Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Guest Blog by Leah Moran Rampy
We walk slowly along the trail, our heads bent, eyes focused on the ground beside us. My husband and I have returned to Yankauer Nature Preserve in West Virginia to search for spring ephemerals, those exquisitely tiny and fleeting blossoms that signify spring’s awakening. We call out to each other as we spot the first Star Chickweed: 10 petals in perfect symmetry around a soft lemon center. No, not 10; 5 petals, deeply clefted to deceive the quick eye. We linger, draw closer. The slender stamens and anthers tipped with tiny dark dots stand as an occasional freckle against the white petals.
Appearing as a musical base clef run slightly amok, the fiddleheads have yet to loosen their spiral to become full-fledged ferns. Though we are told that Dutchman’s Breeches appear as inflated pantaloons hanging upside down, I see birds on a wire. I lie on the trail for an eye-level view of their egg-yolk-yellow heads. Especially from this position, I am embraced by and one with this abundant and beautiful life: violets splashing their delicate color, trilliums with dark red buds still tightly closed, the large umbrella leaves of the Mayapple. I am lost in the eternity of Mystery.
Other human visitors speed past us on the trail, offering polite greetings, moving steadily on to their goal. I understand. I am often lost in thoughts of what’s ahead, forgetting my intention to be open, present, and connected to the Sacred all around me. Yet without this life-giving connection, how will I find the strength to live fully and vibrantly engaged in this beautiful and broken world?
“Where do I find hope?"
I am asked time and again as I lead retreats and seminars where we aim to face squarely into the daunting challenges of our species, our Earth family.
“How do we keep going?”
For me, hope and resilience reside in the beautiful, tangible, frayed-but-still-strong web of relationships that exists among, between and around all life.
“Hope” is rooted in the awareness that we are bathed in gifts. Let’s begin with the most basic gift: air. Breathe in and thank the trees. The trees that are too often seen only as a “resource,” trees that are viewed as “ours” for the taking. Our lungs fill with oxygen because of trees. Take another breath and thank the phytoplankton, those tiny plants that live on the surface of oceans and lakes. The bodies of water that we take for granted, into which we dump our trash, are home to phytoplankton that expel oxygen, providing half of the air we breathe. Gifts!
The average adult human body is 50-65% water. In a world where water is scarce for so many people, plants and animals, how should we not treasure every sacred drop? Life on earth depends on plants, algae, and fungi. We are fed, sheltered, and clothed from the gifts of sunshine photosynthesized by plants. We live because other beings on this Earth evolved over hundreds of millions of years to enable a world of mutual flourishing. If we are not stopped in our tracks by the awe and wonder of such a miracle, we aren’t paying attention. To pay attention is to be overwhelmed by gratitude.
Yet Earth provides not only the essence of life – though that surely would be enough to earn our thanks forever. Earth fills our senses with exquisite beauty. Wildflowers, vibrant sunsets, birdsong, ocean waves, grand mountains, butterflies, garden-fresh tomatoes, the scent of lilacs, fireflies, redwoods, blueberries, bullfrogs, wind in the pines – can you not hear, taste, feel, smell, and see the incredible beauty of this living world? Go for a walk and make a list of the beauty that offers itself to you. And then stop. Stop listing. Stop walking. Stop thinking. Simply be a fully alive human, endowed with an array of senses, and receive the gifts of the world that are offered in this moment where you stand.
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to sharpen.
Do we not have an obligation to receive these gifts of beauty, awe and wonder? W. B. Yeats wrote, "The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to sharpen.” That strikes me as incredibly poignant, for living beings to wait and hope to be noticed, appreciated for the magical beauty they offer – while I pass by, lost in thought. Is my “to do” list so important that I cannot pause to receive a single gift?
Of course, it’s not just our busy lives that dull our senses. We intentionally dull them to avoid the pain of this world. We know of the lives lost to violence and hunger, the destruction of ecosystems and species, our incapacity to make the changes to avoid the worst of the tragedy of climate collapse. Our hearts are breaking, and we want to protect them.
But what if protecting our hearts by dulling our senses, has the exact opposite effect? What if, by numbing ourselves to the pain of the world, we also numb ourselves to the beauty that will save us? Is it not daily doses of beauty, awe and wonder that nourish us, offering strength and resilience? Doesn’t a deep and abiding connection with the living world bring us most alive?
When we honor the living world by accepting her gifts, we take a step toward oneness. As gratitude wells up within us, we long to offer our gifts in exchange. As we offer our gifts to those who have given us so much, we may find ourselves listening ever more closely to their lives. What do they offer to others? What do they need? What are they asking of us? We begin to reweave the threads of connection that have been frayed by our actions and inattention.
Connections make us stronger, more resilient, more hopeful. We remember that we are not alone. Our work is important, and it is not all there is. Living with open hearts in reciprocity – receiving the gifts of the world and returning our gifts to her – enables us to accept beauty and loss, joy and sorrow, awe and grief, wonder and confusion as part of the whole.
Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Author and teacher Robin Wall Kimmerer offers us the wisdom of science and her indigenous heritage as she reminds us, “Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”
We live within a beautiful web of life, primed for mutual flourishing. We have a choice to stop cutting the threads and reweave the connections that are meant to be. “Where do we find hope?” In the gifts patiently waiting for us just outside our door.