by Tim Burnett
I opened my first formal talk at our 7-day retreat in Costa Rica with this wonderful short poem by William Carlos Williams:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
As I've been realizing lately how important the first line of this poem is. So much depends.
So much depends on everything and everyone. We live in a web of depending on each other. We aren't so separate as we think we are. And it was wonderful and challenging to spend that week with 17 others from all over the hemisphere remembering deeply how interconnected it all is.
When we first start thinking about mindfulness we see it as a way to help ourselves: to reduce our stress, to feel a little happier, to add a tool to our toolbox. We usually have an altruistic slant to this too which is wonderful: we realize that if we're more grounded, happy and resilient we're a lot more helpful to everyone else in our lives.
This is fine. But as we studied ecology and immersed ourselves in the incredible bio-diversity of the Costa Rican rain forest it helped me to remember how limited that idea is: that idea of me as a separate person with my own problems and worries.
Of course it seems that way to my worried mind, but my heart knows better. And expanding my mind helps me open my heart to the deeper truths of our situation.
We love our breath awareness practices but these depend on having clean air to breathe! We take this for granted. And the clean air doesn't just depend on not having a factory next door polluting it, it depends on plants, it depends on a healthy functioning ecosystem.
And this is difficult to turn our attention to because it's also an imperiled ecosystem.
There are several areas of hope in the overall human situation despite the upsetting headlines (see for example: Nicholas Kristoff's great column "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History" (see link at bottom)).
But in the ecological world, while there are rays of hope the overall situation is dire. Species extinctions are happening on the order of 100 times faster than even in previous periods where geological changes (or giant meteors) led to broad "extinction events." And no who's studied the evidence doubts climate change any more - massive changes are disrupting ecological systems in ways beyond our knowing.
And so it was powerful to spend a week practicing mindfulness surrounded by amazing birds and frogs and by the Costa Rican people. A people, by the way, who as a nation have made education, natural protection, and appreciation of nature a national priority (after they disbanded their military in 1947! Think of all the resources that frees up. So much depends).
As we did this I also recommitted myself to not hiding from my fears around the challenges faced by our planet.
It makes no sense to try to be mindful and a little happier as if I was separate from this planet on which my every breathing moment, my every bite of food, my every drink of water depends.
I'm not sure what action this will result in.
Certainly I can help a little by including ecology in the teachings I do (I initially trained at university in biology!). I can also help by supporting the wise and effective environmental organizations all around us in the Pacific Northwest. But I think most importantly I can help by not turning away from this crisis. I can remember the planet we live on and the living systems we depend on.
So much depends on all of us. So much depends on you. So much depends on me. And we depend on each other. I'll do my best to be dependable for you and I'm sure you will for me, for all of us. We're in this together. That's how it works.
So much depends.
Kristoff's column click here
Except as noted, photos from the Costa Rica retreat courtesy of Tim Burnett.