Honoring the Earth in our Rituals of Well-Being by LaChelle Schilling


plantsMuch of our lives lack the rich culture of ritual that I think would help us repair the relationships we have with our own bodies and with the earth. The Rg Veda is one of the oldest collection of hymns from India. In them, I find a playful and introspective expression of desires and fears that, at first, did not seem to me to hold much wisdom for a modern contemplative. But lately, I have been noticing how the speakers communicate to or about the earth, and how their lives seem centered around trying to take a part in creation. Mostly, these hymns are stories and supplications for rain, cows, victory in battle, and a long life. But there is a deep understanding of the power and divinity in the universe that is the very earth-based wisdom that our humanity-in- crisis needs. If the Qur’an is God calling for humanity to be grateful, the Rg Veda is a model of a humanity that could be nothing else.

I love one incantation, for instance, found in the tenth mandala, that seems to be from a compounding physician, praying to the healing herbs that might make her client well again. I imagine her alone, in a greenhouse pharmacy, on a damp late afternoon, fingering stems and leaves before crushing them with her mortar and pestle to make a bespoke tincture that holds a cure. She knows the plants intimately, and works as if she is on holy ground:

The tawny plants were born in the ancient times, three ages before the gods; now I will meditate upon their hundred and seven forms. [. . .] You who have a hundred ways of working, make this man whole for me. [. . .] The plants have driven whatever wound was in the body. When I take these plants in my hand, yearning for the victory prize, the life of the disease vanishes as if before a hunter grasping at his life. [. . .] Do not harm the woman who digs you up, nor him for whom I dig you up; let all our two-footed and four-footed creatures be without sickness. [. . .] Plant, you are supreme.

(I made the physician a woman. Let’s just go with it.)

Would it not be incredible if our own physicians said some sort of spell before administering our medications to us? Or if we had some sort of incantation we said when we were in the kitchen, cooking for ourselves and others? Food is medicine. I wonder if any of you in your kitchens are the medicine women for yourself and friends or families. I like how the physician knows that there are a hundred ways her plant can heal. I like how she speaks simultaneously in the present and future past, and how she sees the plants as being more ancient than gods. How she quells any hint of presumptuousness and so also asks that it not harm. I’m also relieved the analogous animal escaped from the hunter, this time.

The idea that food is earth and earth is medicinal is reiterated in another hymn in the tenth mandala about water. It recites,

Waters, you are the ones who bring us the life force. Help us to find nourishment so that we may look upon great joy. [. . .] For our well-being let the goddesses be an aid to us, the waters be for us to drink. Let them cause well-being and health to flow over us. [. . .] the waters are the ones I beg for a cure. Soma has told me that within the waters are all cures and Agni who is salutary to all. Waters, yield your cure as an armor for my body, so that I may see the sun for a long time. Waters, carry far away all of this that has gone bad in me, [. . .] I have sought the waters today; we have joined with their sap.

This honoring of water acknowledges how it can nourish, how it can aid our health and even be a cure. I like the idea of water washing “what has gone bad in me,” not just the occasional poor food choice, but, because I have anxiety, the kind that crops up out of nowhere and feels like a thin, warm lava stream of panic running down the center of my chest, grasping my breath. Can I imagine water slowly cleansing me of that as well?

How well do we honor our waters from the earth? The Flint, Michigan water crisis comes to mind. The tainted drinking water, as we know, was a result of “cost-cutting measures.” For a community of people 41.2% below the poverty line, officials provided water from a source that was historically already understood to be of low quality, already concerned to be too affected by sewage spills and industrial waste, already known to be corrosive. But they did it anyway. When fecal bacteria were detected, residents were just told to boil their water and more chlorine was dumped in. Then more chlorine. And more. Finally, there was so much chlorine, it started to corrode engine parts and it was “no longer” admitted as safe. What did we do to so destroy this river, and what has humanity become that we would put each other in jeopardy like this?

Heading back to India, the Ganges river, supposing to have healing and sacred qualities, is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, having pollutants 3000 times more than the levels deemed “safe” by the World Health Organization.

Our well-being, our medicines come from the earth. I think the stark paucity of rituals, incantations, spells, and hymns to the earth in modern, everyday human life and at the government levels is connected to our unsafe practices with our waters and the earth. How can we bring them back? What are your rituals of well-being that honor the earth?

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

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Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, Ecojustice, environment, Gratitude, Healing, Hinduism, Interdependence of Life, Mother Earth, Nature, Ritual, sustainability, water

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7 replies

  1. Beautiful post. For me what comes immediately to mind are the water protectors of Standing Rock who began each day with prayers for the water at the riverside. Protecting the water and the earth has become a movement. I like to spend time with my local creeks and rivers, listening and singing. We all need to pay heed to what endangers our rivers. The Hudson River now faces multiple threats from pipelines and oil barge parking lots for vessels full of Bakkan crude. Any accident would shut down the water supply for the river towns.

    Before meals, I like to remember the plants and animals (in my case not meat but eggs and some dairy) that are the food, the people who grew, harvested, and transported the food (I hope not too far; I am lucky to live in a region where local food is plentiful. I am also lucky to have a backyard garden).

    Thank you for reminding us to be mindful of source and interconnection.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for continuing to remind us about the Dakota Access Pipeline and the incredible human beings it puts in jeopardy. What a tragic story, and I wonder if the cause is more widespread as well. If we could all consider a reduced car initiative where those of us who can, reduce our driving, maybe even “fast” once or twice a week, if we thought more mindfully about the transportation that is spurred on via delivery trucks for our continually increasing excessive spending on material items, if the government would even be in a position to want/need pipelines. According to a study by Richard Stover and the Center for Biological Diversity, “since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 [“significant” pipeline] incidents (nearly 300 per year on average)” in the United States, spilling “an average of 76,000 barrels per year or more than 3 million gallons.” The study included incidents between 1986 and 2013. Humans are choking the throat of Gaia with hazardous libations. It is also much of humanity in general that “supports” that pipeline because of our practices. We need to buy less and drive less for pipelines to be less. I love that you are an ally and a part of this. Keep speaking to us about it. Thank you for your fight.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post, much needed LaChelle, and we could use many more insights on this topic as regards Honoring the Earth.

    However I did notice, reading through the titles at FAR this morning, that our planet is a major part of our philosophy of feminism and religion. Here are some relevant titles recently posted at FAR —

    Honoring the Earth in our Rituals of Well-Being
    Standing Rock (regarding lands and waters)
    Kissing the Earth
    In Honor of Spring: A Novel about our Blue Planet
    Renewing Our Spirits in the Wilderness of our World
    Earth-Spirituality in the Qu’ran and Green Muslims

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a wonderful post, LaChelle. I ask for blessings on the people and animals who produced the food I eat. I include the farmers, farm workers, factory workers, transportation workers, and grocery workers. I also sing songs of blessing to the brook by my house whenever I walk to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s Earth Day as I read this, and so appreciate the many posts of appreciation, love and care for our home. You give me hope and stir me to action. As my eyes adjust and heal from surgery, colours around me are sharper and clearer. I pray all will “see” the beauty and value it beyond gold, power, and all the things that distract us from life.

    Like

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