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How is Harder than Why

credit: Brad Harrison

credit: Brad Harrison


How can we live simply and mindfully, with reverence for all of life? How can we once again learn to listen to life, the Earth, to our hearts, so we act in harmony with the real forces that underlie creation? How can we return to the values that sustain our souls as well as our bodies? What do we really need, rather than what we want? And how can we contribute, how can we help others and the Earth? How can we live the generosity that the Earth continues to teach us?  ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee


These questions are on my mind most of the time. I suspect that’s true of anyone who reads this blog. I think any sensitive person of conscience gets the “why.” We know why we must do this. But the “how” is a lot harder to pin down.

The thread that used to connect us to traditions of reverence, belonging, and service to the Earth has long since been broken. So we’re left with the tremendous challenge of crafting new ways. They may be informed and inspired by the old ways, but in many parts of the world (especially here in the U.S.) we’ve lost continuity with that knowing and we can’t pretend otherwise.

When teachers I respect offer their views about “how,” I pay attention. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee recently shared his approach. It has four steps: witnessing, grief, prayer, and action.

His description of these steps is heartfelt and well worth reading. Of the four, the one that I don’t practice is prayer.

Perhaps that’s not quite true. Prayer in the context of a theistic spirituality (though very familiar to me) is not part of my current repertoire. But if I imagine prayer more broadly, then maybe it is. The way Vaughan-Lee describes his prayer life does resonate, in the sense that it’s about intuiting that there are potent forces in the cosmos that move in our midst. And we can connect, align, and ally with them.

In this sense, prayer is about developing an active, conscious relationship with those forces, and a felt sense of not being alone in the universe. I find this beautiful and sometimes I wonder if we’re not hard-wired as humans to do this?

In a way that is not entirely dissimilar, we can ally and align with other beings in the more-than-human world. Rather than prayer, which seems to imply a certain distance, this is more like collaboration or communion. There is the deep listening and reverence of prayer, but there is also a feeling of kinship and community. Again, there’s the sense of having company.

Although he doesn’t highlight this as one of his steps, it seems that connecting with nature is a key part of Vaughan-Lee’s daily practice. His morning walks by the wetlands are more than just a detached witnessing of nature. Rather they reflect an intimate relationship that he is actively cultivating, and that sustains him.

I believe this step is essential, and that it needs to be emphasized. Our connection to the beings that surround us is not simply witnessed, but expressed and experienced by the body and heart, as well as the mind. This is the basis of our love and also our grief and our action. And we cannot be successful in surviving – let alone thriving – on this planet without it.


  1. For me, the deepest form of prayer is the one where my soul cries and I have no words. Sometimes my spirit longs for something and I feel it in my core. I long to love myself fully, I long to see my children’s lives filled with peace and contentment, I hear of a hungry child and my heart breaks, or I read of another case of females being sold into slavery and I am reduced to tears.

    I believe the cry of our soul is a powerful prayer. I call it a prayer with no words.

    • Mmmmmm. Yes. That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing this, Brenda.

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