some seeds only germinate in a forest fire.

to become a flamingseed: one who uses challenging conditions to blossom rather than burn. light seedFor inspiration, I comb the streets — not to mention the forests and villages, as well as the contemplative and mystical traditions — for insights, spiritual practices and visionary ideas on cultivating a loving, generative world view regardless of circumstances. And I doggedly question cultural and spiritual assumptions so that we can open fresh to these changing times with curiosity, innocence and a sense of adventure.

Three spiritual lessons from the Dayak-Benuaq tribe on how to live in the heart of destruction

dance before buffaloMY JOURNEY to Borneo was a pilgrimage into the heart of destruction. It was the darkest place I could imagine, because the Dayak people of Muara Tae were watching their ancestral forest disappear to illegal bulldozing and had been unable to stop it. While I was there, I agreed to help them crowd-fund an ancient vow ceremony on behalf of the forest, which the elders said was their last real hope. Now, with the help of collaborators around the globe, their ceremony has been carried out. In the weeks that have passed since its conclusion, I’ve been reflecting on that process, and here I share three spiritual lessons that I learned from the Dayak, which I hope will be as useful to you as they are to me.
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The 64-day Borneo ceremony draws to a close: A report from the village

at the ceremonyThe Dayak Benuaq hosts of the Borneo ceremony have spent the past month in a camp they set up at the site of the climactic vow and buffalo rituals. During this time, they made extensive material and spiritual preparations for this event, where they hosted somewhere between 700 and 1000 people from their own and neighboring villages to restore balance and unity in their care for the forest. Ruwi (Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto) has acted as a bridge to the people of Muara Tae as we made the effort to fund the ceremony and share the story of these guardians of the rainforest. On behalf of all supporters, Ruwi attended the last days of the ceremony and sent this report from the village:
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The pig festival: All-night ritual and feast ends the first phase of the ceremony in Muara Tae

foto-4The first phase of the ceremony drew to a close with the pig festival, which required extensive preparations, both spiritually and practically, as hundreds of people from neighboring villages were invited. The preparation phase was called Lamaak Lehoai, during which the shaman chanted mantras for each phase of preparation. Different destinations have different music: there is a specific song and music for going to the forest for wood, another for going to the village, another for the river and so forth. When this ritual was finished, they held the public event, which marked the end of the first phase of the ceremony. Here is Masrani’s report from the village:
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Suggested inquiry practice to parallel the Borneo ceremony

women make preparationINTERESTED IN CREATING an ongoing group, event or individual practice that roughly parallels the ceremony? Here is a simple structure for you to draw from that can last an afternoon, a day or a number of weeks:

1- Begin with a process that reminds you of the interconnectedness of life: the long view that includes the time before humans, as well as our ancestors and descendants, and what our role on the earth really is. The Dayak say humans were put here with the role of keeping the earth in balance. Their tribe was assigned to their particular rainforest. So what is our role in keeping the earth in balance, as members of the industrial culture? That is the inquiry we are doing together — to come to a shared sense of purpose. In the campaign, we have been using “What would love do?” as the organizing question for our inquiries and actions.
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The first phase of the Dayak Benuaq’s ceremony: A report from the village

offerings to ancestorsRUWI AND I JUST RETURNED LAST WEEK FROM BORNEO, where we participated in a number of the rituals leading up to the large and festive pig feast, which was just held a few days ago and included hundreds of people from neighboring villages. At the phase of the ceremony which we attended, the rituals involved only the core group of host families as they prepared the spiritual ground and attended to the extensive physical preparations needed for the larger gathering to come.
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Wish list for forest guardians: A conversation with the tribe

ulin tree in muara tae forestDURING OUR RECENT VISIT to Muara Tae, Ruwi and I asked the Forest Guardians group for a wish list. Supporters in Ubud, Bali were planning a night of music in alignment with the ceremony and wanted to receive donations for the tribe. So we asked the group: What would help you practically to defend and replant your forest?

Everyone was quiet. Then Asuy, one of the leaders of the Guardians group, said they could really use a motorbike for patrolling the conflict areas. Conditions are rugged and the bikes keep breaking down. He had already lost three. Spare parts are hard to get. “Nothing fancy,” he said. “It will only get destroyed.”

