2020 Sacred Places
By Sonia Bressey
Montpellier, December 19th, 2020
It was just a pile of rubbish. Just the entrance of the alleyway, my focus was the alleyway itself, where I walk my dog, who loves sniffing and chewing the scattered plastic, bits of chicken, ripped muddy rugby balls, dirty wet boxer shorts and what-not.
So I wanted to clean the alleyway. But I started with that big pile just before it, because it was so big and yucky, and surely it wouldn’t take long, just shove it all in bags, done. I wore pink rubber washing-up gloves, and had 2 big black bin bags to start with, one for recycling and the other for the rest. Tied my dog Pecan not far.
My matter-of-fact, organised, just-pick-it-up-and-put-it-in-the-bag mind was soon wincing at the sheer quantity of stuff, layer upon layer, wet rotting stinking mush of everything. Wet heavy soiled falling-apart pizza boxes with rotting eggshells, minging soiled nappies, rusty old sharp pointy metallic things ripping my bin bag, were they going to rip through my thin rubber gloves? Shiver… I couldn’t just stay detached and efficient, I was overwhelmed by disgust.
“You might have negative mind-states” had said Nathan.
Yep, plenty of that. WHAT ARE PEOPLE THINKING, THIS IS A ROAD SIDE WITH PEOPLE WALKING ON IT, WHY DO THEY THROW THEIR STUFF HERE IT’S REVOLTING. No Sonia, don’t go there, breathe, stay focussed, do it, finish it, so you can get onto the alleyway. I felt queasy, shaky. Repulsion. Aargh, what am I touching?! What is this?!! Damn, yuk, Christ Almighty…
I did manage to finish that bit. Had taken a picture of the pile of rubbish, I took a picture of that little area now cleared. I did not feel satisfied and proud, though, to have given that area back to nature. I felt disgust, queasiness. And I was so shaky I needed a break, I needed a nice place to sit, with grass and loveliness and no trash. And I hadn’t even started on the alleyway…
What had Nathan said? “Pause, and…”? Never mind, let’s start with Pause.
I took Pecan further down the grassy alleyways between the industrial estate buildings. I know he loves these bits, I can take him off the leash, and he runs like a loon all happy. I found a spot to sit, among the bamboo and the grass, without a single bit of plastic rubbish around. Drank my tea, ate some biscuits (No Pecan, they are mine), listened to some pleasant music, especially Danit’s lovely “Naturaleza”.
I felt disappointed in myself, in my overwhelming emotions, in my disgust. Disappointed to have done so little, even though I’d filled 3 bags and put 3 others in the recycling. But the spot was so small, and it was not even part of my objective. I was disappointed also in how quickly I’d done it. I had been so disgusted that I had not been able to enjoy doing it, take my time. I had wanted to practice mindfulness, but I was caught in the performance. Or maybe just in horror and wanting it over with as quickly as possible.
I took my phone, and saw photos and comments from the others. In England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands, others were doing the same, at the same time, and sharing what they saw, the beautiful or the surprising. I felt so uplifted by this, by the connection, the sharing, the care. What a lovely beach, oh a squirrel, oh these beautiful long yellow grasses… I felt grateful of that sharing. Grateful for these many hands and hearts being of service to the Earth, to the community. Bringing care, presence, mindfulness, love, each in its small way, and each heart filling itself with peace and beauty in doing so.
I then found another spot a bit further, more open, with long green wet soft grass and muddy soil. I walked very, very slowly on it. Focussing on my steps, on the sensation of the tufts of grass, the soil, my feet. My breath. Slowly, very slowly, while Pecan was practising to be a racing car at Silverstone, running loops flat out like a crazy dog that he is. I gradually felt my angst melt into the ground, I connected with Earth again. I remembered with relief that I am Earth, I am part of this soil and grass and this lovely tree with yellow leaves over there. Then, I put my hand on the red trunk of a pine tree. I love pine trees… Thank you tree for welcoming me, my emotions, my presence. No Pecan, stop pulling on this branch, it’s not a stick, it’s still attached to the tree!! Sorry Tree, excuse my dog. And feeling the tree welcome me, absorb my wobbliness, and give out its strength, patience, slowness to me.
At the end of the day, when we all gathered again to share what had moved us, I felt grateful and warm to all these “Litter Pickers Anonymous”. Yes it’s true, I didn’t reach my objective. Yes, I only did a bit. Yes, maybe in a couple of weeks it’ll be trashy again (please…please no). But I did it. I made a start. I showed myself that I could. Potentially others will see that it’s possible, maybe others will follow.
In France, there is a big movement of people called “the Hummingbirds” (Les Colibris). These people all around the country endeavour to create a fairer, simpler, more ethical way of living. Each doing their part. Like the story of the hummingbird carrying a drop of water in its beak to help extinguish the forest fire. Doing its bit.
So I didn’t clear the whole alleyway. I did not reach my objective. But I was not on a mission, I was on a Sacred Places retreat, and exploring how to clear an area mindfully, how to feel connected to the Earth, and to myself, in the process. I did my little hummingbird bit. Pause, Listen, Notice, Open. And my heart did feel, and open, and connect, and remember that it is Earth.