Can we cease causing harm?

A few years ago I went to a course about “changing the frame” at Schumacher College. One sunny afternoon, we did a nature practice in which we went to a place that we felt called, asked for permission to sit there and to just listen.

When walking back I didn’t stop noticing. I noticed the grass being crushed beneath my feed, likely together with some tiny nonhuman beings that I killed with each step I took. Tears streamed down my face.

I can’t not walk.

I thought to myself.

It felt stupid, childish and ridiculous to think these thoughts. Even in an environment that is supportive of such thoughts.

By dinner, I got over it / myself.

But the experience stayed with me. I wondered how I can handle the inner conundrum that by being alive, I cause harm, while at the same time my priority was to cause no harm.

The years following this experience, I made sense of it in that to be an embodied being means that I use other beings. By being embodied, I am responsible to feed it, to provide energy for it (for example through heating) and to maintain an overall physical situation that keeps it alive. I intimately rely on others, I use them for my purpose, and by my actions I make decisions about other’s life or death. I am an embodied being that is placed, sustained and affected by the world and in turn, I affect the world. Because I am, I cause harm. Purity, peace, harmony then are impossible fantasies. Instead of not wanting to cause harm, what I since ask myself is, to what degree is it ok to cause harm? Where can I avoid it? Where is it necessary? What are my true needs that sustain this body and what needs can I leave unfulfilled in order to cause less harm?