice of quieting the mind as we rabidly continue to invent new machines and devices that increase the noise in our daily lives, intrude on our thoughts, and incessantly distract us from an essential feature of health and well-being—contemplation, meditation, and a psychologically nourishing connection to each other and to the natural world in which we are embedded and on which we depend.
“So many of our human problems stem from our inability to sit alone quietly for some time each day,” says Chief Luana. She notes that it has become increasingly difficult today to be alone for any length of time in our busy, competitive, hyper-connected, extroverted world. It may be that ‘aloneness’ will soon become an obsolete human behavior. And this loss could have profound implications for the future of human civilization.
“Wow! What a contrast from the busy, noisy, calculating, power-hungry politicians on the mainland,” I responded. “Though she does remind me of a famous Native American chief—Chief Red Cloud. Being poor and naked, he claimed to have no desire for riches, but only for peace and love and to teach the children of the village well.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that one could easily identify the chief by seeking out the poorest Indian in the village, since the servant-leader was the most generous individual in the tribe,” said the young islander.
He grabbed the small canteen that was clipped on the belt around his waist. “Let us share a kava drink to honor these great leaders.”
I took a small sip and then…
– – –
“Rico, wake up!” Bob was jabbing me. He told me I had dozed off on my watch and that when he got up to take over, found me asleep at the helm. Apparently, I had dreamt that our friendly, good-natured Chef Lua was actually Chief Luana, a great leader of thousands of people on her island who leads by example and serves her people with wisdom, humor, generosity, humility—and with music.
Should I tell Lua about my dream? What would she think? She would probably just laugh and say, “Oh Mister Rico, you and your silly dreams.” And then she would go off to play her ukulele or quietly prepare one of those delicious meals she creates—and serves—to nourish us all.
~ The ‘Inner-net’ ~
During our time at sea, Lua would find her ‘alone space’ on Kalea’s front trampoline early each morning. She would get up just before daybreak and quietly make her way to the bow to do her unique blend of yoga exercises, where she would always include a few minutes of silent meditation at the end of her exercises. I think it helped her begin each day with a fresh mind and a renewed connection to herself and to the marvelous world she knew she inhabited.
Following her regular morning stretching, exercise and meditation routine that morning, I asked Lua what benefits she derives from meditation. Not surprisingly, Lua responded in a humorous way, “Meditation helps me get centered and understand things better—to have a healthier and more intimate and balanced relationship with my mind. It helps me to observe the everyday miracles around me, the plants growing, the sun shining. I find strength and understanding in this heightened awareness. You know, Mister Rico, some answers can only be found on the Inner-net.”
“That’s funny,” I replied. “You know I just had a dream where … oh, never mind.”
Lua hesitated for a moment to see if I would change my mind and tell her about my dream. I didn’t. She then went on to elaborate: “Dedicating some time each day to meditation is a way of caring for yourself. It helps you move more gracefully through your life, especially during difficult periods. As your mind grows quieter and more spacious, you begin to observe self-defeating thought patterns for what they are.”
She explained that one of the main benefits of meditating is that it keeps sharp, judgmental thoughts from dominating you. These thoughts naturally float in and out of your brain, but you begin to realize that they are just thoughts. You witness them, without judgement, and then you just let them pass on through.
Being aware of what you’re thinking and experiencing, and then accepting it without judgment, has an extremely strong, calming effect. Then you can open up to other, more positive options. Congruence between outer and inner life is a vital prerequisite for enduring happiness.
When I was much younger, fishing used to be the thing that provided a sense of connection with the living world for me, though I haven’t felt that thrilling sensation of some mystery sea creature nibbling at the business end of the monofilament fishing line in quite some time.
Fishing gave me the opportunity of being totally immersed in an activity, turning back into myself in a quiet, soothing way. I suppose it is a form of meditation—a stilling of the mind—and a silent communion with other levels of Self that are certainly deeper, wider and more connected than the small surface-level self in everyday society.
These days, riding my bike helps me to clear my mind of clutter and connects me with community and the natural world. Flying down a hill after investing the energy to get to the top or leaning hard into an exhilarating high-speed turn are just a few of cycling’s many simple pleasures. Perhaps Desmond Tutu had it right: ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.’
Bicycling alone, like walking alone, creates space for reflection, for mulling over problems, or even escaping those problems for a short time. I find the activity both meditative and contemplative. Whether you’re delightfully weaving through traffic jams of sour-faced drivers or out by yourself on a trail, the effect is the same: both body and mind are working smoothly. And when those two things synchronize, other aspects of life tend to fall nicely into place as well.
