There is a principle I have run across in my exploration of Buddhism, its principles and its practices called “Leave No Trace.” This principle is also referenced in Timber Hawkeye’s fantastic book, “Buddhist Boot Camp” (a book I highly recommend to anyone wishing to “dip their toe” into Buddhism.) This principle basically says this: you’ve washed the dishes? Put them away. You’ve done the laundry? Fold it all and put it away. You’ve tracked mud into the house? Mop it up. In more direct terms, pick up/clean up after yourself. Be responsible for your actions.
I was walking home today and was noticing the curbsides on my street. Now that the snow has melted, the curbsides are filled with litter. Cups, old newspapers, food wrappers, condoms(!), and countless other kinds of garbage. It occurred to me that “leave no trace” applies not only to us as individuals in our own households, but to us as global tenants as well. Most of us don’t live in squalor. We keep our homes free of garbage and clutter, but we don’t seem to practice that principle in our global home. We leave traces everywhere. Carbon emissions warming our atmosphere, factories belching poisons into our air, pesticides making our land untenable, diseases of all sorts running rampant, the list goes on and on. All of it leaving a trace. Our trace. We are not picking up after ourselves. We are not being responsible for our actions.
And “leave no trace” applies to the psychological as well. How many times have we wounded another person with our words? How many times have we said things in anger or frustration that scarred another person, either temporarily or permanently? How much violence do we consume from television and movies? How does that twist and pervert our sense of right and wrong? Of justice and fair play? How is that “leaving no trace?” There are countless ways to litter and pollute. Ways that can’t necessarily be pointed to directly, but definitely ways in which we are not being responsible and picking up after ourselves.
Before we toss that cup out the car window, or before we hurl that insult, it might benefit us, those around us, and our global house as well to ask ourselves if what we’re about to do is truly practicing the principle of leave no trace.