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Nature, celebration and the value of community

Guardian oak at the entrance to a
beautiful community woodland
which was planted in the 1990s.
Community woodlands are being planted – living legacies to future generations – and soon jubilee celebrations will begin. In a society where competition has been the religion for so long, it is reassuring to see that we can still celebrate our capacity for co-operation and community.

In one of my son’s favourite stories, Stone Soup by Jon Muth, three monks come across a town where people have become distrustful, selfish, frightened and divorced from the world. The monks start to make stone soup, and the townsfolk become curious. When the trio suggest adding carrots, a woman fetches some. Then one by one each person contributes something different, and soon they are all enjoying a feast with music, dance and storytelling. By honouring one another's unique gifts and learning to share and co-operate, the people rediscover their sense of community.

“Community” is precious on so many levels: families, friends (Facebook and face-to-face) and neighbours, co-workers and customers, shop staff and strangers we smile “hello” to in recognition of our shared humanity, animals, insects, woodlands, oceans, rivers, rocks and wild places, villages, towns, cities and nations – these are all communities in which we participate. “Every living being is precious,” says the Dalai Lama.

We are also members of a greater community: as living beings sharing in the life of a living world.

Before writing, I often walk around the garden. Rain or shine, I touch the earth barefoot and feel my soul-roots reach deep into the earth and connect with life. The impermanent physical forms we think of as “us” exist only because of the gifts of air, food, water and sunlight we embody. Looking deeper, we are a community of atoms. And, as atoms are 99.99999pc empty space, we are mostly empty space. It is in that space that we find our deep connection with all things. We are a web of relationships, from the sub-atomic and molecular, through to the social and universal – a community within a community within a community. I am because you are, and you are because I am, says Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

The mechanical materialism of the 20th century has left many people bereft of that deep, emotional connection and the clear, rational understanding of our intimate relationship with the earth. It has led us into the self-destructive delusion that we are separate from nature. Scientific research repeatedly supports the Gaia theory that our living planet is a self-regulating eco-system – a community of life-forms. Our ancestors knew this long ago.

It is through reawakening our sense of community, our sacred relationship, with the natural world, inside and out, that we discover we are never alone. Even if we cannot get out into the countryside, walking mindfully in a park or even along a town or city street is enough. Drilling our awareness down beneath the man-made streets, it is possible to touch the spirit/life-force/energy (which, physics tells us, is in everything) of the land upon which the city was built. We need only pause for a moment amidst the busy-ness of working lives on automatic to restore that deep, meaningful connection with our natural community.

Whatever our beliefs – Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Muslim, Atheist, or any other – sacred living is as natural as admiring a sunset or moonrise, a splash of colour in the hedgerow, or flash of lightning in the sky. Nature’s majesty is all around and within us. In order to live meaningfully in sustainable communities we need only open to the beauty of which we are all a vital part. We need only want less and enjoy more what we already have – because, in the community of nature, we are part of so very much.


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