A love letter to the future – part 2
“What we do now echoes in eternity,” said Marcus Aurelius. The transition of the past few months has been stressful but also a time to remove obsolete habits, to rebuild our priorities, and to explore new paradigms. With this in mind, PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN interviewed DR. ELIZABETH DENLEY on our ability to adapt to changes during COVID times. Elizabeth holds a PhD in ecology as well as having spent over 30 years practicing Yoga and studying the yogic sciences. She sees the bridging of science and spirituality as the way of the future.
Q: Elizabeth, the word “crisis” has a Greek root which means “the turning point of a disease, perhaps when recovery is imminent.” So, as the wise elders say, every crisis is an opportunity. How can we use this time to elevate ourselves as a species?
ED: Let’s ask ourselves, “What is it that humanity needs right now?” It’s a very big question. How will people view this time a hundred years from now? Will they look back and say we did the best we could? I listened to a podcast the other day, of Krista Tippett interviewing Jacqueline Novogratz, and she said something very profound: We need to write a love letter to the next generation. What is the legacy we’ll be leaving them? What is our love letter to them? There is a profound awareness that comes with the idea that what was “normal” before COVID was very abnormal. It was not in tune with nature. We were heading on a kamikaze suicidal path to mass destruction. Many people know it today. It was already well-known in the ’70s. It was already known in the ’50s when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring.
Yet, with all our knowledge, we seem to be heading closer and closer to the abyss. The same is true of our relationships, as you mentioned before. We’ve known about the problems of modern culture, digital technology, and the need for digital detox for quite a long time. We have also known the problems of pollution for so long. It’s not a lack of knowledge that is stopping us from changing.
It’s creating the consciousness to do something about the knowledge we have. It’s not enough to know. So, the question then is: How do we raise our consciousness to a level where we can make the necessary changes? We all know what’s right and wrong morally, and yet do we do what’s right? No. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.
The biggest hurdle we face is that our tendencies, our patterns, come mostly from our subconscious. They are all laid down in our formative years, and it is difficult to change these patterns. I’ll give you an example. If you’ve grown up learning that it is safer to lie so you are not beaten or ostracized, you will learn from a very early age that it’s safer to tell lies. It becomes an ingrained pattern. So, you hide things from your parents, you hide things from your teachers. It could be that you haven’t done your homework, or you’ve done something wrong, or whatever. When these patterns become engraved in your subconscious, how to learn to tell the truth as an adult? Even to yourself.
How do we become honest with ourselves about who we are? How do we have the self-acceptance, the self-compassion to do this when we have never been taught self-acceptance and self-compassion as a young child? How do we learn to listen to our hearts, listen to our feelings if we have never been asked the question as a young child, “How do you feel?”
It is not that we don’t want to change; all of us want to change. The difficulty is in how to do it, given that the subconscious patterns are so deep? Well, of course it takes work, but the tools are there.
This is what Yoga is all about – getting rid of those layers of complexities that cause individual suffering. It all starts with cleaning the roots of all the tendencies in the subconscious mind. And in Yoga those roots are called samskaras or impressions. Until they’re gone, there is no possibility of change. It’s like cutting down a tree but leaving the roots, and the shoots come up again.
You can go through all the psychoanalysis and self-help you want, but unless you remove the root samskara, it will sprout again. The practice of removing samskaras is essential to bring about change.
In parallel, behavior also has to change; that’s why I mentioned a moral revolution earlier. COVID has given us the opportunity to pause and think about what that moral revolution could be. Can we envision a world that is different from before? Can we recalibrate ourselves personally? Can we simplify our lives so that we move forward without going down the same destructive path? It’s possible. I have a lot of hope.
This morning I was out for a walk, and I saw some pathways made of slate tiles, and between the slate, in the hot sun of an Indian summer, there were little plants coming up between the gray slate. Hardly any soil and yet they grow there. They had little flowers. If small plants can grow in such an arid, difficult environment, there is hope for us too. We can turn this around.
I’m very hopeful for the future. I’m not denying the suffering and the problems we face. They are massive, and for that reason it’s our duty to help each other, to stop hoarding toilet paper and hoarding this and hoarding that. The way forward is to share, to take each other along and go forward together. And hopefully, that will be the outcome of this crisis, this opportunity to change direction.
Q: It felt so joyful, Elizabeth, when you spoke about those small plants sprouting in between the slate sheets. So, what do you think is the way forward for the future? Can you share something that is easy to understand, and easy to execute?
ED: You’re asking: How to create compassionate consciousness in our culture? I can only share what I know, and other people may have other ways. The way I know is through heart-based meditation. We need the heart. The mind is wonderful, but without the heart guiding it we’re lost. And I think that’s where we have gone wrong. We have developed incredible technology and incredible advancements in science, but without the heart we end up with nuclear missiles and plastic everything. Amazing technology, no heart, no care.
How to develop the heart? Through simple heart-based practices. Put your attention there. First, you have to get rid of the complexities, the emotional complications that are there. You need pure consciousness. And you also need to learn to witness your heart and listen to it. That’s meditation. It’s a simple thing.
This morning I was out for a walk,
and I saw some pathways made of slate tiles,
and between the slate,
in the hot sun of an Indian summer,
there were little plants coming up
between the gray slate.
Hardly any soil and yet they grow there.
They had little flowers.
If small plants can grow in such
an arid, difficult environment,
there is hope for us too.
We can turn this around.
Develop your instrument of perception, your instrument of guidance, your instrument of conscience – your heart. Balance yourself, as the heart is the midpoint of the human chakra system. It’s where the physical body, the subtle body and the soul join. The heart is the seat of the soul. So, when you put your attention on your heart, what are you developing? All the heart-based qualities – love, courage, compassion, empathy, kindness, willpower, and resilience – the strength to overcome challenges, to make changes.
It’s not enough just to be compassionate and loving, you also need the capacity to bring about change.
I mentioned prayer earlier because it allows us to go into the heart, completely open the heart and create a connection with the higher Self. While we’re in that state of love, the infinite vastness of the heart, we can use our willpower to make a suggestion for change. For example, the thought that all humanity is becoming peace-loving, or all humanity is becoming giving. The effect will magnify, it will echo out into the universe, it will ripple out way beyond us.
When we do this, our thought ripples out in all directions. If everybody does it, the problem is solved. How can we have conflict when we’re in the heart? The heart is the “we” where we connect. The heart is the vastness of our oneness.
In the heart, you and I are not separate. On the ego level we’re different individuals. On the heart level we’re the same. When we’re all connected, which we are anyway, everything that happens in the universe affects all of us.
Quantum physics tells us the same thing – an electron in one part of the universe affects one on the other side of the universe, because they are connected.
First, you have to get rid of the complexities,
the emotional complications that are there.
You need pure consciousness.
And you also need to learn to witness
your heart and listen to it.
It’s a simple thing.
How to live that connection every day? By doing simple practices, and by letting go of all the fears that hold us from exploring this. I find the younger generation more open to the exploration because they want a better world. Why are school children demonstrating against climate change? Because they want a different world. It’s their future and we have messed it up for them. Hopefully, we will start to listen to their voices, we will write our love letter to the next generation, and say we’re sorry, we want to help build a future.
I don’t think it’s about huge political plans. It’s about what we can do as individuals. We change things by changing ourselves. When that happens the world will surely change.
Interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN
September 30, 2020
September 29, 2020
September 29, 2020