Fire draws our attention with its light. The aliveness dancing in a candle flame is made from the cotton in its wick, the moisture in the candle wax, oxygen feeding its burning. I name the different parts and feel their separateness, grasping at difference. As I return to the experience of the flickering flame, I return to warmth, the light, the aliveness.
While we understand that all the elements combine to create the life of our magnificent planet, we tend to focus on the separation— between candle, wick, wax—as between what we want and what we have, between the human and the natural world. Separating our self-consciousness and our disregard for other perspectives—of people, animals, insects and even protozoa—ultimately justifies destructive acts against living beings. Feeling the distress of the earth and its creatures as deeply personal, this awareness can open up the heart to respond with genuine caring actions which are of benefit to all.
This issue of the Mountain Record, the second in our three-part series on the Earth, turns toward our Earth Body as a natural, unified whole—completely present and alive, without any fundamental solidity, yet deeply powerful in its basic unity. In the Maha Rahulova Sutra, the Buddha uses the five elements to illustrate our intimate connection to all of life. Daido Roshi describes how this connection comes alive as “the functioning of emptiness in everyday life, the emergence of compassion as the activity of the world.” Chozen Roshi writes about our ability to draw on this connection to nourish all beings: “It is this process of continually dividing, clinging and pushing away that obscures our pure, clear mind and prevents it from blooming and providing refreshment to those who inhabit a weary world.” Shugen Sensei reminds us to integrate spiritual practice as we celebrate and protect our sacred world, “We aspire to turn toward the Earth and the painful reality of today. Spiritual training offers us a way to face such difficulties with an open, spacious, and even joyful state of mind.”
Other writers offer their experience of the pain of separation and the yearning for completeness. In Rick Bass’s Swamp Boy, the narrator discovers his own wild heart; in What Hangs on Trees, Glenis Redmond’s genuine love for nature is refracted through the cultural lens of racist history. Reading these voices, we may feel our own compassion awaken a tender response to reach out and protect, or bear witness, just as the beauty of the landscape and its creatures draw David James Duncan to seek real contact, not only with wild birds but also with on-coming traffic. And what will children learn to do, asks Stephanie Kaza in The Attentive Heart, when they experience environmental destruction? How are we as a culture, a community, to help them respond?
We hope this issue of the Mountain Record encourages each of us to see ourselves more freely, as we really are, alive and transforming all the time. The dance of the elements is right where you are, bright and alive in every breath and in every moment of responding to, healing and taking care of the earth as our very own body.