A LOOK AT THE EARTH IN A SPIRITUAL LIGHT
A speech written and delivered by Joe Leonard at a fund raiser for The Idaho Conservation League in 1982. He believes the ideas in this speech are still relevant and have more urgent consideration in this year of 2009.
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Ladies and Gentleman: Thank you for being here and thank you for your support of the Idaho Conservation League. The thoughts you will hear tonight are thoughts that come from my heart and the heart of others who have been fortunate enough to see the earth in a spiritual light… and because of that light have come to a deep understanding of the spiritual power the earth offers to all mankind.
Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Lakota Sioux spoke of his people’s feelings for the earth:
“He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power, it was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth, and their alters were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to test upon the earth and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, cleansing and healing. That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him..”
“Kinship with all creatures of earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them and so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.”
“ The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.”
Those words resound with wisdom. Do you suppose if modern man were brought up close to the earth and its softening influence that he too would have more respect for his fellow man, that he would have developed a truer understanding of nature?
For millions of years the planet earth has been providing for its plants and animal, including man. In the last 100 years or a fraction of a second in earth time, man has managed to rip, dig, blast, and tear the earth, pollute the water and air. He has created acid rains, he destroys over 28 million acres of priceless rain forest each year. He has managed to alter the weather. He even has the power to destroy every living thing that exists…and for the sake of self and greed he might just do it. This is wrong! Is our thinking so clouded we have no compassion? Why is man such an insensitive creature? It is because he has placed himself apart from the earth. This isn’t something that happened overnight. It has taken generations for man to lose his understanding of his relationship[ to the earth and to forget why he must hold this relationship sacred.
Our loss of awareness is the manifestation of our separation from God and the earth. The earth is the great teacher it can teach us about ourselves. Nature can touch our minds and hearts, and in its touch it will tell us where we came from and where we are going. The river, nature’s best teacher, will teach us that life is continuous–that we have no beginning, we have no end. It can even answer the age old question, “Where did God come?”
All we have to do is turn our mind to it, to be still and listen. If we are quiet and listen, the river will tell us that we are part of the universe, the whole. If we take a cup of water from the river and return it, the water returned is not identifiable from the whole. The river will tell us that even if we drink it or pour it on the ground it is still part of the river.
A person who does not understand nature might argue this point. If we ask this person “Where does the river begin?” he would say follow the river to its source; there is where it begins. If we ask him where the river ends, he would probably say the ocean. If we ask the river where it begins and ends, the river will say it has no beginning, no ending. It will tell us that it flows from the sky and the ground, that it flows from the north, the south, the east, and the west. It would say reach into the ocean can you separate me from myself? It will tell us that all rivers are connected to each other and are the same; that water as vapor, rain, snow, or ice is still part o the river. The river will tell us that even if we take some of it and put it in a container, we have not separated it from itself.
The river will tell us that life is an endless circle and that our bodies are not separate from the earth. It will tell us that our spirit is part of the universe like the river is part of the sky. That our spirit is eternal.
Let’s look for a minute at life and the earth in this light, perhaps a brighter light than we have previously used. We may come to see our relationship with the earth as being more important than we have previously conceived.
Our roots are planted in the earth as surely as those of the cactus and the rose. Just because we can move about doesn’t make us less dependent on the earth or any less rooted to it. But even more than dependency, every plant, every animal, every insect, and every man, woman, and child is part of the earth…like the river is part of the ocean. Most of us conceive of the earth as a ball floating around in the solar system with plants, animals, and people as creature inhabiting the planet. We in fact we are–all of us, you and I, the deer and the tree we are the earth. When consciousness leaves our body, the body in a short time cannot be distinguished from the soil it is buried in. Our remains will provide sustenance for plants which will feed the animals and generations of people who will follow.
In other words when I eat a berry growing on a bush that was fertilized by the remains of a bird who ate a grass hopper . . .who ate the grass growing on the grave of Abraham Lincoln am I not a part of Abraham Lincoln? We are all made up of every creature, every plant, and every human who ever inhabited the planet and in turn, every plant and creature who will inhabit the earth is part of us.
When my body returns to the earth an I not a part of the whole? Who’s to say which part of the earth is Joe Leonard. We are all brothers and sisters. We are related to the deer because he is also is related to Abraham Lincoln.
