Several months ago, four young friends living in three different countries embarked on a journey together to replant a deforested rainforest in the south of Mexico. The “Forest of Interbeing” project includes the purchasing of 9 hectres of land, roughly 900 acres, in Los Tuxtlas region, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Formerly home to several varieties of trees, shrubs, and endangered wildlife. Now only 20% of this bio-diverse land remains, deforested for the production of meat through cattle grazing. What we have discovered in the process of creating this project is that replanting forests takes a whole community.
Our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, talks of the Four Nutriments. The Four elements needed for life. These are Edible Food, Sense Impressions, Volition, and Consciousness. Community is also a kind of food. Community brings together many beings across genders, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, race, abilities, socio-economic status, and languages, to find where we meet. At the center of these differences is actually a common need for connection, love, and understanding.
I never thought that working on a project to replant a rainforest would bring me closer to myself. It seldom occurs to me that building community is an act of love for oneself, an act of caring for body and mind. Extending myself to communicate with others enables me to see myself differently. Because in order to get along with others I need to be aware of how I use my words, my breath energy, in order to make my ideas be heard. That is one of many ways community allows me to better see myself.
Not everyone speaks the same language I do. I am not just speaking national languages, but ways of seeing the world. I see the world differently than others based on my life experiences. So when I encounter others and attempt to communicate with them, I am needing to meet them halfway between how I see the world and how they see the world. This is where the practice of deep listening and loving speech comes in handy. I listen in order to be with that other person. I speak in order to make myself, my person available to them.
The capacity to listen deeply and use loving speech also happens through stopping and looking deeply. First, I am grounded in myself, in my own body and mind. In our conference calls to organize the “Forest of Interbeing” we always begin with mindful breathing. That’s the first step in building community, coming back to oneself. Coming home. Arriving. Then, as in our conference calls to discuss details of the reforesting project, we consider what we would like to share. We look deeply into ourselves, reflect upon what is important, and how we would like to share our time together. Community involves gazing into one’s heart, our own, each others, and individual and collective actions.
That is our vision for “Forest of Interbeing.” To build networks of friends across cultures. To see how we depend upon each other, depend upon each element in our environment: animals, minerals, vegetal, for our continuation, our daily lives. Humans and trees depend upon each other. Birds and sky depend upon each other. Water and soil depend upon each other. And all of life is interconnected. That’s not just a theory in our eyes. It’s a way of practice. An art of how we engage with life.
Mindful and compassionate action stems from the supportive acts of community. The nutriment of spiritual community as food. Community that nourishes our heart, our bodies, and minds. Community that allows for the sustenance of our bodies and minds. Coming home to spiritual community, to ourselves and others, effects the planet in positive ways. Because when we stop and listen deeply, look into our own hearts, and engage with others, we are no longer isolated beings. We never were. With attention to our place in the interconnectedness that is life we foster healing and repair.
Every day of our lives, every action born out of this sort of love, bears fruit, or a forest. A “Forest of Interbeing” can help us to breathe more deeply. It can extend our gratitude to the earth and sky in reestablishing homes for birds and other wild beings. It offers a chance for future generations in the Los Tuxlas region and beyond to reconnect with the earth, to cherish it, protect it, and live amongst it, as it. With a “Forest of Interbeing” we just might continue to call this precious planet home. That’s our vision and our work in community. Community is a food for life.
by Brian Otto Kimmel (True Lotus Concentration), March 18, 2014