Kendo’s Healing Message for May

We are undeniably living in unprecedented times, as so many of our usual freedoms are currently restricted. Of course, we all understand the benefit of complying – limiting the spread of a potentially lethal virus – but, in keeping with his philosophy of looking for the gift in any challenge, Kendo would encourage us to be ‘aware’ of more than just social distancing.

In Japanese Buddhism, the incorporated world-view of Shinto is as sensitive to nature as British Paganism, and this is central to what Kendo teaches about understanding and being sensitive to our place in the world and the universe. We are in no way separate from nature and all our actions affect it, just as it affects us, and perhaps now is the time to become more sensitive to this relationship.

One global effect of so many of us staying at home has been a huge improvement in air quality, both at ground level and in the sky. The sun has been brighter at the start of this May than many of us can ever recall, because there is so little upper atmosphere pollution from aircraft. And with far fewer hydrocarbon-burning vehicles on the roads, most countries have vastly exceeded their air pollution-reduction targets in incredibly short time-frames. This is good for nature, and consequently, can only be good for us, but most of us were not appreciably aware of the extent of the harm we were causing just by taking advantage of what’s available to us.

This positive side-effect amidst our current restrictions has granted us a glimpse of how awareness in this moment can be a catalyst for entirely positive and permanent change.

When the internal combustion engine was developed, it was always known that they produce poisonous exhausts, but that negative side-effect was glossed-over in comparison to how incredibly useful they were – on balance, of course we were going to take advantage of the technology. Ultimately, some human habitats became toxic because of them, so legislation was developed to make car engines cleaner, but because there is an ever-growing number of people using them, we will inevitably reach toxic levels again.

Likewise, we have not yet directly felt pressing consequences from upper atmosphere pollution, but it has been reported that global warming is a major effect of air travel. It is gradual and invisible, and nothing has yet forced us to be aware of it, but should we just carry on with only a dim awareness and easy dismissal that aircraft pollute, without caring until we are forced to? Sir David Attenborough has warned that we are perilously close to warming the earth so much that all the methane from thawing permafrost will be released, which will be irreversibly catastrophic.

Bearing in mind that the international holiday industry is going to be limited for the foreseeable future, shouldn’t we now think twice about the consequences of air travel for tourism? Are two or three international flights per year really justifiable? Shouldn’t our vacation decisions inevitably include concern over how much they would pollute?

In speaking of his forthcoming documentary, ‘A Life on Our Planet’, it is unsurprising that Sir David Attenborough speaks much about pollution, and his final words about what we can all do were that we should “stop waste”, of any kind, including power, food, plastics, and more. His message in the movie is uncharacteristically hard-hitting, and this can only be because he seeks to stress the urgency of our situation.

Now that we have all experienced several weeks of coping with social limitations, we should emerge in an enlightened way – not by rushing back into the old polluting, wasteful ‘normal’, but by seeking to use what we have learned to apply restraint to our impact upon nature going forward. The industrial revolution gave us enhanced capabilities and convenience, but in eagerly grasping those powers we weren’t sufficiently sophisticated to question the consequences of the associated pollution and waste; that time has now passed – Kendo counsels that this moment must be the catalyst for living in full awareness of the consequences of all our actions.

The Buddhist maxim is perhaps more pertinent now than it has ever been – Be The Best You Can Be (and the most enlightened and globally considerate), for the benefit of your family, your society, the whole of nature, and thereby the whole world.

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