Caring for and Healing the Earth

Philosophy of Caretaking

Listening to Spirit

Bill Sydor

        After being back [from the Caretaker class], I’ve been contemplating, "How much of what I learned in the Caretaker class have I been able to put to use?" My initial response was one of great uncertainty: "What did I really learn? Yes, we did practice maintaining animal trails, providing feeding areas, making animal shelters, working with erosion problems, and selective pruning to promote the growth of cedars, but is there more to the class that is less tangible and not easily described?" As I reflect back over the weeks since the class, I remember that in my earlier Philosophy class Tom had said that there were two simultaneous classes, one at the physical level, and another at the spiritual level. Some of what we learn is subtle and perhaps easily overlooked. Only now am I able to appreciate some of the changes in myself and the way I view the world.
        While "talking to the trees" in the Pine Barrens, I had the sense that I need to spend more time outdoors learning to listen to the messages of spirit: "How can I hear Nature ‘speak’ if I am inside and don’t go outdoors?" Thus I have tried to spend more time outside each morning and each evening.
        How does one tell when one’s "caretaking" actions are motivated by spirit or by cultural conditioning? Am I really listening to spirit or am I simply being a compulsive homeowner who wants a tidy and neat yard? While "aimlessly" wandering one evening beneath the tulip poplar, which I now sense as the spirit center of the area, I "felt" an answer. To start, all I need to do is listen, just take time to listen. In our busy world, the "taking time" may be the most challenging part. If I am being compulsive and trying, rushed and hurried, then "I do not have time to listen", and thus, consequently, am not acting from spirit. Here, spirit is acting gently, taking her time (as I write these words I sense a whisper that "spirit" is not to be forced into a box or category – spirit is not always gentle, and, when appropriate, will act in rapid and powerful ways…). Now on my refrigerator is a reminder: "Start by listening, simply listening".
        There was a bush which I had allowed to grow without knowing what it was. It has kept growing and growing. Then, one day while passing by, I had the impression that it is an alien weed species and should be removed. I paused and stopped: "Is this spirit ‘speaking’?" Taking time, a prayer with tobacco and chocolate, I do not want to kill this bush if it belongs, yet I do wish to follow the voice if it is spirit. Then, with growing confidence from the silence, yes, I knew, the bush should be removed. I found a little hatchet and started to work at cutting it down. As I worked, I felt I was learning another lesson: a hatchet is not the best tool for caretaking. The stumps were not cut clean, but were left rough and ragged. "A saw would be a better tool". How do we learn to be caretakers? An answer seemed to form: We need to practice, observe what we do, and learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. We are now in a school different from the one of experts, where each of us must learn how to learn in new ways, and learn from our actions. This is not to say we cannot and do not learn from others, but that we each need to fully understand our own personal responsibility in each of the individual actions we take.
        What is it worth to see the stars in the sky at night? Often I under-value some of life’s very real pleasures. One evening last week I was out in the yard and I looked up into the sky and saw Orion looking down, bright and clear from his position up in the heavens. What would it be like to have never seen stars in the sky? Last fall I had a shocking revelation: there are people who have never seen a starry night. I was at a gathering of friends outside Roanoke. We had just started a fire with a bow drill and were listening to the song of the adjacent stream. In the group was an exchange student from Japan, from Tokyo to be precise. America was turning out to be very different from what she had been expecting. She had heard of New York and the other large cities and was expecting the major differences to be language and culture, but here she was out in the "middle of nowhere", being treated to the wonder of a star-studded sky.
        Since there are people who really know nothing of the natural world from their own experience, only from what they’ve read in books, seen on TV, the movies, or more recently the computer, no wonder there is such a lack of understanding of, and appreciation for, the natural world. Why would anyone care to save the environment if they have never been out in nature, if they do not know the source of their food, water, air, and living spirit? Now I better understand the urgency in Tom’s messages of sharing what we know and have learned about the spirit of nature.


The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!