Monday, March 4, 2013

Juliet Batten treasures Susan Murphy's Minding the Earth

Dr Juliet Batten is a writer, artist, teacher and psychotherapist who has practised meditation for 30 years. She has worked extensively on environmental and collaborative art projects and written many books. Here she delights in Zen teacher Susan Murphy's Minding the Earth, Mending the World.

'In her book, Susan Murphy awakens us into a larger concept of humanity that embraces all of life.'

Susan Murphy’s stories of her bare-foot childhood in Queensland drew me straight into her new book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World. They resonated with my bare-foot childhood in the wet, cool province of Taranaki in New Zealand, and I immediately felt at home with this author, despite her theme of planetary disaster.

You see, I’d stopped reading such books. I knew the material all too well and often felt clobbered by the messages of doom.

In the seventies I began environmental activism that bore success on a local and national level. Opening to the global scale of our problems was different however. When I tutored in Environmental Studies at Auckland University through the eighties and nineties, the students and I became increasingly depressed the more we learned. More recently, I mentored a young writer who was desperate to get across his messages about climate change. He struggled with depression and chronic ill health.

Susan Murphy well understands reactions of denial, guilt, and numbing. Not only does she draw us in with entrancing stories, but she also evokes the wonder of an uninterrupted relationship with raw nature. Then, when she introduces the crisis of our planet, she stretches out two hands. In the palm of one sit the hard facts, from which she does not flinch. In the palm of the other nestles an invitation: to wake up, embrace our wholeness and embark on a great adventure.

This was enough to keep me reading. An invitation to awakening? – yes! Instead of outlining all the things I should be doing to save the earth, Susan Murphy offers a vision of how to be. She takes the reader into an ongoing process. And so the simplest act of opening, connecting, expanding that we may do, becomes a contribution.

Rather than address the global crisis as evidence of our 'badness' as a species, she says: ‘Every crisis is the chance to see what we have been missing.’ Through story and a wide, inspired perspective, she opens us up to the missing realms, taking us with her to walk through new places and to find the ‘whole response’.

We encounter the Hopi practice of ‘thinking seven generations deep’. She assures us that ‘waking up is a joyous fall into the realization of being precariousness itself, and finding what is precious and indestructible in that very fact.’ She reassures us that ‘being empathically connected is joyful, even when it hurts.’
Zen teacher and writer Susan Murphy
Her capacity for paradox gives me the courage to feel my pain. (Don’t go mad, wake up, Susan insists.) She offers new stories about ‘a return to wholeness’, reminding us that ‘stories may be our strongest protection against forgetting who we are.’ Her teachings land with a splash and a gurgle, before sinking into still depths beneath. This is the level of guidance that I’m hungry for.

Children must be free to wander and play in wild nature, and find a close relationship with it. The state of ‘wide-bodied field awareness’ that naturally comes from being close to the land may also be cultivated through meditation. As I walk through the bush in New Zealand with my four-year old granddaughter, showing her the tree where her whenua (placenta) is buried, I understand the imperative of fostering this connection for the next generation. Susan’s book affirms that by attending to such processes we contribute to the healing of the whole.

Her final section, where she opens the gateway to one koan after another, left me feeling expanded. My relationship with my own land has deepened as I’ve begun caring for it more fully, in parallel with my slow reading of Minding the Earth, Mending the World. The land is speaking to me as I work. ‘Touch the earth with your fingers and reintroduce yourself,’ says Susan. ‘The earth never holds back in returning the greeting.’

‘Never give up on an adventure,’ was Susan’s childhood motto. In her book, she awakens us into a larger concept of humanity that embraces all of life. Never has the human race been so called into unity. The common threat restores our common destiny as a species and opens up possibilities greater than we may ever have imagined.


To hear Susan Murphy talk about her book, use this link. To read her reflections on writing it, this Universal Heart Book Club link offers lovely insights. To purchase her book - or any other - please use the book store links (above right). The small % of sales returned to us offers vital support to this Book Club. We also love to hear from you so, please, freely comment in the box below (use "Anonymous" if you don't have a google email a/c).  To learn more about Juliet Batten and her writing, visit her website or her beautiful "seasonal inspiration" blog.

1 comment:

  1. So delightful to see Juliet Batten reviewing this book as she also observes the world with an artist's as well as an environmentalist's (and meditator's) "eye".