(Initially shared verbally at a “Be In” session at Family Mindfulness Camp at Camp Westwind on the Oregon coast)
I am grateful and privileged to live on this beautiful earth. When billions struggle to survive, living in shanty towns in Haiti, Lima, India, Seattle, I can practice mindful breathing and watch diamond reflections dance across Pacific Ocean swells as they roar their final lion’s roar upon the continent’s edge.
Nature is my teacher, my place to connect with the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Each of us is on the same path as Prince Siddhartha was, leaving behind the busyness of modern existence for a while, coming to a place of exquisite beauty, with many opportunities to be with ourselves, cultivating inner stillness, gaining glimpses of our true nature – not separate, interconnected.
Scientists say we now live in the time of the Anthropocene, the Age of Man, the 6th Great Extinction, when ninety percent of all species on this planet may go extinct. Will humans be one of them? Even though Buddha taught that to understand the truth of impermanence is to awaken and be liberated completely, still I feel a sense of sadness when I realize how it is that human beings are responsible for much of what is being lost due to greed, anger, ignorance….colonialism, capitalism, racism, patriarchy. It doesn’t have to be this way.
What does it mean to be mindful, not merely of my breath rising and passing, sensations of the body and mind, but of my carbon footprint? My white male able bodied, naturalized citizen, English speaking privilege? What does it mean to be mindful of the suffering of sentient life due to my dietary habits and choices?
I teach meditation in a criminal justice setting in Seattle. A disproportionately high number of the clients are men and women of color. Why is that? It is difficult to survive when your people have been targeted by oppressive systems of “justice” for centuries by the mainstream dominant culture. It is difficult to even think about Dharma and inner liberation when you live in a kind of hell realm – lacking opportunities for housing, education, health care, employment.
If I wish to follow the bodhisattva way, then as a person enjoying many privileges that other lack, it is my duty to do what I can to help eliminate institutional racism and hatred from this earth, even if some people say it will take a very long time – or forever. First I must look within and listen, but I must not forget to act. If I leave my practice on a cushion in a quiet corner of a temple or my home, then it is of little or no value.
We are not separate from each other. We are not separate from nature. The Earth is longing for us to wake up to this truth.
Last month, I was backpacking alone for three days in the Olympic Mountain Wilderness. A native American friend had given me three small stones called Apache Tears and suggested that I use them to heal the water element around the world. So I zipped them in the top pocket of my backpack and set off early in summer, up the Elwha River drainage.
For three days I saw no other people. I was with my breath, the mountains, the snow on high ridges, the forest, the stillness, touching the sacred with me, within each one of us. My story is your story. Your story is my story. We are interconnected. I knew I was in a very remote place because after hiking for thirty miles and returning back down, I found my toothbrush in the middle of the trail, right where it had slipped out of a pocket of my backpack three days earlier. I laughed and began to speak my spontaneous prayer to heal the water.
I invoked the Three Jewels, that all water flow freely and purely, that humans stop damming rivers, splitting atoms, digging up composted dinosaurs, fracking our aquifers, running coal trains, bomb trains, mobile Chernobyls. The supreme source of energy rises every day over the horizon – the sun, and our own heart of compassion. I dropped the stones into the Elwha from the suspension bridge just below the Grand Canyon, imagining the prayer radiating outwards to the farthest reaches of the universe, to infinity.
Moments later, hiking up the far bank, two black bear cubs suddenly dropped out of a nearby tree and scampered away up the trail. Then the mama lumbered up out of the bushes and stared at me. I sang to her and she paused to listen and observe, slowly wandering up the trail to eat more berries and watch over her children.
The earth is inviting us to listen now. The earth is our home. We are the earth.