meditations

Meditation on Eating an Orange

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hanh

Meditation is a matter of enjoyment.
When you are offered a cup of tea, you have an opportunity to be happy.
You can drink your tea in such a way that you are truly present.
Otherwise, how can you enjoy your tea?
If you are offered an orange there must be a way to eat your orange that can bring you freedom and happiness.
You can train yourself to eat an orange so that happiness and freedom are possible.
If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there at all.
But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle.
Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness.
Bring your attention to the fruit you hold.
Close your eyes and smell the fruit.
Imagine the orange blossoms in the orange,
The trees in the grove, standing the test of time and weather,
Their roots firmly planted and sturdy
The soil, dark and deep
See the rain and the sun that have gone through the orange blossoms.
The tree that has taken several months to bring this wonder to you.
Open your eyes.
See the orange in your hands once again,
Slowly begin to peel the orange.
Notice the fragrance, feel the coolness of the flesh
When the fruit is peeled, pull it apart with your fingers and choose a segment. Hold it between your fingers, notice the patterns, the colors, the different textures,
Bring the fruit between your lips and place it in your mouth
Bite into it, and close the eyes to concentrate fully on the orange flavor. The juice on your tongue and feel its sweetness in every part of your mouth Do not take another bite until the essence of the previous bite is gone.
Continue to eat every piece of your orange with this mindful practice.
Placing each segment in your mouth,
Tasting its sweetness with your whole being
Remember to pause occasionally to reflect on any new sensations you experience. When the fruit is gone, let the experience linger, awakening gratitude and joy.

Water Interconnection

Author: 
Kat Liu

When we turn on a faucet, clean water comes to us almost miraculously, and just as conveniently dirty water gets taken away.  But not without effects that we usually don't see.  This meditation is intended to help us see them.

For the purposes of this meditation, fill a large bowl with water. Use a cup to pour water over hands as you recite the words in italics. Conversely, if you're doing this solo, you can just turn on the faucet, let the water flow over your hands, then turn it off.

 

Water flows over these hands.
May I use them skillfully
to preserve our precious planet.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The water that has run over your hands came from a faucet.  Picture it flowing from a faucet into the bowl (or over your hands).

Follow the flow backwards, up, through the pipes in your home.

Follow the sound of running water through pipes out of your home, underground, to the water lines outside.

Follow the flow, back, along the waterlines as they run for miles under ground.

Maybe the water was treated before it came to you, adding fluoride and chlorine.  Maybe not.  Where did the water come from?

Perhaps it came from a local reservoir, a lake, collecting rain as it fell on a watershed.  Picture the rain, individual droplets hitting the ground, rolling along the surface, meeting each other and coalescing into rivulets, running downward together, and collecting into a common place. 

Perhaps it came from an aquifer, underground water flowing through and filtered by porous rock.  Picture the raindrops this time not rolling on the surface but rather sinking into the soil. Sinking deep, further down, past the dirt, past the sand, geting purer as it sinks, leaving particulates behind, seeping into the rock, where is stays held like a giant sponge.

Perhaps it came from a river, flowing from a mountain to the sea.  Follow the river up, against the current, up, into one of its tributaries, the stream of water getting smaller, clearer.  Follow the flow backwards, up into the mountain, to the drip, drip, drip, of melting ice and snow.

Perhaps your water came from a mixture of these sources, blending together on its way to your home.

What happens to the places where life-giving water has been diverted?  More water for you means less water somewhere else, especially in times of drought, which is increasing with climate change.

Consider the affects less water could have on the plants and animals along the river, or along the lake. 

Picture people living near the river who depend on the plants and animals.  What effect does it have on them?

What other activities use and impact your water supply?  Farming, manufacturing, and fossil fuel extraction all require water.  Often those activities take water away from people, or pollute water so that it isn't safe to use.

Bring your mind back to where you are now, in your home, with faucets that bring clean water and drains that take away dirty water.

Now follow the water that has gone down the drain. 

