Gaia Contemplation: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Gaia Meditation for the Planet and Its Inhabitants

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Joanna Macy’s Five Personal Guidelines for The Great Turning

As you may recall from our last Gaia meditation in February, the great work of bodhisattvas is to make and help others make what Joanna Macy calls, The Great Turning. There are, according to Macy, three aspects to this turning:

  1. Taking actions that slow the damage to the planet and its inhabitants
  2. Analyzing structural causes and creating structural alternatives
  3. Shift in consciousness
    These structural alternatives cannot take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. They must mirror what we want and how we relate to Earth and each other. They require, in other words, a profound shift in our perception of reality–and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening.
    The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand, or to turn on each other, for scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage.

In February, during our last Gaia Meditation, we took up Macy’s 1st Personal Guideline for the Great Turning: Gratitude

Tonight, we’ll take up the second personal guideline: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark. As Joanna Macy puts it:  “This is a dark time filled with much suffering and almost total uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear. These responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To “suffer with” is the literal meaning of compassion.

When we are afraid of the massive collective trauma visited upon us as a people, we close ourselves off from each other, like living in separate isolation cells. In these times, we all carry within us feelings of pain for our world, and doubts about the future. But we need not fear them, for they are proof of our interconnectedness with all life.”
Macy, Joanna (2006-04-09). Pass it On: Five Stories That Can Change the World (p. 105-106). Parallax Press. Kindle Edition.

In the depth of trying to make a very, very painful and difficult decision many years ago, Peg gave me perhaps the most eye-opening advice anyone has ever shared: “don’t be afraid of the feelings, Vaughn.” Turning towards our emotions, treating them as members of your family who really do want the best for you, listening to them. Acting for them (but not through them), we can not only become more tolerant of our emotional states, but we can actually put them to work helping us make these great turnings in our lives. The whole world is counting on us.

One question I had when I took up the practice of not being afraid of my emotions many years ago was how to know if I’m acting for an emotion rather than through an emotion? This was answered by Peg when she offered up during a dharma talk one Sunday the acronym, FOCUS.

This acronym stands for:

  • Fearless
  • Optimistic
  • Cheerful
  • Unhindered
  • Steadfast

With this little acronym, I began asking myself, am I in FOCUS? Am I feeling stuckness around any of these five characteristics? And what if I check in, and it turns out that I’m not hitting on all five of these cylinders? Emotional stuckness is, as Peg puts it, a warning light on the dashboard. It’s a signal for me to pause and look at how I’m relating to the subject at hand, and an opportunity to wake up. I’ve discovered that within myself when I’m out of one of these five states, I’m caught in the self-centered dream. One tool that I’ve picked up in my years as an Appamada student is Peg’s version of the metta or lovingkindness meditation. Metta disrupts fearful patterns. The Buddha, in the Brahma Vihara Sutta, cited four aspects to abiding as an awakened being–lovingkindness, compassion, gratitude, and equanimity. One way to awaken to these characteristics (which are already within us) is to practice lovingkindess towards all beings, starting with one’s self, then radiating outward to those we hold dear, those with whom we are neutral, and finally, those to which we feel aversion. Here are Peg’s phrases:


May this body be at ease

May this heart be open

May this mind be boundless

May this being awaken


After you’ve meditated with the above phrases for yourself, you may alter the wording to fit others:


May his/her body be at ease

May his/her  heart be open

May his/her mind be boundless

May we awaken together


…and finally for everyone

May our bodies be at ease

May our hearts be open

May our minds be boundless

May we awaken together


When next you find yourself afraid of the dark, I hope you will experiment with this meditation, and I hope you find it helpful. The world needs us to be courageous even when we’re not feeling so brave.

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