Forest of Interbeing is a reforestation project run voluntarily by young mindfulness practitioners from all over the world whose aim is to reforest, and maintain deforested land in the Mexican state of Veracruz. We are working in cooperation with a Mexican nature conservation association, local communities, international funders, and the Wake Up Community in Mexico and abroad.
I studied geography at Graz University in my native Austria with special focus on sustainable development. In 2012 I came to the Tuxtlas region in Mexico to do my thesis on ecotourism, and I continued to stay here. I knew about the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh from reading books and watching YouTube videos, but hadn’t had a chance to attend a Sangha or a retreat. I went to a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course and later found out about the Wake Up movement on the Internet (www.wkup.org). I wanted to be part of Wake Up, but I was reluctant to start a group because I thought that I wasn’t ready.
Then a few months ago, I wrote to Brandon Rennels from Wake Up International and got a lot of encouragement and resources to practice, so I started a Wake Up group in Los Tuxtlas. Though there is a lot of interest, there is not an established group that meets regularly yet, but I’m optimistic that there will be soon.
I came up with the Forest of Interbeing project because when I found out about the massive deforestation of the tropical rainforest here and the many problems related to it (loss of biodiversity, scarcity of water in the dry season on the one hand and soil erosion and flooding in the rainy season on the other hand, and on a global level, climate change), I saw that my thesis and the government programs in my region didn’t have a lot of impact. That made me motivated to become more active in working on projects that are good for the Earth. Thay always says that if you want to do something that has an impact, you need a Sangha.
So I had an idea, proposed the project to the international Wake Up Sanghas, and thought, “Let’s see what’s going to happen.” It was amazing what happened. There was a lot of interest and enthusiasm.
We are currently focusing our efforts on five project areas in Mexico, located in the Los Tuxtlas region of Veracruz. Los Tuxtlas is the northernmost tropical rainforest area in America and an area of high biodiversity value that is home to many threatened plant and animal species. By replanting parcels of land where tropical forest has been destroyed for ranching, we can have a real impact. Reforestation returns homes to many living beings and diverse wildlife that have suffered from the unskillful way in which we have related to nature. Restoring these lands will also allow our descendants to enjoy a healthy Mother Earth.
In doing a project like this, it is sometimes difficult to concentrate on the present moment and not dream about the future; that is a constant challenge. Just because you are working on a mindfulness project doesn’t mean you are always mindful. When I’m out in nature to look at places we might reforest, it is easy to connect with the present moment. It is more difficult when I’m on the computer.
Working together with a few friends from Wake Up has been a wonderful experience. We’ve had Skype calls every two weeks, and our virtual meetings have been very joyful. It’s great how everyone has been showing up, participating, and trying to help in this project.
There is also interest from mindfulness practitioners in other parts of Mexico to come and help, as well as from schools in this area. That is an important aspect of the project; it is a kind of environmental education, where children and young adults can work on conserving the environment. I think this has much more impact than learning about these things in the classroom. By now (July 2014), we have already reforested 120 trees on the land of a private person and of a school. If everything goes well, we will continue to plant many more the rest of this summer.
Right now we are focusing our efforts to reforest on the land of people willing to provide parts of their land. However, for the long run our goal is to purchase land in strategic places for conservation, for example to protect headwaters, to enlarge remaining forest areas, and to establish corridors between isolated wooded areas, which are very important for biodiversity. Land prices are very low here in Los Tuxtlas, but still this would require much more funding than our current activities.
Our dream is that this Forest of Interbeing will continue to grow and nourish the intercultural connections and the collective mind of love in our worldwide communities and Sanghas.
A version of this article was published on the Wake Up International website: http://www.wkup.org/deforestation-los-tuxtlas-mexico/
Christoph Neger, Solidez Radiante del Corazón – Radiating Solidity of the Heart, was born in Graz, Austria. He received the Five Mindfulness Trainings on a retreat in Ahuatepec, Mexico in 2014. He works online for an Austrian economic research company and lives in San Andrés Tuxtla, Veracruz, Mexico, where he enjoys the friendliness of local people and the area’s wonderful nature.