That water flows out of your house through a different set of pipes.

Waste water from your house is joined by that from all the houses around you, creating a foetid underground river.

All that sewage flows to a treatment plant.  Do you know where yours is?  Usually, these plants are in poorer neighborhoods.  Communities of color. 

Imagine the people living near the treatment facility.  What is it like for them?  Around many of the older facilities, the smell of sewage hangs in the air.  Flies gather. 

After treatment, the water is released into a river or ocean.  Is it clean?  How does it affect the temperture?  What effect does that have on the wildlife there?

The water in the oceans evaporates with the sun and wind. Humidity forming over oceans. Lifted into the air as clouds and traversing over land.  To fall as rain or snow.  And the water cycle starts over again.

But it takes energy to divert water away from where it naturally falls, and energy to treat waste water. The more water we use, the more energy we use and potentially contribute to climate change. 

Which changes the rainfall paterns upon which we've gorwn to depend.  Such that rain falls in different places - drought and flood.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the water that pours out of the faucet when you turn the knob.

Meditation on Air

Author: 
Kat Liu

The very first thing we do after we are born is to take a breath. We inhale. Our bodies extract oxygen and release CO2. We exhale.  Repeat. Breathing comes to us so naturally that we don't need to think about it.  We take for granted this essential cyclical exchange.

 

Tis' the ancestors breath
When the fire's voice is heard.
Tis' the ancestor's breath
In the voice of the waters.

- Birago Diop

 

 

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel your lungs filling with air.

Exhale; feel the air rushing back out.

We breathe because our cells need oxygen, and they need to clear out the CO2 that they've created.

Take another breath.  Imagine the oxygen molecules in your lungs boarding red blood cells. Now imagine these red blood cells rushing along your arteries and capillaries to other parts of you body, to deliver the precious oxygen to every cell, even the farthest reaches of your toes.

Exhale slowly.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.  Our cells "burn" carbon chains (carbohydrates) to release the energy within, creating CO2 in the process.  Imagine each red blood cell picking up CO2 from your other cells, and traveling along your veins to transport the CO2 back to your lungs where it is released out into the wider word.  

Picture it, every animal alive is doing the same thing that you are doing right now.  Cows and foxes, sparrows and whales, beetles and trout, every animal.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  

The air would eventually have too little oxygen and too much CO2 if it weren't for plants and trees keeping us in balance.  Plants, trees especially, breath in CO2 and breathe out O2, using sunlight to extract the carbon and create long chains (carbohydrates).  

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

Now, imagine back to a time when animals did not yet exist.  For millons of years there were no animals on Mother Earth.  The air was thick with carbon left over from when the Earth herself was born.  Too much carbon in the air for us to exist.  But the plants and especially the trees appeared.  They breathed in the carbon and stored it in their bodies, and then breathed out oxygen.  Breathed in CO2, stored the carbon in their bodies, then breathed out O2.  Breathed in CO2, stored the carbon, breathed out O2. 

Eventually, Earth was able to sustain animal life.  We breathed in O2 and breathed out CO2, but there were many more plants than animals.  

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

The animals ate plants and other animals, making their bodies out of the carbon stored by plants.  Imagine the food you ate this morning, your body breaking it down into smaller pieces.  Some of the carbon chains were burned for energy to keep your body running.  And others were used to create your bones, muscle, and other organs. The carbon stored by plants are now in you, as they are in all animals, including the dinosaurs. When the ancient plants and animals died, many decomposed to become the nutrients in soil.  Still others became the oil and coal and gas that we burn for energy today.  All of that carbon was in the earth, not in the air.  Picture the millions of years that it took for Earth and her trees to take tons of carbon out of the air and put it into the ground, until finally the conditions were right for us to thrive.

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

Now, picture us digging up all the carbon that had been sequested in the ground, and burning it, sending the carbon back into the air.  Picture us cutting down acre after acre of trees, and burning them, sending all their carbon into the air.  Picture our atmosphere filling with carbon, trapping the heat of the sun, and our earth getting warmer.  Picture us undoing in two hundred years what took millions of years to do.  

