Dynamic Contemplation

Active “Contemplation” is essential for “human self-sufficiency and care of our environment”.  Because of the relationship of the smallest everyday things with the biggest universal themes – such as our place in world, the environment, God, Energy, Allah or whatever you want to call it.  The process of Sustainable Living is all about this enquiry, hands-on, in person. It is an active apprenticship.

For example, a lot of people think about Rumi and they think about love, meditation, beautiful sunsets, contemplative poetry writing, and they do not realize that all his poetry was sung or spoken by him while he was actively and energetically dancing and spinning. There was no sitting and meditating, it was about get up and dance. True eastern masters do not speak about meditation as relaxing but about it being a very active process. Socrates did not sit down and give a talk, he walked about engaged in provocative dialogues with his students and strangers. It was a “dynamic casting” as Nader Khalili would say.

We need to completely change our view of the word “contemplation” to become an energetic hands-on activity. Whether your enquiry about the relationship of the little issues and the bigger issues in life is with thought, words, or hands-on activity there must be an exchange of energy between your heart and brain.

In the field of Earth Architecture, a hands-on apprenticeship learning by building a dome is a training in this kind of “Contemplation”. “Unity within Multiplicity” is manifested in the structure of a dome. The center generates the shell and the shell focusses back into the center. This hands-on contemplation brings a joy in setting every brick or bag of earth, or whatever the unit of construction making this shell.  Even being in such a dome is a living contemplation of the unity within multiplicity. And that just turns one’s daily practice towards such contemplation in all areas of life, of sustainable living.

The mason’s contemplation, which happens to have been my experience of the last 20 years while apprenticing to architect Nader Khalili, is just one example of the many kinds of contemplation, of the many roads of enquiry into exciting research in every area of sustainable living.  Where is the focus? The focus is the Unity of course – Allah, God, Atman, whatever the name is One. Is there any practical use to this? Of course! When your quest is to do something for others, to be of service, to be a devotee and adore, work that is true and in harmony with the universe will result. All the greatest inventions, innovations, scientific discoveries, poetries and manifestations of human activity come through this process. Conservatively one can call these divinely inspired.

Our sustainable future as a planet depends on “Contemplation”. Personally I am striving to untie myself from my old habits and situate my life in (w)holiness (excuse the pun, dome builders), by apprenticing to this process of con-templation.

The planet needs help urgently. There is great human need today for wholesome food, safe housing, clean drinking water. And the environment needs protecting from pollution, deforestation, and the fruits of selfish, destructive human activity.  The forces of climate change and war are a constant challenge, and this word ‘contemplation’ is the greatest direct problem-solving process to engage with.

References: Sohbet 2/25/2012 – Murshid Shaykh Taner Ansari, “Sidewalks on the Moon” Chapter 13 – Nader Khalili, “Grand Masters of Sufism” Chapter 1 – translated by Shaykh Taner Ansari.

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Last night I was speaking to an old friend whose dream is to build a sustainable earth village for battered women and children: a sanctuary. She is going to be knighted this year for her work in raising funds for programs to help them, yet she told me “after all these years it is still hard to get a safe place built for my work, but I keep hoping and dreaming”. Another friend wants to build safe housing for homeless refugees in Haiti after the earthquake and in the midst of epidemics, and another one says they are looking at every angle on how to make a safe community away from the grinding stresses of working two jobs daily in an depressed economy.

So what is this idea of “sanctuary”? What makes a sanctuary?

To explore the idea of sanctuary a good start is to look at other sanctuaries that have been made.

There are wildlife sanctuaries which are areas of land where certain birds, animals, plants and so on are encouraged to life to be safe and not to become extinct. These are protected from anything which could threaten their life. Other types of sanctuaries are refuges for people who are oppressed, where they can retreat and heal. Throughout its history, the United States has been a sanctuary for oppressed people emigrating from around the world and seeking asylum. Then there are religious sanctuaries which are meant to preserve something precious to a group of people, such as temples or shrines, mosques or churches, synagogues or other places of worship.

