Trash Walk

I read an article by Anthony Doerr in Orion Magazine about walking. It reminded of what I realized this morning before Yoga: I haven’t been out walking for almost a week. Warm today, I headed out to walk across my road onto the mesa. But four steps onto the dirt, I realized the ground was still too wetly muddy. Not my favorite choice, I turned around to just walk along the pavement. Walking along the road is nowhere near as meditative as walking away from the road onto the pathways through sagebrush, but at least I’d get the exercise. Noticing the trash tossed out of cars to settle into the dirt and get tangled up in twigs and wire fence, I thought of David Sedaris telling about how he picks up trash from the side of the road where he lives in England. As I said, walking on the road is not as meditative. I wasn’t transforming the horrors of the world by doing Tonglen*—a Buddhist meditation wherein you consciously breathe in the pain, sorrow, and discord you encounter, transform it in your own being, and then breathe out light and goodness, sending it out to where the suffering is lodged. No I was just noticing trash. I didn’t even have any judgment about it or the people who created it. I guess meditation is working—noticing, noticing, trash.

I walked about a mile and then turned around to walk back. When I got to the Smiths plastic bag I’d noticed on the way out, twisted around the twig, I picked it up. Then there was a Styrofoam cup so I put the cup into the bag. Now I was picking up trash at the side of the road, as I’ve seen people do from time to time. Cars whooshed past. Drivers almost always veer away from walkers on this road and I like to thank them by holding up my hand in a gesture of gratitude. But now my focus was on the ground looking for what to put in the bag I may have spared a bird from swallowing. When the bag was almost full I found another one, this time from the Dollar Store. A beer bottle went into that bag. Further along when the second bag was almost full I found an Albertsons bag. By the time I got to my house all three bags were full with paper cups, straws, Styrofoam pieces, liquor bottles, and weathered plastic. I tied them up and put them in the big Waste Management trash bin that serves the four condo units where I live. The bin is usually only half full each week at pick up day, something I admit I’m rather pleased about. I’ve had neighbors living here who would fill that bin up the first day of the trash week with no consideration for the other tenants for the rest of the week. Meditation doesn’t insure I don’t have gripes from time to time.

I came in, washed my hands, and that was it. I noticed that I didn’t feel proud of myself for doing a good deed. I didn’t feel that I’d found my calling. I didn’t feel better or worse for this activity. I just did it. Meditation again—non-attachment, non-judgment, but not non-engagement.

I’m curious to know if anyone else has had the experience of picking up trash at the side of the road and what that was like for you. Please share.

* Tonglen


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One Response

  1. I pick up trash each day during my prayer walk along the road and paths where I live. I do it out of respect for mother earth and to prevent plastic trash especially from getting into our Pacific Ocean. It is part of my prayers to support wildlife and nature. Once when I was carrying trash to my waste can, a man said he used to pick up trash but he stopped because he did not want those who drop trash to think that trash disappears by magic. I did not say anything, but I thought, I am the magic.