The vexing social decay that is spreading across Belize has become an increasing cause for alarm and indeed, deep concern about the future well-being of our nation. Such state of affairs gives even more compelling reasons for needing, as the theme of this Lions’ conference states, “Many hands, One Heart, All eyes” in service to others, and as the Lions Club continues to distinguish itself in doing.
So much evidence continues to stare at us through reports in the mainstream and social media each day. Criminal activities and all forms of abuse and violence continue to endanger individuals, families and communities.
The increasing poverty and socio-economic disparities; apathy; high unemployment; increasing incidence of diabetes, cancer, alcoholism, drug abuse and other major health problems; breakdown of family and community values; quiet and disturbing increase in incidents of self-inflicted death especially among youths; unlawful sexual behavior; deeply embedded discrimination by race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation and religion; and declining standards and quality of leadership; all strongly warn of a bigger social storm that is brewing ahead.
This social disorder that we are seeing is really only the tip of the iceberg. Lurking beneath the surface is a widespread pattern of thoughts and emotional states that is rooted in greed, hatred and ignorance. This spread of inner mind and emotional states – first from individuals to families to communities to our nation – forms the root of the very social conditions that we continue to see surfacing.
Festering beneath this social iceberg across this nation, is also an increasing climate of anger, tension, anxiety, chronic stress, fear and depression. It is very sad to see many hold on to past hurts for life, quite unaware that they become prisoners of their own negativity, which they inflict on others. Whatever anyone thinks about frequently becomes the deeply rooted inclination of the mind, resulting in those same patterns rising again and again in emotions, words and action. That is why it is very important to be constantly on guard against nurturing negativities within self, and to keep forgiving self and others in order to be free of the trap of those past wounds.
Wherever these negative emotions reside, they are bound to spread from one to another through homes, schools, offices, business places and communities in the form of destructive physical behavior, gossips, backbiting, jealous outbursts, lust, abuse and rage. The karmic effect is that anyone who stores and passes on such misery to others – even afflicting the innocent – is bound become the first to suffer glimpses of hell on earth.
Negative emotions are not only divisive and self-destructive but can also retard the wholesome pursuit of individual, family, community or national interests. When people are too emotional, they can be so overcome by their egos, views, and clouded judgements, that they can be blinded of the ability to truly dialog, listen and reason.
Rather than objectively seeking to derive the best solutions, they consistently focus on problems, resort to ridicule, remain stuck in negative arguments and frequent emotional outbursts, and evade or deny facts while they emphasize the trivial and sentimental. Examples of the devastating impacts on a nation from such mindlessness can be seen throughout history and in current global political affairs.
There will never be enough police, soldiers, or prisons, if the real root of these conditions – deeply ingrained patterns of negative thoughts and emotions, and the moral abandonment of positive values in our homes, schools, communities, and institutions – are not confronted. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to delegate dysfunctional politicians to lead the task of restoring moral direction.
The times call for a radical shift in individual and collective consciousness if we are to change the status quo. If we want to heal our traumas and live in peace and harmony, we ourselves as individuals, as community organizations, families, communities, civil society, businesses and other institutions, must begin to uphold, nurture, inculcate and spread positive values and standards such as honesty, integrity, respect, love, compassion and wisdom, which are so important for the well-being and development of a nation.
How have we as a nation gotten to this point? One reason is that we have bought into the great deception that the endless pursuit of material objects will bring more happiness. This excessive drive for “success” has, in many cases, resulted in much anxiety, depression, greed, selfishness and callous disregard for the well-being of self and others, neglect of children, youths, elderly, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, as well as destruction of nature.
As famous English comedy actor Charlie Chaplin pointed out in his famous speech to humanity in 1940: “The way of life can be free and beautiful but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls and has barricaded the world with hate.”
