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Earth

Mother's Day Prayer

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Mother's Day Prayer

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers out there. You know who you are! You are not just women, but can be of any gender. You may or may not have physically given birth, but you have cared for another - to the point of allowing your heart to break. It may have been another human that you loved and tended to, it may have been an animal companion. It may have been the trees or the waters or the land you tended. Today is your day to be celebrated.

And a happy Mother’s Day to Mamma Earth and Grandmama Moon. We love and honor you today and every day. And Mamma Earth, today we renew our vow to be better, more loving children. To reduce the harm we inflict on your body every day.

And today, we also remember and honor our deeply held Mother Wounds. Our sense of either being abandoned or smothered, or both. Wounds that live so deep in so many of us! But today, we say, yes, we acknowledge the hurt, but we also acknowledge how we have become today who we are, because of them.

Today, we honor our mothers, the mothers in us, and the Great Mother who nurtures us all - through times good and difficult. May all relationships with all mothers everywhere begin to be healed today. And may we hold this vision not just today, but every day. That is my prayer for this Mother’s Day. May it be so!

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A meditation on our ancient and awesome heritage

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A meditation on our ancient and awesome heritage

“We are made of star stuff.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Who are we, really?

We humans are composed mostly of “organic matter.” Roughly 96% of the mass of the human body is made up of just four elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen.

In this essay, we will take a brief tour of where (and when) these elements came from.

And the next time you, or I, feel small and worthless, maybe we can look up, look down, look around – and remember our common heritage, which is nothing less than awesome!

Constitution of the human body (   Wikipedia   )

Constitution of the human body (Wikipedia)

Hydrogen: the oldest atom in the Universe

Hold on… breathe… if you haven’t heard of this before, it will take your breath away! The nuclei of the hydrogen atoms in our body – as you read this line – were formed when our universe was approximately 3 minutes old (yes, you read it correctly). Granted, this was not yet a hydrogen atom, because the temperatures of the nascent universe was still too hot to allow an electron to be recruited to form an electroneutral atom. That happened around 377,000 years later!

Just to put it in perspective… Our universe is currently about 13.8 billion years old. Our solar system, including our sun and our earth, is about 4.5 billion years old. That means that our planetary home wouldn’t even exist for 9.3 billion years after the hydrogens in our bodies were already created! I have created a graph to bring this point home more visually.

Bar graph.jpg

Interestingly, even today, about 90% of the universe is still hydrogen!

Note that about 60% of the adult human body weight comes from water. Water itself is composed of two atoms – hydrogen and oxygen.

Now on to carbon, nitrogen and oxygen

At the time hydrogen atom was being created, another atom was also being produced – helium (along with small amounts of lithium and beryllium). These are the smallest atoms in the periodic table, which organizes atoms based on their atomic number (number of protons in their nuclei). Smaller an atom, the easier it is to be formed. Hydrogen is the smallest atom, with an atomic number 1, followed by helium, lithium and beryllium (atomic number 2 - 4).

The periodic table (Wikipedia)

The periodic table (Wikipedia)

As the universe cooled further, the atoms left over by the big bang were gravitationally attracted to one another and condensed into massive clouds. The gravitational pressure on the centers of these clouds heated them to temperatures of millions of degrees. This led to the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Thus, stars were born.

These early stars were very massive (several-fold larger than our sun). Due to large masses and dense cores, they were able to continue the fusion reactions to form increasingly larger atoms, namely carbon, nitrogen and oxygen (the so-called CNO cycle). Toward the end of their lives, they produced even larger atoms – all the way up to iron (Fe, atomic number 26). Eventually these early stars died in massive explosions called supernovae – which spewed huge clouds of these atoms. These gas and dust remnants in time formed new stars, which fused more atoms, until they too died in supernova explosions.

Humans as custodians of an ancient heritage

As discussed above, our solar system started its life approximately 4.5 billion years ago as a cluster of gas and dust that was enriched in the materials of life – hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen - which were formed in the bellies of generations of older stars.

In other words, of the 96% of our constituent atoms, 9.5% (hydrogen) is 13.7 billion years old (almost as old as the universe itself), and the rest (carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) are at least 4.5 billion years old (and likely older)!

Humans as shepherds of clay

It has been said that poets intuit truths that science arrives at via a different path! Very often, they find a deep resonance. Below is such an example.

The Celtic poet, philosopher and mystic, John O’Donohue, has a beautiful phrase to describe us humans. He calls us “clay shapes,” and even more importantly, “shepherds of clay!”

