One evening we were drinking tea and talking about the state of the world -- the good and not-so-good things -- and realizing the preciousness of it all. We imagined a world without suffering and agreed that people needed to unite in greater connectedness. It became obvious to us that this could be done by meditating together, which inspired us to create a book to enable others to discover the magic and power of meditation.
From then on everything began to fall into place. We contacted the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, Marianne Williamson, Dan Millman and Jack Kornfield, who all agreed to participate, as did so many other amazing people: Nobel Laureates, scientists, activists and spiritual leaders in all walks of life. Each one showed how meditation can transform both ourselves and the world, and that it is an exciting, integral and intimate part of being alive.
Seven of the dynamic and luminous women and men from our book "Be The Change" are included here. William Spear has compassionately brought help to many areas in the world devastated by natural disasters. From the experience of her own awakening, Byron Katie discovered the four questions that have turned around the lives of countless seekers. The Dalai Lama has tirelessly sought a peaceful resolution to the Chinese invasion of Tibet. By the time she was 19 years old Kiri Westby was a woman's rights activist, working in Africa, Nepal and the Congo. Marshall Rosenberg brilliantly turns conflict into dialogue through nonviolent communication. Yoga teacher Seane Corn works with children, poverty and to prevent AIDS in some of the most needy parts of the world. And Jon Kabat-Zinn has fearlessly taken meditation into the world of hospitals, thereby enabling thousands of people to find pain relief.
William Spear is the author of "Recovering Original Ability" and counsels individuals overcoming illness and trauma. He directs the Fortunate Blessings Foundation in Connecticut which, among many activities and in an effort to relieve human suffering on all levels, assists orphaned and traumatized children following natural disasters, wherever they may occur.
"Meditation has been a crucial and essential part of my daily life in helping me to do the work I do, whether it is being with people who are dying, or in an area that has just been obliterated by a tsunami or earthquake. I am often asked how I deal with all the dead bodies, the people who have lost their limbs, children who have lost their parents, or the women I have seen who took the lives of their own daughters to prevent them from being raped and horribly abused. The only way it is possible to witness this, other than totally numbing myself out, is to just keep gnawing away at the edges of my own heart, to keep melting over and over again until I can expand my heart to be big enough to compassionately embrace all that is in front of me.
"If we are in the presence of something that we just cannot bear, and we find a way to get into our hearts, then we can begin to soften. When I find myself holding a child who has just lost everything she has ever known, or playing basketball with guys who have had their legs cut off with chain saws and are tied to a board pushing themselves around on the ground, or talking with those who have just been diagnosed with cancer or HIV, then I try to just be present and compassionate with my heart open, even if it is unbearable. My meditation practice is a practice of constantly opening my heart so that I can be unconditionally present."
Byron Katie is founder of The Work, a process of inquiry, and the author of "Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are."
"The apparent craziness of the world, like everything else, is a gift that we can use to set our minds free. Any stressful thoughts that you have about the planet, for example, or about life and death, shows you where you are stuck, where your energy is being exhausted in not fully meeting life as it is, without conditions. When you question what you believe, you eventually come to see that you are the enlightenment you have been seeking. Until you can love what is -- everything, including the violence and craziness -- then you are separate from the world, and you will see it as dangerous and frightening. When the mind is not at war with itself, there is no separation.
"I live in constant meditation, and if a thought should ever show up as anything less than goodness, I know that it would spill over to other people as confusion, and those other people are me. My job is to enlighten myself to that, and to love the spent rose, the sound of the traffic, the litter on the ground and the litterer who gives me my world. I pick up the litter, do the dishes, sweep the floor, wipe the baby's nose and question anything that would cost me the awareness of my true nature. There is nothing kinder than this, nothing."
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and probably the world's most beloved and famous meditator. While he is known for bringing attention to the plight of the Tibetan people and his pacifist attitude toward the Chinese, it is less well-known that he rises at 4 a.m. each day to meditate for at least two hours. He recounts how a monk, who was imprisoned by the Chinese for 18 years, told him that during his imprisonment there were many moments when he was in great danger. When the Dalai Lama asked what he was in danger from, the monk replied that he was in danger of losing his compassion for the Chinese, his captors. This illustrates how compassion is central to a Buddhists' understanding of the meaning of existence.
