Acting from the Subtle
with guest Cynthia Jurs
The power that comes from the subtle realms, from the silence, from the stillness, from the slowness — and yet which can change the world in tangible ways. Especially for those who feel they are not doing enough or that the situation (in the world or just in your world) is hopeless.
Many of the themes of our course come together in this session, which we share with the Buddhist teacher and peace activist, Cynthia Jurs. Cynthia exemplifies a kind of activism that is less direct than Jodie’s and more politically engaged than Lissa’s, deeply embodying the “not knowing” that Bayo upholds. “That is the place,” Cynthia told me on the phone today, “where magic can happen.” Her work, she says, is about creating conditions where anything can happen, especially that which is beyond our limited knowledge of cause and effect.
This session is about the power that comes from the subtle realms, from the silence, from the stillness, from the slowness — and yet which can change the world in tangible ways. What starts in the subtle does not stay in the subtle. Yet neither is the subtle an escape from the practical. This session is especially for those who feel they are not doing enough, that they cannot do enough, or that the situation (in the world or just in your world) is hopeless.
Cynthia Jurs, a Dharmacharya in the Order of Interbeing of Thich Nhat Hanh, directs the Open Way Sangha in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is the founder of Alliance for the Earth, a nonprofit dedicated planetary healing and collective awakening. Her life was transformed when she met an old wise man living in a cave and asked him, “What can we do to bring healing and protection to the Earth?”
Thirty Earth Treasure Vases (ETVs) and 25 years later, in collaboration with indigenous elders, young activists and regular folks in communities around the world, a mandala of global healing for the Earth has been established. Cynthia’s practice of sacred activism has taken her on pilgrimages to every continent where she has witnessed both horrible suffering and miraculous solutions arise in response to heartfelt prayers. She teaches and travels to share the ETV practice wherever she can and is working on a book and documentary film. www.earthtreasurevase.org
Acting from the Subtle with Cynthia Jurs
Assignment for Study and Deepening
One of the themes we talk about in this conversation (“Acting from the Subtle”) is the concept of prayer. Cynthia describes her encounter with a 106-year-old Lama in a cave in Nepal. (Yes, such things actually do happen in the real world sometimes.) As she was walking up to meet him, she was aware of what a precious opportunity she had. What would you ask? What is the most important thing you could say? She decided to ask, “How can we protect and heal this planet?”
This wasn’t something that just popped into her head though. This was a question, and a yearning, that she had carried with her for decades. In the session, I say that maybe it was the purity and dedication with which she held the question that called the Lama into her experience. It was a prayer, an offering, and it was answered. The answer came in a form she could never in a thousand years have expected. It came in a form that offended her rational mind. To travel the world burying “Earth Treasure Vases” filled with prayers did not seem to directly address any of the grave crises she cared about so deeply. How was that going to stop the radioactive discharges coming from Los Alamos, across the valley from where she lived? How was that going to solve the complicated political causes of war in the Middle East or genocide in Africa? It took her five years to actually start burying the vases, traveling to locations of some of the worst political and ecological violence on the planet. Only then did she discover how powerful — in the tangible, 3D world — it was.
Now, most of us probably aren’t going to meet a 106-year-old lama in a cave. But I believe we all harbor a deep yearning like Cynthia does, a deep yearning to be of service to other beings. This yearning might take different forms, and seek different objects, as we journey through life. It is always there though. We have been profoundly gifted — with the gift of breath, sun, soil and water, with the gift of life — and we desire to give onward from these gifts. It is fundamental to our nature. But so many of us feel frustrated in our ability to do so. We feel loneliness, futility; we feel that the world doesn’t want our gifts; perhaps we are in too much pain or poverty to give them consistently. Or maybe, like Cynthia, we just don’t know how.
Cynthia’s example shows us that we don’t have to know how. Or more precisely, it shows us that figuring out how is not the first step and needn’t come from ourselves. The first step is the question itself, the offering, the prayer.
I’d like to invite you to share your prayerful question, with someone close to you or, if it feels right, on our private Facebook page. As Bayo would surely agree, prayers are more powerful when received by a community, when they are said into an embodied listening, and not just recorded in a journal or whispered silently alone in the dark of night.
What is your prayer? What are you ready for that maybe you just don’t know how to do? Make an offering of your yearning or your question. If you offer it with sincerity, something shifts in the world. An answer comes, likely in a form you cannot expect or maybe won’t even recognize. For this offering to have power, nothing is required beyond your sincere desire. You don’t need to believe the prayer will work. You don’t even need hope. All you need to do is ask the question sincerely from the bottom of your heart.
You might frame this question or prayer as a big planetary thing as Cynthia did, or it might focus on a smaller realm of service — to a community, to a family, to a single person; to an ecosystem, to a river, to a single stream or tree. It comes from what you actually care about in real time, not what your mind tells you you should care about in order to be good, ethical, responsible, or “making a difference” on a large scale. Who knows where even the smallest actions and the humblest service will lead? Make an offering of your desire. Make an offering of your not knowing how. Make an offering of your imperfection. Here I am, transparent, in sincerity, and here is my question.
Give yourself some minutes of silence to allow the right prayer/question to emerge.