Value of the week: thoughtfulness

“Where can you look in your daily life and find ways to do it better, to be more thoughtful of the Earth, to be more thoughtful of people?” Julia Butterfly Hill

The above quote is from Julia Lorraine Hill, known as “Butterfly”, who spent 738 days in a 1500-year-old California redwood, she named Luna, to prevent the Pacific Lumber Company cutting it down. Her thoughtfulness saved the tree, but what is thoughtfulness?

Like me, you may be interested to know that before 1850 thoughtfulness meant moody or anxious. After that date the word changed its meaning to being considerate, kind, mindful of other people’s feelings; thinking and acting for the general good of humanity. The value of thoughtfulness invites us to think carefully and calmly before speaking or taking action.

Jane in an ancient Kauri Forest

Last year Jane and I were privileged to visit New Zealand, where our daughter Jasmine and her partner Mike live and teach. During our stay we visited an ancient Kauri forest with trees in excess of 800 years old. The photo shows Jane thoughtfully appreciating the unique atmosphere of the forest. The sensations we felt are hard to describe; it was as if we were experiencing being surrounded by ancient living organisms that were transmitting energy at a frequency, which instilled in us deep feelings of connection and harmony. New Zealand is doing a great job to protect these forests from animals that European early settlers imported to the country, which have decimated its natural fauna and flora.  Sadly, settlers acted out of awareness of the consequences of their actions.

Perhaps this cannot be said about some people’s actions now.  A friend shared with me that her children had wanted to collect litter from a local wood, where visitors had thoughtlessly dropped their rubbish. In my own village, which is set in an area of outstanding beauty, we have wonderful verges that have rare wild flowers. Increasing numbers of visitors coming to appreciate its beauty drive their cars and park on the verges – destroying the flowers. I recently witnessed during a local walk, three children picking rare wild flowers with their parents smiling on with encouragement.  These examples are not ones of wanton vandalism but illustrate how all of us, including me, can act out of ignorance and thoughtlessness. 

What can we do?  May I suggest a useful tool that can help us become more thoughtful?  It is called the wisdom cycle. Just before speaking or taking an action train your mind to: pause – reflect – act. By pausing for a few seconds your brain is given time to reflect on the consequences of your proposed action. Is this a wise thing to do? Will I hurt someone’s feelings by saying this?  The process, which takes hardly any time, can literally be a lifesaver. 

More difficult for us to assess are the unintended consequences of our actions: the person who drives onto a verge containing rare flowers is often unaware of the consequences of their action. Council officers, who have grass verges mowed inappropriately, so that flowers are not encouraged to flourish; ensure that the verges look neat, are acting out of awareness.  Thankfully so many councils are now planting wild flowers; saving significant amounts of money in the process. A local farmer has planted a large field full of wild flowers that produce seeds, which can be enjoyed by the variety of birds that visit our area. In recent years, I have realised that I am not separate from nature and our environment but an integral part of it.  Seeing myself as part of the larger ecosystem has made me realise that all my actions have consequential effects on other people and our environment. I am now tending my own garden more thoughtfully; reminding myself of the creative power of this active value.