Train and Practice

Aug 2: Early morning in Fresno, California finishing up work with Estela and Myrna here at Pan Valley Institute. The weather: 108 degrees. I have been coming down here for 15 years ever since Myrna first opened this office, a project of the American Friends Service Committee.

This time I came by train. Relaxing with my coffee, laptop, and the view, I marveled at the landscape – passing masses of water as the train moved north along the bay from Emeryville, then east under the Carquinez bridge following the flow of the Sactramento river for a ways. Taking the train cut out the usual foot on the pedal rush down highways 5 and 99. No big trucks. No changing lanes. No hot dusty car. And of course, the lower carbon footprint. I must admit I also saw this train journey as practice for that upcoming train ride to the People’s Climate March in New York next month. I believe there are still seats on that train which departs Emeryville at 9am on September 15…

PVI is one of my favorite organizations. Their current work is mostly focused on supporting and training a culturally diverse group of local leaders to organize around issues important to their communitites. Immigrant rights is one issue. Water is another. Another organization, the Community Water Center based in Visalia shared this in a recent newsletter: “As our summer here in California remains hot and dry and residents are warned to stay hydrated to avoid heat exhaustion, many of our community partners throughout the Central Valley are confronted with a question that gets to the heart of the water justice struggle: Is it more dangerous to not drink the contaminated water coming from my kitchen tap and risk heat exhaustion, or to drink the contaminated water and risk nausea, rashes, organ damage, and contracting a serious illness? The human right to water is not having to choose between the lesser of these two evils. With this reality constantly on our minds, our work has not taken a summer vacation.”

Aug 7: Back in sunny Woodacre (nowhere near 108 degrees). I’m managing the Young Adults Retreat this week and returning to the focus on climate practice. Here is a nature practice you might enjoy trying:

Choose one or several places to go and be outdoors – the beach, a garden, a playground, a hiking trail, a city sidewalk café. For some it will be most supportive to do the same practice every day in the same place. Others may prefer to try different practices and places.

There are many possibilities for practice. You can sit and meditate on your breath or do a “walking meditation” practice or some other practice that involves movement. You might focus your attention on one object – a tree, flower, leaf, rock, or a crack in the sidewalk. You could open up and have a broad awareness of the space where you have chosen to hang out, not focusing on any object but including everything. Notice sounds, smells, sensations.  If you like, ponder the elements – earth, air, water, fire.

You might also employ this “meandering practice” which I found and appreciated in dharma teacher Mark Coleman’s book, Awake in the Wild: “Take a leisurely nature walk with the intention to slow down the pace of your body and mind while you feel the tranquility of your habitat. Allow yourself plenty of time…and let go of any agenda around trying to reach a particular state. Your walk will be more like a meandering. Walk at half your normal pace, and imagine you are caressing the earth with your footsteps. Feel the connection of the soles of your feet with the earth.  If you can, go barefoot. Notice the impressions you leave on the earth with your footsteps. Are they imprints of anxiety and rushing, or of serenity?”

Whatever practice you choose, try to keep your awareness in the present moment. Most likely your mind will wander. When it does, just bring yourself back to the breath, the leaf, the sky.  The purpose of this practice is simply for you to enjoy and take in this experience of being here in nature and on this earth which we are all part of.

Practice for at least 20 minutes.

PS: Speaking of trains, my friend Robert Cusick has launched a website this summer for his Compassion Cultivation classes. Take a look at this train.