Tibetan monks proceeded from Christ Chapel, jar of mandala sand in hand. Ceremonial hats on their heads and playing traditional instruments. A hoard of fascinated people trail excitedly, chatting over the processional music and crowding in as close as possible to see. The assembly walked through a parking lot, inching ever closer to the destination where the sand would be deposited, and the ceremony complete.
As people bustle forward, some snapping pictures, some chasing children, some idly in conversation over classes, a lone grocery bag summersaulted between cars and beneath trampling feet. Empty cans litter the sidewalk. Wrappers of all varieties underfoot. Upon reaching the pond, a circle forms around the monks as they finished their sacred ritual. More cameras flashed, the murmur of voices continued.
As the sand is finally poured into the pond in the Linnaeus Arboretum, a few things escape the attention of the onlookers. For one, the floating piece of Styrofoam in the water not twenty feet from the monks’ sandals, another, the plastic bags tangled in the long grass along the perimeter of the pond. A few empty water bottles were scattered here and there along the grass and at the bottom of trees in the surrounding area.
Perhaps all of these things–and the fact that no one took a second look as they walked passed them, over them, and around them illustrates exactly how different Western culture is from the mindful, compassionate, knowledge–seeking culture of the East.
A mandala is only created when there is need for the healing of either the living people in the world or the environment. Seeing the state of things here at Gustavus, we are still desperately in need of a mandala, along with a few willing volunteers to pick up trash.
It is almost impossible to go three steps without encountering a piece of garbage when walking the Arb. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, biology student, recreational hiker, or anyone else who frequents the winding paths and tangled trees, this is painfully obvious.
Whether you’re near or far from the paths, whether you’re deep in the woods, or on an Adirondack chair. Garbage is everywhere. While walking along just one path this weekend, it was possible to collect an entire garbage bag full of miscellaneous items (tissues, beer cans, food wrappers, etc.). This is not only annoying, disrespectful, and gross, but also dangerous for much of the wildlife that lives there.
The whole point of the mandala ceremony, and a great piece of wisdom that the monks were trying to impart, is that in the face of impermanence, there are still ways to bring the world into harmony. This is what mandala means.
It is important to look out for the things that we have, while we still have them, and try to balance them. Part of this is having compassion for not only others, but also the environment. The Linnaeus Arboretum was founded in 1973 as “[…] a living sanctuary of plants and animals for education, recreation, reflection and stewardship.”
Isn’t it possible for students to enjoy the Arb the way it was meant to be enjoyed, balancing this with awareness of their surroundings, respect for the place that we are all so privileged to have, and compassion enough to not trash it to the point where it becomes sickly?
For this problem at least, in order to create a small kind of harmony out of the chaos, to really maintain the sanctuary aspect of the Arb, the solution is simple, achievement very possible: just pick up your stuff before you leave. Please don’t let baby ducks choke on your candy bar wrappers. That’s bad karma.
In order to keep the Arb healthy and happy, maybe pick up a piece of garbage when you see it lying on the ground. If there is a group that frequently targets the cleaning up of trash and litter on campus sign me up! If there is not, as proactive students we should start one, perhaps setting something into motion for next year. Please contact me if you are interested in taking part.
Also, check out the pictures posted on the Overheard at Gustavus Facebook page of the garbage that was collected from just a day of walking. If the Arb could be cleaned up this much in a couple hours by just a few people, imagine how a great many people could change the campus for better. After writing for you, and working to bring issues to notice that are maybe overlooked, starting something like this is an easy, manageable way to take action and take back our campus.