Mindful Living and the Environment

Saturday: it was a sunny, clear day in Atlanta. Wanting to spend some time outside, I decided to clear the debris from the summer garden. Most folks had done it weeks ago and had already planted autumn gardens. I knew it was time to get it done.

While I had put off this particular task, there’s something I appreciate about time doing yard work. Yard work is quite different from my usual work, which requires me to spend most of the day at a computer. It can be difficult to see any real results while working at a computer. But an hour or two in the yard brings clear, identifiable results. I do appreciate that. More important, though, working in the yard draws me out of myself and more into the natural cycle of life. I find myself mindfully aware of the present moment with what I discover in the yard and garden. Time spent in the yard draws me to awareness of life as it is around me.

It’s been interesting to learn about gardening in Atlanta, GA. The southern climate is different from Pennsylvania, where I grew up. The soil is also very different. While Pennsylvania has dark, rich soil, the ground in Georgia is red clay. There are also lots of rocks, including an outcropping of granite in my back yard. That means that I have a series of box gardens for vegetables and flowers.

I’ve lived in other parts of the United States, as well. Each region had a distinctive climate and unique vegetation. My years in Miami, Florida, were near the beach, with palm trees, fichus trees and locust berry bushes. From Miami, my home became Tucson, Arizona, surrounded by cacti, palo verde, and mesquite. (My book, Stumbling Into Life’s Lessons has a section on spirituality and the Arizona desert.) Each place has held a unique beauty and evoked a different awareness of life.

Wherever I lived, my time out of doors, in the yard, made me more mindful of the environment and what is living around me. In moving to Atlanta, I imagined the beauty of azalea in bloom and magnolia blossoms. Indeed, many native varieties of plants can still be found in the greater Atlanta region. But so can things I didn’t expect: some varieties of palms I knew from Florida and cacti from the Sonora Desert of Arizona also flourish here.

Changes in the environment are occurring in many places. While the southern United States is considered to be home for magnolia trees, they now can be found throughout most of my home state of Pennsylvania. That’s far different from my youth when the Pennsylvania climate was much colder.

Living mindfully with the environment I inhabit brings me to realize how accurate the message of science is: the climate is changing. Atlanta shouldn’t be home to cactus and palm trees. Other invasive species are taking over and killing indigenous plants and trees. The woods behind my home will be lost to kudzu and English ivy. Then again, magnolia trees in Pennsylvania? Do we recognize what’s happening? The United States Department of Agriculture revised its recommended planting zone for crops in 2012. With predictions of increased rains in the south, drought in the Mid-west, and other changes throughout North America, I have to wonder how it is that people don’t seem to notice what’s happening around them! But, of course, many of us spend so little time in nature that we just don’t recognize the changes as they occur in real time.

My window to climate change and the environment is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is much more than the spiritual practice of meditation. It draws us to an awareness of life around us. Being aware of life around me happens in a particular way when I am doing simple work in the yard. In other words, the signs of change really are in our backyards. Perhaps it’s time to recognize them.

© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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