Touching the Earth — Acknowledging our Ancestors

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Dear Still Water Friends,

I invite you to join us this Thursday evening at Crossings to practice and become an organic part of the Three Earth Touchings. I say become an organic part because this wonderful practice relates directly to living things and the present moment. It aides us in contemplating who we are in the present moment as a manifestation of where we have come from.

I have over the years been asked by Mitchell to lead the touchings because he is aware of my love for the practice, which I first experienced more than 25 years ago. Usually we do the companion Five Touchings of the Earth, but this time I humbly submit we perform the “Three.” Both the Three and the Five invoke our inexorable connections to our ancestors and teachers. But the “Three” is for me more rooted in our personal connections to our own mortalities, to our place in the world on this planet and to our common suffering therein.

I am reminded of the wonderful Thursday evening several weeks ago when our friend Eliza introduced many of us to the poetry of Mary Oliver and connected us to our love of teachers and indeed ancestors. The “Three” is an extension of that very idea. It touches on so many of the same themes: nature, the forest, geese, our place in the world, our connection to it, life and death, and the inimitability of who we are.

Acknowledging who we are through acknowledging our ancestors is a tradition present in many of our brethren’s cultures as well: the ankh and concept of ka in ancient Egypt/Kemet, African libations, Dia de los Muertos, and pebbles on the graves of ancestors in the Jewish tradition.

Equally, many cultures prostrate themselves on the earth in celebration of our connection to it. When we lay on the ground or floor we plug directly into the earth that produced us all – the ultimate ancestor:

  • Yoruba – Doba’le
  • Baha’i – prostrations
  • Christianity – kneeling and full prostrations
  • Hinduism – puja
  • Islam – Sujud
  • Judaism – Sigd
  • Sikhism – Mutha Tekna

The Three Touchings encourages us to contemplate our mortality and our fragility. While finite, our lives are at the same time “limitless” and connected to our ancestors, our teachers, and the cosmos. One day all of us will transition to the ancestral plane – and yet we will live on. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that we exist “beyond…  space and time.”

When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of interbeing, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth. This is the highest possible form of prayer. To express our reverence for the Earth is not to deify her or believe she is any more sacred than ourselves. It is to love her, to take care of her and to take refuge in her. When we suffer, the Earth embraces us, accepts us, and restores our energy, making us strong and stable again. The relief that we seek is right under our feet and all around us. Much of our suffering can be healed if we realize this. If we understand our deep connection and relationship with the Earth, we will have enough love, strength, and awakening to look after ourselves and the Earth so that we both can thrive.” (from Love letters to the Earth)

We  invite you to come sit and then touch the earth this Thursday, followed by a dharma sharing.

I hope you can join us.

A related excerpt from Love Letter to the Earth is below.

Paul Flippin

The Earth Is a Solid Place of Refuge
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Love Letter to the Earth

When we feel that we’re fragile, not stable or solid, we can come back to ourselves and take refuge in the Earth. With each step we can feel her solidity beneath our feet. When we’re truly in touch with the Earth, we can feel her supportive embrace and her stability. We use all our body and our mind to go back to the Earth and surrender ourselves to her. With each breath we release all our agitation, our fragility, and our suffering. Just being aware of her benevolent presence can already bring relief.

On the verge of the Buddha’s enlightenment, he touched the Earth with his hand and asked her to bear witness to his awakening. Flowers sprang up in celebration at the very place where his hand touched the ground. At that moment, the Buddha’s mind became so free and so clear that he saw millions of flowers everywhere smiling at him.

We can be like the Buddha, and in difficult moments touch the Earth as our witness. We can take refuge in the Earth as our original mother. We can say, “I touch the pure and refreshing Earth.”

Whatever nationality or culture we belong to, whatever religion we follow, whether we’re Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, or atheists, we can all see that Mother Earth is a great bodhisattva.

When we see her in this way, with all her many virtues, we will walk more gently on her and treat her and all her children more gently. We will want to protect her and not harm her or any of the myriad forms of life she has given birth to. We will stop wreaking destruction and violence on Mother Earth. We will resolve the question of what we mistakenly call “the environmental problem.”

The Earth is not just the environment. The Earth is us. Everything depends on whether we have this insight or not.

When you’re able to see the Earth for the bodhisattva that she is, you will want to bow down and touch the Earth with reverence and respect. Then love and care will be born in your heart.

This awakening is enlightenment. Don’t look for enlightenment elsewhere. This awakening, this enlightenment, will bring about a great transformation in you, and you’ll have more happiness, more love, and more understanding than from any other practice. Enlightenment, liberation, peace, and joy aren’t dreams for the future; they’re a reality available to us in the present moment.

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