Recently – with Spring not that far away I was out in the garden digging away, weeding, planting, pruning and it dawned on me that I was happy. Similarly I was out walking late one afternoon this week and the sunset was stunning and I discovered myself smiling. Yes, you can imagine the passers by thinking that that old man has ‘lost it’ as he walks along with a smile from ear to ear.
From an early age Zena taught me a love of nature. My wonderful mother took me all around the garden teaching me when to prune a rose and how, when to prune the Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle) and how – what signs nature sends us to tell you that rain is on the way (other than droplets falling on your neck), why the mango leaves dropped more leaves at certain times of the year and more. But Zena also got my hands dirty; planting, weeding and mulching. I loved it and it – along with Zena’s example – gifted me with a love of and respect for nature.
But for Mum it was more than just gardening. It was caring for mother Earth. Zena had a profound sense of the oneness of all of life – of the interconnectedness and the interdependence of all of life. Zena (a life member of the Wildlife Society years before the Green Party even came into existence) would go out on field trips, work with others to clear areas of land along creeks of invasive species, work to save habitat and write her letters to the local paper about the cutting down of the beautiful large river gums beside our local river – apparently to help water flow in times of flood.
This great love gifted Mum with a sense of awe. I can still remember as a young boy Mum pointing out different constellations in the night sky, the magnificent Ulysses butterfly as it made its way on pilgrimage from the rain-forests of North Queensland to – I don’t know where, and the sea of grey as the sugarcane came into flower. All of this fascinated Mum and brought a smile and a sense of wonder and awe to her face – and yes, something of this all rubbed off on me.
I have no doubt that this love of nature naturally led me to a love of hiking – or as my New Zealand cousins say, “tramping!” I still can’t work out why people go to gyms and walk or run for an hour on a treadmill when they could be walking beside a river or through a forest. Now, I will lose some of my few friends – I still can’t work out why people treadmill or forest walk with ear pieces in – either on their phones or listening to loud music – when the crystal clear greeting of the butcher bird or the crack of the whip bird or the busy chirping of the fairy wrens is all around them.
I am truly at home high up on the Kepler Track in Fiordland New Zealand, deep in an Australian Eucalypt forest or walking along a beach. In those places there is a goodness and a oneness that wraps arms around me and gives me hope. I am one with – I am not separate to, separate from.
All of the above leads me to my point. I have a deep love of the environment, of nature, of eco-spirituality. I feel at home in nature; it is my cathedral of awe and meaning. But this love comes from relationship. It is when you are in relationship that your heart is transformed. It is when the other shifts from ‘them’ or ‘it’ to a personal name and thou – that our hearts will be transformed, our eyes clear, our ears un-block and we will be motivated to protect and cherish and honour the life around us. I am transfixed and taken along for the ride and lost in wonder as David Attenborough – with hushed voice – talks about spiders or reefs or deserts of mountain goats! I am equally moved – but to tears – when I see the destruction of forest for greed, reefs and their eco-systems sacrificed for the stock market and too many trapped in the rush, noise and hustle and bustle of concrete jungles.
Sadly for the share market buyer and seller – the ‘shares’ are simply a financial transaction and they never meet – truly meet – the victims of their profit whether those victims be the local fishing village whose reef is now polluted or the rain forest that has now gone and become cheap timber for a housing development. If that same trader had met – had built relationship with either the people of the village or the rain forest itself – they too may have stood in-front of the bulldozer or protested, risking their lives to protect THEIR brother and sister’s reef.
I have an old boy Barry. Barry lives on a beautiful island off the coast of Timor Leste. Several years ago the reef adjacent to the village where Barry lived with his wife and family had been denuded by over fishing by foreign fishing fleets and tourists. So Barry worked with the people of the village to form a cooperative. Together they built relationship and shared a dream. They invited the politicians over from Dili and took those same politicians to the reefs and waterways – helped them see the lack of life in the eco-system and helped them experience – first hand – the effects upon the local village. By building relationship at all levels Barry and the people of the village were able to lobby the Government to declare the adjacent reefs a marine sanctuary. In the years since this has happened the marine life has returned and re-populated. The tourist industry has boomed but now NOT to fish and fish but rather to snorkel and dive and look with wonder at the beauty of those reefs. Each tourist now pays a fee to access the reef for recreation and the monies go to the local village school and to support the income of the village. Relationship – a win – win for all!
