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On Opening Your Heart and Mind

October 26, 2015


“You don’t have to be anything,” reminds Tsoknyi Rinpoche. “You don’t have to teach anything. You just have to be who you are: a bright flame shining in the darkness of despair, a shining example of a person able to cross bridges by opening your heart and soul.”

How can we do this? How can we be who we are, a shining example? And can that bring more social and environmental justice to the world?

In his essay on Medium, “7 Things I Did to reboot My Life,” Wil Wheaton describes how he recently hit the reset button. “I don’t like the way I feel, I don’t like the way I look, I don’t like the things I’m doing,” Wheaton writes. By choosing to make the following changes, which may seem minor, Wheaton is changing his life:

  • Drink less beer.
  • Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading).
  • Write more.
  • Watch more movies.
  • Get better sleep.
  • Eat better food.
  • Exercise more.

“All of these things are interconnected in ways that are probably obvious and non-obvious,” Wheaton writes, “and by making a commitment to do my best to accomplish these things, I’ve been able to do a soft reboot of my life. The hardest part of this was not drink less beer, which surprised me. The hardest part has been writing more.”

In his discussion of reading more, Wheaton paraphrases Stephen King’s advice from On Writing:  “King says that writers who don’t make time to read aren’t going to make time to write and holy shit is that exactly, perfectly true. I need to read so that my imagination is inspired. I need to read so I get an artistic and creative hunger that can only be fed by writing. I need to read so that I feel challenged to scrape ideas out of my skull and turn them into words and images. I need to read because if I don’t, I’m not going to make time to write.”

In a recent blog post, Judy Lee Dunn looks at the bigger picture. Dunn reports that the United Nations Foundation’s Global Goals has 17 goals to rid the world of extreme poverty, ensure an equal education for girls and boys, and protect our environment for future generations.

Number 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, reads: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.  

To increase justice in the world, Dunn suggests we practice the “3Es”: Empathy, Education, Empowerment:

Empathy is the ability to walk in the shoes of another: without empathy, we don’t know what injustice feels like and we don’t care about the injustice in the world.

Once we care, we want to learn more through Education about injustice so we understand it — the causes, the solutions and the actions people take.

Education leads to Empowerment — taking action.  If we only learn about problems, and don’t see how we can be part of the solution, we feel helpless. Taking action leads to a sense of empowerment.

The process that Dunn describes  is very similar to the process that I am leading my students through for their research papers — the process that Paulo Freire calls “problem-posing education” where we start by finding a problem that we care about, learn to name and describe the problem, find solutions, then take action.

What is shocking to me is the number of students who don’t care. Freire assumes that people have real world problems they need to solve through educated action. Freire was working with people in Brazil, illiterate adults, peasants, farm workers, who saw that through education, through literacy, their lives would get better.

I need to start with empathy, and not just naming a problem.  We need to build empathy: “to be a bright flame shining in the darkness of despair, a shining example of a person able to cross bridges by opening your heart and soul” requires empathy. We need to care about the living co-inhabitants of this world.

credit: Midway, 2009-2010, Chris Jordan,

credit: Midway, 2009-2010, Chris Jordan,

As part of my grad school work in Ecopsychology at Pacific Graduate Institute, I wrote about guest speaker Chris Jordan’s work about plastic in the ocean as part of his series in “Running the Numbers” and “Midway” (part 1 here; part 2 here). In the second part, I mention how that semester, we also watched a video from a First Nations Elder who says we must melt the ice in the heart of man:

Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq (whose family belongs to the traditional healers from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland) articulates as “melting the ice in the heart of man.” (In this video, Agaangaq talks about how recycling garbage is not going to be enough to stop climate change. Instead what must happen is to find ways to “melt the ice in the heart of man” which can happen through ceremony because life in and of itself is ceremony (a ceremony, he explains, lives and grows while a ritual does not). Anganngaq says that the earth will live, regardless of climate change. But when all the ice melts, there will not be room for humans who are crowded on the margins of the continents. Millions of people will lose their homes. The earth can adapt to the change but humans are not as adaptable.

Last year for Lent, the Pope encouraged us all to give up our cold indifferent hearts.

Hard to melt that heart, our icy hearts, when our hearts are encased in plastic.


Interestingly, today is an Empathy Fair at Ventura College from 10-2pm in the MCE/MCW quad.

NOTE: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo created the silk applique thangkas detailed aboveLeslie’s fascinating story is the subject of the acclaimed documentary film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas. Her Weekly Wake-ups provide a thread of inspiration to set each week on the path to awakening.


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