Recently I spoke with my teacher, Prem Rawat, at five day event I attended in Australia. Standing up to the microphone my intention was to get his perspective on climate change and ask for his advice. I started by saying how helpful I've found my practice of what he has taught me and how it has been a comfort during a time of fear and anxiety. I spoke to him standing in a crowd of thousands of on-lookers, but I felt calm and clear. From my perspective in that moment the current threats we are facing, like fires, floods, overpopulation, an overheating planet and the rise of fascism worldwide, loomed larger than my sense of the power of peace. I wanted him to agree with me that we were in a uniquely scary and overwhelming moment. He was having none of it.
Not only did he not validate my fears, he reminded me that I and everyone on earth would die our individual deaths and that the entire planet, whether or not humans went extinct, would be consumed by the sun in a few billion years as it went through its evolution from a young star to an old one, inevitably. Also, everything I was fearing has happened in some measure before now and will happen again in the future if we are lucky enough to have one. And then he reminded me that the purpose of practice was not to comfort myself but to connect with the divine. I sat down dumbfounded realizing he had ignored my question about climate change and gone right to the question of my fear. And thus, he had adjusted my perspective.
Last summer I visited the archeological site of Ùxmal in southern Yucatan. While walking around its biggest pyramid I thought about all the people who lived there over the more than a thousand years when it was a thriving and powerful Mayan society. Where did the Mayan people, once so numerous, talented and powerful, go? The Mayans were overwhelmed by their Spanish conquerers, forced into semi-slavery, made to adopt the Christian religion, a European language and killed in untold numbers. But they are still here! Still numerous, talented and though perhaps not powerful, they have endured. They have preserved some of their culture and go about their lives as citizens of Yucatan state. From the perspective of this gringa they seem to be enjoying their lives as much as the rest of us. Should I mourn?
Of course it is right and natural to mourn the loss of indigenous peoples and their cultures, and to condemn the greed and hatred that accompany their oppression. It is understandable to be sad about lost languages, lost knowledge, and precious lost worlds. We can never let go of feeling horror at the Holocaust, for example, unless we no longer care about being human. But lost peoples will never return. We cannot resurrect them as we might the mastodon. Their loss acts as a harbinger of our own transformation or outright disappearance. We have no power to preserve the world according to our concepts of what it should be. We can only accept constant change including what we mourn as loss and celebrate as gain and find gratitude for being alive to know it. Perhaps then we can do whatever we can to save that which we cherish without losing hope when we fail or having hubris when we succeed.
I continue to reflect on the perspective I've gained from my conversation with Prem. He helped me see that while I do sometimes need comfort there is a vast difference between comforting myself with the present moment and connecting with the divine. When I'm afraid or sad or feel lost I do need comfort. But there is so much more available if I only turn toward it. Creation is still unfolding with seed sprouting and stars and babies being born. Mystery takes its rightful place at the center of things be they scary and overwhelming or full of hilarity and bliss. I can immerse myself in awe and gratitude. I can adore. And peace, my oldest dearest friend, and her older sister, acceptance, will quiet my fears and lead me into the presence of the divine. Peace is that powerful.