Even those who are materially wealthy can live very miserable, selfish, and unfulfilled lives as they insatiably crave for more. Many who accumulate academic “success” can also remain vastly ignorant and apathetic. Ironically, churches watch helplessly as religious holidays which are meant to spread timeless values taught by great spiritual masters have also been used to drive a frenzy of materialism, greed and decadence.
For too many, including parents, family members and community members, all of life can be trapped in a cycle of “busy-ness” simply to accumulate more, and then stress to guard fleeting material stuff; nothing else. Not even to reach out to uplift others or make a positive difference in the lives of those vulnerable. Not even time to pause and examine their inner selves. It is a life that Sogyal Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, calls “active laziness”. Or as Jesus pointedly asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
When asked, what the greatest problem of humanity is, the Dalai Lama replied, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. He is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
From his observation of such a widespread mindset, David Or, an environmental scientist, counseled: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind… It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
To truly understand life, we really must understand death – which we are all bound to reach on a day and hour that none can tell. Dr. Kenneth Ring, a renowned psychologist who conducted intensive research on near-death experiences, describes that a striking number of people who survived near-death experiences reported that at the moment of dying they saw a panoramic view of all the events of their lives flash through their minds.
One man who survived a near-death experience told him: “I realized that there are things that every person is sent on earth to realize and learn (and that is) to share more love, to be more loving toward one another…to discover that the most important thing is human relationships and love, not materialistic things…Every single thing that you do in your life is recorded and even though you pass it by not thinking at the time, it always comes up later.”
How then do we shift this tide of social decay that is affecting Belize? Albert Einstein noted quite profoundly that: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” If we live not paying attention to the qualities of our minds, we can live strengthening the same patterns that will result in what we are seeing across this nation. Karma is deep. Every thought and action has consequences to self and others, including the nation, well into future generations.
So how do we change? Across the globe, an increasing number of individuals, institutions and organizations are realizing that the simple and very powerful practice of Mindfulness can transform individual and collective mind-states to wholesome thoughts, emotions and behavior. As Thich Nhat Hanh describes, mindfulness is “the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves”.
When one constantly practices Mindfulness he or she begins to deepen self-knowledge and conscience and notice that life becomes vivid, wholesome, balanced and satisfying. Mindfulness trains the mind to not take everything that happens personally. One becomes happier and at ease, not caught up in the stories and dramas that the untrained mind imagines. With mindfulness, one’s enhanced awareness and powers of attention can be used to be more objective, clear-headed and effective in examining various situations.
Mindfulness meditation has also been known to relieve anxieties, depression, addiction and various psychological conditions that have arisen from unwholesome mind-states. This 2,500-year-old ancient Eastern practice has been proven through extensive research in neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and education to have deep lasting therapeutic effects on one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
This is why Mindfulness has been increasingly practiced in many schools across the US, Canada, UK, India and other countries with very profound positive impacts on the lives of children and teachers. More leaders of businesses, organizations and institutions are also practicing mindfulness and seeing its value in enabling peak performance and positive work environment. As such, major organizations such as Google, Virgin Atlantic, Barclays Bank, British Telecom, and the UK Parliament invest in employee mindfulness training. A recent report shows that members of the Canadian police force who practiced Mindfulness developed a much better relationship with the public to reduce levels of anger and violence.
All these initiatives are done in recognition that human development and social transformation really start, and are rooted in, the quality of the human mind. As long as negativity, greed, hatred and lack of awareness remain, society will continue in its decay. We cannot heal a society if individuals are not healed. Happy, peaceful and wholesome communities and nations can only emerge when its individual members are healed, wholesome and peaceful. When the mind is transformed, all is transformed.
As you members of Lions, continue your outstanding and admirable voluntary service to Belizeans, I invite you to practice mindfulness at least 20 minutes each day, more if you can, whether in the silence of your bedroom, your office, or anywhere. With consistent practice you will begin to realize its transformative effects on yourself and your relation to others. A wise sage once said, “The mind can be wicked or gentle; the mind can be one’s enemy or friend; Peace and happiness spreads in life, when the mind becomes pure.”