Mindfulness: A way to transform Belize into much better place

Excerpt from presentation by Jerry A. Enriquez at the National Lion’s Convention,

Belize City, June 4, 2016

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.

So much evidence continues to stare 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 and other major health problems; breakdown of family structure and community values; quiet and disturbing increase in incidents of self-inflicted death especially among high school age 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 brewing ahead.

There is also an increasing climate of anger, tension, anxiety, chronic stress, fear and depression spreading across the nation. It is very sad to see many hold on past pain and hurts for life, quite unaware that they become prisoners of their own negativity which they inflict on others.

Wherever these negative emotions reside, they are bound to spread from one to another through homes, offices, schools, business places and communities in the form of destructive physical behavior, gossips, back-biting, jealous outbursts, lust, and rage. The karmic effect is that those who store and pass on misery to others – even afflicting the innocent – are the first to suffer glimpses of hell on earth.

The 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 forms the root of the very social conditions that we see surfacing.

There will never be enough police or prisons, if the real root of these conditions – deeply engrained 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 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 live in peace and harmony, we ourselves as individuals, as community organizations, families, communities and civil society, business and other institutions, must begin to uphold, nurture, inculcate and spread positive values and standards – e.g. honesty, integrity, respect, love, compassion and wisdom – that are so important for the well-being and development of a nation.

How 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 the 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? In several countries across the world, an increasing number of individuals, institutions and organizations are realizing that the simple and very powerful practice of Mindfulness can transform individual and collective mindstates to wholesome thoughts, emotions and behavior. As Thich Nhat Hanh describes, mindfulness is “the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves”.

A mind that is in the state of unrest often reacts with greed, hatred, fear, judgment, denial and ignorance; this creates much anxiety, regrets and tension. When the mind and heart is untrained, it constantly dwells in the past and fantasizes about the future, hardly experiencing what is happening in the moment; it blocks facing the truth to transform self; it clings to the pleasant and pushes away the unpleasant.

Mindfulness changes all that. When one constantly practices Mindfulness he or she begins to deepen self- knowledge and conscience, and life becomes vivid, wholesome, balanced and satisfying. With mindfulness, 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 for decision making.

Mindfulness meditation has also been scientifically proven to relieve anxieties, depression, addiction and various psychological conditions that might have arisen from unwholesome mindstates. This 2,500 year old ancient Eastern practice has been proven through numerous researches in neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and religion to have deep lasting therapeutic effects on one’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

This is why Mindfulness has been introduced in many schools across US, Canada, UK, India and other countries. More leaders of businesses, organizations and institutions are also taking mindfulness retreats and seeing its value in enabling one to calmly perform at their peak.

In the United Kingdom, the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group recently, (in October 2015) completed a major report entitled Mindful UK, which calls for the UK government to implement Mindfulness in the education, public health, and criminal justice system, as well as in the workplace – including government offices.

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. In Burma, meditation retreats and practices by government departments resulted in a drastic reduction of corruption.

All these initiatives are done in recognition that human development and social transformation really starts, and is rooted in, the quality of the human mind. As long as negativity, greed, hatred and lack of awareness remain, society will continue decay. When the mind is transformed, all is transformed.

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 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.”

*Jerry A. Enriquez has participated in a number of Insight Meditation retreats in monasteries abroad. Currently he guides Insight Meditation practice at Om Shanti Yoga Center in Belize City. He is currently the Country Director of Ecology Project International Belize, which has over the past three years involved near 600 Belizean youths from high schools all over Belize in five-day hands-on marine ecology courses – an impressive contribution to education that is unmatched by other NGOs in Belize.