The wish to be generous
5 April 2019 | Mindfulness Practice
This tree is here. It is no longer alive in the biological sense, but in the sense of participation and presence and contribution, it is very much alive. Every year in October on 23 degrees Latitude and 151 Longitude (Facing Island) a couple of eagle parents give birth to a convocation of little eagles - gawkish and loud and wild.
It is such a joy to see this family thriving on an island that has suffered a lot from the industry over the past 20 years - a bauxite and alumina refinery, a liquid gas project and busy port of Gladstone where raw materials are shipped in and out relentlessly around the clock. Fish are no longer so plentiful in the bay where trawlers have done their work over the years.
But the eagles continue to have a life. I love this image of the tree. It is no longer rooted in the earth but is grounded and giving. It is no longer alive but is an essential part of these eagle’s lives, and member of the community, planet Earth.
It reminds me of Wendell Berry’s poem:
The Wish to be Generous.
All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man's evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.
I have always been obsessed with death. I remember I was traveling back from Derby to Perth on a ship when I was about 5, and it took about a week. And regularly, I would go to the back of the ship and hold on to the bars and look back at the wake and the endless ocean. And I would think: “If I jumped, I would die!” And I would think of being tiny in the huge ocean, and that I would see the ship go over the horizon and I would be there all alone, and then I would drown and the fishes would eat me….and then where would I be? What would I be? Would I be a fish or a shark or a whale?
Don’t under-estimate a five year old!
I am filled with wonder that we exist at all, that the universe in all it’s complexity and generative capacity has led to each of us – so unique, so special to ourselves (and if we are lucky special to a few others too!) but also so temporary and insignificant – one of billions of creatures passing through.
Berry’s poem doesn’t only offer some wonderful possibilities about how we might grow towards a gracious and non-narcissistic acceptance of our own ‘little light” being taken from us, but also how to bring this sensibility to our lives now.
The planet is struggling from very complex problems which we are all implicated in. This bigger perspective that Berry offers, gives us pause to contemplate how to be more involved perhaps in shaping the next bit of life on the planet – in whatever tiny ways we can, so that our life can be more generous to the generations to come.
Just like the tree and its gift to the family of eagles, we each can do smalll but powerful things to bring care to the world. To find out more go to 350.org.au
This is an organisation which is interested in helping all of us respond with wisdom and power to the climate threat. They offer some simple ways we can feel useful to this situation and actually do something - which is not too onerous but quite powerful.