Five years ago I came to sit on the northern rim of the great bowl that holds the Gulf of Mexico because the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up 50 mile south of New Orleans and was poisoning the waters and land where I live. It was a “wounding” and Radical Joy for Hard Times called out my lack of attention to “places we dare not look” as a unique but small way of participating in a solution to the ecological mess we, the human animal, are making of our precious home, Earth. At the time I was more unaware than I knew of the subtle psychic forces at play within me, only willing to own my all too human propensity to accept shame and guilt at our cultural behavior toward the environment. In a nutshell I was drawn to the ceremony of wounded places because “I could do this.” The flip side of this perspective was a realization about my ecological “inactivism.” For longer than I cared to admit to I had been afraid of being dragged down into the pit of helpless, hopeless despair—“I am so small and the problem is so big.” This year, my ceremony was kind of an emotional turning point.
I have known with each passing year my sense of place, the land below my heart where I call home, was changing. For too much of my life I lived amid the dichotomy of ugly wounded places and beautiful places. With the arrival of Radical Joy for Hard Times I came in time to a more satisfying labeling, for at least the wounded places— “unbeautiful” This titling led to a shift in perception about the practice of Earth Exchanges. For me they were opportunities to practice what Jack Kornfield called sacred attention. Slowly my world view, conditioned and reinforced by mass culture naming and blaming of ecological and environmental issues moved out of my head and down into my body. This in turn led me to search for practices that would ultimately embed me in the experiences of the places I was being drawn to each June. To name the most potent tool I have found and started practicing at Earth Exchanges would be the Buddhist Tonglen meditation. It is a kind of perceptual aikido infused with care for the “wounded” places. In this practice I become a perceptual translator, soaking in one reality and spinning it back using my breath with a strand of wellbeing that I choose to think becomes part of the fabric of location forever more. It is a tangible conjoining of my inner and outer realities infused with imaginative possibility and care. The take away for me has been an awakening compassion for self, others and place.
As you will see in the picture of the Gulf of Mexico I am submitting this year, it is clearly a natural jewel healthy in appearance once more. Below the surface of the emerald waters is a big complicated bio-system that I can never hope to understand. I can, however, come back to it and “my beaches” the rest of years that I am able without the need for labels like “wounding”, “beautiful,” or even “unbeautiful” (when there is another huge oil spill.) Labels are no longer central to this annual ceremony for me. I come now to become more and more part of the place.