I’ve never met a single person who WANTS to see the earth desecrated by human greed. Indifference? Yes. Inaction? Yes! Complacency? Yes! Overwhelm? Definitely. So how do we overcome indifference, inaction, complacency and overwhelm?
How do we persevere even when our efforts seem like a drop in the bucket? The earth herself provides the answer. Its well summarized by this powerful quote from comedian George Carlin,
I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic.
We need to follow the example of the little tuft of grass. It grows against all the odds and surprises everyone with its perseverance. In the opening scene of the movie Joe and the Volcano, the character played by Tom Hanks arrives at his lifeless factory job one morning; greeted by a sign that says “Home of the rectal probe”. He is surrounded by, and stepping in, constant reminders of drudgery. Among the concrete and crud stands a single flower growing through a crack. Hordes of factory workers step on the flower, and it keeps popping back up to life. Irrepressible! Nature is irrepressible. That’s what we need to learn to be; irrepressible. Even saying the word feels liberating and empowering.
A verse in the Jewish text the Talmud says, “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, Grow.” What an inspiring image! Turn the image around. The earth is the angel, reaching out to us, whispering “Grow! Grow! Stand strong! Persevere!” Nature’s angel looks like brown, late winter grass squeezing out the last remnants of snow and frost as it strains to kick start its green growth. It looks like the sun breaking through clouds with light relief, whispering “Grow! Grow! Take my warmth and reach for the stars with me.”
Nature has spectacular patterns of perseverance and team work. Mushrooms hover over grass as if they are umbrellas to soften the fall of rain. Every blade of grass, every leaf and drop of water is part of an elaborate ecosystem, all working in harmony. We can learn so much from nature. Every turning and falling leaf is calling you to fulfill your personal potential and be all that you can be which can only happen if the earth is allowed to be all it can be.
Don’t be discouraged or impatient. Nature reminds us that perseverance is not always a linear process but it always involves change. Human beings persevere the same way a leaf falls to the ground- back and forth, two steps forward and one step back. Be prepared to change and fall, many times and then get back up. Life can be a wild and unpredictable ride, but there is always more to come, more to learn and more to become.
Every year the Japanese people celebrate the blooming of the cherry blossom tree which bears no fruit and only flowers for a few short days. Even so, it represents something incredibly powerful. The cherry blossom is a reminder of new beginnings and perseverance. Finding the courage to persevere is part of wabi sabi, where you recognize order beneath the surface level chaos, perfection beneath the appearance of imperfection and progress beneath the sense of futility. It’s this perspective that enables people to maintain dignity and optimism when all seems to be lost. There is a saying, “The cherry blossom among flowers, the warrior among men.”
Wabi sabi is an inner strength and perspective that can see a cherry blossom nestled in a pile of debris or a tuft of grass in concrete cracks and know that there is hope. Where does this hope come from? It comes from an inner stillness that concrete, winter and rubble are never the last words. From stillness and simplicity, your positive thoughts and acts of kindness create beautiful symmetry in an imperfect world. This story illustrates the power of perseverance perfectly-
A Zen master was walking the bottom of a mountain one day and found an empty well. It was a snow capped mountain, and he took a teaspoon and walked to the top of the mountain, filled the teaspoon with snow, walked back down and put the snow in the empty well. He then turned around and went back up the mountain and filled the teaspoon again, and came back and put it in the well. He did that all day. At the end of the day there was hardly any water in the well. But he was at peace with his efforts. He had done what he could.
That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to save the planet, move mountains or reverse global warming in a single bound. Just do what you can do, do it with love and respect, and let that be enough. Surrender the outcome.
Faced with many of the problems that we have in our world today; problems that sometimes overwhelm us beyond words- global warming, poverty, racism, violence, wars, recession and any number of personal crises, the inspiration from the Zen master with his teaspoon, as is the inspiration of nature itself, is to do something. Start with one response. Know that you are doing something, and let that something grow.
Faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, do SOMETHING. Helen Keller once said, “Only in the dark, can you see the stars.” Only when you face the challenge head on can you draw from the deep well of courage to see your way through the challenge.
May you remember that without darkness nothing comes to birth, as without light nothing flowers.
May the earth teach you courage as the tree which stands tall and strong.
May nature teach you perseverance like green grass in concrete.
This is part five in a series on eco-activism.
5. Learning perseverance from nature.