As i move through the heart of the peaceful river valley, I feel so deeply connected to the wonders of life, which are on such spectacular, ancient display right here. The presence of this Temperate Rainforest, makes my life possible, and lets me touch my own truest presence... Today I want to share a reflection on the distracted state of our culture today, the momentum of capitalism which is rapidly destroying the intact earth and our humanity, and how we can begin to take direct action to restore our precious planet simply by taking a few mindful steps.. As I truly believe that our mindfulness, our ability to be aware of what is going on in the here and now, is the most essential foundation, the grounding ingredient that will let us wake up to the miracle of being alive on earth, and the deep, natural responsibility that come with this privilege.
Increasing inter-species friendship and understanding, especially among our youth, is absolutely essential to our survival as humans on Earth. If we cannot help our young people to put down their screens and step into the forest to experience the great mystery of life, then we will fail to nurture their fullest potential, and doom them to a life of virtual disconnection, addiction and loneliness. In order to love ourselves truly, we must fall back in love with Mother Earth. Self love devoid of connection to Earth and our sibling species creates human beings caught by destructive, selfish cravings and habits. We know this reality very well, it is the culture many of us live in today, the culture of capitalism and consumerism which is fuelling all of our existential crises...
Glistening Reishi Mushrooms, Tree frogs and Karst Geology, a forest is not only her trees, a forest is a symphony of life, spontaneously perfect, this temperate rainforest contains more life in terms of overall biomass than any other ecosystem on Earth.
Imagine trying to raise a harmonious loving family, but not teaching your children each other's names, and discouraging them from spending time with one another. How could we think that this will produce a healthy, connected outcome? A child needs connection in order to learn and thrive on earth. Parental love alone is not enough, because our parents are only relatively our parents. In the ultimate sense, all of our lives have been made possible by every other phenomena of our great Mother Earth, and beyond, the earth, the sun and moon are all our direct ancestors too. Without sunshine, without ancient trees, mangrove swamps, oceans and rivers teeming with fish, clean air, how would you or your children live on earth? It would not matter how much you love them, they would not be able to live.
Human Children need to have direct experiences with ancient forests and other wild places. In the forest, a child can truly be themselves, their endless curiousity is matched by the mystical, wondrous nature of the forest. And it is not only our young ones who need this connection to thrive, for truly we all contain an INNER CHILD, and laregely, the child living inside each of us is oppressed by our adultness, bludgeouned by the monotony of work and city life. Our inner child is lonely, starving for connection and play, but many of us are feeling that we can not afford to be children anymore, we have serious matters of money making to attend to, oh what a state we have come to! What a heartbreaking reality that so many of us have lost the glistening joyful eyes of a child! The time has come my friends, we are too alive! Too Awake to lock away this essential part of ourselves any longer! The essential action we must take together is to return to the forest to practice mindfulness. This is an act of love, this is even an act of revolution in a world designed to keep us distracted and disconnected! Healing is possible for all of us, as soon as we step into the present moment.
A tree doesn't struggle to express their truest self, Trees live perfectly in the present moment, they know that by being in the here and now, the past and the future are taken care of. Trees understand Interbeing, trees understand that there is no separate self, a Tree is actually a Buddha, in another non-human form, working tirelessly to make life possible for everyone else.
When we say “Mother Earth” this is not some trivial symbolism we prescribe to our planet out of token appreciation. This is a very tangible, very deep reality that you can experience directly as soon as you become more mindful. Every day the earth nurtures our existence, every day the planet works tirelessly to provide us with all the nutrients and conditions of life. If we don’t dedicate our lives to these elements, do we even deserve this beautiful blue and green planet? If we live our lives only through our screens and constructed indoor spaces, we may as well be on the moon! For us here in Canada, we are so blessed to still have vast backcountry, untouched wilderness, old growth forests, sprawling tundra, pristine rivers and undeveloped coastlines and lakes! To be a conscious being on the Earth is the greatest responsibility and priviliege, and as a society today we are failing to listen to nature’s voice. The momentum of destruction is so strong, the propulsion of greed is bulldozing even the most sacred of places. Our modern lifestyle is poisoning pure rivers and wetlands every day! our insatiable cravings for ever bigger homes is deforesting our most spectacular intact Forests. The relative stability of the holocene age is dissolving after a mere 200 years of human industrialization that has now spread to every corner of the globe.
