Creating Light in the Darkness

by Karuna Poole of Living, Learning and Letting Go

I’ve watched and read more news in the last two years than in the rest of my life combined. I feel almost compelled to keep informed about what is going on in my country, and to some extent in the world. At first, I experienced disbelief, but that turned to despair. Over time, I started feeling rage. There is so much that I am angry about.

I am angry that the National Rifle Association (NRA) seems to have complete control over Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. I am angry that the Republicans obstructed Obama every minute of his presidency and are now blocking the Democrats from participating in government. I am angry that we have a president who seems incapable of  being empathetic, who lies incessantly, who says whatever he thinks his people want to hear and then does what he wants to do anyway, who has put many people who are incompetent or who hate the departments they are running in power, who seems to have no interest in anybody whose skin is not white, who surrounds himself with white men who are willing to stroke his ego, who spends his time playing golf, watching TV, and increasing his own riches, and who treats the presidency as if he was hosting a reality show.

I try to look for the good in everything that happens. That is hard to do in this situation, but I do believe that in order to learn and/or heal, we have to recognize the problems that need to be solved. There are three metaphors that I find valuable- 1) A still pond may look very clear but if someone stirs the bottom of the pond, sediment will rise to the top.  Likewise, we may look good from the outside, but when we get stirred up by life events our weaknesses and negativities will rise to the surface. 2) A boil has to be lanced or opened in some manner before it will heal. The pus may look disgusting and smell putrid but it has to come out. 3) Goddess Kali is the Hindu goddess of destruction. I believe that God (Goddess) gives us chance after chance to learn what we need to learn in life, but if we refuse to learn a lesson, she will increase the intensity of the lesson to the point that we can no longer ignore it. Goddess Kali is often depicted carrying a skull that represents the egos she has crushed. I like to learn my life lessons as fast as possible, before she feels the need to “up the ante”.

I believe all three of these processes are active in the United States right now. Our president is constantly stirring things up.  As a result, we have had plenty of opportunities to see the negativities in ourselves and in our country. I just hope we learn the lessons we need to learn before we destroy the world.

Of all the things that have angered me, it is the administration’s actions around climate change and elimination of environmental protections that have upset me the most. And it isn’t just the administration. I don’t understand how climate change deniers can continue to maintain that position when we are experiencing one devastating storm after another.

I appreciate that so many mayors, governors and business leaders have said that they will keep the agreements that were made in Paris in 2015. And I believe that more of us are volunteering to help in causes that support Mother Nature. I’ve heard people say that if our government won’t help, we will need to do it ourselves. Together we can make a difference.

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In September of 2016, I developed a new passion, one that has given me the sense that I’m helping to heal and protect the earth. One day in that month, I woke up with a determination that I was not going to watch another tree die in the Seattle Greenbelt property that is located behind my house. I took a pair of shears and began cutting down blackberry vines that had been growing there for 30 years or more.

Soon others joined me and the project grew from one city lot to four. So many eager volunteers have helped with the work. Most were members of Amma’s Bala Kendra (children’s group), AYUDH (15-30 year olds), and GreenFriends (environmental) groups;  neighborhood residents; or students from the University of Washington’s Introduction to Environmental Science classes. We have also received considerable assistance from the Green Seattle Partnership and the Seattle Parks Department.

Our primary task has been to cut down the blackberry, ivy and morning glory vines, dig out blackberry roots, place burlap on the cleared land, and then scatter dried blackberry debris on top of the burlap. The burlap will cut down on weed growth. Both the burlap and the debris will disintegrate and ultimately enrich the soil.

We have held many work parties and have had so much fun.

Here are two before and after photos of the land.

On October 22, we had our first planting work party. We planted 37 trees.

On November 11, we will be planting 360 native shrubs and ground covers. These are some of the flowers we will see next spring and summer!

I love this work and hope to be doing it for years into the future. In addition to giving me a sense of accomplishment and of making a difference, it also provides me with the opportunity to work on my own weaknesses. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in the political turmoil and wonder what is coming- for me, for my family and friends, for the world… and for the reforestation work. “Will what we are doing make a difference?” “How will I get it all done?” “What if a storm wipes everything out?” “What if a nuclear bomb hits Seattle?” “What if humanity wipes itself off the face of the earth?”

I know that kind of ruminating has no value and could make me sick or paralyze me. From Amma, I have learned that my job is to put in the effort and let go of the results. It is also important that I learn to live in the moment, and stop myself from worrying about the future in all aspects of my life. Working on this project gives me opportunity to practice those skills.

I once watched Tibetan Buddhist monks making a mandala out of sand. I knew that once they finished the mandala, they would ritualistically take it apart. The monks do that as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux. While I won’t dismantle my work in the Greenbelt, I will strive to emulate their non-attachment and willingness to let go.

Whatever the future holds, I will have had the joy of working with others to return this land to the beautiful forest it once was.

 

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Karuna is a recently retired psychotherapist who now spends much of her time working as a forest and habitat restoration volunteer.

