My Personal Reflections on the Virtual Animal Advocates Meditation Retreat
– May 2021
Animal Advocacy work is big work. It is the work of a lifetime. It can also be incredibly challenging for many of us – and to me for sure. This retreat with Tashi and about 30 other beautiful, committed souls gave me a deep sense of renewal and spiritual regeneration for my work in this field.
At the time I learned about the retreat, I was afflicted with a severe case of “compassion fatigue” and was really needing relief/support/solutions. My gut told me that I must attend! By the way, while “compassion fatigue” is an understood condition within our community, for me the phrase is barely adequate. I understand that it is a sufficient definition for the left brain, the logical side that we often use in this work. Yet, the reality for me is that working within our present society to protect and free animals from suffering can be absolutely soul crushing and heart breaking, which goes way beyond my brain into the heart of my being.
For me, the manner in which Tashi addressed this issue of crushed soul and broken heart was the embedded theme and the jewel of the retreat. The Buddhist way of seeing human nature seems strategic and logical, and yet also deeply accepting emotionally. One can look at one’s own emotional condition and if it is creating suffering within oneself, we can find the way out, step by step, since we are actually the only ones in charge of our inner reality.
At the time of the retreat, I had been nursing no small amount of anger and frustration at animal indifference and cruelty situations outside myself. Tashi illustrated simply and clearly the futility of coming to an issue with anything less than love and equanimity. Anger against others has never proved to be a solution – it’s just that the alternative – acceptance and loving kindness – can be extremely hard to get to.
We talked about the reality that anger and fear are closely related. When we reduce our fear, our anger will automatically reduce. We can avoid the close cousins of frustration and despair by becoming independent of internal and external changes. When we are independent of these triggers or stimuli, we can continue to perform beneficial actions in spite of results or challenges.
Through his tradition, Tashi shared a blueprint for taking full responsibility for our own experiences. As I understand it, when we do this, we can nurture our own seeds of joy and renewal, independent of outside circumstances. To me to be able to do this is an incredibly beautiful and effective personal superpower.
I recently discovered a famous phrase that for me captured the feeling I came away with after the retreat. The phrase is: Beauty will save the world. I fell in love with the phrase, in part because I love bringing beauty to the world. Can bringing beauty to the world help me as an animal advocate? Can it help animals? Yes, indeed it can- Isn’t that just what we are doing when we address and reduce suffering wherever we find it?
Here is an excerpt from a 2013 article by R. Jared Staudt entitled ‘Beauty will save the World: from the Mouth of an Idiot to the Pen of a Pope’: “How will beauty save the world? The line comes from Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, attributed to the main character, Prince Myskin. The prince, an epileptic Russian nobleman, serves as a Christ-like figure, who stands apart for his innocence and even naiveté. Out of the mouth of this idiot comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality than those around him, his clarity heightened even in the midst of his sickness.
The saving power of beauty in the prince’s life could not overcome his sickness, but nonetheless illumined his vision: “What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree — an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” In the midst of his suffering, he glimpsed, though in a paradoxical manner, the heart of reality. “
Through my experience at the retreat, I have renewed my commitment to bring beauty into the world in my own unique way. My challenge, my invitation to myself, is to enlarge my vision of how I can increase my own offering of beauty to the world. In my one-on-one session with Tashi, I was able to focus on just how that new edge might emerge for me. All while having fun in the conversation and with no small amount of laughter.
Count me in for the next retreat, please.