My eyes need softening, my gaze the balm of what they were made to behold. We were not made to stare into that blue light of our screens. The computer, the television, the phone. None of these are part of our natural way of being. It is truest for us to see in the light of the sun and the moon, fire maybe too. It is good for us to take in the hues, the full spectrum of the natural world, the constant movement, rustling, shifting, drifting, and setting of nature around us.
I know this is true because I feel part of my consciousness cloud over after long periods of time in front of a screen. I wonder how many feel this and ignore it or consider it normal. I feel my eyes burning. I feel the longing to gaze upon the natural-scape. It is there that I learn to soften my gaze. It is there that I learn how to see another human being with compassion, empathy, and love on my face. If not for a softer gaze grown and birthed from time spent seeing what my body was meant to see, I would stare at others as simply sources of information, getting only a part of my attentions, easily losing interest, there to either satisfy my personal needs or nothing at all.
Give me trees, give me grass, give me a blue sky or rain drops, let the wind bring tears to my eyes. Let me find the bird in the branches, the deer among the trunks, the fish raising the surface of the water slightly as it swims by, the snaking of the centipede under the rotten log. These will train me to see as I was meant to see. These will unify my soul with windows to it and connect my body to how it was meant to be.
My wife asked me the other day, “How does a person process grief?” You’d think that as a chaplain, walking beside and with those who are grieving, I would have had an answer in that moment. Maybe because it was the last, lingering thought before sleeping and I was further along than she, or maybe because there is just no easy answer to a question like this… it goes to say, I didn’t have anything satisfying to give in return.
Maybe the question didn’t sit with me. How do I process grief? Is this different than asking, how do I grieve? I really don’t think it is a matter of processing grief as much as just grieving. Processing is talking about it, writing about it, thinking about it, sharing it, and moving through it. With processing, though, it is always something outside, something that is different than us.
I grieve every day. I grieve when I am with someone who has lost a loved one. I grieve when I hear someone say, “They didn’t tell me chemo was going to be this way. I should have had the operation.” I grieve when I see the wretched state of political debates, of violence, of abuse of our planet. I grieve so much and often that there is a weight I carry that never goes away. I pray for peace and mercy for our Earth and for the humans and the non-humans who live on it. God have mercy.
And yet, I never wish that I could remain naive of all this. I never wish for this weight to go away. It’s like saying, “Breathing is just too much work. I’d rather not do it for an hour or two.” When we learn how to grieve (not learn how to process grief) we grieve even when we are not conscious we are grieving. We become a person who grieves. There is a compassion and a union that happens there. It is a development of the person, something we have to learn and allow ourselves to grow into. Perhaps we begin by remembering that grief is not a bad thing, and it is not a good thing either, it is just a thing. It is a hard thing, yes, but so is waking up when we have been asleep for too long. It is painful, but so is exercising when our muscles atrophy. Perhaps our grief ability has been atrophied by a world that continues to tell us that grief is a bad thing that must be moved through, processed, and healed from. There is no healing from grief.
It means something to be where you are from. And not just your family, not just your culture, or your religion or your country… It means something unequivocally significant to be an occupier of the land you live upon. I am quite certain that most do not have this sensibility, at least not consciously but perhaps when really pressed, would affirm how important it is to them.
What I am getting at is an extra level down into a deeper sense of one’s place in this world, one’s sense of self, one’s spiritual life, and one’s connection with all that is.
There is meaning to the old saying, “You are what you eat.” In a quite literal sense, our bodies our composed of the food and water that goes into us. What other way is there? This is why, when we lived in Oregon, we drank our water, straight from the land, straight from the spring. No filter, no chemicals. And food… Where is your body connected to if your food comes from thousands of miles away or is processed to the extent that it can only be called, as Michael Pollen terms it, “edible food-like substances?”
So it means something very literally in regard to our physical make-up. But what does it mean to be from the Fox Valley in WI? To have grown up on a farm and lived there your whole life? As a chaplain, living in one of the most “homegrown” cities in the country, it means something to talk to my patients about where they are from and wehter their parents grew up here too. For a person living in city and never having left, to never found one’s self in green space, with one’s hands in the dirt or toes in the sand… This means something to that person. Maybe an ungroundedness or a sense of nature as “enemy.”
There is a profound teaching in observing the greatest tai chi masters (watch a video of one on YouTube). Where do they draw this life force from that allows them to move people without even touching them or to be unmovable themselves?
The church community I am a part of often shares meals together as a community. I have been noticing something that has given me cause to wonder. There is always a direction given before we start getting our food: “Women and children first.” Granted, I recognize this is a matter of respect and an effort to affirm their worth, but something else happens. The men hang back, and sit with, the other men, and the women find their places with the other women and children. It is a pattern that separates us into specific roles and ways of being as a community.
So I thought, what if the men went first with the kids? That would mix things up! Maybe make for some uncomfortability, maybe some new and creative ways of taking care of each other. Maybe a little chaos and disorder even.
Nature requires chaos and disorder for resiliency… is it any different for human communities seeking resiliency and health?
M. Scott Peck, in his book, In Search of Stones, writes in his chapter on Adventure that he loves storms. And not just small thunderstorms, but massive, dangerous Category 1 tsunamis. The thing he likes about storms is that they demonstrate the power to throw humans out of their element. Nature takes control for a while. It is the way of nature that chaos, disorder, and diversity are necessary and inevitable. I think also of forest fires and how our human efforts to control them have been a detriment to the natural life cycles of forests.
All nature requires chaos, disorder, and diversity to create resilient ecosystems and earth communities. Is it not the same for human community as well? We need to mix it up, to diversify the places that we gather, the rhythms that we participate in, the food that we eat, and the people that we spend time with. This is truth… a basic psychology, anthropology, community-building given. Don’t let each other get too comfortable. As one who is passionate about community resiliency, I for one will be promoting this till the day I die.