Here are a few quotes from his incomparable book, Anam Cara, where he lays out our heritage in these terms:

“Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out toward infinity. Under our feet is ancient earth. We are beautifully molded from this clay.”

~~~

“Your body is as ancient as the clay of the universe from which it is made; and your feet on the ground are a constant connection with the earth. Your feet bring your private clay in touch with the ancient, mother clay from which you first emerged.”

~~~

“In your clay body, things are coming to expression and to light that were never known before, presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual. To paraphrase Heidegger, who said, “Man is a shepherd of being,” we could say, “Man is a shepherd of clay.” You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice. Often the joy you feel does not belong to your individual biography but to the clay out of which you are formed. At other times, you will find sorrow moving through you, like a dark mist over a landscape. This sorrow is dark enough to paralyze you. It is a mistake to interfere with this movement of feeling. It is more appropriate to recognize that this emotion belongs more to your clay than to your mind. It is wise to let this weather of feeling pass; it is on its way elsewhere. We so easily forget that our clay has a memory that preceded our minds, a life of its own before it took its present form. Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient, sisters and brothers of the one clay. In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. To truly be and become yourself, you need the ancient radiance of others.”

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An Ode to Mother Earth

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An Ode to Mother Earth

Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet and Nobel Laureate, implores us to hear Mother's Earth's cries

It is not news to most of us that our beloved Mother Earth - this beautiful blue-green globe shrouded in mist - has become increasingly imperiled by our greed. We see environmental devastation wherever we turn. It is currently being brought into focus by the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The concerns have now skyrocketed, as a result of our current political situation. As I have been sitting with the aftermath of our Presidential elections, and how it might impact the environment in the coming months and years, my mind was drawn to a poem written almost a century ago by the Bengali Nobel Laureate poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Back in 1935, Tagore wrote this piece as a protest to Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. This is the beauty of good poetry. It has a timeless quality. To me, this poem feels as applicable today, in our current predicament, as it did in 1935.

Here I offer you this poem, both in its original Bangla (Bengali) form, and my English translation of it. This is my offering to the world culture from the culture of my birth. May we learn from the poet the humility of standing with our heads bowed at the door of all that is devalued and desecrated. May we have the courage to say, with deep integrity, "forgive me," as rampant violence and abuse of the gentler, softer, more feminine forms of being swirl around us.

 

Africa, by Rabindranath Tagore, translation by Sushmita Mukherjee

In that confused time in prehistory,
When the Creator, dissatisfied with himself,
Was repeatedly demolishing his nascent creation…
During that time of his repeated impatient head-shakes,
The arms of the violent ocean
Snatched you away from the bosom of the Eastern lands
Dear Africa.
And imprisoned you within the inner sanctum
of her massive trees, in the realm of the miserly light.
There, in your secluded leisure, you
were collecting the mysteries of the unfathomable.
Deciphering the oblique messages from the water, earth and sky;
The unseen magic of Nature
Was birthing new songs within your deep unconscious.
You were mocking the Terrible
In the guise of disregard,
You were trying to defeat Fear,
By giving yourself a despicable and frightening appearance,
Dancing to the beat of the drum of chaos.

Alas, O Lady clad in shadows!
Your human form remained inaccessible
To the confined vision of Ignorance.
They came, with their iron manacles,
Those whose nails were sharper than those of your wolves.
They came, the catchers of humans,
Whose pride made them blinder than your sun-forsaken forests.
The barbaric greed of the Civilized
Laid naked its own shameless inhumanity.
The forest paths, permeated with the steam from your wordless tears,
Were turned into a swamp – mingling the earth with your blood and your tears.
Under the spiked boots of those monster feet
That abhorrent clump of muddy earth
Left an immutable stamp on your history of disgrace.

Across the ocean, at that very moment,
In all their neighborhoods, their temple bells were tolling,
Morning and evening, proclaiming the glory of the God of Mercy.
Children were playing in their mothers’ laps;
The music of the Poet was rising up to the heavens,
In adoration of The Beautiful.

Today, at this impeding dusk on the Western sky,
When the air is stagnant in anticipation of a thunderstorm,
When the animals have come out from their hidden caves,
And are announcing the end of days with their inauspicious howls,
Come, O Poet of the End of Time,
In this fading light of dusk,
Stand at the door of this Shamed One,
And say, “Forgive me” –
Among all this raving violent speech,
Let this be the last sacred words of your great civilization.

Tagore's poem  Africa  in Bengali

Tagore's poem Africa in Bengali

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