Repeating a mantra, focusing attention on breathing or pedaling a bicycle over an extended period of time all help to calm the mind and promote relaxation and ‘right thinking.’ For people who tend to make debilitating mountains out of their many molehills of daily stresses and problems, meditation helps flatten the terrain.
Many cyclists are familiar with the value of the alone time experienced on a solitary bike ride and how those precious moments help us reconnect with our intuition and inner wisdom—the source of creativity, compassion, resilience and emotional strength.
I’m sure Jack experienced his martial arts training as a type of moving meditation. He told me that when he is sparring or drilling on forms and techniques, he can’t think of anything else. It clears his mind.
Meditation is, in a way, all about the pursuit of nothingness. When there are thoughts, it is distraction; when there are no thoughts, it is meditation.
It can be the ultimate rest. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh by cultivating openness, relaxation and awareness—which especially includes an awareness of one’s chaotic and confused ‘monkey mind’—very common in today’s restless, noisy world.”
I had read that meditation has many health benefits: it lowers stress levels, improves academic performance, lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, reduces depression, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, helps improve memory, helps protect against heart disease, and stabilizes emotions and calms nerves by bringing the entire nervous system into a unified field of coherence.
For those who practice seriously, meditation means diving deep within, beneath the surface of thought, to the source of thought and pure consciousness.
“Prayer is when you talk to the source of being; meditation is when you listen,” Lua would say.
Many people have learned that relaxation techniques like meditation dramatically decrease the need for healthcare visits and interventions. With relaxation techniques, patients are better able to care for themselves and manage symptoms without requiring a physician’s intervention. This has great value considering that stress-related disorders are the third leading cause of healthcare expenditures in the United States, after heart disease and cancer.
Teaching patients how to use relaxation techniques is an excellent way to reduce physicians’ caseloads, lessen the overall burden on the healthcare system, save money, and provide safe and effective non-interventional solutions to physical problems.
I recalled reading that the year 2013 was a breakthrough year for interest in holistic health and mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation.
Celebrity and CEO endorsements of these health-boosting practices continue to grow every year. It’s a trend that will likely continue to gain momentum as more benefits are discovered.
Mindfulness seems to be part of a much larger trend in mindful living. Perhaps it is emerging as a counter-trend to the overly stimulated, ADD-afflicted, tech-saturated culture that we’ve been living in for too long—a pendulum that has swung too far in the direction of soul-sapping, dim-witted distractions and empty-calorie, sugar-high entertainments.
What was once the exclusive domain of spiritual-growth seekers has spread into the mainstream as more people are realizing the health benefits of ‘separating the signal from the noise’ for a few moments each day.
The evidence of the value of mindfulness training is everywhere. A major university released a groundbreaking finding that mindfulness meditation actually alters gene expression in the body. A notable Internet company offers its employees a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program. The program founder says that mindfulness can help build compassion, which can be beneficial to not only individuals and community, but also to corporate bottom lines.
Many famous celebrities and CEOs have touted meditation as their secret to success, claiming that meditation helps them create their best work and their best life.
Universities are starting to use meditation to combat freshman-year symptoms with ‘wellness dorms’ dedicated to mindfulness, stress management and well-being.
Creative types depend on clear and focused minds. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative workers turn to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.
Science backs up the idea that mindfulness boosts brain power in a number of ways. Recent studies have linked mindfulness with emotional stability and improved sleep, increased focus and memory, enhanced creativity, and lower stress levels, among a host of other positive health outcomes—all of which can lead to more creative thought.
“Ironically, while touting American exceptionalism, the U.S. is the most obese, medicated, imprisoned, and armed country in the world,” Lua pointed out. “I think that if more people took up meditation, especially people in ‘advanced’ economies suffering from chronic Nature-deficit disorder in tech-saturated lifestyles, it could take human society to a higher evolutionary state that leaves behind the ugliness, detachment, and spiritual emptiness that perpetuates poverty, extreme consumerism, and endless conflict. In fact, people who meditate regularly say they experience a greater desire to live life to the fullest and to acquire more knowledge. They readily abandon the economic treadmill and have a diminished fear of death.”
“But until that higher state is reached—this Great Awakening,” she continued, “meditation can be a very effective tool to psychologically brace oneself for what are sure to be turbulent transitional times ahead as we rebalance ourselves on this marvelous, but increasingly stressed, life-rich planet.”