We are not in balance.  
But we could be again.

Imagine a better future.  

Meditation on Food

Author: 
Kat Liu

We all need to eat, but how many of us think about where our food comes from, before it was placed on our plate or in our hands?  How often do we think about all that went into the food in front of us?  For this exercise, you will need some food to contemplate.

In fall
it is mushrooms
gathered in dampness
under the pines;
in spring
I have known the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass;
today
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden -
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

- Mary Oliver

 

Look at the food in front of you.  The entire world is in this food (as it is in you). 

If it is plant-based - fruit, vegetable, and/or grain - it started as a seed in soil.  Imagine the seed sprouting, sending a tender shoot up towards the sun.  While it's doing this, the tiny new plant draws energy stored in the seed by its parent. And its parent came from its parent, and so on, and so on. 

Once the shoot reaches sunlight, it receives energy from our sun and CO2 from our air to make more plant cells and grow.  It sends roots into the soil, drawing up water, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients.  The water ultimately came from rain or snowmelt, from clouds in the sky.  

So all four elements are in the plant(s) that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

If your food contains meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey, it was produced by an animal who grew by eating plants fed by the sun, air, water, and earth, as well as drinking water and breathing air itself.  We animals cannot store the sun's energy ourselves, but when we eat plants (or when we eat animals that ate plants) we are extracting the energy that the plants stored in their bodies.  We are extracting the energy of the sun.  Also, the nutrients they drew from the earth.

So all four elements are in any meat, egg, dairy, and/or honey that became your food.  The fire of sun, air, water, and earth.  

But let's go back to the growing of the plants (and/or animals) that became your food. Likely, they did not grow in the wild but were instead farmed.  That means people planted the seeds that became the plants that either directly or indirectly became your food.  People pulled away the weeds so that the plants could get enough nutrients and air, and made sure there was enough water.  When the time was right, people harvested your food.  So their work is in your food.  They are part of your food.

And the people did not get there by themselves.  They had parents who birthed and nurtured them.  And the parents had parents.  Imagine them, going back generations. So all the ancestors of the farmers who grew your food are part of your food as well. 

And the farmers had teachers and other people who influenced them.  Siblings.  Lovers.  Friends (both human and other animals).  They are all part of the farmer(s) and thus part of the food.

So all the people who grew your food and their ancestors and anyone who influenced thhem are in your food.  Imagine it.  

You may have purchased the food directly from the farmer who grew it, but more likely it was transported over long distances by ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine your food traveling to get to you. The people who did their part to bring the food closer to you are part of this food as well.  As are their ancestors and all the beings who influenced them.  

As is the fossil fuel that was likely expended to power the ships, trains, and trucks.  Imagine the oil deep underground, and the people who worked to bring it to the surface and to refine it so that it can be burned to power the vehicles that carried your food to you.  Even if you bought your food directly from the farmer who grew it, very likely you both used fossil fuels to reach each other.  

So the plants and animals that lived millions of years ago and whose bodies then became oil, coal, or gas are also in your food. As well as all the people who worked to make the fuel available and the people who drove the vehicles and everyone who influenced them... all in your food.  

Unless you grind your own flour and process your own sugar and salt, etc, there are other people - likely working in factories - who processed some part of your food for you.  And someone - likely working in factories - put the pocessed food in packaging.  And someone else - likely working in factories - made the materials that were used to package the food that was processed.  Can you see it?  How the whole world is part of your food, and of you?

Once the food was packaged, it was shipped to the stores, where more humans stock shelves and ring cash registers and mop floors.  All of them created by their parents, ancestors, loved ones... All of them contibuting to your food.

And finally, someone cooked your food.  It might have been you.  It might not.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose labor created the simple occasion of your food at this moment. Imagine them. Imagine them as part of you.  

