return to the Spring 2004 e-newsletter

Spring Greetings!

Dear Friends,

Outside my window, snow, bare branches, white sky, and-oh-the first green sprouts pushing up through the snow. Snowbells, just-born, small, white, bobbing flowers, against a 300-year-old stone wall. In New England, we are never without the natural drama of impermanence and the renewal that it suggests.

A contemplative mind is useful after four months of stark cold. It is easy to overlook the snowbell for the snow, easy to forget what's being born while being surrounded by what is melting and dying. We all have had moments of quickened awareness when we walk outdoors and the sky is vivid and new. But we also know the heaviness of feeling that life is stuck, static, unchanging. We are not seeing signs of renewal or change. Look deeper. Look under the snow. Contemplative practice gives us a way to be present for each moment so that the instant the snowbell breaks through, we see it. Awareness of change does not always make us happy, but it sets us in a landscape of possibility.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society is based on the idea that change is possible (in fact, inevitable) in ourselves, in our organizations, and even in national and international governance. We want to guide that change to support a more just, compassionate, and reflective society, and we want to be awake to it as it happens.

At a recent board meeting, we found ourselves talking about this critical moment in the world. What should we as a Center be doing? We agreed that the events of this time raise fundamental questions about our lives and our relationships to others - and that it is a propitious opportunity for contemplative practice.

At a time of great opportunity and even greater stress and confusion, how does the Center navigate through the complexity? Do we need a restatement of mission and purpose? How can we move forward yet remain true to our core principles? Where should we as Board and staff focus our energy in the coming months?

We had invited advisors and guests to think, talk, and dine together with us. Their thoughts were extremely helpful. Jon Kabat-Zinn said that our challenge is to articulate the contemplative by the very way we exist, in the way we relate to each other. The Center could make it possible for people to do this and to belong where they are "without changing their clothes." In Jon's words, "We are precious as a species, and mindfulness, heart-fullness, and inquiry are critical to survival. It is our individual responsibility to be simply loving."

Arthur Zajonc, professor of physics at Amherst College, suggested that the Center should continue to encourage people to inquire into their true callings, as we have done at retreats with teachers, lawyers, and scientists, and look for ways across sectors or professions to encourage a conversation that trusts in intuition and explores a contemplative way of knowing. Contemplative Fellow Sun Hee Gertz said that we are beginning to develop the language for such dialog. In that field of inquiry, "we will find wise responses to our world." We will, as singer and teacher Rachel Bagby put it, "see what needs to be done and do it." "But only," she said, if we "hold to the heart of the teachings."

Joseph Goldstein, of the Insight Meditation Society, reminded us that it is important to connect what practice has taught us with an explicit ethical foundation. Vipassana teacher Steve Smith challenged us to find a way to effectively present the peaceful mind, the nonharming mind: "everyone is starving for the whole truth." And environmentalist Paul Gorman said that the Center is "a custodian of the depth of these ideas." He cautioned, "One has to be free of fear and greed and have a clear mind to do this work."

The next day, we worked with consultants from Global Business Network on a series of scenarios for the future. We imagined a world that included not just terrorists and poverty but hip-hop monasteries and mindful politicians. How will the planet look if we discover extraterrestrial life, or a drug that offers enlightenment (or faux enlightenment)? The different scenarios highlighted some core assumptions about how we see the Center in the future.

  • Our most important role, in good or bad times, is to help to keep the movement of contemplative practice alive. The Center is a connector in the contemplative diaspora - between different activists and practitioners, between different parts of society, and between different generations.

  • We stress the importance of depth within the practice, and aim to maintain integrity and strengthen the ethics of practice.

  • Many of our ideas emphasized the importance of remaining open to new ways. We felt the need to support diversity in contemplative experience, to link practice to real-world experiences, and to deal with the changing nature of contemplative practice as new threats and dilemmas emerge in the world.

So we go forward, and we ask you to accompany us on the journey. We welcome your responses to this newsletter and send gratitude for your good hearts in this struggling world. May you be happy!

In peace,

Mirabai Bush

return to the Spring 2004 e-newsletter