~ A Recipe for Mindful Rebalancing ~
The ecological stress Lua was referring to surely was a nasty negative side-effect of the rapid growth of human industrial civilization. The number of people, the power of technology, and the overall size of the global economy is on a collision course with rapidly approaching limits to the supply of key natural resources—including topsoil, freshwater, and fossil fuels—on which literally billions of lives depend. Many countries are, in fact, in varying states of resource-crisis.
Clearly, in order to achieve more mindful, balanced living on our full planet and adapt by design rather than by disaster, we would need to: stabilize populations (perhaps by meeting unmet demand for family planning and for educating girls); stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions; more equitably share resources, income, and work; invest in the natural and social capital ‘commons’; reform the financial system to better reflect real assets and liabilities; create better measures of progress than ‘GDP growth’; reform tax systems so that ‘bads’ (like resource depletion and pollution) are taxed rather than ‘goods’ (like value-added labor); develop, promote, and freely share scientific and technical knowledge that advances human and ecosystem well-being rather than growth; establish strong, deep democratic decision-making processes in all organizations; and create a strong mainstream ethic and culture of health, resilience, self-reliance, sufficiency, and well-being rather than mindless manic consumerism.
Unfortunately, stopping and reversing greenhouse gas emissions will be difficult. Modern industrial economies are fueled almost entirely by fossil hydrocarbons—accumulations of past solar energy that are clearly limited. In stark contrast, current real-time solar energy is of limited flow and of relatively low concentration.
But we will eventually need to make a transition from stock energy resources like fossil hydrocarbons to flow energy resources like energy from daily sunlight and wind and water flows. While the electromagnetic energy flowing directly from the Sun is stock-abundant, but flow-limited, the terrestrial source of fossil fuels is stock-limited, but flow-abundant. Peasant societies lived off the solar flow; industrial societies thrive on the enormous supplements of limited terrestrial stocks.
Is growth in ‘real’ economic output still necessary in advanced economies to simultaneously maintain high levels of employment, reduce poverty, and maintain the stability of the financial system? Is growth still possible with restrictions on demand and supply in anticipation of, or in response to, ecological and resource constraints?
As Germany—the strongest economy in Europe—proves, a vigorous policy aimed at expanding green technologies and supporting a green services sector significantly boosts employment levels and hits ambitious carbon reduction targets even without relying on substantial year-on-year growth rates—in other words, economic stability without relentless consumption growth.
A mindful rebalancing is clearly required. The Global North, which accounts for most of the global economic throughput—a result of population size times per capita resource use—should undertake to phase out quantitative growth and reduce per capita consumption in favor of sustainable qualitative development.
For the sake of social and ecological stability, it should prioritize more equitable global distribution by aiding the Global South in achieving levels of societal well-being that will permit a demographic transition to stable populations and intergenerational equity through restoring the stock of natural capital.
People in industrialized nations owe a huge ‘climate debt,’ after all, to those in the Global South from unjust carbon emissions and imperialism of the Global North. The poor need an irreducible minimum of basics: food, clothing, shelter, and security. Getting these basics may require throughput growth for poor countries, and given that many planetary boundaries are already being reached, compensating reductions in such growth in rich countries. The Global South, in turn, should strive to stabilize populations and to ensure permanently protected habitats needed for assuring species diversity.
The human economy is, after all, only a means to an end—and that end is human well-being. Humans do not have primary needs for the specific products of the economy necessarily, but rather for food, shelter, clothing, security, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and a sense of freedom.
Lua believed that a Great Awakening could bring about the collective consciousness that is needed to rebalance our resources, lives, values, and priorities and re-focus our attention on sustainable and equitable health and well-being for all.
She believed that ‘lean economies’—held together by richly developed ‘social capital’ and culture and organized around the rebuilding of small-scale community self-reliance and resilience—were the best way forward. Lean, small-scale economies where government funds and services are very limited can still be strong, vibrant, and stable without the need for continuous growth. Lean community draws on our best behavior and awakens our whole nature.
And lean travels light: it concentrates on what contributes real value to social health and well-being and does away with everything else that doesn’t.
“But Lua, even with a growing awareness of the many benefits of mindfulness and meditation, there is no guarantee that this Great Awakening you refer to is ever going to happen,” I noted.
“Of course not,” Lua countered. “Real meditation practice is, nevertheless, about living our best lives from moment to moment to moment … until those moments end, as all things end, and return to source.”