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    How To Stop Living An Artificial Life | Karen Armstrong

    Small habitual actions, such as being concerned for others, can help break out of self-preoccupation and become a form of ecstasy that can improve our lives and mitigate climate change when integrated into daily life.

    enOctober 03, 2022

    About this Episode

    Most of us come into the world with the suspicion that we are the center of the universe. This self-preoccupation is natural, but it can often lead to unhappiness in the form of rumination, wallowing, comparison, etc. 


    Our guest today, author Karen Armstrong, has a clear proposal for how we can stop living what she calls “artificial” lives and shave down our inborn self-centeredness. Not for nothing, she believes her proposal has the added benefit of perhaps helping to save the planet. 


    Armstrong is a former nun who has become one of the world’s leading thinkers on religion (particularly the monotheistic ones). She has written such bestsellers as: A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, The Battle for God, Islam: A Short History, and Buddha. Her latest book is called Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World.



    In this episode we talk about:


    • Practices you can try for using nature as a way to make yourself happier
    • How Armstrong conceives of God at this point in her life
    • The benefits of the Confucian practice of “quiet sitting”
    • How her time as a nun paradoxically made her more self-preoccupied rather than less
    • And her definition of holiness



    Full Shownotes: https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/karen-armstrong-504

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • By studying ancient religions and contemplative traditions, we can improve our mental and emotional health while also revising our relationship with nature. Meditation and the 10% Happier app can help get us started.
    • By adopting the ancient customs of revering nature, we can awaken our connection with the natural world and understand our dependence on it. Respectful treatment of nature is crucial to avoid hazardous consequences.
    • By looking at nature differently and integrating rituals that revere it, we can improve our relationship with nature and ultimately improve our own lives.
    • We must reconnect with nature and reawaken our sense of wonder. Take at least 10 minutes a day to observe and appreciate the natural world, even in urban areas. The vitality of nature is something to revere, not subdue.
    • Spend 10 minutes observing nature daily, apply the golden rule, and practice quiet sitting to develop a profound connection with nature for improved mental and physical health.
    • Subtitle: Cultivating Compassion for Nature and Living Beings  Treating nature and living beings with compassion and mercy should be an integral part of our lives. We can make small efforts like taking bugs and mice outside instead of killing them to build a more compassionate world.
    • By practicing quiet sitting and cultivating sensitivity towards nature, we can experience awe and connectedness to something larger than ourselves. Karen Armstrong emphasizes the importance of daily loving-kindness practice towards nature to make it a vital concern in our lives.
    • Practice kindness and admiration towards nature, acknowledging its holiness and our dependence on it, for it keeps everything going. Feel wonder towards nature and extend your mind to include other beings.
    • Practicing KIDOsis and acknowledging the pain of others can help us break free from our self-preoccupation and remind us to treat others with kindness, no matter how insignificant our actions may seem.
    • Making a difference in someone's life through small acts of kindness and putting others first can bring us a sense of freedom, sensitivity, and spiritual fulfillment while honoring the value and sacredness of every being in the world.
    • Small habitual actions, such as being concerned for others, can help break out of self-preoccupation and become a form of ecstasy that can improve our lives and mitigate climate change when integrated into daily life.
    • Instead of focusing on self-critique, see everything as sacred and infused with an ineffable force. Look at nature and recognize the otherness in things to experience holiness and live in wonderment and awe.
    • Focus on the beauty of nature around you and practice gratitude for the privilege of experiencing it. By restoring our connection with nature, we can bring a sense of holiness into our daily lives and make a small difference.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Shifting our focus away from self-centeredness to save the planet

    Karen Armstrong proposes revising our relationship to the earth by studying ancient religions and contemplative traditions which view nature as holy and provide a roadmap. Recycling and protesting are not enough to save the planet. She believes that inborn self-centeredness is the cause of unhappiness and promotes artificial lives. By shifting our focus away from self-preoccupation, we can improve our mental and emotional health and also help save the planet. Meditation is one way to do so, and the 10% Happier app can help with a free seven-day trial. It's time to pull our heads out of our ass and revise our relationship with nature, taking inspiration from ancient spiritual practices.

    Reconnecting with Nature: The Importance of Reverence in World Religions

    The world religions have always seen nature as sacred and were in touch with it as a force that is present in its physical and spiritual form. They revered nature while we in the west have moved away from it, seeing nature as a resource that we can master. We must introduce older customs, bit by bit, into our lives and start to be aware of nature. By treating nature with reverence, we can wake up to it again and see it as a force, a beauty, something that we are entirely dependent upon. It is vital to treat nature with respect or face dangerous consequences.

    Integrating Rituals to Improve Our Relationship with Nature

    Integrating rituals into our daily life can improve our relationship with nature. We need to learn to look at nature differently instead of being artificial. Wordsworth's poem 'Tint and Abby' describes a more natural way of looking at the world, where nature is infused with the divine. This idea is present in the Chinese concept of chi and the Indian concept of Braman. The Jews and Christians were overlooking nature because their scriptures are different. To find that different way of looking at nature, we need to find 'something' undefined by modern English vocabulary. We can start by integrating these rituals that revere nature, and it can help improve our own lives.

    Reawakening the Sacred Inner Life of Nature

    The idea of subduing nature and making it serve humans has become endemic to the Western world since the 17th century, as opposed to the reverence carefully cultivated in other world faiths like in India and China. We have lost the sense of wonder and must reawaken in ourselves the sacred and mysterious inner life of nature. We need to take at least 10 minutes a day to look at nature and increase it day by day to make ourselves aware of our surroundings on which we are utterly dependent. Parks can suffice if we live in the city. The vitality of nature is something we should revere.

