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Our Walk in the World: Original Steps

Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Thinkstock

The life of a community depends on how we care for the ground we stand on and how we step lightly, walking side by side.

Our concern about nature and the environment has ancient roots. For we have always struggled between using up the earth and honoring it. In 2011, a clay tablet was discovered in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that has added 20 lines to the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest narratives known to humanity. The 12 original Assyrian tablets date back to 2000 BCE. The newly found tablet was acquired from looters by the Sulaymaniah Museum for $800.

The story of Gilgamesh centers on an enervated and self-centered king who, along with his only friend, Enkidu, declares war against the nature deity, Humbaba, in hopes of securing eternal fame.

The newly discovered lines to the epic reveal a sense of guilt and remorse in Enkidu for having killed the nature deity and for having decimated the Cedar Forest, the home of Humbaba. Enkidu says, “We have reduced the forest [to] a wasteland.” His anxiety about offending the gods has him imagine an angry god, Enlil, asking them when they arrive home, “What was this wrath of yours that you went trampling the forest?”

It’s timely that this story should surface in our modern world. For this question from our better angels has been ringing in our ears for centuries, and is even more pertinent today. What is the source of the wrath that we fester and carry that enables us to trample the forest, the planet, and each other—again and again?

In truth, our ecological problems are evidence of a deeper, spiritual problem whereby we keep shrinking our circle of compassion; whereby we, feeling empty, use everything up in an attempt to fill ourselves; whereby we, feeling insignificant and ephemeral, mark up the Earth in order to feel important and lasting; whereby we, feeling incomplete, break apart anything that is whole.

Since the beginning of the human trek, we’ve tried to silence our fear of death by puffing ourselves up and by making a lot of noise. When feeling less than, we’ve tried to hoard jewels and power. When desperate to feel, we’ve propagated violence for its shock and alarm.

Despite all this, each of us is born with a filament of being, which goes by many names. Essentially, under all our angst and stress, there’s a pilot light of Spirit that we steward while here. Despite all the things we break, our filaments of being innately want to join. In this way, we’re born to complete each other: each of us arriving with an inclination, a yearning for other life. This is a form of spiritual pollination, the inadvertent way that we long for the nectar of others and leave traces of the Spirit we steward wherever we love.

Those born in the deep pollinate the world with their depth. Those born in the world pollinate the introverted with the world. And those who cross both ways, bringing the deep and the worldly together, are ambassadors of wholeness. Though we can be agitated into breaking and destroying, we’re always a breath away from the innate pull of being and joining, of loving and completing each other. Just as the world comes alive each spring because of thousands of pollinations, there’s a renaissance of care that blossoms in each generation from the spiritual pollination we are all born to partake of.

While there are infinite ways to stumble and do harm, the purpose of consciousness is to reduce the distance between who we are and what we do, between what we know and how we care.

We’ve always known that we must care for the Earth as we care for ourselves, though we’ve always turned away from this truth. In Denali National Park in Alaska, the permafrost, just below the surface, is a delicate fabric that holds the earth together. When trampled, the fabric that holds things together is broken. Therefore, in Denali, hikers are asked not to walk in the same place twice, not to form or follow a path. Instead of one following another, hikers are asked to walk side by side. In this way, without design or intention, a network of original steps is formed that keeps things together, rather than singular grooves that are deepened into ruts that will split things apart. In just this way, the life of a community depends on how we care for the ground we stand on and how we step lightly, walking side by side.

*The above excerpt is from a book in progress, The Temple Is the World.

Questions to Walk With

  • In your journal, describe a time when, feeling insignificant, you did something to try to feel important. Did this act alleviate your feeling of insignificance? Given the chance, how might you do this differently?
  • In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe an instance in which you inadvertently helped pollinate the world.