And all of them too were nourished and grew from food that they have eaten, both plants and animals.  Just like the plants (and possibly animals) on your plate.  These once living beings who became your food, their energy stored within their bodies will become your energy and body.  Every plant and animal you ever ate, and every plant and animal ever eaten by the people who helped create you are part of you.

And ultimately, we are all made up of the same sun fire, rain water, air, and earth.  All of us inter-connected.  All of us part of Mother Earth.

Air Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

 

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  

 

 

When I breathe in,
I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out,
I breathe out love.

- Sarah Dan Jones

 

 

Find a comfortable position, whether seated lotus or on a chair, standing up or lying down.  Find a position that you can comfortably hold for a while.

The first thing we do after we are born is to take a breath.  And we keep doing it - in, out - every moment while we're alive.  Of all the elements, air is the one with which we interact most freely.  Every inhalation, we hold air within ourselves; every exhalation, we set it free - in, out.  It is so natural and close to us that it is easy to forget.  Yet every breath is a reaffirmation of life.  Breathing meditation is used for many things.  This is a meditation in appreciation for breathing itself.  

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel your diaphram expanding.

Exhale slowly.  Feel your chest settling back.

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel the oxygen rushing in to feed your cells.

Exhale slowly.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.

Take a deep breath, slowly. Feel refreshed, new energy.

Exhale slowly.  Feel your body relaxing, tensions leaving with the air in your lungs.

Continue breathing at a rate and depth that is natural to you.  

As you breathe in, think "Breathing in is a gift."

As you breathe out, think "Breathing out my gratitude."  

As you breathe in, think "Breathing in, I am alive."

As you breathe out, think "Breathing out, I am grateful."  

Continue for as long as you feel comfortable doing so.

Clean air is a precious gift.  Clean air is life.  Give thanks for clean air if you have it (and even if you don't) and think about how to make sure everyone can breathe free.

Food Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

We all need to eat, but how many of us pay attention to our food beyond the first bite or two?  How often do we appreciate how wonderful it is to have food?  For this exercise, you will need some food, whether a meal or snack, but something that requires more than two mouthfuls to consume.

 

The seed and root beneath the Earth,
the willful, growing shoot…
the hopeful bud then flowering blossom
turned to glowing fruit.
We thank those who grew this food
from little bursting seeds,
We thank our Mother Earth,
whose gifts fulfill our needs.

- Adapted from Anonymous

 

First, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you actually have food to eat.  Think back to a time when you were really hungry.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to eat.  (If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

Now...

If using your hands, notice the texture as you pick it up, the temperature, and perhaps the color(s). If you're eating from a plate with a knife and fork, notice instead the texture and temperature of the cutlery as you move it toward the food, but still take the time to notice the colors on the plate.

As you move the food toward your mouth, shift the focus away from the hands and more toward the eyes, nose and mouth. How does the food smell? What does it look like up close? And, as you put it in your mouth, what is the taste, the texture, the temperature?  If you wish, try rolling the food around with your tongue to get a better sense.

Do not start chewing until you have put your fork/spoon or the food back down. Give all of your attention to each step of eating one step at a time.  Take the time to chew the food fully. Twenty, thirty chews if you can.  Not only is this a healthier way of eating, but it will allow you the time to taste and appreciate all the different flavors. Notice if the flavor changes while you chew.  Some foods become more complex with more chews; some just disappear.

While chewing, know that you are chewing.  Finally, when ready to swallow, know that you are swallowing.  Notice the sensation of the lump moving to the back of your mouth, and then down.  The feeling of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.  See how far down your esophagus you can still feel the food travel.

Imagine the nourishment filling your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.

Only after you have swallowed, move your hand(s) to pick up your food again.  Take another mouthful, mindfully.  Again, do not start chewing until you've placed your hand(s) back down.  When taking a bite, know that you are taking a bite.  When chewing, know that you are chewing.  When swallowing, know that you are swallowing.  See how long you can do this without your mind wandering to other things.

 

.

Energy Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.  (This exersize is best performed after dark.)