"By developing a sense of respect for others and a concern for their welfare," says the Dalai Lama, "we reduce our own selfishness, which is the source of all problems, and enhance our sense of kindness, which is a natural source of goodness."
Kiri Westby, although still in her early 30s, has already devoted many years to women's rights in some of the most difficult parts of the world. "When I was young, my mother would read the obituaries to us from the newspaper. She would say, 'These people died today, Kirsten. We could die at any point. So let us do something great with our day. Let's help somebody today.' When you are raised in this way, it is natural that you then want to create a life in which you are doing whatever you can for other people.
"I went to Nepal, where I helped to run a shelter for trafficked girls on the border with India. The girls had either escaped, or there might have been a police raid in the brothels in Delhi or Bombay, and we would go and get them. Some were 8 years old or younger. Some were 20 years old and had been in the brothel for years, forced to live in cages. Ninety-seven percent of them were HIV positive. The most intense suffering you can imagine is an 8-year-old girl who has been raped continuously for longer than she can remember and who jumped out of a two-story building and broke her leg in order to get to the shelter, only to learn that it was her family who sold her to the brothel, and so she has nowhere to go.
"I needed to meditate before I could even leave my room in the morning. It gave me the strength to recognize that suffering is the human experience we all have in one form or another, and not to feel overwhelmed by it, not to lose my balance. Without that space each morning I would have been too filled with the suffering; I would have been paralyzed by it. Meditation is like an invisible tool that you always have with you, and it was without doubt the most useful tool I had."
Marshall Rosenberg is founder and director of the Center for Nonviolent Communications and is deeply committed to the nonviolent resolution of conflict. His many books include "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life."
"In 60 percent of the television programs watched by children, the hero either kills somebody or beats him up. History teaches about the good Americans who killed innocent people. I believe engaging in self-empathy supports us to stop and transform the thinking that creates violence. It is a very important part of peace on our planet. We need to take time each day to remind ourselves of the preciousness of compassionate giving and receiving. If we have played violent games with other people -- guilt games, shame games, anger games, punishment games -- then we can grieve for this in a way that changes us and creates a more caring world."
Seane Corn is the National Yoga Ambassador for YouthAIDS, co-creator of the "Off the Mat and Into the World" campaign, and a highly sought after yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism and inspirational teaching.
"First yoga changed my body, then meditation changed my attitude. Then I realized that whether my practice was 15 minutes or four hours was irrelevant because it was not about how yoga can change me, but how I, through this practice, can begin to change the world. What I really felt was how dare I not step into the world and hold that space?
"If what is happening on a global level is representative of what is happening on the individual level, and if I want to transform what is happening globally, then I have to look within myself and see where I am separating myself from other human beings and from the earth. Where am I living in blame, in hate, in terrorism, in war, in any negative capacity toward another being? For if I am not willing to clean up the fear or the disconnect that is within myself, then I am responsible for what is happening on a planetary level."
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at Massachusetts University Medical School. He is the national bestselling author of "Wherever You Go, There You Are" and "Full Catastrophe Living."
"Over the years, more than 18,000 people have come through the MBSR clinic at the UMass Medical Center, and thousands more have attended other mindfulness-based stress-reduction programs around the country. Whether referred by their physician or not, people come with a huge amount of pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. Through the cultivation of mindfulness, they develop a more functional relationship with that suffering, they turn towards it, open to it, and actually befriend it to a degree rather than insisting that it stop, and in the process, the pain often transforms or even falls away. It is jaw dropping. I never get used to it, even after so many years. I think it is fair to say that the participants in these programs walk out after eight weeks of mindfulness training and continue to cultivate mindfulness in their lives in various ways for years. For the most part, they will tell you that they are more in touch with their own beauty than they may have been since they were children."
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See our award-winning book: "BE THE CHANGE," How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Father Thomas Keating, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass and many others.
Our three meditation CDs: Metta -- Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi -- Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra -- Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com