Nature cannot be defeated

There is hope. It’s right outside your door.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been impacted by the current, global economic downturn, and the headlines seem to grow more dire every day. People losing their jobs, their homes, their will to survive. People losing hope. People who are facing one hardship after another, who keep trying and keep getting shut down — whether they’re applying for jobs, trying to get health coverage, or trying to forestall foreclosure. People who simply give up.

It’s hard not to feel demoralized and defeated right now. It’s difficult for a lot of people not to just stay in bed each morning. It’s too easy to say, “Today’s no better than yesterday. What’s the point of even trying?”

I was thinking about this earlier this morning, when I happened to glance out my window at the lavender bushes in my garden. About five or six honeybees were busy buzzing from one purple blossom to the next, gathering food and spreading pollen.

Businesses may be closing their doors, but the flowers are still blooming. Banks may be passing their own hurt onto consumers, but the rain continues to fall (at least, it does in Portland). What does nature know of economic collapse?

Watching those bees this morning helped me to breathe more easily. The sun keeps rising every morning. The clouds continue to drift across the sky, and the moon and stars still stand vigil each night. Winds blow, rain falls, flowers grow.

It reminds me of one particular scene from the movie “Excalibur,” where armor-clad knights are riding to the battlefield on strong horses, pushing the blooming branches of cherry blossoms out of the way with their swords. The cherry blossom trees didn’t care about strife within the kingdom. The trees didn’t care about the kingdom at all. It was spring — time for growth and the promise of life — and the trees knew it.

That’s not to say that the environment isn’t hurting right now, too. Unemployment figures may not directly impact air quality, but decades of industrial pollution certainly do. Our waterways are more polluted, there’s litter seemingly everywhere, and our weather systems are reacting — often violently — to climate change.

But I have yet to see nature take a defeatist attitude. I’ve yet to see a tree decide to take a season or even a day off from the work of growing, simply because it’s tired of fighting against smog. I’ve yet to see the dawn drag its heels because it’s depressed or sad.

Last week, I met a survival instructor on Portland’s light rail MAX system. He was talking about efforts to live more in harmony with nature, rather than always setting ourselves up in opposition to it. And right now, the environment can play a very active, partnered role in the healing of our hearts and minds in these troubled times.

The next time I feel myself slipping into frustration or even defeat or despair, I’ll try to remember to look out again at my lavender bushes and the bees going about their daily work. I’ll pause to watch the robin perched on the tree branch and will close my eyes to listen to its song. None of this will instantly fix our current economic mess, of course, but it does provide some much needed perspective.

No matter what happens today, the sun will still rise tomorrow. Breezes will rustle tree branches. Birds will sing. Bees will dance around flowers. Every day is a new opportunity to get on with the business of living and growing, regardless of what happened yesterday or even five minutes ago. The bees don’t care about my checking account balance, nor about how many (or how few) projects I have to work on. They’re focused simply on what’s right in front of them, and on what they can do right now to keep on living and moving forward.

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What anchors you?

I got to thinking this morning about spiritual anchors — the rituals, practices, icons, symbols and more that help to bring us back to ourselves and our beliefs. These anchors are particularly important in times of crisis and confusion, as they offer reassurance and stability in the midst of chaos. In times of celebration, they are reminders of the paths we have chosen and can even help magnify and focus our joy.

Many people find such anchors in nature, though they may not think of them in spiritual terms. For some, the dry air and harsh beauty of the desert hearken back to the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the patriarch Abraham — common father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — as he left behind what was familiar and safe in his native Ur and headed out into the desert wilderness, following the voice of this new God who called him.

For others, the vistas found on mountaintops offer a more detached perspective on life and the world, allowing us to view our problems and concerns from a more removed place and underscoring the impermanence of life stressed in Hinduism and Buddhism.

For me, it’s trees. Plain and simple. It can be a single tree or a whole forest. The deep roots speak to me of my interest in genealogy and my need for real grounding in life. Part of my attraction to Judaism is the long history of thousands of years of tradition and of grappling with complex questions of living and faith. But trees also reach far away from their roots — in the entirely opposite direction, stretching up to great heights in the sky. But you couldn’t have one without the other: The roots stabilize and nurture the tree as it reaches ever upward, and it is this growth that balances the extensive root network stretching deep and wide within the earth.

Trees also clean the air, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen — taking a waste product and turning it into one of life’s necessities, and creating what I find to be a very tranquil environment in the process. I feel easily at peace in the presence of trees, and I imagine at least part of this comes from the increased oxygen in their immediate vicinity.

I also love the way trees stand tall and strong. They’re not running around trying to deal with the dramatic crises of every day living. But they’re always there, standing vigil and even serving as witnesses to history (as evidenced in their growth rings).

So when I’m feeling unmoored or scattered, all I have to do is go hang out with some trees for a while. I soon find myself feeling grounded, more relaxed and ready to face life from a more centered place.

What anchors you? Do you head out into nature when you’re feeling stressed or uncertain? What element or place — an herb garden, running stream, rock quarry or field of wildflowers — draws you in?