While we can never put the genie of the White Sands desert back in the bottle, we still carry in our political body the implicit memory of the horrors that it unleashed in the Land of the Rising Sun. The deep inner wound in our collective psyche that resulted from this cosmic rupture is a wound we share with the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). In cases of developmental trauma, therapy involves calling that implicit memory stored in our soma, the patterned tensions in our body, up into active consciousness to be held in open spacious awareness like a mother holds her child. The experience of that trauma is accessible to us still because we did not fully experience it in the moment it first arose. As Psychiatrist Mark Epstein puts it: “Experiences of trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which one remains forever trapped…”
Let us assume we as a culture, the culture of the American Dream, remain forever trapped in the eternal present of the atomic age, and that it is the dysfunction arising from this cultural trauma that is preventing us from responding emotionally to the unfolding climate crisis – the dying seas, the disappearing species, and the impoverishment of nature for all future generations. What can we as individuals do to heal this deep fissure in our collective psyche that serves to separate our culture from human nature’s world soul?
We as a culture need to overcome the symptomatic distraction of our climate depression in order to accept our grief over what has been lost already, and what we are in the process of losing forevermore. But there are millions who are already at this final stage in the climate grieving process, who are no longer suppressing their natural (healthy) depression. What can we do now to facilitate the truth and reconciliation process that has to become enculturated in the very near future? We can take on this responsibility for all our fellow citizens of the world right now by going deep within to a place of stillness where the awareness of our psyche connects with the collective psyche and is encompassed by the psyche (lit., ‘soul’) of the world. Once we are there, in our meditation, we can assume the role of our own, and the world’s, therapist.
Here is a meditation that I have been doing in response to the call of Anima Mundi in this unified field of awareness in which, and by which, we are all connected. It is based on the powerful tong-len practice of Tibetan meditation in which we take on the suffering of others in the form of black smoke, which then collects at our heart and detonates, shattering the hard shell made of common suffering that encases it, and then from the vast open spaciousness of that detonation we send out our own happiness to others in the form of white light. We carry this visualization on our breath, breathing in black smoke, holding it in to spark the detonation, and releasing the white light on our out-breath, imagining those whose suffering is the object of our taking-and-giving meditation to be transformed in bliss by the white light, due to our willingness to take on their suffering.
We can see how easily this can be adapted to the wounds associated with the Trinity Test, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the sake of this meditation, we imagine all the consequent suffering wrapped up into that first detonation in the White Sands. We are going to actually imagine ourselves at the test site, in that eternal moment, taking that mushroom cloud, which will contain all the suffering of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and yes, climate change, into our left nostril in the form of putrid, black, dense smoke – quite as if we are a superhero whose super power is having a heart that can expand infinitely into a spiritual container for the suffering of others. And even though in this meditation we will actually be imagining the horrible suffering of the women and children (and animals) who tragically died in the hell realm we created, there is no reason to be afraid here, because as the Tibetan lamas constantly remind us, the human heart really does have this unlimited capacity for expansion in the practice of great compassion.
So recall for our purposes the eyewitness account of the Trinity Test by Isador Isaac Rabi:
“Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen or that I think anyone has ever seen. It blasted; it pounced; it bored its way into you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. You would wish it would stop; altogether it lasted about two seconds.”
The bright light is neutral – the creative/destructive force of nature. It is the black smoke of the mushrooming cloud that we take into our left nostril, filling our lungs and concentrating at our heart. When we get to the top of this deep breath, we hold in all this suffering of the world, our mother Earth, and because of the expansive potential in our heart, the hard black shell of our own grief and lamentation that encases our wounded heart explodes just like Trinity, blasting every cell of our physical being out into the infinitude of the cosmos. It is a vast white open spaciousness, a meaning-filled continuum free from suffering, filled instead with blissful wisdom nectar. All of this happens in a flash. It’s a feeling, not a story. And in that eternal moment, we release all this on our out-breath, and it brings instant peace and reconciliation to all the old men, young mothers, and infant children who perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who themselves have been trapped in the confusion and chaos of that eternal moment all this time. They are released, they forgive us out of gratitude for our compassionate act, and the fissure between us and our mother, the rupture that is separating the collective human psyche from the soul of the world, is healed. Our great compassion transforms this rupture into rapture. We can also imagine this healing white light going out to all those who currently are suffering from ignorance in relation to the climate crisis, awakening them to their true human nature and the wonder of the natural world by which they are nurtured.
That’s the meditation. We cycle through it with our breathing. Not every breath, but whenever we feel the inspiration of compassion rise in us from our unresolved grief over the untold suffering that is there in the collective psyche. The meditation follows this same format of inhalation, explosion, and exhalation; darkness, liberating light, and reconciliation/transformation. But the visions that occur to us are unique in the moment and to our psyche, according to our own karmic connections. Whatever come up, hold it, honor it, transform it, and release it. To conclude this meditation, I want to suggest a simple kind of mantric ‘tong-len’ in which we take on Oppenheimer’s famous thought on seeing the result of the Trinity Test, which became manifest according to his own worst fears a few weeks later, and transform it’s energy into the form the world soul and human nature needs most right now:
In breath: ”Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Out breath: Now I am become Life, the creator of worlds.
Repeat this a few times, imagine all beings in all three times (past/present/future) benefiting from that powerful intention, and then dedicate the merit of this practice to all those trapped in the eternal present of the American Dream, that they may wake up to our collective climate grief, awaken to the interpenetrating interdependence of all life on this miracle of a planet, and assume responsibility for this existential crisis. If everyone, or at least a critical mass, awoke in this way and began to see things as they really are, we could reverse climate change tomorrow – by the simple expedient of drastically reducing and eventually eliminating meat from our diet. We do not need any political leader to empower us to do this. We can do it ourselves just by being more mindful with every mouthful.
(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction, except for non-profit or personal use as an aid in meditation practice, without express authorization from author.