Deborah Eden Tull: Using Mindfulness to Find Balance in a Divided World

In a time of political upheaval, national unrest, and accelerating climate change, it is important for everyone to find balance in navigating the complexity of our lives today. An increasing number of people are using mindfulness as a way to find peace in the midst of these global and personal crises.

One of the people leading this turn toward mindfulness is Deborah Eden Tull, founder of Mindful Living Revolution, an organization that teaches the practice of conscious compassionate awareness in order to cultivate ecological consciousness toward a sustainable future. Tull is a Zen meditation and engaged mindfulness teacher, public speaker, author, activist, and sustainability educator. 

In this interview Tull shares how mindfulness can inform how we find balance during these troubling times, and talks about their upcoming panel session at the Annual Bioneers 2020 Conference. (Register for the Conference here.)

Your teachings focus on “engaged awareness practice.” How can people stay engaged with the world around them during difficult times like these without becoming overwhelmed? Are there times when it’s OK to disengage with the world around us?

Deborah Eden Tull

The purpose of engaged practice is to bring presence, courage, and compassion to every aspect of our lives. There is no island of peace outside of We Consciousness. Rather, meditation helps us to remember the interconnection that is our natural state. The Buddha was a social reformer and taught meditation as a pathway for transformation. Practice reveals unconscious and systemic biases that have confused humanity for generation upon generation… and engaging in practice allows us to release these biases and remember who we really are. It also allows us to cultivate a steadfast compassionate relationship with ourselves and with life.

That said, our collective nervous system has experienced an unusually potent onslaught of trauma this past year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all that’s going on in our world. When we are present and listening within, we can bring care and compassion to how we take information in and integrate it. We can allow our inner compass or natural intelligence to guide us as we navigate difficulty. When we are not present, it’s easy to get triggered into reactivity, divisiveness, paralysis, overwhelm, anxiety, drama, or disconnect. 

It’s a discipline to be conscious of our feelings, emotions, and nervous system as we navigate a disorienting global landscape. Sometimes we need to rest and retreat in order to re-engage from a more centered place. Sometimes we need to set conscious boundaries with the news in order to regenerate or affirm our connection with source. 

I’ve witnessed so many people this year deepen their capacity to stay centered and open-hearted in the face of adversity, I’ve also witnessed the collective divisiveness, reactivity, fear, and othering that has been so pervasive in the US. This is a vital time to remember and make the choice in every moment for how we respond to life.

My encouragement is to pause as often as possible, to turn your attention within, and become more aware of and compassionate towards the internal landscape. We can grow our discomfort resilience or ability to stay present through challenge when we bring our hearts to it. We can access a boundless courage that lives just beyond the habit of fear. Rather than get tangled in the drama of the news, we can stay present to the deeper undercurrents of our experience and allow for conscious response to emerge. There has been a lot of toxic information circulating this past year, so It’s important to practice energetic hygiene. This means taking responsibility for cultivating a clear heart and clear mind. Making the changes we need to make as a collective is going to take everything we’ve got and we want to be as centered as we can collectively. 

Do you think there are benefits to humans experiencing dark times like these? If so, what might those be? 

Here is one of my favorite quotes of all time, which speaks to your question:

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” —Cynthia Occelli

Maybe instead of the word “benefits” we can acknowledge the spiritual opportunity and invitation for systemic change, in this time. It can be easy to remain asleep when life is comfortable. We’re experiencing tremendous disruption, and this is opening many people’s minds and hearts to new ways of being and perceiving. There is an opportunity to learn how to navigate global uncertainty from consciousness rather than through the mind of separation and limitation. There is an opportunity to strengthen our resiliency and turn towards, rather than away from, the unmetabolized grief that has been passed down for so many generations. This grief is the result of colonialism, racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and a disconnect with the natural world. There is an opportunity right now for creative resourcefulness and collaboration. There is an opportunity to release limiting beliefs and open up to fresh possibilities beyond what we could have previously imagined for our world. There is an opportunity to learn to love one another across lines.

One of the only things I trust to be certain in my lifetime is that we’ll be navigating global uncertainty. My prayer is that we do so from center, with fierce compassion and consciousness guiding us rather than divisiveness.

Mindfulness asks us to focus our attention on the present, but so many of humanity’s threats require looking ahead. How do we find a balance between those two needs?

Mindfulness teaches us to rest in presence while we do whatever the task at hand is. Sometimes the task at hand is to look ahead, to vision, dream, or make plans for the future. From presence, we can cast our gaze on the future and see possibility rather than seeing through the mind of limitation and conditioned expectation. 

When we go beyond the conditioned mind, we can imagine, create, and receive fresh vision, beyond what we have ever seen or known before. When we are not anchored in presence and the wisdom of our body, we perceive through the limiting lens of the conditioned mind. We are often not even aware of the limiting stories that govern us. From embodied presence, even as we consider the dire circumstances we face today, such as global racial injustice, climate change, species extinction, and the continuing pandemic, we can access the qualities of clear seeing and compassionate action. 

Theologian Martin Buber coined the term moral imagination, which means that it is our moral responsibility to access our creative imagination on behalf of the greater good, to create a kinder, more equitable future. In my experience, presence really puts us in touch with our moral responsibility to all beings. It puts us in touch with a much larger and more vast experience of who we actually are, beyond our ego, beyond the limited bubble of separate self. It puts us in touch with a different relationship with time. Beyond the confines of linear time, there is access to our felt connection with our ancestors, and the beings of the future, and the intelligence of the living systems on planet earth. 

At the Bioneers Conference, you’ll take part in a panel about leading from the feminine. Why do you think this concept is particularly important right now?

The wisdom of the deep feminine has been rejected and discounted for a long, long time. With the roots of patriarchy stemming back to the inception of agriculture and land ownership, exacerbated by the Cartesian Era, the Burning Times, and the 18th century Age of Enlightenment (which affirmed a bias towards rationalization and further rejected the wisdom of the feminine). Our contemporary systems have all been impacted by this bias. People of every gender, and our relationships with one another, suffer from this often unconscious bias. We cannot access wholeness – individually or as a species – if we continually cut off one half of who we are. We cannot evolve to our full wisdom as a species without the partnership of deep feminine and sacred masculine leadership.

To clarify, by deep feminine, I’m not talking about gender-based cultural archetypes. I am pointing to essential elemental energies of nature, which we all carry. The qualities of receptivity, deep listening, conscious allowing, restoration, and other forms of knowing beyond the rational mind are some examples of what I’m speaking of.  We might speak about it as the wisdom of darkness, stillness, and of lunar energy in nature as opposed to the wisdom of light, activity and solar energy.

Today, the dominant paradigm assumes that force is more important than receptivity, productivity more important than attunement, opinion more important than inquiry and deep listening, rationalization better than the intuition of the body, speed more valuable than slowness, competition more valuable than collaboration, to name a few examples of how this bias of yang over yin plays out.

The balance of feminine and masculine, yin and yang, is relevant to all of life. The seed does not remain resting in darkness forever. It eventually reaches out towards the sunlight and begins the process of photosynthesis. There is an opportunity today to move beyond unconscious biases and reclaim the wisdom of deep feminine ways of leadership, so that we can operate in partnership of feminine and masculine. 

Nina Simons and I look forward to offering an experiential teaching about deep feminine leadership at Bioneers, and we want to emphasize that we are all called to be leaders in this time, whether we are in professional positions of leadership or whether our leadership is expressed in how we parent or how we relate. As a teacher of dharma and regenerative leadership, I witness people of all genders, reclaiming the wisdom of deep feminine leadership every day, and I feel enlivened to be part of this reclamation.

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