The world around us is turbulent, unpredictable and often makes no sense. Especially for those of us who choose to live amongst others, we hear stories and see events unfolding that have the power to lead some of us to believe that we may be past the tipping point that will lead our species to our own extinction. A friend has been very aware of the concept of triage overt he course of the past week. We have all had to practice this cold and dispassionate process, whether we like to admit it or not. We have all had to turn our backs on difficult cases that even heroic measures could not save or recover. Managed our own resources to their highest use, where they could make the most benefit and turned our backs on small problems and issues that could either resolve themselves or heal on their own with time. as a young and idealistic environmentalist I was utterly opposed to this thinking. Now, with fifty years spent trying to help any way I could, I find that environmental triage is the only path forward that will not burn out the movement.
Picking specific ways to change things for the better demands that we pick our fights with style, grace and awareness of the likely results in mind. A tree could mature in twenty to several hundred years, but if we leave it unplanted, nothing will grow, no shade will be cast, no flood will be mitigated, no windstorm will be ameliorated. If we fail to plant a single tree, no birds will be able to sit in the branches of it or make nests to rear the next generation of their kind there and our flying friends will certainly not poop there, just before take off to both lighten their load and fertilize the soil below. The healing that trees provide cannot be underestimated.
As shamen realize the world over, when true healing takes place, it heals the practitioner as well as the client. An act of healing always has the power to improve the lives of both parties as well as the community that they live within. I love to recount the story that I heard a Chinese herbalist tell. “When I was being taught by my father to practice the art of medicine,” he said. “I was taught to bring my wagon and a shovel. Along the route to the sick person’s home, I was taught, to pick up any dung along the way.” (this was in the age of oxen and draft animals) “Upon reaching the home of the patient, the first thing I was taught to do, no matter how sick they were, was to add the dung to their compost pile, because they had been made ill by something lacking in their diet. The best way to heal their whole family was to enrich the soil in their garden. The healing of their soil would also lead to their recovery. This also helped others in the community because the collection of the dung reduced the public health threat that comes from dung washing off the roads into the ditches and water supplies.”
Sadly, this fellow followed up by telling the other side of the story, which was that many more people are getting sick now and that he has no time to stop between clients to pick up animal waste. He has to move more quickly and he has no room on his bicycle for a shovel and dung cart. In fact, he can only take a few of his herbs in a small satchel rather than a large array of healing herbs like his father did. In our world of instant everything, it is hard to understand the timeless quality that led to intact civilizations that remained stable for centuries. Perhaps all we need to do is to slow down enough to listen to the wind in the leaves or raindrops on them and find a space large enough to plant a tree. Quite possibly, the most important healing our culture needs is the time to relax in the shade, contemplate our next step and to find shelter amongst a copse of living organisms who would not be there if someone had taken the time to plant them.