I recently listened to an interview with a Sufi mystic, teacher, and author named Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, PhD. His teachings point to the oneness of nature, which of course includes us. He’s compiled a collection of essays from nature writers and spiritual teachers called Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. Activist and author Wendell Berry contributes a piece, as does activist, author, and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy.
I teared up as I listened. Dr. Vaughan-Lee talks about Mother Earth so lovingly, reminding us of her spirit—a life force that indigenous people have always known. He urges us to listen to her as we try to solve climate crises, a notion that sounds foreign to modern people. Capitalism only emerged in the early nineteenth century, yet the lens through which we see our planet, as separate from rather than part of us, is a stubborn one. When we separate ourselves from the Earth, we mine her resources at will and scale without thought.
And this reminds me of something I once heard primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall say: “Humans are the only species that destroy their habitat.”
You may wonder how this has anything to do with midlife, the focus of this blog. I will say the Earth is at the root of greencallings.com. Have you read Wendell Berry’s poem The Peace of Wild Things?
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in the beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I’ve often sat next to a tree or hiked a mountain trail when I’ve needed comfort. Two years ago, I stumbled into a practice of building natural mandalas in my neighborhood. I’d seen photographs of elaborate creations and felt mesmerized. On my first walk, basket over my arm, I collected natural things that had fallen to the ground. Flower blossoms, pinecones, seeds, nuts, leaves, twigs, berries, stones.
I created my first sidewalk mandala in front of my house, and I’ve created many more since then in every season. The practice reminds me of Berry’s words: find rest and freedom in the grace of the world. While I roam my neighborhood looking for natural treasures, and later when I craft mandalas from them, I appreciate the generosity of plants and trees around me. I want to care better for Earth. As I place the last leaves or twigs or petals, I offer a silent blessing for anyone who might pass.
From my kitchen window I sometimes see people stop next to the mandalas. They take a picture or stare momentarily. I believe in the invisible power of blessing, and I believe in the salve of Mother Earth. Eventually the wind blows the designs and I sweep up what’s left at the end of the day.
Dr. Vaughan-Lee says, “As you become closer to the Earth, your connection to consumerism begins to fade.” This is my experience, and it’s also true for one’s connection to cultural definitions (which are, in fact, tied to consumerism) for age and beauty and relevance as middle-aged women. I’m growing into something deeper now, and you are too.
So when you’re wondering about your place, or even what might be next for you, remember the Earth. Go into the peace of wild things. Take a walk, appreciate, and care for natural things. Feel the sun, wind, or rain on your face. Feel your feet on the ground, carrying you forward. The soil is beneath you. You are home.
I’m thrilled to be hosting an in-person mandala making workshop in Salt Lake City on Saturday, January 21. If you live in Utah, I’d love to see you! Click here to learn more.