Way back in February of 2012, I wrote a post titled “What’s Important?”. It was an essay describing the evolution of my ideas of “right” (as in “being in right relationship with”, “righteousness”) from the evangelical Christian tradition to a broader, Buddhist-influenced experience. It led to a string of great comments and word analysis.
My moral development has been challenged lately by the speakers, storytellers, and advocates I heard at the Wilderness 50 conference. What is “Right Ethic” or a right relationship with our planet? Where do we experience the emergence of this ethic? Does it come from the top down, imposed by authority in law? Does it bubble up from feelings of connection to places, plants, animals, ecosystems, communities? How do we evaluate our interactions with Earth? And how important or trivial is that interaction in our daily lives?
Having immersed myself in a 5-day arena of wilderness philosophy, it’s very strange to return to the Internet world and gaze on its landscape. Yahoo! news articles bombard my senses: “How to Crack an Egg”, “Romantic Move Goes Awry”, “Horse Rescued from Pool”, J-Lo, Renee Zellweger, sports teams, iPhones, who wore it best, etc. Is this what life on Earth is about? Really?! Even gazing on the more thorny parts of the landscape seems a little flat. Is death news? Is human drama relevant or manufactured? And what about the lives of the non-human inhabitants of this planet? The life of the Ebola virus, for example. What do we really care about that, other than the way that humans are effected?
What is important about Life? Just my life? Just human life? Just life that I recognize?
The keynote speaker in many of the Wilderness 50 sessions was Dave Foreman. He is a much-loved, original eco-warrior who is now 68 years old and retains the spit and vinegar of his activist days. Raised in the Texas atmosphere of Biblical preachers, he knows how to tell a story and describe a cause. He used this illustration in a few of his addresses: he visited a ficus tree, of the fig and banyan family, whose broad canopy is one of the biggest in the entire world. It stretched over his head and spread out in a space bigger than a football field. And each limb supported hundreds of leaves. A massive thing, this tree! He likened it to the Tree of Life and stood in awe. And then he realized that human beings, our species, of which there are more than 7 billion individuals, represent just ONE leaf on this great tree. That one little leaf right….there. That’s us. How important are we? How aware are we of the rest of the tree? Of how we influence it and how it influences us? Do we think about that…often? ever? Or do we pay more attention to our celebrities, bank accounts and pet peeves.