while the forms of creatures
are reflected in its mirror?
How can it journey to God
while shackled by its passions?
How can it desire to enter
the Presence of God
while it has not yet purified itself
of the stain of its forgetfulness?
~Ibn ‘Ata’illah al-Iskandari
(1250-1309, Egyptian Malikite jurist,
muhaddith and the third murshid
of the Shadhili Sufi order)
is not the absence of anger.
There is a role for anger
in social change work.
It is to let anger and anguish
burst forth into forgiveness,
because forgiveness is not forgetting.
Forgiveness is freedom from hate,
because when we are free from hate
then we can begin to hear the story
of even the murderer
and those who disagree with us.
Once we hear the story,
then we can start to transform
the communities and the cultures.
You may feel in this moment
that the future is dark.
But what if this darkness isn’t
the darkness of the tomb,
but the darkness of the womb?
What if America is not dead
but a country waiting to be born?
(American interfaith leader,
lawyer, filmmaker, Sikh activist,
founder of The Revolutionary Love Project
at the University of Southern California)
at training ourselves.
If we train ourselves
to reach for a snack
or pick up the phone to text-message
whenever we feel frightened or bored,
this is definitely training.
Then, the next time
we feel uncomfortable
we will also tend to reach
for some comfort outside ourselves,
a deeply ingrained habit,
another brick in the wall
of our mental prison.
(Cultural Anthropologist and Buddhist Teacher)
never realizing who they are
and never certain about
the purpose of their existence.
In times of trouble
or in the face of death,
they may raise these questions,
but may not follow them through
to a fulfilling conclusion
or else may abandon the process
when the bad times pass.
But those who have a burning desire
to find the answers
to the mysteries of life
can find them.
~Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj
(1946 to pres., Author, Scientist, Mystic,
Leader of Science of Spirituality and
International Movements for World Peace)
RETURNING THE GIFT
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
In the teachings of my Potawatomi ancestors, responsibilities and gifts are understood as two sides of the same coin. The possession of a gift is coupled with a duty to use it for the benefit of all. A thrush is given the gift of song—and so has a responsibility to greet the day with music. Salmon have the gift of travel, so they accept the duty of carrying food upriver. So when we ask ourselves, what is our responsibility to the Earth, we are also asking, “What is our gift?”
As human people, most recently evolved here, we lack the gifts of our companion species, of nitrogen fixation, pollination, and 3000-mile migrations under magnetic guidance. We can’t even photosynthesize. But we carry gifts of our own, which the Earth urgently needs. Among the most potent of these is gratitude.
Gratitude may seem like weak tea given the desperate challenges that lie before us, but it is powerful medicine, much more than a simple thank you. Giving thanks implies recognition not only of the gift, but of the giver. When I eat an apple, my gratitude is directed to that wide-armed tree whose tart offspring are now in my mouth, whose life has become my own. Gratitude is founded on the deep knowing that our very existence relies on the gifts of beings who can in fact photosynthesize. Gratitude propels the recognition of the personhood of all beings and challenges the fallacy of human exceptionalism—the idea that we are somehow better, more deserving of the wealth and services of the Earth than other species.
The evolutionary advantage for cultures of gratitude is compelling. This human emotion has adaptive value, because it engenders practical outcomes for sustainability. The practice of gratitude can, in a very real way, lead to the practice of self-restraint, of taking only what we need. Acknowledging the gifts that surround us creates a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of enough-ness which is an antidote to the societal messages that drill into our spirits telling us we must have more. Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society.
Indigenous story traditions are full of cautionary tales about the failure of gratitude. When people forget to honor the gift, the consequences are always material as well as spiritual. The spring dries up, the corn doesn’t grow, the animals do not return, and the legions of offended plants and animals and rivers rise up against the ones who neglected gratitude. The Western storytelling tradition is strangely silent on this matter, and so we find ourselves in an era when we are rightly afraid of the climate we have created.
We human people have protocols for gratitude; we apply them formally to one another. We say thank you. We understand that receiving a gift incurs a responsibility to give a gift in return. The next step in our cultural evolution, if we are to persist as a species on this beautiful planet, is to expand our protocols for gratitude to the living Earth. Gratitude is most powerful as a response to the Earth because it provides an opening to reciprocity, to the act of giving back.
Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, writer, and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Kimmerer is an enrolled member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi. She lives on an old farm in upstate New York, tending gardens both cultivated and wild. Excerpted from Returning the Gift.