Garbage Awareness

The Dharma Center is steward of a two mile section in the adopt-a-highway program. Our stretch of route 20 is located east of Bend, and we make an annual pilgrimage there to clean up refuse that has collected on both sides of the road. This year, we are blessed with a cool overcast sky. I have participated when the weather is less forgiving, when hot sun heats up the sand and cinders.

I think everyone should do this kind of clean up at some point in their lives. It awakens us to one of the ways humans disrespect the environment—at sixty-plus miles per hour. Empty bottles of glass and plastic, fast food containers, chewing tobacco cans, cigarette butts, and various automobile parts, litter the wayside. And, if you ever wondered where the rubber from tires ends up, just take a stroll here.

Intermingled with the garbage peppering the ground and despite the soil being churned by department of transportation machinery, little signs of nature abound. We see small scurrying lizards wearing skins of basalt-like camouflage. Beautiful purple rabbit’s foot locoweed is just beginning to bloom. White-stemmed stick-leaf plants, with their small glowing yellow blossoms, make a contrasting statement through spiky foliage and stems that bestow the common name.

This roadside clean-up mirrors the state of my own mind. Amidst the niggling refuse of unnecessary thoughts, there are signs my true nature is growing and blossoming. It is easy to be distracted by the debris and lose site of the beauty. Actually, it is in the intention to clear out the rubbish that I can see the wonderful things growing there. 

Perhaps garbage has a purpose. The smell and visual annoyance calls us to wake up and do something about it. But we have to slow down and be willing to get dirty and uncomfortable. As long as we pitch things out of the window at highway speeds, we remain ignorant of the rubbish—and everyone suffers. When we randomly cast out the effluvia of our minds and do not slow down enough to notice, we are blind to our effect on others. 

In noticing where we are less than skillful, we can see and liberate the obstacles to living a compassionate life. Maybe a good definition of Buddhist meditation practice would be: “liberation through garbage awareness.”

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