Walking with Oneness
A confluence of a monk, a tropical storm, and some out-of-touch politicians; plus news from the abandoned house project
Three headlines particularly caught my attention this week: The death of Thich Nhat Hanh, a tropical storm in Madagascar, and what the 1% think the average American gets paid. These might seem like unrelated stories, but they’re not.
First, Madagascar. Dozens are dead and 65,000 homeless as torrential rains continue flood the capital and surrounding areas. It hasn’t made much U.S. news, just a mention in the Washington Post. I learned of it when climate activist Bill McKibben wrote about it in his newsletter yesterday.
He explained that, “There are virtually no American reporters stationed in Africa anymore—it might as well not exist. One study of 700,000 hours of tv found that a fifth of references in our entertainment programs to the continent were on Jeopardy; and that Wakanda [the fictional home of superhero Black Panther] was the fourth most commonly referenced African ‘country.’”
Madagascar is a ground zero for people hurt by climate change, though they didn’t make it happen. Each person there produces just .012 tons of carbon per year (vs. American’s 15.24). People who live there will go through increasingly severe floods and droughts. According to the UN, they are already on the brink of a climate-induced famine. The BBC published these quotes:
From a mother of four, who is scavenging insects to survive: "My children and I have been eating this every day now for eight months because we have nothing else to eat and no rain to allow us to harvest what we have sown.”
From a mother of three, whose husband recently died of hunger and whose neighbor’s death left her with two more children: “Today we have absolutely nothing to eat except cactus leaves. What can I say? Our life is all about looking for cactus leaves, again and again, to survive.”
We feel separated from one another, but separation is actually impossible.
Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is often called, died at age 95 this week. Beyond being beloved in Buddhist communities for his teachings of compassion and non-violence, he was a civil rights activist and the “father of mindfulness.” He inspired the secular movement that has blossomed everywhere from yoga studios to corporate board rooms (though the latter seemingly hasn’t quite grasped the concept).
For Christmas last month, my mom gave me a small book of his writing. It opens with: “If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without the cloud there can be no rain; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent upon the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close.”
Every page in that book is inspiring, if not life-changing. He wrote a lot of wonderful books, but here’s the link to that book in particular.
There’s poetic interconnectedness, and then there’s the ultra wealthy.
A professor at the Wharton School of business — which costs more than $100,000 a year to attend, and whose alumni include Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, and our country’s most recent past-president and his kids — tweeted an informal poll from her classroom. She asked her students what they thought the average American earns in a year. A quarter of the class believed it to be more than six figures, and one answered $800,000. The actual answer is $53,838, though more than 43 million of us earn below the poverty line of $31,661.
In a related gaffe, last year when NYC mayoral candidates were asked what they thought was the median sales price for a home in Brooklyn, two of them reckoned it was $100,000 or lower, one of whom was the housing commissioner under former mayor Michael Bloomberg. The answer is actually $900,000.
It’s hard to imaging anyone fixing a problem they don’t know exists.
It’s easy to laugh at their separation from reality, but most of us suffer from a similar disconnect when it comes to relating to families in Madagascar, both on personal and political levels.
The U.S. has spent the last 200 years helping all of us who live here become relatively wealthy and food secure, when compared on a global scale. To create that wealth, we have emitted more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other nation in history.
If we listened to Thich Nhat Hanh, we would realize that we are all in this together, we are all part of the cloud and the piece of paper. Ramping up our sluggish climate policies to help those who we have directly harmed in Madagascar and elsewhere would be a no-brainer. Instead, we’re creating ever-callous immigration policies to keep out those who are suffering and need help.
In America’s opposite-world of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings lies a frenzied land, where we demand unbridled freedom, unending stock market growth, and the supreme right to make money over the health of humans and habitats. Sometimes instead of thinking about how our actions can help others, we selfishly argue over even the smallest gestures of caring for strangers, like wearing masks and getting vaccines. It’s disgusting to think we are the underlying cause of families scavenging for cactus leaves, while we are howling about mythical government plots to take away our triple cheeseburgers — a special kind of irony considering our country’s 40% obesity rate.
Meanwhile, airlines have been flying around empty planes for the last two years, just so they don’t loose their airport gate privledges. And people around the world know the name of Joe Manchin, “the villan,” the ego man with the world’s fate in his hands.
Does all of this make me feel defeatist? Sometimes. But also it inspires me to be a better bringer of light, peace, and the most postivie human emotions, like Thay.
Here’s where the super rich, Malagasy refuges, and a Vietnamese monk collide.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was profoundly affected by Thich Nhat Hanh. He nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize. In King’s words: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
We are all one. It’s a foundation of Buddhism and many Indigenous beliefs. But it’s more than that — the idea even has legs in theoretical physics. And geology.
In 2019 scientists discovered that the rock formation Castleton Tower in Utah taps into the earth’s natural vibrations. It pulsates at the same rate as a human heartbeat.
As activist and writer Terry Tempest Williams, described. “The earth has a pulse, just like we do. No separation.”
I hope each of us can find our way to ditch our own particular exceptionalist notions, take inventory about how we impact those around us, and become part of the healing. Let’s get a little Thich Nhat Hanh in our lives, and take a walk with mindfulness.
In the good news column
Here are all of the new species found in the Mekong region. Like slug snakes and ghostly monkeys.
And this new map shows where nature is healing.
News from the Valley of the Cool Sunshine
Even though the midday air temperatures hover in the 30s, as long as the sun is out, it’s quite warm and pleasant outside. That helped Steve finish up the back siding on the house. Then I escaped the computer for a few days to help him make the deck, which was truly enjoyable. Now we’ve moved back inside to tackle floors and spackling. The floor has been a creative challenge to get level. More about that in the next episode…
Fortunately, the High Country and Front Range are finally getting a decent amount of snow. But here in the San Luis Valley, we only get a dusting, maybe an inch here and there. I’m wishing we had a little more.
Last weekend we made a spontaneous leap to Taos for the night. It’s just a couple hours away, and it was refreshing to walk around the plaza at night and browse the gallery window displays.
On our way back we took a walk along the Rio Grande Gorge, and then visited the earthship biotecture community just to the west.
It’s a neighborhood where all of the houses are self-sufficient and built largely from discarded materials, like tires, bottles and cans. They are stuccoed inside and out with local dirt. They are completely powered by renewables (mostly solar) and are so efficient with water that they can get by with only the water captured from their roofs, which is remarkable considering the annual precipitation is around 7 inches.
I particularly liked a poster in their visitor lobby, which said something to the extent of: if all of the soldiers put down their weapons and picked up shovels to build zero-emission homes, everyone in the world could have a decent life. It got me thinking about the incredible waste we spend on war. It’s too big to conceive.
Anyway, who knows, maybe an earthship will be our next project.
We were only gone overnight, but when we returned, there were flocks of sandhill cranes flying across the valley — the first ones of the year! They’re returning from wintering farther south. I believe many of them will stay here to eat from the barley fields for a couple of months before heading north to nest for the summer (my bird friends, correct me if I got that wrong). It is uplifting to hear their chatter and have them around for a while.
A Parting Thought
“If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.” — Thich Nhat Hahn.
If you want to learn more about mindful walking, here’s a good piece on it.
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