Barbara Stowe: A meditation on Kinder Morgan, civil disobedience, connections, values, and letting go

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      On March 19, I joined the growing ranks of people arrested on Burnaby Mountain for opposing Kinder Morgan's pipeline project. When we tied ourselves to the main gates and the RCMP handed us papers (the court injuction), I handed them papers of my own: this Meditation on a ProteCt, saying it explained why I was there. Written after a previous Tsleil-Waututh-led protest against the same project, in 2014, the Meditation is a personal reflection but speaks for many in exploring the issues underlying this Texas-based multinational corporation's venture.

      Climb the mountain. Climb the mountain with your two tall friends, Bill and Eduardo, and enter the woods. Walk down a trail so narrow you have to go single file, and so muddy you truly understand the expression "ankle deep in the mud".

      In front of you, 50 or so others; behind you, perhaps a hundred. Listen to the drum; listen to the song; smell the cedar-scented air and notice the deep green of the ferns, that healthy, lively colour. Feel your shoes slip and slide in the soft brown sludge.

      In front of you, an elderly woman wields walking poles for balance; behind you, a teenager in skinny jeans and a pink hoodie darts off the trail and around a tree, flashing a shy, bright grin. Take the hand a stranger offers as the slope steepens, and listen to the beating of the drum, the beating of your heart, the drumming of your soul.

      Notice the uniforms, striped with fluorescent tape. Meet the eyes of the men and women wearing them and open your heart; feel foolish and tender and nod, and watch them nod back. And think about a newspaper headline you saw about how the RCMP is spending $100,000 a day up here, and remember another headline: "RCMP help tend sacred fire", and notice how generalizations don't work. Notice, and let go.

      Consider taking your shoes off and going barefoot in the yielding, tugging mud. Notice velvety moss on a sturdy trunk and feel how soft, and hold a branch for the person behind you, and take another hand, and listen to the drum and the Tsleil-Waututh singing, far ahead, deep in the woods. And far behind, from the back of the line, another kind of song, a spiritual. Notice a third sound: loud, mechanical, vibrating. Kinder Morgan drilling. Understand why you haven't seen any birds here today.

      Stop when the others stop. Go when the others go. And keep going, deep into the woods, and vow to spend more days in the woods, going slowly. Notice how gently you have to step in order not to fall in the mud, and how this melting of the barrier between shoe and earth makes your steps congruent with the ground, and notice how good it feels, this connection, and notice your joy, and surprise yourself as you silently thank Kinder Morgan for that. Now try to thank the Harper government. Fail at that. Notice this hardness, this resistance. this refusal. Accept it and let it go.

      Think about what your husband said: how you grew up seeing Burnaby Mountain in the distance and how you thought of it then as a symbol of enlightenment, with Simon Fraser University up there, temple on the mount. Think about the darkness this mountain symbolizes now, and feel that darkness cloud your vision and cloak your thoughts and colour your mood. And out of this sadness, dredge up this query: what constitutes wisdom?

      Remember the SFU theatre—dark, cool black before the hot lights—and running lightly onto the stage in pink satin shoes. Think pink, heart, enlightenment, and see that enlightenment is here, in these woods: behind and ahead of you, the whole line is shining! Think about traditional learning and what you learned from the Maori, growing up in Auckland and going barefoot to school, and what the Tsleil-Waututh are teaching here today, with their drum and their song and their silence.

      Notice how when you don't speak, you see everything that is happening around you and within you. And think about how the words and the silence need each other. Think about the Tsleil-Watuth speaker on the road before you entered the woods, what she said, how Kinder Morgan had marked certain trees to be cut down, and how "the sacred bear, she came and scratched those marks off", and how you thought for a moment she was talking about a real bear.

      Notice when the words go away. Notice peace.

      There is mud on your jeans, the dress you're wearing over them, and your coat. Dip your finger in the mud and smear it on your cheeks. Notice this urge to connect with the Earth, and with trees, to touch them, hug them, merge with them. Notice your primitive, savage, wild, connected, sane self. Notice love. Notice gratitude: nothing to do but walk in the woods, and Bill says, "The machine has stopped," pointing at the sky, and notice the eagle fly overhead.

      Notice the line stop. Stand in the mud, in front of the yellow crime-scene tape. Stand in the mud, an hour, two hours, more, as people speak through a bullhorn, and feel the aching, persistent pain in your shoulder, your neck, your back. So you have pain and can't wear a knapsack; so you're carrying a shoulder bag; why don't you put it down? In the mud? Examine your values and put them in perspective. Put down your burden. Let go. 

      Watch a 13-year-old girl get arrested. Watch a young Canadian soldier get arrested. Watch more and more cross the line, until the bullhorn asks: "Can the rest of the people who want to get arrested come back tomorrow? We've had a lot of arrests today." Feel a 20-something man push your shoulder as he stomps by: "I came here today to get arrested, and that's what I'm going to do!" Watch a woman limp to the side of the trail: "He stepped on my foot!" Judge the man: pushy, campy, negative. Judge yourself: critical, negative, judgmental. Notice, and let go.

      Watch Bill get arrested. Help Eduardo shoulder Bill's knapsack. Take it with you when you leave.

      Notice, as you go down the mountain, how the rain that was predicted has not fallen, does not fall until you reach the highway, and how it prickles your skin, makes it tingle and thrill, and thank the rain, and try to thank Stephen Harper and fail, and know you will have to come back here again, and again, perhaps for a multitude of lifetimes, before you can do that.

      Notice how at first you really didn't want to come here, how you resented Bill for asking, and now how you want to come back, not only tomorrow and the day after that, but for the rest of your life. Notice that you want to cross that line, to lose everything and gain your self-respect, your honour, your soul. Notice how you have gone deep into the woods and examined what is there, in the trees of your mind, how you've stirred up the mud and seen what lives down deep, rooted in, and now keep what you want and let go of the rest. Why not let go? Because one day, after all, you will have to let go, and why not learn right now that it feels good to let go?

      As you ride the bus home, look out the window and wonder, "What if this is really what life is all about: a journey to learn how to connect and then to let go?" And what if learning how to connect means the final letting go becomes not about losing everything but gaining everything? What if that final act becomes then, really, an act of connection? And the kingdom of heaven, paradise, nirvana, satori, whatever the name, is all about that, and if so, then what does that have to do with acquiring things, and what does consumption have to do with your true values? Examine your values; and then let go, and just be in the woods, with your friends: the humans, the trees, the RCMP, the mud, the yellow tape, the bullhorn, the children, the elders.

      Just be here, in the woods.

      Barbara Stowe, a writer and movement teacher, is the daughter of original Greenpeace cofounders Irving and Dorothy Stowe.

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