by Sessei Meg Levie
Early in Patricia Wright’s career as a primate researcher, her professor dared her to go to the forests of Madagascar to find a species of lemur that was thought to be extinct: the greater bamboo lemur. She found it, and a new species as well, but as she was camping there in 1987, she woke up to a 300-foot tree crashing down near her tent. The forest was being logged. When the government told her they had no funds to create a park or nature reserve but would help if she could raise the money herself, she went from village to village asking people to stop cutting trees and building houses in the forest, and what they wanted in return.
Health clinics, they told her. Education, money to grow more rice, and soccer balls. When she received a $250,000 MacArthur Fellowship for her research and conservation efforts, she gave most of it to the villagers. Eventually she received $4 million from USAID, and used it to create trails and other infrastructure in the forest, leading to it becoming one of Madagascar’s most visited national parks and a source of employment for villagers.
In Joseph Campbells’ exploration of the hero’s journey, obstacles on the path of growth can be see as threshold guardians. Places where others seem to stand in our way; when we meet difficulty and voices of fear or doubt and it would be easy to give up, as when the forest you’ve just discovered comes crashing down around you. But these also are the places that open us; that require us to connect with new allies; to tap into deeper wells of courage; to find a creative way through. In the challenges of these times—personal, local, and global—Zen practice can help us to be present to meet the moment. To pay attention and not collapse. To ask the question: “What’s needed now?” and find a way.
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