Sun, 23 Apr 2000

Meditating on the miracles we encounter in daily life

By Rahayu Ratnaningsih

JAKARTA (JP): We have recently incorporated outdoor meditative practices in our meditation retreats thanks to the breathtaking environment of our meditation center.

The center, in Telaga Kahuripan, Parung, is a new housing complex set among lakes and idyllic greenery. Outdoor activities include walking the Vipassana as well as doing sitting and walking awareness practices. These practices are effective for disseminating the underlying message of unity between "I" and others, including nature, between all parts of the universe, which are inherent in all contemplative traditions, and is also confirmed by modern physics.

Our typically mechanistic, fragmented Greek-world view -- the sense of independence, isolation and separation from the rest of the world -- has created much destruction and an antiecological view of the environment based on the belief that in order to survive we must conquer and exploit nature. Most of us identify with Cartesian philosophy, the one espoused by Rene Descartes with his famous sentence, Cogito, ergo sum (I think therefore I exist). The Cartesian dualism allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and something completely separate from themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled in a huge machine. Also as a result of this view, we equate our identity with our mind, instead of our whole organism and we are aware of ourselves as isolated egos existing "inside" our bodies.

The inner fragmentation mirrors our view of the world "outside" which is seen as a multitude of separate objects and events. The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view further contaminates the way our society takes shape with its well-defined boundaries of different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments -- in ourselves, in our environment and in our society -- are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological, moral and cultural crises in the world at large and in our country, in particular. It has alienated us from nature and from our fellow human beings. It has brought a grossly unjust distribution of natural resources creating economic, social and political disorder; an ever-rising wave of violence, both spontaneous and institutionalized, and an ugly, polluted environment in which life has often become physically and mentally unhealthy.

As I have always emphasized over and over again in my writings, to believe that our abstract concepts of separate "things" and "events" are realities of nature is an illusion. Hindus and Buddhists tell us that the root cause of this illusion is avidya (ignorance) produced by the mind under the spell of maya. In the words of Albert Einstein: "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal decisions and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty."


This illusion of separateness has then contributed much to our suffering for the illusory belief it engenders that there is a solid, independent self that needs to be pleased and taken care of all the time. Hence, we incessantly pursue sensuous, physical, mental or emotional pleasures, believing that by doing so we can be free from suffering and be happy. And of course, the more we try the more we become unhappy. As long as our happiness lies in the world "out there" or in the distant future or in the compulsive act of pleasing the self, then we can never really be happy. By going back to nature and merging with it, we learn to dissolve this "self" and appreciate life as it is unfolding here at the very moment, in all its bare simplicity without prejudice, judgment, analysis and any mental or intellectual construction. We learn to accept life as it is, not as how it should be.

I take an afternoon walk every day. I let go of all thoughts and I am mindful of what is happening around me and with my body. I am aware that I am walking; that my left foot is stepping on the ground, my right hand is swinging forward, and then my right foot and left arm are moving. I am aware of the gentle breeze of the wind touching my face and skin, the sunny blue sky, the picturesque clouds playing astounding visual effects, the melodious chanting of the birds, the distant hum of crickets, the fresh smell of grass and earth, the verdant green paddy field and the splendid stretch of sparkling water in the lake. There is just me and nature, and nothing else.

And then I sit in one of the gazebos, staring intently into the water or at the landscape before me, feeling every sound, the rhythm and motion of the Dance of Shiva, watching the sky change colors along with the retiring sun. At times the metamorphosis is so glorious and dramatic that I can't possibly have anything else in my mind but the unadulterated awe at the poetic splendor of my surroundings. Every second is a uniquely pristine and precious experience that can never be repeated in any following day. Every day -- every sunset -- is a different experience, nothing stays the same. I do not think or do not analyze who is behind this or how it comes into being, I just experience what is unfolding before me. Just be here, now.

When the rational mind is silenced, the intuitive mode produces an extraordinary awareness; the environment is experienced in a direct way without the filter of conceptual thinking. In the words of Chuang Tzu, "The still mind of the sage is a mirror of heaven and earth -- the glass of all things." The experience of oneness -- the dissolution of the self with the surrounding environment is the main characteristic of this meditative state. It is a state of consciousness where every form of fragmentation has ceased, fading away into undifferentiated unity. The Sufis attest that when the individual self is lost, the universal self is found. At that point, there no longer is the "I" and the universe; no more the observer and the observed.

Given the luxury of bare attention of the dynamic cosmic dance, and of quiet time in which to reflect, it shall become clear that what is meant by the phrase, "This, too, shall pass away." Things are seen to be impermanent in practice, not merely in theory. Major events strike hard. But they fade. They come and go. What is, is. What might happen is not yet here. Daily life does flow more harmoniously whenever we lower the flapping of the sovereign "I", shorten the defensive perimeter, and let go of the clutching tentacles of personalized attachments. And by celebrating this simple awareness of the now, we come to the appreciation of the miracle of everyday living.

The writer is the director of the Satori Foundation, a center for the study and development of human excellence through mind programming and meditation techniques. She can be reached at