On Finding An Appropriate Response to Climate Change
A monk asked Yun Men, “What are the teachings of a whole lifetime?” Yun Men said, “An appropriate response.”
The Compassionate Earth Walk traces the Keystone XL route through the Great Plains. The ancient practice of pilgrimage responds to present and future environmental catastrophe, focusing on its causes in our own culture. We walk as a blessing to the earth and to those we meet, and as a prayer for all earth’s children (2013, July through September).
We walk in the context of a great movement of resistance against the pipeline, the tar sands, the many poisonings of our world. Indigenous people are leading in blockades and movements―the Unist’ot’en in British Columbia, the Anishinaabeg in Minnesota, Idle No More, Owe Aku of the Lakota, a thousand others around the world. Some of the colonizers are also beginning to recognize how we too are colonized, and to resist. This walk is a part of that movement, and it goes a paradoxical way. It does not directly protest or attempt to stop the pipeline or the tar sands.
This walk is zazen. In the same way that we meet ourselves on the cushion, here we meet our collective selves while putting one foot after another on the ground. As we face our own thoughts and emotions, here we face that great injury in the earth, that expression of the break in our collective human spirit. As well as we can, we to meet it without turning away.
As in zazen, we walk in the middle of all beings, receiving life from them, offering life to them, allowing the whole to heal itself. We throw ourselves upon the mercy of the universe. We give up attempts to control even our fellow human beings. (We attempt to give up our attempts to control. If you have a sitting practice, you know what I mean.)
The walk is also a ceremony of gratitude to the earth, which has never abandoned us, and an expression of our love for all earth’s creatures including human. Someone said, “When you sit, you call upon Avalokiteshvara.” Thus the walk is also a prayer. And, although this is a Buddhist description of what we are doing, people of all faiths or none will be coming with us.
On July 1 we will gather in northern Alberta, in a beautiful place near the tar sands themselves. We’ll spend a few days making ourselves ready on both spiritual and practical levels. July 5 and 6 we join the Fourth Annual Healing Walk at the tar sands site. This walk is organized by local First Nations women, with allies coming from around North America and beyond. Walking and supporting them, we also open ourselves to the experience of the devastation that is the tar sands.
Then we walk south along the pipeline route, with meditation, ceremony, and community, continuing the healing process and sharing with those we meet.
The earth has not turned away from us; we have turned away from the earth. We live in a culture built on illusion, dedicated to being the hungry ghost―always wanting, never satisfied―imagining that material possessions can satisfy the hunger caused by our rejection of the kindness of the earth, willing to kill for that hunger―willing to sacrifice even our own children, along with millions of children we have not met. Or we pretend that it’s not our responsibility, that we are too small to make a difference, that someone else will take care of it.
I grew up with stories of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany who made the moral decision to assassinate Hitler. The plot failed, and he died in a concentration camp. But he is remembered for taking responsibility and for really understanding the meaning of not killing.
Finally, for me this walk is a response to seeing faces of my small grandchildren―each unknowingly consuming enough for a hundred people to live on in a sane culture―and our betrayal of their innocence. It is eight years since I turned away from that betrayal; since then I have taken two long walks and gotten arrested for the first time. It is 18 months since the vision came of this, my own appropriate response.
If this vision calls to you, please consider joining us as a walker, or as a supporter offering skills, money, hospitality…. You are also invited to hold us in your hearts, to sit with us every morning wherever you are, to place the Walk and our intention on your altar, to remember us in services, and to share information as widely as possible.
Shodo Spring is a 64-year-old Zen Buddhist priest, mother of two and grandmother of four, and a descendant of German immigrants. In addition to teaching Zen, she has worked as a clinical social worker, holistic health practitioner, gardener, and less exciting things. In August 2011 Shodo went to Washington with 350.org, and was arrested in front of the White House. Later that fall during a monastic retreat, a vision arose in her. She saw images of herself walking along the Keystone pipeline, as a kind of pilgrimage. By deep necessity, she invites others to walk with her.