by Alan Heeks
Do you remember the looting riots of 2011? It was a sudden, large-scale breakdown of the norms of our society. They scared me, because I fear that whatever pressures provoked these riots are minor compared to the problems we’ll face in the 2020s.
And I wonder what Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad would say if they were with us today. What practical wisdom, what grace and insights would they distil from these ugly scenes? And surely they could discern the gifts in the problems ahead of us?
So two years ago I began exploring all this: the journey continues, and I’m learning to travel without a map or destination. I started with the material issues. The New Economics Foundation provided forecasts for the 2020s which confirmed my fears that many current pressures will probably get much worse: for example food and other commodity prices and supply; climate change impacts, and degraded ecosystems.
There’s a lot of good work happening in the sector of community resilience: for example, initiatives to localise food and energy supplies. I have been helped in researching this by Rob Hopkins and others in the Transition Town movement. There are several national organisations involved, such as the Young Foundation, Forum for the Future, and Business in the Community.
However, the pattern seems to be good pilot schemes in one locality, which succeed and aren’t replicated. Why would that be? I believe it reflects a prevailing sense of overwhelm and fear about the future and the environmental crisis, which leads most people to avoid facing them.
This is where I began to sense that change needs to start at the personal and spiritual level, and to ask how the great teachers can help us. My Sufi mentor Saadi was invaluable as ever, and a new phase of my journey began: also drawing on my years of leading retreat groups in the Sahara with Bedouin guides, who are great role models of resilience. Saadi’s book, The Genesis Meditations, is a great resource for all this. It shows that some of Jesus’ most relevant teachings are urging us to align with the creation story: to realise that creation was not a one-off event, it’s still happening and we can shape it.
The Quran also has some invaluable insights, little known in the West: for example the Day of Alastu, when humanity made a covenant with Allah to embody and fulfil divine qualities on Earth.
There are many more topical teachings, but how can we reconnect with them, and get past the fear and denial that prevails in our culture? Saadi believes that one way is to experience these teachings using methods from the time they were given: for example walking meditations, sound mantras or wazifas, and body prayer.
I have been offering such methods, alongside DUP, in several events, and found them effective. They also complement processes from Deep Ecology, created by Joanna Macy and based on Buddhist teachings, which are helpful in facing one’s pain for the planet, and moving to right action.
Jilani Prescott has been helping me to evolve this work, and I hope to offer several events over the coming year, including sessions at Sacred Arts Camp. For more information, or to set up an event with me, see www.living-organically.com.