It is impossible to live without leaving a footprint of some kind, a disturbance. Still, I write this to celebrate Earth and her gifts, even as I register the way life forms are desecrated around the globe. Whatever type of activism we engage in, our joy is needed now. The music offered below is both lullaby and joyous jig. The dance goes on.
“I sit in my office, eyes fixed on a floor lamp. Made in China. Nothing special. Simple brushed silver in a natural shade that’s broad like the hats worn by rice farmers in Vietnam. I’ve learned there’s a high probability that chemicals used to manufacture this lamp were dumped into rivers that flow to sea.
Oceans across the globe are polluted and ecosystems are dying because of human garbage. Undoubtedly, some of my trash floats in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a watery dump twice the size of Texas. I think of plastics that wind up in a turtle’s stomach, a whale’s intestines. Monkeys, dogs, rabbits and rats are caged in sterile labs where they endure pain as test subjects. Other animals await slaughter in cramped conditions on industrial farms that turn out meat products on an exceptionally large scale. It hurts to think about this.
My taxes are used to fund wars and crooked governments. They also support infrastructure, social service programs and public radio, at least for now. I contemplate the devils I pay for my life to work, for my simple comforts. I live in a house with heat and electricity, drive a car, dispose of waste. I drive a Prius, use cloth bags for groceries, buy clothes at consignment shops. I can’t reconcile the ledger.
But bad news and good news aren’t as black and white as I’d once thought. A Chinese parable I heard long ago illuminates this: a farmer gets a horse, which runs away. Bad news. The horse comes back, trailed by another horse. Good news. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, is thrown and breaks a leg. Bad news. Soon after, all able-bodied young man are rounded up to fight a war. The farmer’s son is spared. Good news. While his neighbor cries “bad news” and “good news” after each incident, the farmer utters six words: “Bad news, good news. We’ll see.”
There’s no end or beginning to the infinite web of relationships I navigate every day. As I sit with my morning tea, I ponder this as a Zen koan. By their very nature, koans can’t be figured out by the grasping mind. My struggle to land on a path for right living exhausted me. I came to see my quest is best understood by way of the heart or intuition. This insight doesn’t leave me pain-free or self-satisfied. What it does offer is humility and clarity.
I realized I can engage in the messy activity of daily life, allowing both joy and sorrow to enter me and guide me. I had a teacher who once said, “The God-field needs our joy.” I’m not sure anymore what that means, but I do know joy is not incidental on this journey. I’ve learned that this joy fuels my desire for the liberation of all beings. I use that desire to ease suffering however I’m able. That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. To that, I bow, then rise and stumble out into the arms of the world.”
K. Castelbaum, February, 2019
Go deeper: How do you understand “right living?” What enables you do be here, knowing so many life forms are lost or threatened, without giving way to despair?
For your listening pleasure, a Celtic lullaby,”O son do Ar” (The sound of the air), by Luar na Lubre, a Celtic music ensemble from Galacia, Spain.