My daughter’s bedroom used to face a wooded lot. When she was a baby, I’d nurse her in a rocking chair in her room, sometimes gazing out a window at the nearby trees.
One morning, I noticed a bird carrying a twig to a tree limb. I continued to watch that bird make many more trips, up and down, carrying one twig after another. I imagined that those twigs must have felt very heavy to that little bird, and I developed great respect for her strength and determination.
Days passed and I lost contact with the bird. But one afternoon I heard the shrill sound of her hatchlings, and I caught sight of her flying back and forth from the nest as she delivered meals in response to the chorus of incessant demands. She was tireless – a devoted mother who worked harder than me.
I totally bonded with that bird, and looked forward to spending mornings with her as we each cared for and protected our young. Although it may not have been our purpose, we were both helping to insure the survival of our species.
But soon the peace was shattered by the noise and vibration of mechanical equipment next door. I ran outside and pled with the bulldozer operator to spare the tree with the little family.
“Stop! There’s an active nest in that tree!!!”
“Lady! I have to get this lot cleared!” And to my horror, he knocked down that tree and most others on the property. As I gazed at the demolition later that afternoon, I wondered how many small creatures had just lost their homeland … even their lives.
I was heartbroken. I loved that bird family. After watching the bulldozer massacre, I could not sit on the sidelines – environmental advocacy become a mission.
But as years passed, my passion began turning to frustration, my love to anger, and my anger to resentment and bitterness. Eventually, I no longer had the stamina to continue in the face of so many obstacles and such little progress. I had forgotten about the love and connection that drove me to action in the first place. I had lost heart.
Today I’d like to present a mindfulness practice for all of us who have succumbed to frustration and disappointment – a practice that might allow us to return to our heartfelt concern for the earth. This practice is meant to be done slowly, with many pauses.
Please take a comfortable position and close your eyes, if it feels comfortable, or keep them slightly open. gathering up all of your attention, and bring it to your body.
Staying with the interior landscape. Feeling the breath where it’s most vivid, perhaps in your belly or chest. Knowing what’s happening with your breath. Is it smooth, even, jagged, textured, shallow, deep? Not judging or trying to change anything. Just being aware of what the breath is like in this moment. Fully present.
And now broadening the scope of your attention to become aware of how your body is feeling. Is it relaxed, tense, sleepy, bored, energized restless, constricted, achy? Is an emotion present? If so, can you name the emotion? Anger, irritation, happiness, sadness, tenderness, love, fear, anxiety, or something else? Simply noticing what’s here, without any judgment or commentary. Knowing exactly how you feel, simply by being aware of sensations in your body. If at any time this feels uncomfortable, redirecting attention to the soles of your feet, feeling all of the sensation there and grounding.
Now please see if you can recall what catapulted you into caring about the environment. Was it the birth of a child or grandchild, your connection with the natural world through outdoor activity, or something else? Relaxing with the memories for a while . . . . . . . .
Do you notice an emotion present? Perhaps a sense of warmth, connection, care, love, tenderness?
Or maybe you’ve been reading frightening statistics. You fear for our future and know that we must do something.
If anger, fear or sadness has led to your involvement, please notice if any of these emotions are here now and, if so, try to bring all of your attention to meet what’s present. Might there be another emotion beneath the one that is most obvious? Check to see. Often, sadness is beneath anger. And underneath all of it could be the feeling of caring, of connection. We care for the planet. We care for ourselves and other living beings.
Continuing to focus on any emotion that’s present, without any judgment. Just being curious. Bringing all of your attention to meet the emotion. And if no emotion is present, noticing any feelings of tension, constriction, feeling closed up inside. Noticing what’s here. Not judging, not trying to fix.
And now please place a hand over your heart, using compassionate touch to soothe and comfort. Recognizing that the environmental issues are scary and real, and that we, rather than hiding from them, have bravely chosen to learn more. To do more. Strong and determined – like that mother bird.
Feeling the beating of your heart, and letting your heart feel the warmth of your hand. Offering yourself love and compassion.
Now making an aspiration that all living beings, and those not yet born, can inhabit an earth that’s on a healing path, a steadily healing path back to balance. And may we all keep love and compassion in our hearts as we work towards this end. When you’re ready, slowly opening your eyes.