Continuing with our theme of ‘A Map to Where I Live’, Mo Henderson prompts us to accept the “challenge of getting to know who we are and embrace reality with trust” in order to “be aware of the needs of our neighbours in the communities where we live”.
When spring begins in the temperate zone of Northern Europe myriads of birds come together in numberless bands to fly northwards. Here, where I live in Northern France, swallows arrive to rear their offspring, having made their miraculous 6,000-mile journey from South Africa. Amazingly, many return to the same mud-built nest, made the year or years before, enabling recycling of their previous home once again.
I am always fascinated by the way these little birds illustrate what mutual aid means for them. Watching them gather together for safety at night and collecting to migrate in swarms when they are ready to return South. They instinctively show a protective force, an energy of protection for all of their species. Coming together at nesting time is common with many birds and if one visits a nesting ground, there is often a sense of peace and harmony. Even the weakest of little birds benefit from this cycle of nesting gatherings. If a large bird of prey approaches to steal eggs or chicks, they are immediately surrounded and chased away. I have seen this happen at a local sea bird nesting area on the shoreline rocks near where I live, when eggs and young chicks are threatened, the birds will rise up together and chase the invader away. Also, I see it with crows in the forest nearby, gathering to chase away a hunting buzzard.
With birds and other animals, mutual aid seems a natural phenomenon. For example, the enormous ‘effort’ the swallows make to rear their chicks and ensure their survival, whether biological, instinctual or with an element of feeling and belonging together. After all, today many countries are naming animals now as sentient beings, capable of experiencing fear, stress and pain, both at a physical and psychological level, and I would add a sense of ‘universality’.
How capable are we humans in today’s world of climate change, pandemics, and social and economic divisions, to be aware of the needs of our neighbours in the communities where we live? To connect with others in a way which is helpful for all. You are probably already doing so if you have ever shared a meal with a stranger, realizing it was easier and better to do it together, instead of depending on others to do it for you. Have you ever quickly run to help someone who has fallen, without even having to think about it? I believe there is a natural sense of belonging at the heart of human nature and offering to others is part of that heart, albeit sometimes unconsciously. What is our natural ‘rhythm of life’? There seem to be many things which distract and divide us from being at ‘home’ and aware of the needs of our local community and the wider conditions which are so closely interconnected.
In my own experience, sometimes I sense my body ‘knows’ but my mind can be separated and ‘homeless’. Listening to my own heart means being present wholeheartedly with body and mind. Being at home with myself involves a certain kind of ‘effort’. The most basic, traditional definition of ‘Right Effort’ is to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities. I often struggle to understand what it is I need to do to be helpful to everyone. However, life is what comes to us and, as I understand it, we don’t need to search for how to help, we simply need to be aware of what is happening, be still with it and respond, this may mean doing something or nothing.
‘The right application of effort in training is a bit of a paradox. If we do not try to make some changes in our lives, what is the point of undertaking training in the first place? But letting go of things such as “trying” is itself one of the changes that we need to make! What are we to do?’ Daizui McPhillamy ‘The Eightfold Path’.
I have learned many a lesson through the experience of becoming distracted by over-concern or attachment to working projects and the subsequent consequences of dividing myself from ‘the heart of the matter’. For me, being still and at home with myself and others has often been a challenge.