“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
— MOTHER TERESA
I often think of these beautiful, hauntingly poignant words of Mother Teresa.
Especially in times such as these, as fires rage across the Amazon rainforest; as plastics fill our seas and our rivers; as the onslaught of threats to the waters, the soil, the air and the flora and fauna we are share our home with increase as Earth cries out for an end to the war humanity wages on life as we know it.
These are difficult times, that is certain. What isn't so certain, is how we as humans can turn the tide and reinstate the balance we've upset.
There are daily bombardments from even the most well intended who believe they have the answers — what foods we need give up, what political candidates we need endorse. Although none of these answers are necessarily wrong, I can't help but see the same divisive thinking — the same "right vs. wrong" mentality further isolating us from each other, from other humans and all other beings.
It doesn't seem to be helping.
I'll humbly acknowledge I don't have the answers. If I have learned anything through my studies and practice of yoga and buddhism, I have learned that I know very little.
My life is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, precious metals and countless raw materials taken from our planet. As conscious and careful as I am in my choices, other sacred lives are sacrificed each and every moment for the privileges I enjoy — breathing, eating, walking, typing these words, even sleeping.
I maintain my belief that in our culture, what we choose to buy (and where, and how we choose to buy it) is a direct expression of who and what we support, and the future we are in favor of. To suggest solutions are as easy, simple or clearly defined as "not eating beef" or ordering from the "vegan Starbucks menu" is to perpetuate the very separate thinking that led us to our current situation.
This is not to say that it's wrong to suggest decreasing consumption of animal products from large agricultural operations. It is irresponsible and harmful to clear biodiverse rainforest lands and to destroy the myriad of life dependent upon them in favor of raising monoculture crop plants and livestock animals not indigenous to those ecosystems, not to mention how irresponsible and unsustainable it is to transport those food products across the globe for human consumption.
It is also harmful to perpetuate the thinking that anyone can live in such a way that doesn't impact the global ecology, and that our lives don't inherently depend on the death and suffering of other beings.
Written into the contract of our humanity —our Earthly existence — is such suffering.
I believe that through acknowledgement of this truth, by sitting with the gravity of our lives and our choices, we can begin to reconcile the cost of our existence. We can begin to see how deeply and completely bound together we are in our gains and losses. We can create the space to hold all our shared pain and suffering in our hearts and begin to heal the world.
“Suffering confers neither privilege or rights, it all depends how you use it. If you use it to increase the anguish of yourself or others, you are degrading, even betraying it. And yet, the day will come when we shall understand that suffering can elevate human beings. God help us to bear our suffering well.”
We can acknowledge that we are in this together, for better or for worse. That even those we consider so different from us in values, in views and in choices, are wrestling with the same conflicts day in and day out — we all wish to minimize our own suffering, and the suffering of those we care about.
What if we truly understood we are as bound to the Albatross in the Arctic as we are to Soil Microbes of the Amazon and the Bengal Tiger of Bangladesh, just as we are to our human kin living in Mexico, in Detroit, in Iraq, and all across the globe?
Perhaps we might find union as individuals bound together by sacred breath and joy and suffering, and consider more closely how everything from the shoes on our feet, the grains in our cereal, the plastic packaging our frozen fruit and the tungsten in our cell phones compromise the well-being of this precious web of life.
Perhaps we might hold accountable the wealthy few in this world, and the corporations, "complicit in destruction," who remove responsibility and reverence from their bottom line, giving not a second thought to the suffering of others when they fan the flames of the burning Amazon fires to buy and sell acai pulp, crude oil, soy-fed cattle and Brazilian hardwood.
If you're still with me, I thank you immensely for reading this far; I know these words carry with them a heavy-heartedness and even, perhaps, a sense of helplessness.
But I hold onto hope. Our lives are beautiful and wondrous not for lack of suffering and hardship, but for the incredible ingenuity, the compassionate action and fortitude we achieve in the face of adversity and suffering. At the core of these challenging times is a realization of our greatest potential as a species and as Earthlings sharing this sacred World.
Alone, we can do so little, but together — truly together — we can choose to let our suffering lead us to a greater peace for all beings.
For more reading on tangible steps we can take on behalf of our Amazon Rainforests and the beings who live there, I have found the following resources helpful and enlightening;
Brazil's Indigenous People Articulation
Amazon Watch (read This Article and then check out ways to Take Action)
And please remember, the challenges facing our planet are immense; be kind to yourself and others as we all do our best to take steps toward solutions. Plant (literal and figurative seeds) of hope, healing and nourishment by connecting with the human and non-human beings in your community and beyond, one compassionate step at a time.
Molly Jo Stanley
Educating for Mindfulness and Sustainability