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Mindful : April 2019
Indian paintbrush flowers at my feet on my walk, or to the wave of pelicans who fly in exquisite formation along the coast. I can take in the elegant trees that reach their limbs skyward and the beautiful eucalyptus bark that peels like skin, while their leaves cast a dreamy, shadowy light upon the lush undergrowth. Mindfulness teachings point us to meet the present moment as it is: We behold both the beauty of nature and the devastation that is occurring. We see the folly of overly romanticiz- ing the past or drowning in doomsday scenarios of what’s to come. We hold predictions about the future lightly, however certain they’ll appear, as we can never know for sure what may unfold. In learning the power of inclining our mind, we can also turn our attention to the tremen- dous number of constructive solutions that mil- lions of people around the planet are working on. Organizations around the world are figuring out how to remove plastics from the ocean, draw carbon from the air, restore habitat for tigers in Nepal, and clean up the Ganges river. The list of businesses, municipalities, and nonprofits craft- ing creative solutions to the climate crisis is vast and increases every day. These times require our mindfulness practice to hold a wide view. It asks that we hold the harsh reality of the eco-crisis, the beauty of what is still here and thriving, and simultaneously the upris- ing of ordinary people working all over the planet to steward, protect, and preserve the earth in sus- tainable ways. I have walked through scorched forests. I can look at the blackened trunks and feel a tender grief. And I can also focus on the emerald green shoots that rise out of the ashes. Both are true. Both demand our attention. To be awake today is to learn how to hold paradox in your mind and to dwell in ambiguity. Indeed, the question I hear from many people is: How do we hold the pain of the earth at this time? My answer is simply to grieve. To let your- self feel the depth of the pain and let the tears flow. Allowing grief to move through allows movement and a responsiveness to rise out of those tear-stained ashes. It helps melt the frozen numbness that thwarts effective action. We Protect What We Love On my wilderness courses, I tell attendees that the basis for the Awake in the Wild medita- tion practice is summarized in the phrase: “ We protect what we love.” When we bring medita- tive awareness to something in nature, like a baby sparrow in her nest or the first snowdrop flowers emerging from a long winter, we can discover our heart blooms with tenderness. It is sometimes what restores our humanness. It is precisely this love, this open-hearted connection that is the basis for personal resilience and sustainability on a macro level. When we see how this beautiful planet, its creatures, and ecosystems are threatened, our heart galvanizes an active and sometimes fierce response, in the same way a mother bear will fiercely protect her cubs against threats. It is love that helps summon strength and passion to steward the earth. However, to feel that love necessitates we have intimate contact with the natural world. And it requires that we listen to the pulse of our own heart. This reminds me of the story of John Seed, the Australian author and activist. He received a call some years ago from a friend inviting him to join protests in a section of rainforest near his house in New South Wales. A timber company was trying to clear-cut old-growth forest, and people came to stop the loggers until a court order could take effect. Not being a natural protester, John found himself at the front of the demonstration facing huge bulldozers and logging trucks. What hap- pened next surprised him and radically changed his life. Rather than thinking it was he, John, who was protesting, he realized it was the rain- forest moving through him that was protesting the logging. The forest was acting through a larger ecosystem—via John—to protect itself. Such moments of insight shatter our illusion of separation and individualism. My hope is that perhaps as we spend more time in the wild, attuned to the beautiful yet fragile natural world, we will, like John, be moved and feel the earth moving through us as part of a healthy ecosystem, to protect itself. And that, perhaps, we will learn to explore the paradox and ambiguity, to feel both the beauty and fragility, our deep nourishment and devas- tating losses—as we grow an inner resilience and outer sustainability to support what we love. ● April 2019 mindful 49 nature