John Muir said, “Man should stand in nature’s temple witnessing the eternal morning of creation occurring all about him.” John Muir believed that nature was a holy place and that civilization with its sheep. Axes, and dynamite is the infidel, the wrecker in the temple. Muir believed that God, not the devil was to be found in the wilderness. That nature not man, is the center of the timeless universe.
Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that through the oneness of nature a person could arrive intuitively at spiritual truth.
It’s very difficult to put intuitive thoughts into words, but I would like to try. I was raised on a ranch on the Middle Fork of the Boise River in a time when deer and rattlesnakes were plentiful. As a child I spent my summers in logging camps and I have spent most of my adult life living in the mountains. When I am in the city, I always yearn for a wild place. I’ve seen the northern lights a pyramid all around me. I have seen a sky that was slate grey, dark behind a moon rising between mountains blanketed with snow and aglow with the suns last light. I’ve been tracked by the bear, and I’ve seen the awe on the face of a city dweller who is experiencing a beautiful wild place for the very first time.
These experiences helped me to develop my philosophy. Intuitively I believe that the earth represents the body, the physical. The river represents consciousness, the spiritual. The liquid water represents consciousness as we are experiencing it in a physical plane. However, water exists in many states. It is visible and invisible, it is liquid, it is solid, it is rain, snow, and ice. Through water Nature is showing us our own eternity in its various stages.
Those of us that share this philosophy hold the earth sacred far above mans futile striving for material wealth. The economic problems of today would not exist if we understood that an earth undamaged by greed would provide us the necessities of life in abundance. And the necessities of life not only include food, clothing and shelter, but freedom, joyful living, and a basic understanding of our own continuous existence. These basic God-given rights are slipping through our fingers because for generation after generation we have allowed ourselves to become cuckolds of people who care only about money and power. These people continuously tell us that what we need are more gadgets, more toys, more things. They tell us to work harder and longer hours so we can spend more to keep the “good life going. ‘ They tell us that we must give up more of the earth’s beauty in order to maintain our way of life.
We don’t really want more things, most of us don’t want this way of life. . .at least not deep down. What we want is more time to experience the beauty of nature, more time with the ones we love, less financial dependency, more free space, and more freedom to enjoy that space. We want to breathe fresh air, to drink pure water, and to feel that we are one with the wildlife and wild places that are left. We want wild places near us so that our free time won’t wasted just getting there. As we come to understand that these precious gifts are gifts to be cherished and to hold sacred all of us will develop a bond with nature and the earth that no advertising gimmick or smooth-talking politician can take away. The only way we will be able to preserve true freedom, the only way that we can restore our peace of mind is to eliminate private, corporate, and political greed where we find it.
First within ourselves. When we are told we will benefit by selling public lads, we must look at the effect this will have on all things not simply immediate financial gain. When a politician is more concerned about economic growth than he is about our God-given rights, we must ignore his rantings. If a corporation is more concerned about profit than about the air we breathe and the water we drink, we must refuse to buy its products.
Chief Joseph and his great people faught this battle until the spark of life left their eyes. Even then they fought on. We are, as a group, strong. We must continue where they left off. We must overcome the insensitivity and the contempt for nature that is all about us destroying nature even as I speak. We must stand united in that responsibility, and we can do that by supporting the Idaho Conservation League with physical, mental, and spiritual strength. We must come to the understanding that we and all life are one with the earth, and Idaho is part of us that we are responsible to. When you give to the Idaho Conservation League, you are giving to all mankind. You are helping to insure that the air and water will remain pure, and that true personal freedom will be a reality. You will be showing your sensitivity and concern for every living creature and every plant that is sharing with you its beauty and uniqueness.
Future man, woman, and child will reap the bounty and be blessed because of your contribution of hope. Your generosity will not go unnoticed and your reward will be beyond mere material wealth. It will be beyond your wildest imaginings.
The earth is alive. It has its own spirit. You are that spirit.
A great hunter and a brave warrior, an eloquent spokesman, Crowfoot of the Blackfoot tribe in his dying hour spoke of life. He said, “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
If I may, I would like to add to Crowfoot’s beautiful wisdom. Life is a drop of dew on the tip of a blade of grass….evaporating with the sun’s first ray. Not dead, but reborn.