Sing for the Butterflies of Brazil

lighted tree

We are tender-hearted creatures. We hurt and cry, and if we’re lucky, we acknowledge experience, bear reality with dignity, and then we move on to make corrections, laugh again, cuddle, and “sing the song of the voice of the forest,” like the first peoples of Brazil do.

But how do we suffer with dignity when the forest and our entire planet seems to be on fire? When the charred fear and grief feel too heavy to bear? When life seems to be shattered?

Chief Ajareaty Waiapi and other indigenous Waiapi elders predicted such devastation would incur many months ago as they learned of illegal cattle ranchers and loggers being emboldened by Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro. As one of the indigenous Waiapi people’s few female chiefs, Ajareaty is in a race against time, but she still takes time to sing and teach the dance for the butterflies to her grandchildren. That’s how she and other indigenous people balance the needs of the moment.

In the Gnostic Gospels, Jesus Christ said, “Learn to suffer and you will no longer need to suffer.” Learning from and working through what brings us pain builds our skill set. Authentic suffering – staying awake through the pain, and even making art out of the struggle — shows us what to discard and what is essence. Balancing the pain with pleasure gives us the inner strength needed for the challenge.

People who ignore their own pain and grief – the deniers — they harden. They avoid suffering and become bitter, brittle, and little-minded – with such a fragile wall of denial around the unfelt grief, that they avoid feeling or knowing anything at all. Without feeling, they can’t learn or forgive. Without empathy, they cause others pain and grief.

They make hateful decisions like the ones that led to the Amazon forest fires which now cover half of Brazil and can be seen from space. The devastation of Brazil and indigenous Amazonian communities didn’t start with these fires.

Enslavement and oppression of the six million people who originally inhabited Brazil diminished the indigenous tribes to the 240,000 to 900,000 people estimated today. The last five hundred years have seen the greedy destruction of ancient trees and medicinal plants, genocide of jungle tribes, and squandering of the forest and raw materials in Brazil so totally that it now threatens the world’s weather.

For centuries, indigenous peoples all over the planet believed that the Earth sustains us like a mother’s milk, and our life on it continues in a perfect circle between human, environment, and the cosmos. Because “civilized” Europeans and missionaries could never understand such reverence for and intimacy with nature, indigenous Brazilians have been facing ongoing threats from the outside world, and now the rest of the world is feeling the overflowing of their pain.

Deforestation is a disaster that didn’t need to happen. It came on the heels of Bolsonaro’s undoing of environmental regulations and support for corporate greed, actions similar to the Earth-defeating tactics of the Orange Menace and his Republican gang of thieves in the U. S.

But I take heart in the affinity I feel for Chief Ajareaty, who knows how it feels to live in fear of cultural annihilation. In the modern world, where we all live in fear of environmental destruction, we often forget that small rituals and larger ceremonies help us to stay grounded and actually in touch with forces of nature like gravity, which is Earth’s love for us expressing as total, unconditional support. Participating in the continuum of nature-human-cosmos may seem to some beside the point, but I would argue that it’s the main point.

As I continue to discover new depths in time-tested arts and sciences like Yoga, Hula, and Meditation, I realize connecting with Nature isn’t a matter of having a relationship with the elements or a dance with the clouds. It’s about our magical embodiment as one family, personally related to the tree, ocean, robin singing, forest leaves touched by a breeze, and sacred mists on an early morning mountaintop.

Sacred practice brings us full circle in the movement of love and caring. As we care for the forest and imagine showers of rain on the Amazonian fires, we connect with the dreaming of Nature. When we call, the spirits respond. That is what they are here to do. Don’t worry about whether you believe that’s true or not. Just act as though it is; it cultivates clarity and new directions anyway. Scientific studies show we do in fact affect quantum spin, information, and visual representations at a distance. Everything is connected to everything. When we remember we are spirit as much as matter, we know this truth.

Says Marcos Terena, founder and president of the Union of Indigenous nations of Brazil, “For us of the indigenous people, development is not just materialistic, it is also spiritual. We always try to walk the narrow line between the material and the spiritual. We have tried, even when faced with the threat of death, to teach non-indigenous man all of this, because this is something he has to learn. He has to recover this type of equilibrium to become more a person and less a machine.”

The forest is a spiritual temple in Brazil, just as Mauna Kea is a temple in Hawai’i. We are all concerned for the survival of Planet Earth because of decisions being made by people who don’t know how to suffer authentically or sing the songs of the forest.

When Chief Ajareaty was preparing for a festive party one afternoon recently, it brought questions about the appropriateness of a party in these dangerous times. She rallied the women of her village to gather in a line, holding hands, and taught them a song that had been passed on for generations.

“We are singing for the butterfly,” she said. She said it was an essential activity, as important as challenging the government and protecting her children. According to Waiapi legend, butterflies are constantly flying around tying invisible strings that hold the planet in place. If we don’t take care of the butterflies and their home, she says, they will not be happy and will stop working, causing the earth to fall.

So let’s hum for the Brazilian butterflies and sing for the bees, the birds, the plants, the lakes, clouds, and rocks. Let’s dance for the invisible web of life and our love for all life. We are citizens of the cosmos and guardians of Mother Earth.

We are all the voices of the forest. Sing often and sing with a pure heart!

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