Turkey Vulture, Painting by Paula Barkmeier (www.PaulaBarkmeierArt.com)
Three Turkey vultures are patrolling along the coast looking for some carcass that the waves might have washed ashore. I follow their unsteady flight until they disappear as specks in the sky somewhere above the estuary of the Trent River.
My thoughts wander over the ocean to another continent, to Africa. A little while ago I read an article in a magazine that in many areas up to 80% of the African vultures disappeared. They died through medication. Farmers increasingly use chemical anti-inflammatories on old cows. It reduces their joint pain and they can be used longer to pull a cart or a plough. Eventually they die and the vultures that take care of the dead body die with them.
I am shocked to see how comparatively harmless pharmaceuticals like Ibuprofen or Diclofenac affect nature. Vultures are a part of the self-healing system of mother Earth; they are the clean-up crew. It is amazing what their stomach can digest, rotten flesh in all stages of decomposition, some even digest pure bones. Yet certain pharmaceuticals are not only indigestible, they kill.
When I die one day, what will I leave behind?
Every time when I collect plants for healing or ceremony, I give an offering and a prayer. I tell them something like, “May your body heal my body, may your spirit heal my spirit, and one day my body will nurture you.” What will I leave behind – a toxic wasteland? Will my body be a toxic waste and represent a danger for life? What legacy will I leave behind?
In all spiritual traditions we learn that whatever we want to see in the world, it starts with us. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” That could also mean that in our effort to have less toxins in our environment, we have to start with ourselves. Our body is a gift of Earth; through the virtue of our bodies we are a part of this Earth. Whatever we do to our bodies, we do it to Her. If we want a toxin-free environment, we need to be alert to what we eat and what drugs we are ingesting.
Sometimes pharmaceuticals are important. There is no doubt about that. But how often is it that we take an Aspirin simply because we do not want to take the time to listen to our body, to listen what it has to say. Or did we buy into the hubris that we know better? How often we come up with ideas about a solution for our environmental crisis, but did we take the time to first listen to Earth or are we convinced we know better than She does?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Taking care of our environment starts with keeping our inner world as free of pollution as possible. It starts with listening to the wisdom of our body and the bigger body of Earth. It starts with taking care not only of the garbage on the outside but also of our inner garbage, the leftovers of yesterday’s undigested experiences.
Out in nature, vultures eat carrion. If they are so sensitive to certain medication, what does that mean for the vultures in my inner landscape? There might be no carrion but my inner landscape is still crowded with carry-on, with whatever unfinished business I carry on from yesterday, with residues from unintegrated traumatic experiences that often block the way into a better future. As the outer nature needs vultures to thrive, our inner nature might need vulture energies as a part of our self-healing system. What do I do to my inner environment when I frivolously take medication? Do I harm my own ability to digest what life challenged me with?
I think that this is a question worth pondering. One thing is for sure: If we want a clean environment, we need to also take care of the health of our inner world.
At this moment I want to thank you, my dear readers, for giving me the chance to offer my thoughts and insights. Thank you for all your comments, your emails and your feedback; thank you for keeping the conversation alive for things that matter. I want to give thanks to the artist Paula Barkmeier who so generously allowed me to use her painting of the Turkey Vulture. Check out her website https://www.PaulaBarkmeierArt.com/. A special thank you goes to my dear friend Hendrik de Pagter who so often reads through my writings and combs out my Germanisms and makes it sound more English. A newsletter like this is a network of all the people (including the beings of nature) who contributed to its emergence and all those who read it, receive it and ponder it. What matters is not the words written down, it is what happens in the space between us.