Image of a choir doing singing performance

The Great Turning

Members of our choir, Wingsong, have learned an inspiring song called We Shall Be Known.

The lyrics contain a phrase, the ‘Great Turning’, which I discovered was coined by the environmental activist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy. She describes the Great Turning in this way:

Right now a shift of comparable scope and magnitude is occurring. It’s been called the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, even the Necessary Revolution. We call it the Great Turning and see it as the essential adventure of our time. It involves the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world. This transition is already well under way.

I agree with Joanna Macy, and it seems like the pace of people wanting to be involved with the Great Turning is picking up. In proportion to the need to address our climate crisis, there has been an increase in grassroots momentum.

I think that yoga, and particularly meditation, has a vital place in contributing to our health and that of planet earth.

For one thing, meditation is a tool for training a worried mind to become quiet and to clarify thoughts. These two advantages help thwart catastrophic thinking and help us know what future actions we need to take. 

buddha

Meditation, simple but not easy

Most people know that meditation is good for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s at all easy to develop the meditation muscle.

I’ve had a patchy history as a meditator. I’m now getting more regular as I see how much I need meditation. Savasana, the yoga relaxation, has been a key for opening the door to meditation for me.

In an effort to make peace with my overactive mind, I did Vipassana meditation courses in the 1980’s.
Have you ever done one of these ten-day courses? They are conducted in complete silence. You do sitting meditation, alternating with walking meditation. Walking makes the sitting less onerous for those of us who like to be physically active.

I didn’t think that the sitting would be challenging for me. My attitude was, hey, I’m a yogi. How hard can sitting for an hour at a time be? Apparently, very hard!

It was true that I didn’t suffer as much physically as some people did from these sessions. I wasn’t expecting, though, that when the meditation room was quiet, my mind would go into overdrive. I’m sure there had always been a ruckus happening, but I hadn’t been listening so acutely before.

I was in a difficult relationship at the time. My mind would bounce around between thoughts of breaking up with him and planning on how to make up. Worse, without even being able to speak to any of the other meditators, I was having romantic fantasies about them.

Vipassana course leaders describe how meditators can go through a whole imaginary romance. In their minds, they get married, have kids, and divorce–all within the time-frame of the retreat. Or, the reverse might happen. A meditator could develop a whole story about why they have reason to dislike one or more fellow participants.

I completed the course, but didn’t continue doing Vipassana afterwards.

Savasana, restorative poses and audios

These days I do a yoga practice to help settle my mind. It’s called pratyahara–stilling the senses. This is where savasana comes in. Restorative yoga is also helpful as a meditation precursor. When I can relax, my mind loosens its grip.

Of even more importance than the pleasant feeling of being relaxed is the potential that relaxation creates for harmonious relationships with others. When I’m relaxed, I’m more likely to notice when I get into a reactive state. There’s breathing space and mental space to see when I’m being defensive or offensive. You know, those times when we’re battling to be right, no matter if we really are, for instance.

I’m happy that I can now say that I’m a meditator. I found that mindfulness meditation, especially following the lead of audio recordings from Jon Kabat-Zinn, has worked for me. Headspace is an app that I also use which gets the mediation wheels spinning.

The practice that serves me best is Loving Kindness meditation. I might wake in the night fretting over an article I’ve read about deforestation in our state forests. Or, wondering when/if Australia’s drought will end. Or, feeling empathy for victims of bushfires: humans, wildlife, vegetation. Loving Kindness offered towards myself, then others, then the planet and the universe always makes a difference.

And, here’s the hopeful outcome of that beautiful song, We Shall Be Known:

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love