These clearcuts in Southwestern Vancouver Island are expressions of human misunderstanding. Industrial deforestation is fuelling terrible wildfires, flooding and landslides, destroying the Indigenous way of life, and taking away our birthright to immerse ourselves in the Intact Earth.
We have to take action today, not tomorrow. My beloved Teacher, zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, knows that transformation starts with just three mindful breaths. This is a practice that we can do instantly, wherever we are, and it is the foundation of all the next meaningful steps we must take to restore the earth's sovereignty and heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on the planet, and ourselves. We need to stop the momentum that is taking us towards unstable ground for living. The true practice of stopping is mindfulness, because we stop chasing our cravings into the future, we stop being caught in the past, and we start enjoying life as it is in the here and now. Let’s Transform craving into non-craving by learning to cultivate the joy of mindfulness! Only then can we remove ourselves from the wheel of Craving/Consumerism that is hurting us!
Breathing mindfully is such a simple practice, you know how to breathe already, now please remember how to enjoy your breathing. Simply by becoming aware of this constant process we can bring ourselves a lot of happiness, healing, relief and understanding. Once we are grounded in the present moment by the tether of our in breath and out breath, we will know what to do next. With practice we can enter a flow state of just being, of recognizing what is alive in each moment, and we can truly touch the realities that make life so inspiring and lovely. This is a lifelong process, never perfected, always a practice. You can not be good or bad at being mindful, you are either mindful or not, good and bad are not the judges here, there are no judges needed, it is not that kind of activity. Distraction and forgetfulness are a necessary part of life, for without them mindfulness could not exist. Pairs of opposites make each other possible, and even negative emotions and intense suffering have their place as seeds in our consciousness! Embrace every moment, and immerse yourself into the heart of the forest, every element of the forest can help you stay in the here and now. Every bee, tree, bird, mushroom and flower is a bell of mindfulness calling you back to the present.. The intact earth is the ultimate temple of awareness, and the true home that we all deserve...
Once we are aware of what’s going on in the present moment, we will notice the suffering of those around us, of the earth, and this helps us to get in touch with our own suffering. Compassion blossoms when we look deeply at our hurting mother, when compassion manifests in us, action must follow! Now is the time to skillfully address the suffering of people and the earth together, trying to tackle either separately will inevitably fail, as it is the delusion of separateness that has brought us into such great suffering in the first place!
I want to close this sharing by giving you a quote from Thay, that I think really encapsulates what I am feeling today about our beautiful world. I want to thank you for being you, and taking the time to enjoy your breath today. May we all come home to the intact earth, take some mindful breathes, and appreciate this blessing of life as a community!!
“Imagine 1000 people with a deluded mind coming together, full of anger and hatred, they will create hell. No one understands the other, we imagine things, we discriminate against others… The world manifested by the collective deluded mind, you know what it is, you touch it everyday....
Now let us visualize 1000 people with true minds, 10000 people with understanding, with insight, coming together, building a world, before they build anything happiness is already there, joy, light, flowers, full moon, cherry blossoms, are already there. Before they do anything to build a world, happiness is already there, because their mind is true mind. The collective true mind will bring about the collective beautiful world, and that is the world of the Avatamsaka. In the world of the Avatamsaka you can touch the buddha anytime you want. You can touch something in front of you deeply, and by touching that you touch the buddha.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
This valley bottom rainforest contains some of Earth's biggest trees, Douglas firs, Big Leaf Maples, Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedars that have grown together here for thousands of years. I am immensely grateful to have experienced this place that makes life feel so mysterious, ancient and exciting!!