The dictionary posts Sanctuary as “a place of refuge or safety”, shrine – refuge – asylum – shelter – temple – sanctum.

It has a connotation of a place that is protected and safe and therefore holy. And the purpose is to preserve life within it.

So what is the essence of the sanctuary today?

Consider that a seedling – plant sanctuary is a greenhouse within a greenhouse, that is a smaller covered or insulated space within the main space. This is protecting from frost and nurturing the baby plant.

In harsh climates a courtyard is a sanctuary from rough winds and sun, by creating a micro-climate. There, the walls of the building, or even the neighbors’ walls protect the life inside.

Some people see their home as their sanctuary. It must survive severe weather, especially in today’s climate change world. Generally a home is seen as protecting life and love, and things like family, privacy, hospitality. But it can also protect one’s money if it is energy-saving.

Sometimes a sanctuary could be just a warm coat, unplugging the phone, or taking the day off work. And it could be a protected “personal space”, when a person stands up for their rights.

The space of a sanctuary has a perimeter and something precious within it. How do we recognize that something is precious? Well if this is a tangible, physical thing like a baby in a cot, or seedlings in a greenhouse, one’s family or a whole community, we may already believe that it is precious, and we simply want to celebrate that by defining it and protecting it.

But for what is precious but intangible, like peacefulness, happiness, or love, the process of putting a perimeter around a portion of something limitless, helps us to appreciate and recognize it, without defining it. Like having “a spoonful of happiness”.

Any building defines a space, even though Space may be infinite. For a example, a circle manifests this essence of preciousness and the feeling of cherishing and caring for what is within. But it also denotes the quality of infinite due to its inherent nature. An egg shows these qualities and allows the little chick to grow within. A strong wall manifests the strength of protectiveness. Materials also give us a tangible sense of qualities, for example the softness of earth, the strength of steel and rocks, the transparency of glass.

A building can also give us the sense that what it contains is a drop in an ocean, by many windows which make us aware that there is more beyond it. For example, a passive solar home conserves just a small amount of the infinite energy of the universe. Or an earthen home that has molded just a small part of this universal material into a life-space.

Or even a rainbow which arches over a place seeming to contain and protect it, yet actually is a refraction of light energy way beyond that place.

The ultimate sanctuary is “beyond this or that”, and is “a home for the soul”. Anywhere which can make that an everyday experience, could be called a sanctuary. As they say, “home is where the heart is”.

How does this sense of sanctuary become a tangible place, technically,  both physically and in the “imagination”? I’d like to invite the reader to write back with their experiences of what led them to any times they experienced this sense of sanctuary. How did it happen?  What made you feel that way. How did you recognize this feeling?

Thanks for reading and responding.

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New Year – New Earth

What is a New Year? What makes it New? Recognizing the moment as New is the essence of it. We could mark this at any time, but we choose the New Year. Many civillizations have chosen to mark “New Year” with a re-set button, marking the moment of recognizing that our logic is faulty – often expressed by a mis-fit between Solar and Lunar and Earthly calendars. Or “time to move on” from our cherished images. So what survives a New Year moment? We do! Life does. This is why New Year is always a time of celebration and appreciation of life lived today. It brings an awareness of our common humanity – that we are all of this earth. All of the same earth. New Years should be spent in fellowship with family, friends, or community. But if one is alone, at least be with the natural world – the sky and clouds, a garden, a plant, a rock, a stream. The New Years moment is also why it is a good time for reviewing the last year and resolving for the next, since it holds a mirror to our face and burns out our illusions. How precious this life is, and how fleeting. Yet how eternal is the moment NOW and no escape from that! The New Years moment can re-set our whole life to not forgetting and being in this moment. A New Year’s resolution which is set in this moment makes a true Quest,  a direction to Sustainable Living.

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