 

May the light we now kindle
Inspire us to use our powers
To heal and not to harm
To help and not to hinder
To bless and not to curse
To serve you, Spirit of Life

- Adapted from Singing the Living Tradition, #453

 

Light a candle.  

Hold your hands towards the flame and feel its warmth.  Feel the energy radiating from the candle to your palms and up your arms. 

The flame of the candle is being fed by the wax or oil.  No matter what your candle is made of, the fire is fed by breaking down long chains of carbon into CO2.  Those chains of carbon stored the energy of the sun, which is released when broken.  So the candle flame in front of you, radiating warmth, is sunlight stored away to be released at another time. It was this stored energy that allowed our ancestors to see even after the sun set for the evening, releasing the sun's rays at night.  It is this stored energy that allows us to live our "modern" lives.  Give thanks to the sun.  

Now we are going to take a brief tour around the house.  (You can extinguish your candle.)

Turn on a light.

Think about what a difference it makes in the room, how much easier it is to see.  Give thanks for the light.

Open the refrigerator door.  See the little light turn on, allowing you to easily view its contents.  Feel the cool air.  (Close it.)

Open the freezer door.  Hear the hum of the compressor.  Feel the even cooler air.  (Close it.)

Think about what life would be like if you had no refrigeration.  What foods do you enjoy that would be hard to keep?  Give thanks for the refrigeration.

Turn on the stove.  Hold your hand a safe distance from the burner.  Feel the heat.  (Turn it off.)

Think about what life would be like if you had no way to cook your food.  What foods do you enjoy that would no longer exist without cooking?  Give thanks for the fire of the stove.
(If doing this with kids, ask them to name their favorite foods that they wouldn't be able to eat any more without energy to cook food.)

Turn on your favorite form of viewing entertainment (tv, internet, etc).  Notice the hum of the tv or computer, or witness the light blinking on.  We take for granted that these sights and sounds will happen when we flip a switch.  Imagine how you would feel if the electricty did not flow?

What are other things in your home that require electricity to operate? 

If you have a car, or even if you don't but take the bus, give thanks for the energy that it takes to transport you from one place to another.  

Almost every convenience that we have in life requres energy.  Give thanks for the energy you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.

 

Water Appreciation

Author: 
Kat Liu

These "appreciation meditations" can be as quiet and introspective or as energetic and interactive as you desire.  The aim is cultivating gratitude.  Gratitude is the starting point for generosity and action.

 

Water flows from high in the mountains.
Water runs deep in the Earth.
Miraculously, water comes to us,
and sustains us all.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Pour yourself a glass of water.
(If doing this with a family or group, use a pitcher to pour each person a glass of water.)

Look at the glass of water.  Hold it up to the light.  See its clarity.

Sip a mouthful but do not swallow.  Feel the coolness roll over your tongue, the roof of your mouth, through your teeth.

Swallow.  Feel it moisten your throat as it goes down. 

Imagine the water trickling into your stomach, and from there moving to every other part of your body.  Into your limbs.  Seeping into every cell.  Bathing each cell with life.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Think back to a time when you were really hot and thirsty.  Remember how good it felt when you finally got to drink.
(If doing this with a family or group, encourage participants to briefly share their memories.)

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Where did your water come from?  Did it come out of the tap?  Did you buy it in the store?  Did you get it out of a well?  Imagine what it would be like if you could not easily get water. 

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

As our climate changes, it becomes harder to get clean, drinkable water.  Some places have drought, which means there isn't enough water.  Other places have floods, which makes clean water dirty.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Despite the increasing scarcity of clean water, some companies still gather up water in order to make money from it - they may bottle the water to sell, or use it to grow water-intensive crops to sell, or use it to force oil out of the ground to sell - and do not let the people who live nearby have clean water to drink.

Drink another mouthful, gratefully.

Water is a precious gift.  Water is life.  Give thanks for the water you have and think about how to make sure everyone has enough.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Meditation on Inter-Being

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hahn

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here - time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

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