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To Save or to Savor, that is the Question

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. - Rumi

There is a natural tension between inner preparation and action. Are we to spend our days an idler in nature, consuming beauty? Or meditate, beat drums, sing, or dance ecstatically? Or should we take concrete actions to diminish suffering and enact justice in our societies? Yes.

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. – ee cummings

Perhaps you feel a sense of judgement if you are not productive enough in a given day. The story of Lazy An expresses the ancient conundrum of saving and savoring. Lazy An was mesmerized by birds, and so still was he in his observation of them that they gathered around him and often lit upon him. He said he was guarding the village oxen but to the villagers’ eyes he was lazy. Yet his joy in the birds transferred to the villagers, who became more caring of one another, and of the birds and other wildlife. Hence his laziness and birdwatching fortified not just his connection to life, but that of others, resulting in more compassionate action. Soon other villages learned of this peaceful community and they too took up watching birds for joy, and the region became known for its long-standing peace and equity among its members (from Healing Earth Tarot).

Lazy An card from the Healing Earth Tarot deck

We are not lazy when we savor life, though I do believe that even Lazy An had intention in his seemingly idle practice of watching birds. Social and biotic community justice cannot be teased apart from our love of this life. Some days it will look like falling down in joy in a field of grass and other days it means filling out a spreadsheet while writing a grant application.

Writes Bell Hooks in her book, All About Love, “As we act, we not only express what is in us, and help give shape to the world, we also receive what is outside us and reshape our inner lives.” As we grow our love of the earth, we work harder to put our love into action, which in turns causes us to fall deeper in love. In my own life, I often reflect that I can hardly bear to carry the burden of the love for life on this planet, wanting to escape the toil and witnessing to suffering in my avian conservation work. But then love surprises me, burning deeper into my being, seeming to erase my sense of self, as each year I become more a bird and less an isolated and lonely human as my awareness and acceptance of the web of life increases with all its beauty and tragedy.

Too many spreadsheets in a day and I forget who I am, and often enough I forget whose I am.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver

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