I have moved house, it has a history, I have lived here before. While I have been living elsewhere a new neighbour has moved in, I don’t think she likes me though she doesn’t know me. I think this because when we have communicated she is unfriendly. Maybe she’s just an unfriendly person, but is feels personal. We share a staircase and the sounds of each other travelling through floorboards. I never see her so it’s not an ‘issue’ in my life, however I would like to feel that there is goodwill between us. We share an environment. I mention this because today I swept our communal stairs.
So what to do when we are living in a place, i.e. planet earth, and there are people who don’t like us, don’t see things our way. This is an ongoing ‘living’ question for me???
Sweeping the stairs I felt somehow ‘good’, that I was doing something worthy, making a contribution. My intention was to sweep Zen style, mindfully with full awareness, however the beginnings of a blister between my thumb and forefinger evidence an absence of attention from what was happening in my experience, a burgeoning blister. I notice this and take care of myself, without judgment, noticing, not to judge but to learn.
So while I was sweeping the stairs I started thinking about ‘my’ stairs and ‘my’ neighbours stairs. You see in the conventions of language even my neighbour only exists in relation to me. It’s interesting to notice this, and to have the awareness to begin to act less from a self-centred life and more to a life-centred life where one is listening to what’s needed in any moment. Sooo the stairs needed sweeping. I live at the top of the house while she lives in the middle. If I had felt so inclined, perhaps investing in the thought that she doesn’t like me, I could have just swept ‘my’stairs and not hers, yet this is foolish thinking. A communal hallway is named as such because it is shared by all, the dirt from the staircases below will travel up and the dirt from the staircase above will travel down. So it is to my benefit to take care of our shared environment.
It got me thinking about how interdependent we all are, not just in the house in which I live but on this earth, in this city, in our neighbourhoods, jobs, e.t.c. In some ways it might be helpful to call our planet ‘commune earth’, just to remind us all that we share this space with others, not just humans but all manner of living creatures and living organisms. ‘Think global, Act local’ is not just a clever sound bite but a very real philosophy where sweeping the communal hallway becomes an act of environmental activism. So too meditation, spending time each day resting in awareness of ones inner world acts as Ajahn Candasiri ( a Buddhist nun) once said as ‘mental flossing’. When we are aware of our thoughts, then we can make sustainable choices about whether to act upon them or speak from them, in this way we pollute our external environment less with habitual ways of behaving and thinking, making the world a healthier place not only for ourselves but our partners, family, friends, neighbours, even the people on the rush hour tube, strangers, though in a very real and experiential way, our earth mates.
Having said all of this it is important to take the concerns of environmental scientists seriously and to do what we can in other ways, perhaps more formally, writing letters, protesting, if that is something that feels right. I do feel though that there is a lot of power in each of us, taking responsibility for our inner environments and local environments, as Joanna Macy so aptly said, these acts will ripple out in ‘widening circles.’
It’s the small acts that make a difference, check out this this video from the movie ‘Dirt’, where a wee little hummingbird shows how we can all be environmentalists in our own small ways…