–by Eknath Easwaran (Apr 22, 2016)
Why we couldn’t hear the deer or the elephants? We were all young and in good health, and there was nothing wrong with our ears. Surely those sounds had registered on our eardrums; yet we had heard nothing.
The lack was not in the capacity of our ears but in our minds. People see and hear things they pay attention to, and they pay attention to the things they know and love. Because our jungle guide had lived all his life with those animals and loved them, his attention was naturally drawn to them. Amid the thousands of sounds that surrounded us –the birds calling, the wind blowing, the cicadas chirping, the monkeys chattering, the leaves and branches falling– he could hear the sound of deer’s delicate hoof picking its way through the underbush, or the strange hollow sound of an elephant’s trunk sucking up water.
As I acquired a little more conscious control over my thinking, I began to suspect that most of the industrial era’s problems arise because of where we are fixing our attention. For us, trying to see compassion in the world around us is as difficult as it was for me to hear the sound of the deer. Somehow, we have become so attuned to the sound and sight of profit that we can spot it anywhere, but we find it hard to recognize things like cooperation or compassion –even when they are awakening in our own hearts.
The trouble lies in our mental habits. The mind, our instrument of observation, is deeply influenced by the compulsive habits and addictions that characterize so much of modern life. Comparing the mind to a camera, you could say that these habits skew the focus, alter the depth of field, and in general do all they can to make us see not what is really there but what the mind wants us to see. An what it wants us to see is the profit or momentary gratification it is interested in, whether it is a pastry or a sports car, a promotion or a dividend. When our attention is glued to these things, we see only the fragmented, turbulent surface of life, not the vast, interconnected web of relationships supporting that surface.
A profit-seeking mind rarely misses an opportunity for profit or convenience, but it misses opportunities for cooperation and communication by the millions. To such a mind, a forest is not a home for deer and elephants –it is real estate. In the words of William Blake, “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
Around the world, rain forests like the one near my village are host to roughly half Earth’s plant, insect, and animal species. Through 65 million years of uninterrupted evolution, untouched by the climatic changes of the ice ages, rain forests have developed a complex system of interrelationships in which each species depends on the existence and activities of many others. In these relationships between animals and environment, animals and plants, animals and other animals, biologists have found abundant evidence of Nature’s thrift and compassion.
Everywhere, she exhibits the timing and delicate understanding of an artist, using endless creativity to provide a home and food for every creature, no matter how big or small. In the rain forest, as everywhere in Nature, researchers have found that competition is not nearly so important as the countless process by which it avoids competition. […]
We have also learned a great deal about Nature’s innate thriftiness from the rain forest. Its richness and diversity are not due to the quality of its topsoil, but to the extraordinary interaction of millions of different species, as they recycle water, nutrients, and ensure every resource is preserved and reused endlessly.
The forests have provided us with tantalizing glimpses of Nature’s compassion; one of my favorites is an observation by a researcher. He was studying elephants in the part of the Planet we call Africa when he noticed an elephant that had lost his trunk, probably through some injury. The researcher was intrigued by the animal’s svelte, well-fed appearance –without a trunk, an elephant has no food for foraging. He followed the elephant and his herd into the forest. When the group finally settled down to browse for food, the mystery was solved: as the trunkless elephant stood by, the rest of the herd industriously tore off leaves and twigs for him. One at a time they brought bundles of food, playfully competing for the right to feed him. Not one of the elephants ate until their trunkless companion had eaten his fill.
by Eknath Easwaran excerpt from The Compassionate Universe, The Power of the Individual to Heal the Environment. [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]