By Pamela Boyce Simms
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.” “The Cosmos is in us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” -Carl Sagan
Like astronomer Carl Sagan and Friends who celebrate their unity with nature, Buddhists know that separation of humans from nature is an artificial construct. My Buddhist and Quaker Earthcare practices are in full harmonic resonance.
In fact, the absence of an isolated, permanent self which is separate and independent of the environment is at the heart of Buddhist practice. In Buddhism, “no [permanent] self” is the first “mark of existence.” i understand my “self” to be a process –a continually changing flow of interactions with my environment. Therefore, i am my environment and my environment is me.
“I seem to be a verb.” -Buckminster Fuller
My personal identity is just a pattern, a reference point, which maintains its form through a homeostasis of metabolic and cognitive processes, while its substance is in perpetual transition. i see this much like a flame which remains identifiable as a flame even as it constantly changes. Therefore as a Buddhist-Quaker, protection of the Earth—the environment as myself—as a platform for evolution is a deep, compelling drive.
Buddhist practice powerfully informs my Quaker Earthcare work when i encounter activists who are either anxious and stressed by urgency around accelerating climate change or in despair about the enormity of the challenges ahead. The frame of reference that i offer, filtered through the professional language-prism of my role as group process facilitator, has two parts.
First i share thoughts about where we choose to focus our attention. The arc of existence as seen through Buddhist lenses is very long. Buddhist practice begins with a contemplation of one’s death in order to generate a visceral, felt-sense of gratitude for every precious second of life. Recognizing that a lifetime is a momentary parenthesis in eternity, we commit to focusing on, and bringing our “A game” to every moment. Impermanence is the second “mark of existence.” Worry about the future isn’t a wise allocation of time. If we slide into that space, we bring the focus back to service in the present.
A liberating aspect of abiding with impermanence is accepting that everything—plants, animals, people, trusted institutions, and civilizations—rise and fall in accordance with natural evolutionary processes. It’s freeing to let go of what is outworn so that the new can emerge. Suffering, the third “mark of existence,” occurs only when we try to hang on to that which we’ll never be able to apprehend.
Finally, through Buddhist lenses i see that there has never been a more exciting, exponentially evolutionary time to be a Quaker environmental activist. Inconvenience and challenges which shake things up and then generate new equilibriums are the stuff of Buddhist practice and the evolution of consciousness. Buddhism and Quakerism meet in the silence that leads engagement. It is my job to listen deeply.