For decades, she has focused much of her attention on watching for and learning the lessons life sends her way. She shares her stories and reflections, both past and present, in her blog Living, Learning and Letting Go.

 

 

Written for Rage Against the Machine Month.  If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here.   But first, leave a comment and let Karuna know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at Living, Learning and Letting Go when you’re done.

 

 

40 Comments

    1. It helps a lot. I can go outside agitated and calm down right away. My work in the Greenbelt is causing an agitation of its own at the moment though. The plants we are going to be planting next week (330 of them) were delivered this week. They are not marked so I have to identify each of them in their fall/winter state. I’ve figured out about 250 of them I think, but the others are difficult or impossible. Some are so dormant that nothing is visible above the ground. Guess I will find out what they are in the spring! I will consider them to be mystery plants. This process is like solving a big jigsaw puzzle. I’m enjoying the challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is not related to you but your unidentified trees made me think of it. A few years back, some clever young soul (or maybe not so young) cruised all around Capitol Hill and Magnolia Hill in Seattle and in the dead of night, planted thousands of marijuana seeds in the front yards of the fanciest homes. Can you imagine, that next spring, the gardeners those houses usually have, wondering what the new, unidentified “weed” was that ws growing all over their pristine landscaping?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. That is funny! It also reminds me of one of my migrant farm labor experiences. I think it was in Pennsylvania where we worked with teenage boys, or maybe young men. We were paid by the hour there instead of by the amount we harvested. The boys spent most of their time, harvesting THEIR crop, marijuana plants that were growing throughout his fields.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Aw, Karuna, you always amaze me. I am glad you found something that calms you because fretting in front of the tele for more news about what’s his face does not help you but doing what you do in the greenbelt is helping so much more and many people as well can share in this project. I will be thinking of you on November 11th, here that is Remembrance Day…as you plant these flowering shrubs, I will be wearing my poppy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you will be remembering us on Remembrance Day. I will think of you wearing your poppy. On the 11th we will finish preparing the land for the planting. The actual planting will be on the 15th. Pray that we have good weather. It snowed on Friday and is supposed to snow again today. And it is raining now.

      I don’t watch much news on the tv. I only get a few channels. Most of my news comes from cnn.com.

      Like

      1. I am glad I no longer have tv…all I watch is on the internet. It looks like Seattle and BC have had colder weather than here…no snow yet here. I will pray for nice weather November 15th then…adding this in my new iPhone calendar…done 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I resonate with every word you have written. Like you, my biggest grief is over what is happening to the planet. We dont have four more years to ignore climate change. I LOVE that you have turned your grief into action and are saving trees. You make me think of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, involving young people all over the world. Also the Tree Sisters, Seeding for Change, whom you can find on facebook whose goal is to plant a billion trees worldwide this year. I plan to gather a group of women in the spring to plant trees in my area. Your thoughts wondering if hat you are doing makes a difference reminds me of the old man on a beach littered with stranded starfish, who was returning them one at a time to the sea. Someone came along and said “What’s the point? There are so many starfish and you cant save them all. You cant hope to make a difference.” The wise old man smiled and picked up another starfish. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said. Keep shining! All we can do is try. The rest is not in our hands.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’ve heard that story too, and very much love it. It is so true. There is also a story of an Indian squirrel that helped build a bridge by getting wet, rolling in the sand and then going where they were building the bridge and shaking off the sand. That was his contribution to Lord Rama’s Setu bridge.

      I have been inspired by a man called the Forest Man of India and an Indian woman that is about 105 and has been planting trees for a good part of her life.

      Thank you for telling me about the other groups.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful and uplifting post, Karuna: think globally/act locally. I share ALL of your concerns, and have spent every single day since last November fighting feelings of anger myself – which, of course, does absolutely nothing but decrease my pleasure in living.

    Thank you so much for sharing on this week’s Senior Salon. My your actions inspire us all.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is lovely to see everyone roping together on such a great project Karuna. I agree with Madelyn on think globally/act locally. I was an active member of our village’s Tidy Towns initiative for three years, while I taught children in schools the benefits of Organic Horticulture and we set up lots of lovely organic school gardens.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I love reading about your project with the Greenbelt. I greatly appreciate the reminder that taking one determined step can lead to results far greater than I could have imagined. The morning you woke up determined to do something to prevent another tree from dying, then taking the shears and starting, one vine at a time. And now many others have been lured to join you in your efforts and to meet their needs to contribute to the environment. How transformative this can be!
    Grateful for the reminder of how being in nature calms my mind and soul. That supporting the environment heals me as well.
    Watching a mandala being created and then intentionally swept away takes my breath away. In some ways it ‘blows my mind’. In a very beautiful way it shatters, for a moment, all my beliefs around permanence and I am left with spacious nothingness.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It was, and even though I had heard about it, it felt a bit shocking in a way to experience it live. Once they started it happened so quickly, and yet the ‘energy’ of the monks was no different from when they were creating the mandala over many, many hours. The same calm, presence, mindfulness. The absence of hesitation… being fully in the moment. So inspiring!

        Liked by 1 person

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