    The Benefits of Developing a Proactive Relationship with Nature

    Nature is all around us and we need to make ourselves aware of it by weaning ourselves off social media and spending 10 minutes a day observing the small wonders around us. This habit can help us develop a profound relationship with nature which has a beneficial impact on our psychological and physiological health. We should treat nature with the same reverence as we do other human beings, applying the golden rule of treating nature as you would want to be treated yourself. We don't need magic mushrooms to have a sustained relationship with nature. The Confucians practice quiet sitting, which is simply sitting in a comfortable position and opening one's mind and heart to the sounds and things around you.

    Cultivating Compassion for Nature and Living Beings Key Takeaway: Treating nature and living beings with compassion and mercy should be an integral part of our lives. We can make small efforts like taking bugs and mice outside instead of killing them to build a more compassionate world.

    We need to cultivate a sense of awareness and appreciation towards nature and all living beings, recognizing them as our friends and companions. This involves understanding their principles and fragility, and treating them with compassion and mercy. Rather than being absent from our world, nature should be an integral part of it. We can take inspiration from ancient cultures that practiced animal welfare and performed ceremonies before sacrificing animals. We should make ourselves aware of the millions of animals being slaughtered daily without pity or ceremony, and try to be out of the killing business. Making small efforts like taking bugs and mice outside instead of killing them, can go a long way in building a more compassionate world.

    Sensitivity, Quiet Sitting, and Loving-Kindness Practice for Connection to the World

    Karen Armstrong suggests cultivating sensitivity towards ourselves and nurturing the practice of quiet sitting to puncture our sense of self-concern and reflect on the pain of the world. By practicing quiet sitting, we can experience the twin benefits of feeling awe and connectedness to something larger than ourselves. Karen emphasizes the importance of becoming aware of our dependence on nature, appreciating its beauty and activity, and sending goodwill out to every creature, tree, and plant in the world. She calls for a meta or loving-kindness practice that is done in daily life with a focus on nature specifically, to make it a part of our family and vital concern.

    Finding Connection with Nature

    To forget about the self, focus on nature and extend your mind out to include other beings. Break down barriers of likes or dislikes and acknowledge the holiness in every single leaf, tree, or creature. Perform simple acts of kindness, put out some food or water for passing animals, treat every person with absolute respect, and recite hymns or poems to acknowledge the holiness of the world. Recover the sense of wonder towards nature and feel the utter dependence upon it, because it keeps everything going. Nature should be the first on the list because it is something on which we are absolutely dependent, just like we depend on God or other beings.

    The Power of Small Acts of Kindness and Reflection in Treating Others with Respect

    Treating others with respect, even in small ways, can make them feel noticed, precious, and sacred. Practicing KIDOsis, which involves emptying ourselves of self-preoccupation, and reflecting on our lack of knowledge and achievements can help puncture our sense of self-concern. Remembering that we are not the center of the universe and acknowledging the pain of the world can also help us get out of our own heads. We should strive to do small acts of kindness and let the pain and disquiet of others enter our hearts, like buying sandwiches for the homeless. By doing so, we can learn from others and remind ourselves of our insignificance.

    The Power of Compassion in Daily Life

    Compassion for others is ennobling and uplifting, and we can all make a difference in someone's life every day. By taking ourselves out of our own problems and putting others before us, we can find a certain freedom and sensitivity to the pain of others. Even small acts of kindness can bring a spark of hope or positivity, and we should remember that every single human being and every single thing in nature is sacred and deserving of reverence. We may not be able to solve all the world's problems, but we can make a difference in someone's life, and that act itself can be spiritually fulfilling.

    Small Actions as a Form of Ecstatic Behavior for Climate Mitigation

    Karen Armstrong suggests small actions, such as buying a sandwich for a friend or being concerned for another creature, can help us break out momentarily from our self-preoccupation and step outside our ego and selfishness. Such actions, when developed as habitual behaviors, can become a form of ecstasy that improves our lives and marginally mitigates the climate crisis. While there is still a huge challenge to overcome, individuals can maintain hope and consciousness of the pain and beauty of nature by integrating ancient spiritual practices into their daily lives. We may not be able to achieve what great people like Buddha have done, but we can make small unnoticed changes, like Lionel Blue, that have a massive effect on the world and help us realize that there's more to life than ego and selfishness.

    Embrace Wonder and Sacredness in Everyday Life

    Karen Armstrong suggests that we should look at the natural world as a series of wonders, taking us away from our self-preoccupation and towards wonder. By recognizing the otherness in things, we can experience holiness. Instead of seeing God as an all-seeing judge, we should see God as an ineffable force infused into everything. The world is a wonder, full of life in small things that take us out of ourselves and fill us with wonder. While confessing faults and critiquing ourselves can be paralyzing, acknowledging the sacredness in everything can be a simple daily practice. By looking at nature, we can experience the sacredness and live life with wonderment and awe.

    Embracing the Small Things in Life

    Instead of being self-preoccupied, we should try to forget about the self and notice the little things around us, such as the power of rain and feel privileged to have the minds to see through things. We can make a small difference day by day and bring a sense of holiness in our lives by restoring our ancient bond with nature. We should be filled with awe when we see things like that instead of feeling powerless. And we should practice gratitude for having the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature.

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