I had the good fortune to have been at many of the landmark moments of the "60's"....Woodstock, marches on the pentagon during the Viet Nam War, certain Dylan concerts and Jimi Hendrix at the Filmore East on News Year's Eve. Then there was Columbia University,'68, the strike that shut the school down with students occupying the administration building at Low Library and other buildings. We were sure that true change was coming and that the world was going to become a just, fair and peaceful place because we had the clarity to demand that it be that way. It took many of us years to notice that many of the things we most cared about were actually getting worse.
One of the buzz phrases of those days was the saying "there are no individual solutions". I took this idea very seriously and didn't really question this concept deeply until a few days ago when I was picking fall raspberries in my backyard.
My raspberries make two crops every year. The ones in the fall are always fatter and sweeter, though about a third of them usually get destroyed by the first hard frosts of the winter. I comment on having a late crop of freeze dried raspberries. It's been so warm, and I had so many raspberries this week that I decided to pick a lot of them and sell them at the nearby organic farm market. I went out into the early morning sun, shimmering in from the East, making it hard to see the ripe berries unless I turned at just the right angle. I found myself rushing as I picked the raspberries, trying to be the most efficient raspberry picker on the planet. After all, the faster I picked the better my hourly rate of pay. Then I laughed at myself. No matter how fast I picked, I couldn't come anywhere close to making as much picking raspberries as I do in my day to day professional work. I'm lucky though, I get to work outside doing hard physical work the way many people go to the gym with the added advantage that the work also feeds me. This clearly wasn't about the money.
Then I remembered the first chapter of the first book I ever read about Zen Buddhism. It talked about the different way that eastern and western minds approach "work". It suggested that westerners usually approach "work" as something to get done and through, rushing to finish so that they can relax, have leisure and be rewarded for finishing a job. By contrast, the teacher asserted that in the East work is life: moment after moment of life..strung together.....to be experienced fully, sensed, felt, and appreciated. This contrast offered my earliest contact with "mindfulness", the practice of being fully present in the moment with whatever is happening, without analysis, judgment or future/past tripping. Remembering that book, I shifted myself to being mindful and fully present in my berry picking, not as a concept but as a way of experiencing what I was doing. The change in texture of experience was extraordinary.
During the next half hour I had experiences with animals that were very powerful. One was simply that a tiny tree frog jumped off of one of the berry branches and onto the leaf in front of me. It was a little, golden, slippery perfect creature. It was ridiculously cute. Then a few minutes later I saw a tiny little green "inch" worm arching its way out of one of the plump sweet red-purple berries, and a few minutes after that I turned and was face to face with a two inch high garden spider. Garden spiders, though completely harmless are quite startling. They are exquisitely beautiful..with long bright yellow and black legs, a fairly large body and are usually hanging in a large perfectly formed webs. I only see them in August and into the fall. They are one of the decorations of late summer and a sign that the important spider scene is doing well in my corner of the World Garden. Five different kinds of birds pecked and darted about me, foraging while I picked.
These visitations, which I may very well have not noticed had I been rushing through my work, are signs that the Earth, as it exists under my feet in my backyard is doing pretty well. Because I don't use chemicals and sprays and herbicides and pesticides of any kind, because I don't use antibacterial soaps which have chemicals that disrupt frog reproduction, and because I don't spray my raspberries with fungicides or other toxic sprays, living things, in a hugely bio-diverse way, are happy in my backyard. The habitats are intact. The food is there. The soil is complex and fertile. The Earth is working here. Though I know that there are no individual solutions, I also know that we, as individuals, have to make the decision to act, one by one, in ways that become the solutions. One step removed, we can buy food and other products which support such practices. Those of us who still have the relative power and privilege of taking responsible individual action (we are not displaced, refugee or wanting for food or other subsistence needs) can do so now. There is no other way. Everybody on earth is not going to suddenly start doing all the right and sustainable things at one magic moment and make world peace, health and perfection.
And this is where the Bodhisattva Vow meets Globalization. The Buddha said that "suffering is endless." Sometimes I irreverently joke that when the Buddha said suffering is endless...... he had no idea! The Bodhisattva gets enlightened and sticks around, incarnate, devoted to furthering the enlightenment and lessing the suffering of all beings. One Bodhisattva vow is "Suffering is endless, I vow to end all suffering." Standing in my backyard, I know that the threats to global environmental health and justice are endless, but I vow to act as if my actions could end them all. I take those actions anyway. That is the commitment that each individual can make. The suffering of the world is endless. I vow to end it all. I know that I personally can't end it all, but I behave as if I can right here where I am. That is a very liberating and inspiring way to approach the day. Oddly, it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.