Recently I accidentally discovered a newish book by Thich Nhat Hanh, he of The Miracle of Mindfulness that I enjoyed so much. This book is called Love Letter to the Earth. It is a slim volume filled with compassion and the wisdom of mindfulness. It begins:
At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet. But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth. We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.
We are the Earth and the Earth is us. When we harm the Earth, we harm ourselves. When we harm ourselves, we harm the Earth. A simple, yet profound idea that the world has forgotten about because if we remembered we would not be arguing about climate change and oil pipelines and fracking and emissions and pesticides that kill bees and butterflies. If we remembered we wouldn’t be eating artificial sweeteners or synthetic vitamins, wouldn’t be driving everywhere, wouldn’t be consuming more than we need and tossing our excess into landfills.Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to remember. Stop, look around, pay attention. That piece of toast you are shoving in your mouth as you hurry out the door to work in the morning, that piece of toast is a miracle made of stardust and sunshine and Earth. And we are made of the same stuff. Once we see how we are connected to all things we can see the effects of our choices, our actions. We can see how we always have a choice to cause or alleviate suffering.
Hanh’s approach to healing the Earth is to first heal ourselves. I admit I scoffed. That’s not going to help, something needs to be done and it needs to be done now, sitting still will get us nowhere. But then I had to laugh because he knew I was going to think that:
We tend to think we have to do something to heal the Earth. But sitting with mindfulness and concentration is doing something.
And what sitting with mindfulness is doing is allowing you to be yourself, to relax, to stop striving, to be present, to be happy within yourself. And when that happens we begin to heal. We stop needing to consume, stop buying things we don’t need. We start being loving and compassionate to all things and realize our interconnectedness. Heal ourselves, heal the Earth. A simple thing that is so very hard.
No one could ever call Thich Nhat Hanh a prose stylist. His words are plain and unadorned. His sentences tend to be short. He repeats himself a lot. It is at times like I was reading a children’s book, “See Jane run. Run Jane, run.” He says the same thing over and over but in a slightly different way. I suppose it is necessary, the repetition, for children and beginners in mindfulness. We can sometimes be rather thick headed.
Love Letter to the Earth is a quiet, uplifting sort of book infused with the gentle spirit of its author. At the end there are ten letters intended to be used as meditations. Here is part of one I especially like from letter number three, “Walking Tenderly on Mother Earth”:
Dear Mother, you wish that we live with more awareness and gratitude, and we can do this by generating the energies of mindfulness, peace, stability, and compassion in our daily lives. Therefore I make the promise today to return your love and fulfill this wish by investing every step I take on you with love and tenderness. I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.
The Earth doesn’t need us, but without the Earth, we have nothing.