Giving Back to the Soil: A Teaching on Personal Sustainability

March 10, 2015


The soil never lies, just like our bodies never lie.  Nature offers an intricate natural feedback system to keep life in balance and thrive, but we often fail to listen to the outer or inner landscape. Through conventional farming and unconscious land use/urban design, we have learned the hard way that when we impose our will on nature without “giving back to the soil,” we are left with soil depletion, desertification, and land degradation.  Topsoil – the magical layer of earth appropriate for growing our food and medicine – is not a resource to take casually.  It takes 600 to 700 years to fully grow back topsoil.

How we do anything is how we do everything. In the same way that we impose our will on the natural world, egocentricity or separate self imposes its will on us. The part of us that is attached to agenda and is too often focused on product over process, is more than willing to use our physical bodies and life force in ways that diminishes and deplete our vitality and well-being. We have been conditioned to compromise authenticity and truth in order to meet goals, standards, and produce.

To honor and respect nature – inside and out – means to work with, rather than against nature in all matters. It means to see every endeavor as opportunity to bring a compassionate and wise process to life rather than focusing on the product. One becomes a steward of the land by practicing deep listening, appropriate response, and working with rather than against nature. This is how one cultivates healthy soil that can grow vibrant nourishing food and medicine sustainably for years to come.  An earth steward commits to a framework and practice that “give back to the soil.” 

Meditation practice teaches us how to instill this framework and practice in ourselves. We learn, through meditation, that when we are willing to focus on process and put compassionate awareness in charge of our lives, rather than default to the product-focused conditioning that pervades our society, we can cultivate the soil within for sustained well-being and compassion to thrive. Meditation practice teaches us how to commit to personal sustainability and how to continually give back to the soil that is who we are.

The soil within is the ground of our well-being. It is the ground from which all that we do grows from and from which our deepest intentions are expressed. In the garden, we take care of the soil by paying attention. That is the primary job of the gardener or earth steward and it is also the primary job of the meditation practitioner, to be a steward of well-being. When we pay attention, moment by moment, to the subtle feedback of our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual experience, we learn how to respond to life appropriately and work with, rather than against nature, at the most subtle level. Meditation teaches us that awareness is the most subtle form of love… And when we pay attention, moment by moment and maintain awareness, we feel loved. We feel cared for. We feel seen, heard, and met when we receive the gift of our own attention, moment by moment.

Consider, what are some ways that you give back to the soil that is who you are?  In what ways do you have an adversarial nature with yourself and avoid or diminish the messages from your natural system? In what ways to you work against, rather than with, your nature? What is one way today in which you can “give back to the soil?” 

This blog is written in honor of the summer retreat, Giving Back to the Earth: A Pilgrimage and Wilderness retreat in the Smokey Mountains, July 27-August 5, to be led by Deborah Eden Tull and Lama Justin Wall.  This retreat will be an integration of meditation practice and sustainability, an opportunity to heal our relationship with the planet and with all beings, while backpacking along a beautiful mountain trail in the deep stillness of the wilderness.

For more information, please click here.

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