Essay from a Kosmos Reader

Humble Like the Earth

Please God, please Buddha, please Mother Earth—send me a vision.

It was my third day of sitting, singing, and sleeping in a circle of stones in the woods. I’d done plenty of silent meditation retreats but this was different. In a long brown shirt and baggy brown pants, bald-headed and bug-netted, my only task was to be still and to listen to the Earth.

I grew up in the suburbs at the southern tip of Canada. Reading under the tree in my yard was the extent of my connection to the great outdoors. My French and Scottish ancestors were settlers—no, colonizers—of Canada. Some of my great-grandparents lived on farms, but I doubt they had the time or the inclination to be still. I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of years it had been since my people listened to the Earth.

When I dated a nature-enthusiast in my thirties and she took me on spectacular canoe trips, I just wanted to get to a monastery. So I left the partner and ordained into a Buddhist order in France, lush with plum trees and ritual. I found joy in simple things like a cup of tea. I met kind people. I even loved cooking and cleaning for a hundred people, sometimes more.

But the monastery was also a pressure cooker. My four-person dorm was the size of my former bedroom. The daily schedule ran from 5:45am until 9:30pm. There was always an elder around to correct the way I walked, talked, and thought.

Five years in the monastery brought me into a major depression, the first in my life.

In the summer of 2017, I took a year’s sabbatical. By springtime, I felt torn—go back and try again, or leave for good?

I felt drawn to stillness in the woods. A book on vision quests appeared on my Kindle without purchasing it. Friends who lived on a farm invited me to stay with them. I told another friend about this pull to be the woods. She told me to ask the land for guidance, offer thanks, and dedicate the experience for the good of all. So I set off.

On the first day, I hauled a 5-gallon jug of water and a tent to an opening in a cedar grove. I asked permission of the rocks to form a circle: some said yes and others said no. I honored their answers.

I lit a bundle of sage and thanked each person who had helped me in my life. The list grew as long as the day. Then I got quiet, asked for a vision, and listened.

Frogs and butterflies visited the circle by day. By night, coyotes howled from across the hay fields. I made friends with the mosquitoes and nestled in the hollow of the cedars.

I was still but there was no vision. What if I left the circle as confused as ever? By the third and final night, I began to beg.

Please God, please Buddha, please Mother Earth—send me a vision.

In the morning I awoke to the end of a dream. I was on the organizing team for a conference on spirituality and social justice, working with a team I loved. I had short, spiky hair and wore a mossy turtleneck sweater to lead the welcoming session. I felt completely alive: dynamic, funny, strong, and free.

It felt so ordinary I almost dismissed the dream but after writing it down I realized I had my answer. After three days of bathing in the planet’s electromagnetic field I could finally hear what I already knew.

I couldn’t go back.

As I packed up the tent, I fingered the black dirt on a tent peg. Humus. It reminded me of a precious lesson from the monastery. I was often told to be humble. I hated the word until I looked it up in the dictionary and found its Latin root was the same as humus, earth. My image of humility changed from being crushed into the ground to one of resting, like the Earth, at ease and beautiful. These days left me humbled and it felt good.

I gave my leave at the monastery but I wasn’t ready to release my vows or robes. I traveled for two more years, searching for another community. Only when the pandemic hit and I was forced to stop searching did I realize I didn’t need a new community. In March 2021 I held a simple ceremony, online, with friends and let go completely.

A month later I was co-facilitating an online course about racial healing and Dharma. I finished the session by playing Janelle Monae’s “Turntables” and got up to dance. When the song finished I waved goodbye to everyone and I caught sight of myself—short spiky hair, green turtleneck sweater, eyes alive, and full of joy.

Suddenly, I remembered my vision from the woods. My hand trembled as I closed the Zoom room. I sat down and cried tears of joy.

The vision had come true.

Yes, there were differences: the event was online, not in person, and it was a course, not a conference. But the feeling was the same. I even looked the same.

In the years since I left the circle I sometimes chastised myself for taking so long to follow through with the guidance from the dream. But what if this is how long I needed? In cosmological time, a few years was nothing.

As Earth Wisdom lives on in me, I still rest my body on the ground as often as I can. I express thanks for the land through social justice tithing—directing money toward decolonization, another form of Earth Wisdom. And I’m inspired by another hum word—humor. The wisest and most humble people I’ve met know how to laugh.

I don’t know where this path is taking me but I know the twists and turns aren’t mistakes: they are the journey.

About Melina Bondy

Melina Bondy (formerly Sister Ocean) is a queer, white settler honored to live on the colonized land originally named Tkaronto. After studying with True North Insight in Ontario, Canada, they ordained as a monastic under Thich Nhat Hanh in 2012 and spent nine years in robes before returning to lay life in 2021. They’re now looking to share the gift of the monastery with a broader community with a Master’s in Buddhist Spiritual Care from the University of Toronto as well as training in Somatic Experiencing. To learn more go to

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