The Joyful Environmentalist

From 'The Joyful Environmentalist' by Isabel Losada

The following extract refers to a tree planting scheme in Scotland to recreate the Caledonian Forests:-

'This hillside is barren. There is no shelter, no protection from the biting wind or the driving rain. This is Scotland and we're in the Highlands. The saplings look so fragile. They are fragile. They have each been grown lovingly from seed and when we push them into the cold ground they are between 6 and 9 inches high. We give them one meal in their planting hole, one kiss and then they are on their own. But they have two friends each. We're planting them in groups of three: two downy birch and one rowan per overturned area. Trees, as we know, have ways of communicating with each other and supporting each other under the ground. seriously, they do. If nutrients are scarce, they share them: if danger arrives, they warn each other. Don't ask me how - but they do. So, the trees have two friends each. As they grow they will protect each other.

We dig another hole, add mixture, push in a tree, fill up any air gaps with earth and repeat. Four hours later we stop for hot coffee and tomato sandwiches. Then we plant from 2pm till 5pm. This is what I call a 'Zen job' - it requires lots of action and very little thought, other than the occasional, 'Would this tree be better higher up the mound or down a bit?' or 'Is that pushed in firmly enough?' Apart from having to watch where you put every footstep, there is no room to think. No thoughts of past broken hearts or future anxieties. Each tree is far more important. And so, with each of us fully noticing the miracle, with no breath to talk but with our eyes and hearts open - we plant another tree and another until, with ten of us working for a day, another thousand trees are planted and we are walking carefully back down the hillside, as happy and satisfied as a bunch of scraggly volunteers can be.' (pp 18 - 19: Earth 1.)

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You Belong

(The following is taken from 'You Belong - A Call for Connection' - by Sebene Selassie (p 19 -21)

'Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands have a unique tradition of sailing referred to as "wayfinding." When Europeans colonised these islands, they recognised that people across thousands of miles of open ocean shared heritage. These indigenous people explained to Europeans that, yes, they traversed the thousands of miles between the islands of the South Pacific (and perhaps as far as South America). They did this on their large, open boats (think Moana) by connecting deeply to everything around them - to the elements, the animals, the sky, the ocean, and the spirit world. This seemed impossible to the European navigators and scientists. Clearly the people are primitive. How could they travel all that way without written language, maps, instruments, external navigation tools, large ships, and a Christian God? Why, we ourselves had all those things and still got lost!  The Europeans settled on a theory that these natives must have accidentally drifted thousands of miles between islands (eye roll). It wasn't until the 1970's that Western disbelief was finally publicly discredited and way finders were recognised as expert sailors and navigators. But Europeans did not only not believe the way finders, they banned them from practicing their culture of way finding (though the communities secretly kept it alive). With colonisation came epistemicide....

'Epistemicide is the killing of knowledge. It refers to the wiping out of ancient ways of knowing. There was a rationalist/scientific paradigm within European Enlightenment that spread from the hard sciences to the social sciences and into the humanities. This worldview rendered nonscientific knowledge systems invalid. I believe epistemicide is a primary reason we as moderns have lost our sense of belonging...

(Science) is still only metaphor - words and numbers describing realities that are indescribable (time is an illusion!)... Science today (and for some time now) wields power. And science itself tells us that power makes us less likely to take on the perspectives of other people - it's shown we pay more attention to those we deem powerful... Power is wielded by those who master language and argument as well as access and resources...

All language is metaphor .. Some of it is complex. Some of it is simple (and poetic). All of it, as the Zen Buddhists say, "fingers pointing at the moon." We can call it a spirit realm or the energy patterns, but we will still  have a hard time rationally understanding the myriad things that form the mystery and wonder of belonging.'


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Good Practice

"When something is painful, stressful, or upsetting, try to slow down to observe your reactions to this suffering. Ask yourself if you are downplaying or denying the parts of life that are hard for you. See what happens if you simply name your reactions to yourself, such as,"This is tiring ... that hurts... I'm a little sad ... ouch." Along with this basic acknowledgement, try to have feelings of support and compassion for yourself.

