Our exploration of the Buddha’s Six Elements helped us understand more deeply the fullness of being alive in this moment in this body in this space, interconnected, inseparable, and ever-changing. May that elemental awareness live on within us, inspiring us to savor each moment afresh, softening and releasing any veils of opinion, regret, comparison, hatred, or greed, that shroud our view. May we fully sense into the elements that co-create this experience of being alive.
Anchored in awareness and compassion for all life, we can make wise choices for the well-being of this body, this community, and this planet. We can identify and apply our skills, interests, and energy to celebrate, savor, and co-create a world that supports the health of the complex web of life.
As we have learned through our elemental exploration, there is no separation. There is no ‘other’. This has always been true, but somewhere along the way many of us, if not most of us, have forgotten. How do we begin to remember?
Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass mentions someone who introduced himself as ‘a boy who was raised by a river.’ And she wonders whether he means he grew up on the banks of a river, or if the river raised him. It’s an intriguing idea to think of our earliest interactions with nature as having raised us. For me, what comes to mind is that I was raised by the maple tree in our yard, by the dappled light dancing on my eyelids as I napped in my baby buggy under that tree. And even still I am most at ease and feel most deeply connected to life at this moment when I can look up into the filtered light of any forest canopy.
What about you? Give yourself the gift of reflecting on your earliest connection with nature, where you felt that sense of connection, support, and perhaps guidance. Reacquaint yourself with your earliest teacher. Be open to receiving the wisdom it offers. Allow yourself the solace of finding that teacher in your memory and the world. And keep opening to receive its wisdom.
Keeping our first teachers present as we look at the impact of humans on the planet helps us not turn away.
In this Unveiling Series, we recognize veils of thought and see how they are blinding us to being fully present to embrace this moment. But another part of the practice is to purposely explore a particular veil. So let’s explore our veils around The Environment.
Just the word ‘environment’ will activate your veil. Notice the thoughts and emotions that are suddenly front and center. Don’t turn away! Take a breath and allow yourself to explore. Consciously follow the threads and be with the emotions that arise. These threads in your environment veil are familiar to you, but now you have the opportunity to look at them more purposely. If you feel like it, write all these thoughts down. This is not a thesis, your threads are not perfected arguments but random opinions, inquiries, worries, complaints, brags, justifications, excuses, apologies, protestations, rants, and a hodge-podge of things you’ve heard from sources you trust, all mixed in with a lot of emotions including fear, guilt, anger, deep sadness, and hopelessness. Whatever you are feeling as you chase these thought-threads, let yourself know you are feeling it. When you get to an entangled knot, you’ll have a strong physical response. Maybe your body will tense, your breath will shorten, your chest will ache, and/or your eyes will tear up. And you’ll want to turn away.
Please don’t. Instead, bring to mind your early teacher and rest in the wisdom of its elemental nature. Which is also your elemental nature, of course. That earliest teacher is also present as a thread in your veil about the environment. The more time you spend with it, the stronger and brighter that thread becomes, and the more it radiates light and softens the tangle of knots that have defined this environment veil for so long. That early teacher thread is full of wise view. It knows all about the nature of interconnection and impermanence, doesn’t it? And the more you pay attention to its wisdom, so do you.
Once you feel centered and grounded in wisdom, ask yourself with compassionate awareness and wise intention, what is the wisest effort you can make right now? And what are the wisest most compassionate words you can write now to inspire yourself to not turn away, to not get bogged down in hopelessness, to not get entangled in the veil, but to hold it up to the light and dance with it? To wear it lightly and engage in ways that celebrate, innovate, and co-create the life and the world you know is possible, a world of cycles and seasons, of infinite change and infinite interconnection, a world where collaboration for the benefit of all life?
A helpful shift of perspective
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer points out that in the Western tradition there is a hierarchy of beings, with humans at the top and plants at the bottom. But in Native American traditions, humans are often considered “the younger brothers of Creation”. (In class, because we are a women’s sangha, we changed it to younger sisters.) We humans, being the last to arrive at the party, in effect, are the ones with the least experience and therefore the most to learn. So, we must look to other species for guidance, and learn from their example, how to live skillfully on earth.
Insight meditation comes from this connection to the earth. The Buddha and his monks lived mostly outdoors in the forests and fields. They meditated by rivers and under open skies. The Buddha awakened sitting at the base of the Bodhi tree. So that intrinsic interdependence, that co-arising of life is at the core of Buddhist understanding. Through extended periods of meditation comes a deep understanding of the inherent spaciousness of being, long before scientists discovered that atoms are 99.999% empty space. Through such dedicated meditation practice comes the understanding of the nature of impermanence, and how all life co-arises.
This wisdom is so important today (whether we call it Buddhism or just understanding the nature of things) not just for our coping with our daily lives and our interpersonal relationships, but for the survival of many species, including our own. Scientists who come up with answers to the challenges we face are better equipped to do so wisely if they are grounded in this wisdom so that their solutions do not compound the problem, nor willingly turn over whatever they discover or develop to be commandeered for unethical purposes.
Leaders who are empowered to make choices for us all are better equipped to do so wisely if they are grounded in the understanding of our inherent interconnection, so they are less susceptible to greed, aversion, and delusion, and don’t fall into the sense of separation that makes enemies of us all. Too late they might realize how completely dependent they and their cronies are on the wellness of all beings. Let’s help them to know that now, and elect and support candidates who do.
As our species increases in population, and our style of inhabiting the planet becomes more and more destructive, we have a great responsibility to become fully conscious of what’s happening and to use our many gifts of intellect and creativity to bring our species back into harmony with the rest of the world.
So consider taking some time in nature to deepen your own understanding. And in any moment you can take time with your earliest teacher, letting it untangle the knots and unbound the limits of your imagination as to what you can do at this crucial time to develop wise habits and loving responses to the challenges we face as a community of all beings.