To Have and to Hold


A friend wrote to me of a woman’s love song to the earth. It touched my heart because I know it is true. It is a deep listening to the earth’s breath, the earth’s sorrow, and the earth’s prayer.

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to three generations of wisdom on a panel:

Joanna Macy, Buddhist activist; Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher; and Dekila Chungyalpa, Buddhist director of Sacred Earth. They spoke about a spiritual response to the ecological crisis.

Joanna talked about not being afraid to feel what comes up in us when we look at a river that has been dammed and is now drying up. Feel this in yourself, she said. Learn to hear the sound of the earth crying.

She mentioned Pope Francis’s recent visit to Lammpedusa, Italy’s crowded, migrant island. He asked during his talk, Who is weeping? This was the question in his heart. He wondered, is the world listening?

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee spoke of bearing witness and how we need to hold what we feel in our own heart. Each day, to remember a simple prayer for the earth. “It is also about allowing yourself to be loved by the earth,” he said, “for the earth is a living being, a spiritual being. The earth is our own nature. And we are part of her wounding and healing.”

This reminds me of the Kwan Yin – She who hears the cries of the world. And how our awareness, even for a few moments in our day, is needed.

Dekila told of how her grandmother knew the mountain nearby as alive, as sacred. One could tell from her presence that she embodies her grandmother’s knowledge. She, like the others, spoke of the importance of knowing we are all in this together. And that as our hearts are broken by what we see and know, our hearts are also coming alive.

On the drive home, I thought of the walks that I take in the hills. How often I have walked up the trail with tears, in complaint and communion. A silent prayer with pain. But mysteriously, how often have I reached the top of the hill and found the sorrow has lifted. There, in its place, is love and gratitude for the oaks, the boulders, the dry grasses, the woodpecker, the turkey buzzards circling silently above me.

And then a friend wrote of her experience with the land:

“There is a park in our town where the land always carried a sadness. It was long ago a Native American land, and then a landowner bought it. I always felt this sadness too, and I never knew what to do about it. Then my husband taught his first aikido class there one Sunday morning, and a friend and I were his first students. I felt something there for the first time. We were just breathing, focusing, feeling the earth beneath our feet, appreciating the beauty, and with this slight shift of focus, there was no doubt, that the land, the crows in the trees, were receptive. There was kindness, as he reminded us to send our energy out to the trees. Yes, this kindness.“

And yes, this love that touches us, that touches the earth and the heart of life.  It’s what we can hold each day. With a slight shift of focus it can be here.

A song we are remembering for the world.

To Have and to Hold
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10 years ago

As the first snow of the winter changes the landscape here in Minnesota, I so appreciate this reminder to remember our Mother, whom I often take for granted. Bless your work, Anne.

10 years ago

Thank you Anne this touched me and echoed something that happened to me recently when i was walking late at night back to my home here in London.

10 years ago

So many perfect pearls of inspiration, wisdom, comfort, in this post and in the comment by Jeanne as well. Affirmations of what my own listening and witnessing is revealing, little by little, quietly … softly …

10 years ago

Thank you for this beautiful post. I spent many hours in Tilden Park above Berkeley, CA, when I had a broken leg and could do very little else. I made friends with it. The sadness of the trees struggling to survive always touched me. The birds whose habits I learned just by watching. The Golden Eagle that came out to greet me when I arrived early in the morning. We exchanged a communion I will never forget. I met his mate and he showed me where their nest was. I lose my breath thinking of the beauty of this intimate encounter with nature. How sad that most of us have no idea what we are missing and foul our own habitat. But, attention changes everything.