Be aware of now you might be adding suffering to your day, perhaps rehashing resentments in your mind or getting stressed about truly little things. It's really useful to be interested in how you make your own suffering. And when you see yourself doing this, slow down and see if you can make a deliberate choice to stop fuelling and reinforcing this add-on suffering. old habits may take a while to change, but if you make this choice again and again, gradually it will become a new good habit.

From time to time, consider how a particular experience could be changing your brain bit by bit, for better or worse. When you know this is happening, how might it shift the way you approach different situations?"


From 'Neurodharma' (chapter 2) by Rick Hanson (2020)

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Building calm


In times of duress we can help ourselves build a core of calm to strengthen our resilience to better cope with challenging times.


The following is taken from Rick Hanson's online Wednesday meditation series.


'Brain tips for deep calm' (24/09)


1. Take a minute every day to focus on really calming the body, for example through making long exhalations.Take 3 breaths where the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation (3 secs: 6 secs). Simply breathing into the diaphragm reduces anxiety as can focusing on the eyes, and the space between the eyes.  The parasympathetic nervous system is being primed to soothe and calm the body. This kind of breath practice and visualising focus for a minute at a time can help build trait relaxation - neurologically we are hard-wiring new ways of being.


2. Grounded in research on memory and learning - we have discovered the benefit of knowing where we are and what is okay about it. This goes back to our rodent ancestors - often related to what they were smelling. The capability of the brain for place memory - focusing on and highlighting where you are is calming.

This is especially the case if there is trauma history. Ask: 'What is ok in the place where you are?". Whatever is going on outside - and the place may not be perfect - but what is okay about it? When there's inner insecurity and shakiness, we can still literally 'know our place'. From the conceptual this can become embodied. This knowing comes from a very ancient part of our brain where self-protection is key.


3. We can gain calm through relatedness ... thinking about people important in our lives... looking at photos of family members ... or reminding ourselves of those people who serve as examples to us .. teachers, mentors, spiritual guides.

Having a sense of community and identification with others can both soothe and strengthen.


4. Deep within us there is be an animal vitality, a sense of fundamental resilience where we can draw upon a core of strength and grit that remains when all else is down. A feistiness, determination that we can draw on at moments of huge challenge. This is deep visceral knowing we can remind ourselves about.


These are simple ways to build resilience in our minds and bodies. 






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How Not to Lose Heart

"The reason we often start to go downhill with losing heart is that we allow ourselves to get hooked by our emotions. We may get justifiably enraged against the government or the corporations or the boss - whoever seems to be obstructing justice. But whatever the circumstances, once we get worked up in a major way, we lose our effectiveness. We lose our skill to communicate in such a way that change is really possible. We lose our ability to do the one thing the is most often within our reach - to uplift ourselves and the people we encounter. When we get hooked - when we get really angry, resentful, fearful, or selfish - we start to go a little unconscious. We lose our payu - our awareness of what we're doing with our body, speech, and mind. In this state, it's all too easy to let ourselves spiral downward. The first step in pulling yourself up is to notice when you're going unconscious. Without doing that, nothing can get better for you. How could you change anything if you're not aware of what's going on?"


"The overall point here is that the way not to lose heart is to realise how everything we do matters. It can go either way. If we go toward defensiveness, closing down, and unconsciousness, we add those elements to a planet that already suffers enough from such tendencies. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to feel our vulnerability, if we sit up tall when we want to collapse and refrain from striking out when we're provoked, we are having a positive effect on the larger world. Maintaining our own confidence and well-being benefits our family and our workplace and everyone we communicate with. Happiness is contagious.

When more of us learn to trust our basic goodness, society will get stronger. This doesn't mean there won't be hard times. It doesn't mean the polar icecaps won't melt and the water in the oceans won't rise. But it does mean there will be a lot of resilient people who will never give up on humanity and will always be there to help others. It does mean that when things get rough, it will bring out the best in people, rather than the worst. If we learn how not to lose heart, we will always find ways to make important contributions in our world."


Extracts from 'Welcome the Unwelcome' (chapter 7) by Pema Chödrön (2019) 


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