By Christopher Reed During retreats, we practice "Touching the Earth," bowing deeply and honoring parents, friends, the religious traditions we were born into, teachers, and the land itself. We also honor our enemies and adversaries.
Someone wrote to me after attending a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh because she was finding it hard to practice "Touching the Earth" in honor of the developers she was actively engaged in opposing. She found it difficult to feel any loving kindness toward the people who are destroying the community and the local environment in the part of Canada where she lives. She said that by looking deeply she could easily find forgiveness for people who may have hurt her, but to do the same for these developers was impossible.
At first I thought she was being too idealistic, trying to be perfect. Did she think she could eliminate her anger and despair altogether and that by doing so, love could emerge? Is it by opening to the pain of our anger and fear and seeing them as the outcome of a mutual process that loving kindness and compassion emerge?
Trying to eliminate grief and anger in ourselves can create the greatest violence, cutting us off from important feedback in very real situations. The anger itself is a starting point. If we imagine that to be loving we always have to be nice, we create a shadow within ourselves that eats away at our energy. Then, when we resist others, we do so only with fear and anger.
To love someone does not mean to accept and condone everything he or she does. To act out of love, you do not need to first eliminate your anger. To wait for your anger to disappear might be to wait forever. It would be better to act, honoring your anger, aware that you are not merely reacting from it.
In the last prostration of the "Touching the Earth" ceremony, we bow to reconcile with those who have made us suffer. We can say something like this: "To the enemies and adversaries who oppose us, we bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"You, who by deception deliberately engage in the destruction of the environment for your own profit and show me how much I value what is honest, what is generous, what has been clearly thought through, what is expressive of love for this planet home, for our fellow beings, human and other, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"You bring forth in me the passion and love I feel for this land, this soil, the passion I feel for strong community, sustainability, integrity. Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I have seen how strong my love and passion really are. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"Because the pain I feel when I allow myself to witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain, you, who perpetuate destruction, who wreck this Earth, who have cut yourselves off from the generations of the future, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear are no less than the pain of sorrow and mourning for what is lost, I bow to you in gratitude and I touch the Earth.
"For the power of my anger, transforming into love for what I see and hear, the bright energy of my passion, my love of all that lives, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"Because we all want to be happy, to feel ourselves intact and part of a single whole, for that shared longing, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"Because you challenge me by your actions, demanding that I release my attachment to the view that my perspective is the correct one, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"For you who teach me that the mind is a limitless source, a miracle capable of manifesting as love, greed, fear, capable of clarity or delusion, blind to the consequence of action or open to the boundless coherence of all that I do and experience in life. For you who show me what I myself am capable of when I let my life be governed by fear and greed, great awesome teachers, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"In awe at the mind's capacity for delusion and alienation that calls me so insistently to understanding and joy, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth.
"With the understanding that all this will pass and with all the love in my heart, I bow in gratitude and touch the Earth."
Christopher Reed, True Jewel, is the cofounder of Ordinary Dharma and Manzanita Village, a retreat center in Southern California.