Creating Light in the Darkness
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.
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.
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.