A new way of seeing:
To the person who is awake, all creation, each of us (the smallest elementary particle, the most frustrating person we know) bears witness to the invisible Source of Life — simply by being here.
If we cannot see this, we need to ask ourselves why.
Some years ago, my wife was sitting in a lecture at university learning about sustainable development. The focus of this particular session was on the development of marketing tactics that would try and prompt people to think twice before, for example, throwing recyclable materials in the bin destined for landfill. Students were encouraged to pilot their ideas at home to see what worked.
At the same time my wife was doing this course, it just so happened she was also participating in a six-week introduction to meditation. Whilst she felt rather despondent about the limited impact of the eco-marketing materials that she’d carefully placed around the house she shared with friends, she was struck by the unforeseen impact her new-found meditation practice was having on her everyday, hard-to-change habits. More on that later.
There has probably never been such a time of heightened consciousness about the urgent need to care for our planet, our shared home. But if we are going to be able to do this, I believe it’s crucial that we cultivate a deep awareness of the oneness of creation.
And the essential condition for this awareness — for a new way of seeing — is interior silence. Without inner silence, our ability to see and to respond to the suffering of creation is limited.
Real, long-lasting change will only come from collective awakening and collective change. And just as collective awakening comes through our individual awakening, collective change comes through the changes brought about in each of our lives, through how we choose to live. If we become awake, if we change, we can help influence the hearts and minds of those around us.
We need to know that what we call ‘the environment’ is not something separate from us, something surrounding us. We need to know deeply that we exist within a single reality, an interdependent whole. Because all our actions, however small, have a direct effect (beneficial or otherwise) on this whole.
It is surely a good thing to believe that we are not separate from creation, that we are intimately bound up with its flourishing or decline.
But unless we encounter the truth of non-separateness in ourselves, we will be relying on second-hand knowledge, rather than first-hand knowing. Second-hand knowledge can help guide us. But first-hand knowing transfigures how we see.
A new way of being requires a new way of seeing.
Meditation helps free us from all that obscures and impairs our spiritual vision. Saying our word, following our breath, we learn to quiet our noisy minds. We find freedom from our thinking, from our fears, our anxieties, our cravings. We learn to recognise and see past our conditioning and our habits.
As we lift our attention off ourselves, our simple practice brings us to inner silence, to a quiet space in which we can touch our shared life. It is this encounter which illuminates and reframes our relationship with the world, and progressively informs how we live within it.
Back to my wife. A week or two into her meditation course, she began to notice how she had always let the tap run for a few minutes while she was brushing her teeth. Critically, what was encouraging her now to turn the tap off was not a sense of guilt (or an instruction from one of her posters) but a newfound love and respect for this precious water through an opening of awareness.
Since the earliest centuries, Christians have spoken of the visible, material world pointing to an invisible, immaterial source and harmony in God. “Ever since the creation of the world,” wrote St. Paul, “the invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”
It is said of the Desert Father St. Anthony that a wise man went to find the holy man and asked him, “Father, how can you be happy when you are deprived of the consolation that books give?” Antony replied, “My philosopher friend, my book is the nature of creatures; and this book is always in front of me when I want to read the words of God”.
We cannot bring about this flowering of awareness through our own striving. It is all grace, all gift. Our work is to collaborate with God’s will so that our eyes are opened. And meditation is a simple way to surrender ourselves to this gift.
Whatever we might understand meditation (or prayer or the spiritual life) to be about, it is always about relationship, ever-deepening relationship within the fullness of our shared life. Meditation helps us touch the heart of who we are. And to touch the heart of who we are, is to touch the heart of everything.
To speak of an ecology is to speak about relationship, a balance of interdependent, mutually serving, mutually nurturing activities and processes. We may have the impression we are standing outside it, looking in, but we live inside it. We are inseparable from it.
To the person who is awake, creation is not something to exploit and dominate.
It is the radiance of the Divine.
This blog is adapted from the talk given by Chris Whittington during Saturday’s online practice group meeting.
A growing number of people of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs gather online to meditate each Saturday from 08:30–09:30 UK time. Each session includes a short talk, outline of the simple practice and 20 minutes of silent meditation. The last part allows for conversation and shared exploration of any questions that arise.
You will find the group welcoming, warm and supportive. If you don’t already come but might be interested in joining us, please click this link. There is no charge.
 Romans 1:20.