PAEAN means the rising of many voices together in a song of joy, praise, and triumph. It is also the acronym for Peoples Alliance for Earth Action Now.
The Buddha was a spell breaker, and as we rise in service of the sacred web of life, we too are spell breakers.
The failure of leadership at COP26 clarifies that now is the time for people everywhere to join forces, locally and worldwide, in service of the just, conscious, and spiritually informed transition still within our reach.
At 23 years, I joined an alms mendicant order, shaved off my long hair, put on a robe, took on precepts and a rigorous daily schedule, which I observed for 12 years as a Buddhist nun. There was much to learn and unlearn during that time, all within the enduring and essential teaching, “look directly at the way things are and contemplate their nature.” That is, see through the eye of Dharma. In particular, see suffering and its causes, then attend to those causes by employing the medicine of meditative transformation internally and externally.
As bodhisattvas in training, we follow the Buddha’s encouragement to; “Go forth for the good of many, out of compassion for the world and the welfare, good, and happiness of all.” These days, we need to go forth from the trance of business as usual. 2022 could well be when this treacherous spell breaks. A UN global poll from last year, states two-thirds of people know climate change is a global emergency. In Europe, 90% of young people know it’s the world’s greatest threat. Most everyone on the planet knows we’re in deep trouble.
However, we face a wall of denial, distraction, and distortion from those who have the power to reverse course but do not see it profitable to do so. Most governments are under the yoke of the fossil fuel industry. For example, some governments’ more ambitious climate policies are threatened by $billions worth of lawsuits if they don’t shape climate policies around the demands of the foreign fossil fuel industry. In step, media barons ensure their wall of denial minimizes or actively distorts an accurate picture of our precarious situation.
People need to know we are passing truly significant, terrifying climate tipping points. Thwaites Glacier (the size of Florida) in the Antarctic is within years of collapse, raising sea levels by 2 feet/ 65cm, potentially (most likely) destabilizing the entire West Antarctic ice sheet. The world’s largest rain forest, the mighty Amazon, now emits more carbon than it captures. Extreme warming across the Eastern Siberian tundra releases significant methane gases, exponentially warming the biosphere. This is just one, albeit significant, snapshot of our collapsing ecosystem that is unfolding everywhere at speed.
Instead of grappling with this deadly diagnosis, we hope if we look away, it will go away. However, as Dharma practitioners, we train ourselves to meet challenges, knowing they have the potential to stimulate awakening from the morass of ignorance. As said the tantrika, Saraha Mahasiddha, “The greater the mental afflictions, the mightier the primordial wisdom. The larger the pile of wood, the greater the blaze (of awakening.)”
As the spell breaks, we start to touch into the enormity of our current reality. We are shifting from an internal narrative of a guaranteed future to the likelihood, in our lifetime, of civilizational collapse and mass extinction, not only of other life forms but of humanity. This actual probability is an extraordinarily challenging internal shift of perception to undergo. Breaking a civilizational meta-narrative is a dangerous moment. Even if we disagree with this shift, it’s happening anyway.
In his book, The Creation of Consciousness, Jungian Edward Edinger says, “the breakdown of a central myth is like the shattering of a vessel containing a precious essence; the fluid is spilt and drains away, and meaning is lost. In its place, primitive contents are reactivated. Differentiated values disappear and are replaced by the elemental motivations of power and pleasure, or else the individual is exposed to emptiness and despair.”
When, as is inevitable, the truth of our situation surfaces more fully into the collective consciousness, we can expect massive reactivity, which in actuality, is already happening in the march of truth as lies, lies as truth, a symptom in itself of a mass psychotic break from reality. Underneath this battleground for the future flow murky streams of raw fear, rage at the loss of power, and terror that the old God of our creation is abandoning us. The stage is set for a harrowing confrontation with our illusions from the force of reality.
Grappling with our planetary reality, for me, is an ongoing journey cycling through panic, despair, grief, fear, anguish, wrath, unnameable horror, and all nuances in-between. Lately, I’ve also noticed early life somatic patterning being activated. Here lay fear, frozenness, impotence and isolation. If you find it hard to get mobilized, you’re not alone, especially in these times of Covid loneliness. Amid the urgency, we also have to slow down to metabolize the enormity of where we are so we can stay kind, resourced, and grounded.
Within this intensifying planetary curriculum running through our personal and collective fault lines, opening up early, epigenetic, ancestral wounds, we can still track each breath into embodied, timeless presence. Rather than being swept away, a mindful relationship to “what is” opens into a freer, more liminal space, where intuitive leaps of creativity and understanding unfold. This free space is a more mapless territory allowing us to navigate by the starlight of inner intuitive guidance. Even just a sliver of spaciousness enables the revelatory light of awareness to shift our assumptions.
The feelings aren’t wrong or some kind of personal failure. They are the immune system of Mother Nature hauling us awake, and they are a barometer through which we track our collective pulse. Mostly though, we are feeling Mother Nature’s heartbreak. She, and therefore, we, are dying, though actually, we are killing her. Her billions of extraordinary life forms, woven together over billions of years, are now weighed by humans, treated as if machines, and sold on Amazon. All the while, the actual Amazon burns down.
Beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Only love can save us from climate change.” I believe this Koan he bequeathed runs straight to the heart of our task, one we can’t decode alone. It will take all of us to fathom this potent bodhisattva protector spirit of fierce compassion permeating our personal and collective souls. Meanwhile, we can hold faith in its power to dissolve obstructions to the long-awaited embodiment of our new story, of which we are the attending midwives.
Implementing the Buddha’s “right action” and Saraha’s turning poison to nectar, together, we have the power to go against the stream of division, hate, and destruction. Rather than being pulled into the vortex of despair, let’s pick up the challenge and focus on the work at hand. We are all in the monastery now, simplifying, prioritizing, and keeping our Dharma eye on that guiding night star that shone on the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment and still illuminates our onward path through its subtle promptings of the heart.
The Buddha said, “one who has nothing to serve lives unhappily,” pondering what to serve, he understood it is the Dharma. This service always includes uplifting and sustaining the welfare of all beings. Still, we overlook the centrality of this greatest of beings, Mother Nature, who was, after all, the only being that could fully affirm the Buddha’s awakening. We owe everything to Her, so now it’s our time to heed Her call for help. PAEAN is our response to that call.
We hope PAEAN will inspire, help gather, and support small local, and online, groups engaging climate action that will collectively interlink with global initiatives working for the same outcome. Motivated by the tremendous legacy of faith-based social revolutionaries, our approach is grounded in a wise and compassionate practice. We invite you to join us!