But those not in relationship with those garden worms I discovered as I weeded last weekend, or put fresh straw around the base of the strawberries or the compost that I turned over this morning gifted with some fresh coffee residue, or the family of lorikeets I observed coming in and out of their gum tree hold nest as I was out walking the other day, will not see what I see nor feel what I feel. Just as the commercial fishing trawler and the foreign tourist with their ‘catch of the day’ do not truly see the reef and the natural world in all its beauty and wonder – for they are not in relationship. Relationship – getting your hands dirty is everything!
When we are not in relationship we will label. I am probably being labelled a ‘greenie’ or soft or weird – who cares? When we are in relationship we go beyond labels to story, to meaning, to perspective and more. When we are not in relationship we will blame or do battle, ignore or use. When we are in relationship we will seek to understand, stand with and beside, waste time with and find ways to dream together.
What I have reflected about the environment relates to every aspect of our lives. I am contemplating going on a TV fast as I am not looking forward to the next couple of months leading up to the US elections with a constant stream of Republican V Democrat, Democrat V Republican diatribe in the daily news – mud slinging, name calling, labelling par excellence!
In every aspect of our lives the call – when faced with the ‘other’ – especially when the other annoys us, threatens us, challenges us, scares us is to find a way to build relationship. In my very first blog I spoke about the power of story. Story and story shared is the ultimate bridge builder. When we share story, when we gather around the camp fires of life and share our stories connections are built and understanding grows. I said in that first blog;
Know the story – tell the story – become the story teller!
The story teller is the wisdom figure. The story teller is the one who can hold the sacred texts and sacred stories of our tribe close to the heart, can sift through the rubbish and the chaff to the real wisdom. The story teller will have deep respect for the other story teller regardless of tribe and will see through the different badges and colours and nationalism to the core of the heart and issue. The story teller is deeply ego aware and is not hooked by the energy of the ego looking to win over – to win and you lose.
Pretty well every issue facing our world today; refugees and asylum seekers, racism, sexism, the failure of institutions, physical and sexual and emotional abuse, the treatment of Indigenous peoples, reconciliation, care for the planet and more – all of these have the seed of resolution, healing and movement forward to a better world for all through the building of relationship.
When the refugee becomes ‘Ahmed’ the energy changes. Many years ago I was working in Melbourne. One of my good friends – Liam – began a drop in centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Richmond. Liam asked me one day would I connect with an Iranian family that had not long come out of a detention centre and were placed in accommodation close to where I was living. I made contact with the family and on a regular basis would go shopping with them and take them to the drop in centre. Over the weeks and months the family become good friends of mine. No longer were they ‘the asylum seeker family’ – they were Hussain, Nader, Baldhais and Ali. As I built relationship with them their issues became real – beyond the politics of fear. As I built relationship with them they were concerned about my day to day struggles too – they looked out for me just as I was attempting to look out for them. When the issue of refugees and asylum seekers now came up in conversations with friends I was no longer talking about ‘them’ – talking in theory – I was sharing about real life people with hopes and fears, gifts and human frailities.
There are so many issues that tug at our hearts. Chesterton once said, “Life is not easy my child, but take courage – it can be delightful!” If our Covid world presents us with anything it is the need for great courage at this time. When the ‘village’ or the ‘tribe’ is under threat – the great danger is to close the door, build higher walls and dig a moat – to keep ‘them out’. If Covid has taught us anything it is that we truly are a global village – we truly are global brothers and sisters. The courage we are called to at this time is to pick up the label ‘them’ – cut it up and use it to help light the fire of compassion and understanding. In this time when we feel insecure and under threat – lets reach out – build relationship – build relationship with anyone and anything that is different to us, that we fear or feel uncomfortable with – share story around camp-fire and when we do this we will discover and power and a strength that we never thought possible. It will be the power and the strength of solidarity, of brotherhood and sisterhood, the power and strength of the pilgrim, the cosmic pilgrim on life’s journey.
So – let’s get our hands dirty. Build relationship! Spend time with! Listen! Sit with! Hold the racing thought in your mind and make your first step one of listening with an open heart to the other. Then the planet will become friend and partner, mother and guide. Then the ‘other’ whom we fear will become wisdom bearer and teacher. Then we will leave an ever more beautiful world for those who come after us!