In the 80 years I have lived, 2017 stands out as one of three personal trauma periods. The others were World War II and the Kennedy through Nixon era. For that reason, I plan to spend much more time in the garden. Many lessons can be learned by having quiet time in a garden or forest.
If you wish to try it, start by noting the shades of green leaves and variations of brown stems of tree trunks to cool your mind. The next step is to free yourself from any fear or anger that can lead to destructive energy. This is not easy. It takes concentration.
Most folks say they hope for “Peace on Earth,” especially at this season when that message is loud and clear. Folks also wish for a happy new year. Why then do we have the many conflicts occurring today? It seems the answer is too complicated to ever understand. Just about the time we give up, a song lyric like “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me” comes along. Like a prayer answered, it can dawn on us that the big problem is we constantly see ourselves as separate from others. We are the “us group” and everyone else a “them.”
As long as we create this isolation in our minds, we are susceptible to getting caught up in conflicts, even wars because of this polarity. The problem is separating ourselves from others by skin shade, eye or hair color, religion, culture, philosophy, sex, geographical origin or whatever. It’s not a matter of saying we are all the same, but recognizing our diversity and appreciating our differences. To really simplify what appears to be complicated, we can take the message of Jesus, or for that matter, the Beatles — “All we need is love.” The key to love is that it should be coupled with faith and hope even though the greatest power of all is love.
The world’s great religions preach loving the Creator and its works. There are those who distort the message for political, economic, power or control purposes in the name of the Creator. Some place themselves and their group above others and this creates conflict.
The question is, “Can we have ethnicity without ethnocentricity?”
Can we appreciate we are unique without putting down someone else? It is so easy to fall into the “us and them” mode of thinking that it takes constant mental push-ups to see all humans as connected. We can even expand that connection to all living things and thus the “all.” One way to practice is by noting our attitudes about other inhabitants of our global ecosystem.
For example, let’s take a look at our beautiful Hawaiian gardens. They are composed of plants from all around the world. Some of these plants arrived long ago transported by ocean currents, winds and birds. Hundreds of varieties were brought here by the first human inhabitants. These include kukui, coconut, ti, breadfruit, banana, sweet potato and many others. Later, each group of humans brought the plants associated with their culture.
Unfortunately, all the plants introduced by humans are now being called alien species. Oops, it’s “us and them” again! In the past, they were referred to as canoe plants, non-native or exotic. The term alien is one charged with negative connotations, with visions of pestiferous and otherwise uninvited crawlies. When the term is associated with humans, we almost automatically add “illegal” to create another negative picture. When we describe plants or animals as alien species, we might incorrectly think of aliens only as pest species. However, every life form on our island is alien if one goes back far enough. Even what we call a weed could be better referred to as a pioneer species trying to heal the wounds created by mismanagement. In the big picture, plants are reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, supplying oxygen and are sequestering carbon. Most animals supply carbon dioxide essential for plant life.
A favorite yoga meditation practice is to focus on breath. As one inhales, the focus is on a tree supplying oxygen. With the exhale, one visualizes the tree absorbing the carbon dioxide. A calming sense of peace soon prevails.
When it comes to our gardens, we might then see things differently. We see that it is essential to protect what is unique to Hawaii, but simply labeling life forms as native versus alien and then to infer that one is good and thus the other must be bad is a disservice to all. Our gardens give us opportunity to do our mental push-ups and acknowledge the value of each of the diverse life forms.
Many of the plants and animals introduced to Hawaii through the years are rare and perhaps even near extinction in the wilds from which they came. Some that we consider weeds have been used by older cultures as healing herbs. For example, many plants and birds we consider common here are no longer found in their place of origin because of destruction of habitat. Many of the birds such as parrots we find in Hawaii are either threatened or endangered in their native lands.
To infer that plants or animals are good or bad is dangerous. These are moral judgments. These terms are appropriate in relationship to how we manage and interact with the other living things around us. Yes, there have been plants introduced, many accidentally, that have had a negative impact on other life forms in a given environment. But for every negative impact, there are likely many positive ones. Many life-forms that we consider special to Hawaiiana are not from here at all. Our lovable geckos and the popular pikake, hibiscus anthurium, Kona coffee and plumeria that brighten our lives are aliens if we choose that description.
Most non-native plants introduced purposely have benefited man. With diversified agriculture essential for our economic survival, it is important we don’t hamstring ourselves so that we are unable to grow a crop that is of benefit to our community and economy by maligning all non-native species. Our responsibility is to recognize our communities include many other life-forms, most of which are unique and need our special protection, and at the same time to recognize the need for non-native species including those introduced by the Polynesians and other ethnic groups.
The message for our future is that it is time for all members of our island community, including environmental groups, agricultural interests, visitor industry, politicians and others, to work together on plans that focus on good management of our resources. It is not a time to be confrontational. We can learn to manage our polarities if we can shift out of the “us and them” patterns of thinking. There is a lesson to be learned in how we treat all the varied life-forms in our island gardens. Maybe if we learn that garden lesson, we will treat one another better! It is the essence of aloha. Our New Year’s resolution can be to see the good in all things and in all people. Let us try not to harbor fear, anger and hatred by reminding ourselves to pray for peace on Earth and let it begin within ourselves.