May what I’m about to do yield favorable results. May it give me the capacity to benefit others. May it help me overcome ignorance and limitation. May it clear away all obstacles on the path. May it lead me to the union of wisdom and compassion.
OM AH HUM SO’HA
So begins the non-sectarian, guided meditation during an animal advocates’ retreat.
I know animal advocates to be people who work hard and care boldly. These qualities drive our animal rights movement forward, but we can also be slowed and maimed in the process. The pace we keep, and our empathy, can work against us personally if we are ceaseless and we don’t have the best support mechanisms in place.
The animals we fight for need us around as long as possible; they need us to not burn out. We’re told we should take care of ourselves but often, we just don’t make the time or we don’t know how.
It’s why the animal advocacy mindfulness and meditation retreats are such a gift to our community. In November, I participated in my fourth. The guidance from Tashi Nyima, the gathering of community, the silence, the digital detox, have become indispensable to my mental health and the maintenance of my optimism. These bi-annual retreats are the pause button I look forward to throughout the year. I leave the retreat feeling inspired by the community and the support, refreshed, and resolved to continue in my advocacy work with improved energy. And Tashi’s teachings are secular. As he says, he wants to help us be Buddhas – that is, happy and enlightened beings – not Buddhists.
I first got into learning mindfulness practices in 2007. I jumped in with both feet: a ten-day Vipassana meditation (I highly recommend it if you can make the time. To say it’s full immersion is an understatement!), but there are so many different ways to learn and practice mindfulness. I think the key work though is “practice”. When my good habits of mindfulness and meditation get eroded by busy-ness, I have to put back the structures that keep my calm and equanimity. The more those are in place, the better equipped I am to face the enormous psychological struggles I sometimes endure in my work as an animal photojournalist. For me and for millions of practitioners worldwide, meditation brings calm and peace, and what can grow from that is mental clarity.
Throughout the retreat, practices are discussed and taught. It’s so fortifying. I swear I come out of these retreats a much better person! At each retreat, we learn ways of seeing and navigating the world. Some are based in Buddhist philosophy, like at the recent retreat, where we did a deep dive into The 16 Guidelines which are described simply as principles to live happily. Other practices, like writing gratitudes, and taking ten moments throughout the day to take ten calming, deep breaths, are great physical and psychological boosts to mood and stamina.
Pre-pandemic, these animal advocacy meditation retreats were less accessible because they were in person and held only once each year. Now, they are online, held eight times each year and in three languages, across four time zones. What a gift to us all, now more than ever during the pandemic, when so many of us are experiencing heightened anxiety, loneliness, and lack of community.
It feels so good to slow down. As an activist, I often feel compelled to work, and so I need structures and practices in place to help me slow down. As Tara Brach has said, “When I go half the speed, I take in twice as much.” And that is such a gentler and more expansive way to live. The retreat helps me slowdown, and reset.
May all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May all embrace happiness and the causes of happiness. May all abide in peace, free from self-grasping. May all attain the union of wisdom and compassion.
OM AH HUM SO’HA
These are the words that conclude our short and guided meditations throughout the retreat. I feel renewed. And I hope that more people from our compassionate community will join in these retreats of comfort, learning, and self-care. When we care for ourselves, we’re better able to care for others and fight the good fight.
[photo from WeAnimals Media ]