“Action absorbs anxiety & wise action is contagious.” Chris Cullen
I am aware that we have moved into the heart of our series with Sunday’s conversation (19th October.) As we have listened to each teacher over the last few weeks, it has felt like receiving a beautiful jewel of authentic truth, however challenging, alongside embodied, empowered and inspirational ways forward in response to the severe degradation of the Earth’s biosphere, lands, oceans and forests. Last Sunday it was wonderful to hear friends from England — Catherine McGee and Chris Cullen — and friend and founder of many visionary initiatives, James Baraz. I also appreciated Lou Leonard’s input and will post Lou’s contribution throughout the series in a separate blog post the last call on November 2nd.
“Where the Silent Sage & Passion of the Activist Meet” – Catherine McGee
Catherine began with the question – a deep inquiry she has been with over time – What is the meeting place of the silence of the sage and the passion of the activist? How to hold both the timeless refuge of Dharma with the real urgency of the times?
Action comes from intention, intention is informed by view (right or wrong view), and this heads up the Eight-Fold Path. With this opening Catherine gave the powerful perspective of right view as understanding ourselves as an “open system.” Everything effects everything else and so with that understanding we sit at the interface and meeting place of inner conditions and the outer world. Can we learn to rest at that interface – which is sacred – and not push anything away? Catherine went on to talk about a statistic from Lou and Kritee Kanko’s science paper: To stay within 2 degrees warming (already extremely dangerous) we can only burn 565 more gigatons of fuel, yet the fossil fuel industry has 2,790 already in reserves ready to burn. Such a reality is “bone jangling.”
Grounded in the imperterbable silence while willing to be perturbed – willing to be altered by the information – here there are more ways to see into the situation and understand skillful action. We breathe and soften out of tightness and move into ease and sense and see how our heart /mind (citta) is teeming with life, is ever receptive, restoring itself and constantly revealing more and more. This is where we can meet as sangha, and from where action can flow. To receive the full beauty, truth and power of Catherine’s sharing, I encourage you to listen in.
“Acts of Hope” – Chris Cullen
Chris, like Catherine, is a dear friend, who is doing wonderful work teaching Dharma and mindfulness in schools and more recently to members of the British Parliament. Chris framed our work as reconnecting out of the tragic disconnect we are currently in, and related that process to the work of Joanna Macy in the book, co-authored by her and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope. With clarity and passion, Chris re-iterated pathways of practice and action through walking the following 4 steps:
1. Coming From Gratitude – The Buddha, gazing at the Bodhi tree after his awakening with appreciation and gratitude, receiving the gift of a tree, of a forest – the 1st Nation People know this as right relationship, which opens us to reverence and love. Wherever and however we are in relationship to climate change — numb & disconnected or on fire and in a flow as an activist, or burnt out, in despair and fatigued — there is deep value in making a practice of mindful and grateful being within nature and of centralizing thanksgiving within our climate practice.
2. Opening to Personal & Collective Pain – As we come into relationship with the pain of what we have done to the biosphere – reflecting, what aspect of this experience is showing up as pain for us right now. Learning to hold pain, anger, fear, with mindfulness and also to resource ourselves, while “dropping the storyline of the bad other” and open to the raw energy of what is here. That we can be in disconnect through the daily demands that keep us out of contact with climate crisis and the impact on front line communities. That we can stay at a privileged distance and so it is imperative to educate ourselves. Self education around the issues of climate change is an important practice. Chris noted that while 80% of people in the UK accept climate science only 14% act accordingly. (This reminds me of living and working in South Africa in the midst of the AIDS crisis where information didn’t necessarily translate into behavior change. There are lessons to learn from the process in SA, which I aim to blog about later, as its relevant to our current climate focus.)
3. Seeing With New Eyes / Transforming View – That the Dharma teaches us to consciously practice ways of looking into deeper truths of connection and interdependence – which we can widen out to include all creatures. Chris also talked of releasing from clinging to outcomes and feeling the truth of the work itself.
4. Going Forth – I found going forth an interesting term as its a monastic phrase that is used when someone takes on the robes and precepts of a monk or nun. For each of us going forth is an ongoing process as we continue to awaken. Chris talked of this as reconnecting the contemplative practice with action – that contemplation and action support each other as Andrew Harvey speaks about in his Sacred Activism work. That action absorbs anxiety and wise action is contagious. Again, I encourage you to hear all of Chris’s presentation and his suggestions for wise action.
“The Power of Holding an Inspiring Vision” – James Baraz
James talked of the importance and power of holding a positive vision for energizing and mobilizing response — the process of acknowledging suffering while also engaging transformation from a place of love. That while he had spent many years teaching about joy and happiness, he was stopped in his tracks on reading Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth. That it took about a year for James to absorb the information and pain and begin to consider what to do, which led to the understanding that “This is my Dharma practice – to take this on without being overwhelmed.” And to remember that the Buddha’s words are about moving from suffering to peace and to work for that. The Buddha said, “Whatever one thinks and ponders upon, that becomes the inclination of the mind.”
James realized that he was thinking more and more that there was no hope, that we’re doomed, which was very discouraging. Instead, understanding neuroscience’s “confirmation bias” (we tend to affirm our beliefs by how we see the world) that it was important to move to an inspiring vision, and in doing so James noticed he had more energy for addressing this problem.
James shared those he is inspired by, including Bhikkhu Bodhi’s A Challenge to Buddhists. Referring to Andrew Harvey’s Dark Night of the Species, we have the opportunity to face our deepest fears and to understand we’ve been living in unsustainable ways and something needs to change. (That we are in a race between fear and consciousness – or Lou’s “Things are getting worse and worse, better and better, faster and faster.” ) Going through this challenge together is an opportunity for a great awakening. Quoting from the renowned British historian Toynbee (who said one of the most significant developments of the 20th century is Buddhism coming to the West) and contemporary leading sustainability expert Bob Doppelt that the Dharma holds the key to transformation. (James also mentioned Bob’s help with the Teachers’ Collaborative Statement on Climate Change.) This is exciting – that we are conveyors of the attitudes, principles and practices – we can we help shift consciousness.
Without being naive James reflected on how quickly things can change, that we don’t know what can happen. Thinking about same sex marriage – even climate change in the last 2 years – these kinds of shifts in conventional wisdom can make things change very quickly. Like the divestment movement – which has gained momentum, including divestment from the Rockefeller family – that 10% of the population can change conventional wisdom. That Mr Mandela talked about the multiplication of courage, as we inspire others, we also become agents of inspiration.
So may thanks again to our wonderful teachers. Next week we welcome Bonnie Duran Chas DiCapua, Vinny Ferraro. Do join us, it’s not too late to sign up! Here is the theme of our focus next week. “See” you then!
The Dharma shows us that all things are interconnected. This is the principle behind Dependent Co-arising, which teaches, that is like this because this is like that. If this changes, that changes. This is so glaringly obvious, yet ignorance of this truth has become wide spread among the human population. This ignorance has lead to humans becoming increasingly separated from each other and from the rest of the natural world. The consequences of this separation are being revealed.
Waking up to, and re-establishing our innate connection to each other and the natural world is a crucial aspect of engaging with Climate Change. We must look and see how we are already connected with all of life, not just the parts we like or want to be connected with. With our connection with all of life as a foundation, we will be supported in finding skillful ways to change the tide of Climate Change. What is interesting is that Climate change will bring us together, either in solving the problem, or in the desperate struggle for survival that ensues if we don’t. One way or another, we will be forced to connect.