Today I planned to go to town, to sit in meditation with the Zen Garland Dharma River community. But the earth had other plans.
As prepared to leave home, I felt a heavy mist coming down. In the darkness of early morning, lightning in the distance told me storms were on the horizon.
As I drove along the road beside the Mississippi River, I could feel her might. The storm kicked up and wind lashed across the river, bringing sheets of water onto the road. Leaves just beginning to fade were loose enough to be blown about like a blizzard of yellow and orange. It took less than a mile of this for me to realize the earth had other plans.
I turned back toward home and decided to sit in my little basement zendo. No community there, but I knew we would still be sitting together. And as I sat, the suffering of the earth, and all her creatures, came forward for me. Very clearly, I could hear the cries of the earth, and the need to respond.
September 20, 2019 is a call for a national Climate Strike. A chance to acknowledge, together, the urgency of the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish climate activist, has been visiting the US and raising awareness of the urgency of the crisis and the need for action. Her thoughtful words are inspiring. Her decisive and committed actions even more so. With this climate strike, we will be saying, together, we hear the cries of the earth and we commit to action in response.
This morning I realized that the earth had other plans for me. And that’s ok. It feels like good practice to actually stop and listen. To hear those cries, to feel the suffering, and then, perhaps, find a way to respond.
But how can you take in all the suffering? The impacts of climate change are so vast, and often so devastating. There are myriad impacts we don’t yet even know or understand. But, to begin to feel, to acknowledge seems to me the first step.
As I sat with these things, I felt the hunger of animals whose homes are changing all around them. Polar bears going hungry without the sea ice they need to hunt, swimming for their lives across ever wider openings. For them, I breathed out an abundance of food for them and their cubs.
I felt the thirst of women and children who must walk long distances to carry water. Now in many places, drought has made that walk longer and more treacherous. For them, I breathed out fresh, flowing streams of water. Cisterns full of clean water to quench their thirst, clean their bodies, and water their livestock.
For the scorched and dry places, the new deserts being created every day, I breathed out cool air, the breath of trees providing shade.
For the many indigenous peoples across this earth, for whom climate change is a threat to their very existence as a culture. For them, I breathed out strength and resilience, knowing that they have deep reservoirs to draw on.
Acknowledging all the suffering caused by climate change can feel overwhelming. What was helpful to me today is simply breathing in and breathing out. Yes, we need to recognize and acknowledge the problem. But if we stop there, it does overwhelm.
It seems to me that if we recognize that our common home is on fire, there are two things we must do. The first is to acknowledge the problem, to actually see it, hear it, feel the suffering that the climate crisis is causing. We must stop pouring gasoline on the fire. We must stop accelerating the crisis. And the second thing that follows very naturally once you recognize that your house is on fire, is to carry water. In whatever container you have. A bucket, a barrel or even a tea cup. If your house is on fire, you carry water to douse the flames. We must each decide what we can carry. But we must all carry something. Looking inside, to find out what you can carry is part of the work we each must do; an honest appraisal of our own part in this crisis, both how we contribute to it and what we can do in response. We may find we can carry more water than we think.
I’m grateful that the earth had other plans. Today she invited me to listen deeply, and see in new ways. She encouraged me to take a closer look and see how I can respond. I hope I can continue to have the ears to hear and the eyes to see both the suffering and the beauty in the world around me. And that I may have the strength and courage to respond.
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