The words arrive via private message in the new virtual holy land of Zoom. A group of us are in deep inquiry about how to be in community and what we do not look at, where we avert our eyes and our ears to the horrors of today’s rampant extinction, which may very well be our own.
I've just shared a story I’d heard multiple times in a course on addressing problems through a systemic lens:
“You’re standing by a river and a baby floats by, in distress. Naturally, you wade in and save the baby. Then, as soon as you are both safely ashore, you see a second baby, so you wade in again. This continues, babies floating down the river. You call out for help and someone joins you in your efforts. Together you rescue babies. Soon there’s a whole crowd of folks wading in, carrying out, warming, holding the little tykes. But the babies keep coming! Here’s the question: At what point do you stop saving babies, go upstream, find out how they are ending up in the river, and stop it?”
Before I finish telling the last line, the private message pops up:
“Stop throwing babies in the water!”
“What... ?" moans my wounded ego, “But what if I’m not the one throwing them in?”
My question is not to be answered. It’s time for a "go outside and be on the land" break. But, the seed has been well planted, in a fertile little pile of mind-soil.
The kitty and I go outside, and while the new sprout begins to grow, my mind runs, though far from wild: “She thinks I'm throwing babies in the river... !? Is this true? But I recycle, drive an 80-mpg hybrid, educate other folks, blah, blah, blah, blah…”
I’ve learned to have some compassion for my mind, like I would for a three-year-old child: love her; don't let her drive the car, but love her just as she is. Of course my mind is racing. Who wants to see ourselves as the one putting babies in the river!? What a ghastly image! And yet…
Even the phrase above, “the ones putting…” speaks of separation and denial, as though it were not all of us.
Standing outside in a rare for August cool breeze, a be-with-the-question moment gently finds its way:
“What if this is a simple, though not easy, command? Is it possible that I don’t need to save anything? What if all I need to do is to stop contributing to the problem?"
I feel my nervous system relax and a wave of spaciousness washes in.
Then: "What if we all do? What if we all simply stop contributing to the problem.”
May sound impossible, yet we’ve seen the answer, to some degree. During Covid lockdowns, when so many did so little, the Earth began to replenish Herself. Folks posted photos of clear skies, empty New York streets, mountains covered with greenery. Given the opportunity, the Earth began to re-green and restore.
Now, a lot of the old status quo has reemerged, including: "It's Monday. Time to be productive! Mark off those to-do's. Go out and make a difference!"
Except that this new seed has been planted, and not only in me. In others too, those who became accustomed to a bit of simplicity. And, the seed is growing.
What if we stop even when "they" say we can "go" again? What if we don't protest or promote anything or anyone (including our own innocence)? What if we make a real commitment to stop putting babies in the river? What would change? Who would “we” be? What life might emerge? Might "my" life re-green, restore? Is there even a "my"!?
The idea of a re-placement of responsibility from saving (or stopping) anyone else to Simply Stopping, and in doing so, lessening the total amount of damage created, is beginning to take root. I am watering it with moments of pausing, providing a little more of... less. Replacing some productivity with kitty naps and sitting on the back steps, watching a few butterflies. A little less doing; a little more listening. Letting the river run free.
Next step: take action to change the policies creating the problem...