Ken McLeod in his book ‘Reflections on Silver River’ translates and comments on Tokme Zongpo’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. Zongpo was a fourteenth century Buddhist monk living in Ngulchu (Silver River), Tibet. McLeod describes the fundamental Buddhist concept of gtong len, or empathy, where one receives the emotions of another person and responds by sending back supportive feelings. This concept raised the idea in my mind whether we can take or receive from a landscape and return positive empathy back to it.
To explore the idea further, I looked at the literature of two geographies: England and Nova Scotia. My jumping off point for England was Alexandra Harris ‘Weatherland. Writers and Artists under English Skies’. She looks at English culture over a thousand years in terms of the story of changing ideas about the weather.
‘Weatherland is a celebration of English air and a life story of those who have lived in it. As we enter what may be the last decades of English weather as we know it, this is the history for our times.’
My starting point for Nova Scotia was Janice Kulyk Keefer ‘Under Eastern Eyes. A critical reading of Maritime fiction’. Keefer introduces chapters on Community, Nature, History, Politics and ‘Going and Staying’. The region was a stepping stone to the rest of Canada.
Within the context of Nova Scotia, we can find the ‘nature’ writing of Silver Donald Cameron (beaches) and Harry Thurston (tidal wetlands). For ‘community’, we might look to Ernest Buckler or Thomas Raddall.
From the gtong len perspective, what do we receive from the local geography (land,sea and air) ? Depending on the scale, we can think in terms of the Gulf Stream, the Labrador current or the tides in the Bay of Fundy. What do we send back ? A detailed description of our interaction with the landscape and its history — from the Mic’maq, Acadien, New England Planters, Black Loyalists.
If we wish to practice gtong len, then we must relate our stories to the geography. Expanding Harris’s documentation of the relationship of the weather in England to the weather(air),land and sea (geography) in Nova Scotia.
It is the writers and artists who are ‘sending’ us back. It is the destruction of the ecological resources that we are ‘taking’.
Keefer titled her book after the novel by Joseph Conrad ‘Under Western Eyes’.
In her words ‘Conrad wished, among other things, to present to his readers a unique way of seeing and being, to underscore the essential difference between the Russian and European traditions and temperaments.’
Ken McLeod. 2014. Reflections on Silver River. Tokme Zongpo’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. Unfettered Mind Media. Sonoma, California.
Check web site unfetteredmind.org
Alexandra Harris. 2015. Weatherland. Writers and Artists under English Skies. Thames and Hudson. New York.
Janice Kulyk Keefer. 1987. Under Eastern Eyes. A critical reading of Maritime fiction. University of Toronto Press. Toronto.
Silver Donald Cameron. 1998. The Living Beach. MacMillan. Toronto.
Harry Thurston. 2004. A Place between the Tides. A Naturalist’s reflections on the salt marsh. Greystone Books. Vancouver.
Ernest Buckler.1952. The Mountain and the Valley.New Canadian Library Series 23. Toronto. McClelland and Stewart. 1968.
Thomas Raddall. 1950. The Nymph and the Lamp. New Canadian Library Series 38. Toronto. McClelland and Stewart. 1968.