On Doing What You Can

For the past few weeks clients, friends, and students have spoken to me more often about their concerns for the fate of nature. Our regionally very mild winter and early spring have raised their concerns about climate change. The oil rig disaster in the Gulf has raised fears of nature polluted beyond her capacity to recover. Earthquakes around the world have underscored the tensions that underlie daily life, and the threat that these tensions will erupt in devastating ways, at home, in society and in nature.

One of the challenges of the Gulf oil spill is that it has occurred in one of the most productive ecosystems in North America. The Gulf is an immense collection of habitats, that, taken together, provide breeding grounds for most of our country’s ocean life. The region has abundant boundary zones, the areas where two or more ecosystems meet, and that are generally the most robust and diverse biological regions. Think about the interface between forest and meadow, salt and fresh water, sea and land. These areas often teem with life in great diversity.

Our family home sits within one such zone, a highly populated area adjacent a large, forested park.  In front of our house, the world is suburban. In back, the world is rural. A cross-country path runs along the base of the hill that marks the end of our small back yard, and the beginning of the densely treed park. Along either side of the path song birds defend their territories.

Dogs, people, and foxes traverse the trail year round. I understand that bear and moose may have made very rare appearances, although not in the years we have lived here. When we first moved in, our cat wandered constantly from the front of the house to the back, as if trying to decide whether he preferred urban or rural life. Now, if indoors, he rarely visits the front. Of late, we have been visited by at least two foxes, who come by separately a couple of times during the day. Both seem to be interested in the birds and squirrels that utilize our feeders.

When a grandchild visits during warm weather we open windows on the back side of the house, allowing fragrances, sounds, and breezes to waft in form outside. Babies and toddlers respond well to stimuli from the natural world, usually relaxing and becoming quite happy. It is as though they feel at home among sensations generated by the non-man-made world. Much recent psychological research seems to support this notion, even going so far as to suggest children raised in contact with nature are emotionally healthier, and cognitively better developed. They also appear to have a greatly reduced likelihood of developing attention deficits or hyperactivity.

Adults, too, benefit from exposure to the natural world. A walk in the woods, time spent watching the sky, or an hour gardening can all evoke a sense of connection and peace.  Young people and adults from many cultures and times  have ventured alone into nature, seeking to understand life, and often, hoping to find relationship to the spirits. Yet, one does not always have to go into the wilderness to find solace and meaning, often time in a park will do fine.

I encourage people with whom I work to seek out moments in nature. Often, a walk on the beach or time in the forest opens us to connection with ourselves, our lives, and joy. Time in natural settings acts as an antidote to heartache, depression, and fear. Time with nature reminds us of our place, here, in this world, and our kinship with all life, with all that is.

Now, as never before in the history of our species, the very nature to which we turn for insight, inspiration, and healing seems in peril. Although we North Americans spend, on average, a tiny amount of time in nature, we seem to know, intuitively, that our fate and the fate of nature are intertwined. Fear and despair call to us. Yet so does nature. Nature invites us to seek relationship with her, to do what we can to nourish and protect her, and to find solace in her. She encourages us to remember that she will be here long after our species has passed.

A  walk in the rain, through a field, or along the river reminds us the world is as it is. Things have gotten to this place through the actions of many beings. We are not permitted, as individuals, to fix all that needs repair. We are only given the opportunity to do  what we are able. In order to do so, we must be present to things as they are. In order to be truly present we must limit the influence of fear and despair. Nature, if we allow it, will help us see them as just psychic weather, and bring us solace. Then we must do what we can to aid her.

6 thoughts on “On Doing What You Can

  1. I’m just sick about the BP spill. More like a gusher, though. Did you happen to see the 60 Minutes interview a week ago with the BP platform worker? Pretty compelling stuff! On a lighter note, though, I love the snap of your kitty kat!

    1. Good Morning, Melissa!

      I did not see the 60 Minutes spot. However, I have seen and heard much compelling material. Greed bites us.

      I wonder whether you might let yourself rest in your connection with nature. Pachamama will continue. She made us; we are expressions of her. We are nature, too! Despair is so such a strong spirit these days! I keep being reminded of Aragorn, in The Lord of the Rings, who says something like, “Not all that is threatened is lost.” Anyway, I rage, feel great sadness, and despair at the losses. I also try to stay connected to the spirit world, the Dreaming, where nothing is lost. Both are true.

      Congratulations on becoming “A Blog of Note”! I am grateful to you. You have hung in there as a teacher for all these years. I know classroom teaching is one of the most unappreciated, demanding, frustrating positions held by anyone. It is also crucial, powerful, and potentially, although not easily, incredibly subversive. Salude!


  2. I appreciated this post as I frequently worry about the world and all that we are doing to it. It is true, as you say in your last paragraph, that we need to do the best we can with what we have – and to let nature ease our anxieties. Perhaps my greatest fear is that one day there will be no nature left as I know it, and then where would I go for balancing and peace? One can only trust, as you say, and do the best one can.

    I’m so happy to know about your blog and your work. Thank you for your inspiration.



    1. Thanks for sharing your concerns Jennifer,

      One of my recurring terrors is that nature as I know it will cease to exist. When I journey and am open to Nature, I realize that even if all the forms change, nature still is. That does not mean I will not grieve. I do and I will. It does mean I must guard against despair. I also rage. That probably isn’t so good, but it is what it is. Rage is nature, too. So I try to tolerate having feet in both worlds. I have a sense it gets easier with age. Maybe that is just a reduction in hormones, with the accompanying drop in drama. Maybe it is just having lived 60 plus years and seen so much cultural and technological change. Maybe it is a gift from the spirits – or all of those things. I try to be open and grateful for this opportunity to be alive in this luscious world. Sometimes I am able to do so. Yet, I am still saddened and angered, and at times despairing at our treatment of Pachamama. I wonder what we, as a species, might do were we more grateful and less desperate.


  3. Thank you, Michael. Yes, more grateful and less desperate! I just had a Reiki class where we started with the I Ching giving us advice, and the hexagram we got was “allowing.” It mentioned the season to think of as August – a time when you could just rest and trust that all is changing and moving as it should. Perhaps we can just do our best to be ourselves and continue to trust that things are moving as they should. Even if we are moving into a stage that is more like winter, perhaps we will be renewed with a sort of spring. Either way, I have to remember to just do my best and trust that the right things will work out.

    thank you!

    1. Hi Jennifer!

      I have hope. Sometimes this is a lovely counterweight to the fear and despair or desperation. Reiki, it seems to me as a non-practitioner, takes one to those spaces where nature is core, where all just is, and is unfurling. We may not ever know whether our actions have had a significant impact on something, thus the hope and, I guess, faith. I suspect we are invited by spirit to be gentle on ourselves, and trust.

      As I write this, my wife, Jennie, is sending long-distance Reiki.

      This morning is ready really warm!


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