“How about horses, instead?” One teenager offered. “We wouldn’t need fuel for them.”
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The Pesengket Ritual: Official opening of the ceremony in Borneo

offeringsMasrani (Asuy’s son) took these photos and sent some information about the first days of the ceremony, which involved only the host families as they prepared themselves to hold a clear field for the larger community to join. The photos that follow are of the Pesengket ritual, which was held in Asuy’s compound and officially opened the ceremony on May 16. I have included beneath each photo suggestions for ways to translate the essence of what they are doing into practices you can do on your own or in a circle of friends.
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A global ceremony for the earth’s renewal: Inspiration for initial preparations from the Dayak Benuaq tribe

offeringAS OF TODAY, the time of internal preparations for the ceremony to restore balance to the rainforest in Muara Tae has begun. The core group hosting the ceremony, along with the shamans, are preparing themselves spiritually — creating a strong field of intention. Once this phase is complete, they will issue invitations for others to join them in this field. So for those of us who are following the ceremony spiritually or creating companion meditations, this is also our time to prepare ourselves spiritually and strengthen our collective field of intention. The following summary of this beginning phase of the ceremony comes to us from Muara Tae:
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Why a ceremony is the most practical way to stop bulldozers from destroying this rainforest.

meditate in woodIT MAY SEEM like talking about love and holding a ceremony in the face of relentless bulldozing of the rainforest is a sentimental, weak, impractical thing to do, but I don’t see it that way at all. It is intense love of the forest that draws Asuy, a leader among the Dayak, to stop a bulldozer by standing in front of it, and then speak kindly to the driver. The sense of higher purpose connected to his love of life and dedication to its continuation gives him — and will give the whole tribe, if they are able to complete this ceremony —  the fortitude to stand up to this aggression.
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A new spirit: Letter from the women of Muara Tae

conscienceTHE TEAM working on behalf of the guardians of the Borneo rainforest received this letter from eight women in Muara Tae, on behalf of all the women there. Laeyen, the first woman listed, is Asuy’s wife and is pictured here holding their only daughter, Conscience:

To all supporters of the Muara Tae ceremony:

WE THE WOMEN OF MUARA TAE are very grateful for all your support to our kampong so we can conduct the Guguuq Taunt ceremony. The support eases our sorrow and gives us new spirit to keep going in this stressful situation.
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What it’s like in Muara Tae: Sheila’s story

sheila kartikaSHEILA KARTIKA is an Indonesian communications specialist who has worked on behalf of the Dayak Benuaq people. Here she tells about her visit to Muara Tae and why she was drawn to join the Indiegogo team to raise money to support their ceremony:
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A letter from a Dayak woman who lost her forest as a child

SONY DSCTHE TEAM working on behalf of the guardians of the Borneo rainforest received this beautiful letter from Mina Setra, a Dayak from West Kalimantan whose people lost their forest in only 10 years to palm oil. She was a child then, and has since gone on to work on behalf of indigenous people, including the people of Muara Tae. She told us her story — so deeply moving — and also told us from the point of view of a Dayak person about the vow ceremony that the people of Muara Tae will perform:
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A Borneo tribe is losing their forest. What would love do?

rivers of vowMY JOURNEY TO BORNEO began with a feeling — a deep grief that through meditation and careful tending, I had allowed into my conscious mind. It had been underground for most of my life, like a dark river that ran into me through my indigenous, forest-dwelling ancestors. Then last year while on solitary retreat, I heard of the indigenous people of North America protesting the XL pipeline in the bitter cold; read of the standoff between rainforest tribes and the companies that came to take their homes; and saw the photo of a weeping Brazilian chief whose ancestral forest was to be flooded for a dam. My heart broke open into a howl, and then a profound, tender grief. I couldn’t just sit by myself and meditate anymore. I felt a deep, visceral need to do something – anything – to help.
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Facing the shadow of modern materialism: What would love do?

night-traffic-490062-mAFTER MORE THAN A YEAR AWAY, much of it in timeless solitary retreat, I returned to California for a few months. I thought I was prepared for the shock of landing there. After all, I had gone back many times after retreat. But this time was different. A veil had been lifted from my psyche by that year of practice and I had no protection against the fast and hungry life that prevails in America: the tight schedules of friends with packed lives; the required long distance driving in heavy traffic that is the norm in California; the vast parking lots; the slick, expensive cafes and shops run on the constant buzz of electricity and filled with people distracted by their gadgets; the pricetags that seemed to hang off of everything. Read more >