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Balancing Climate Reality and Spiritual Hope: Buddhist Ecologist Inspires Tampa Bay Audiences

27 May 2018 8:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With Gratitude to FCM Member Carol Green for this Article


Sailing the Atlantic in major gales and life-threatening disasters offered lessons in reflecting about the terror of the unknown future of climate change, said Heather Lyn Mann, spiritual ecologist and co-founder of the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition’s Earth Holders Sangha, in a recent series of presentations to the Florida Community of Mindfulness (FCM) and other groups in the Tampa Bay area.


You don’t really know you have been sailing (or confronting the desperate fear of climate change) until you have been deeply frightened, but if you can stay safely in the moment, you may be able to make a significant difference, she said. Balancing facing reality with maintaining hope, she led discussions with FCM, students and faculty at the New College in Sarasota and the Shambhala Sangha in St. Petersburg. Her talks were sponsored by the Buddhist Climate Action Network, headed by FCM’s Andrew Rock.


Earth Holders is an organization in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village tradition that sponsors retreats with Plum Village monastics during their annual U.S. tours, publishes quarterly newsletters and offers information and dharma-related insights into lessening harmful climate change. Their website, www.earthholders.org, is a resource for plant-based nutrition.


Mann and her husband, Dave, had been dreaming of sailing for years, and when they finally had saved enough, she looked deeply at her fatigue from her work in developing conservation land trusts and knew it was time. They embarked on a journey that ultimately took them six years on the Wild Hair, a sailboat, around the “Great Atlantic Teacher,” learning lessons in mindfulness and the power of the planet that served her well as she wrote a memoir, Ocean of Insight: A Sailor’s Voyage from Despair to Hope, and now leads a spiritual ecology movement in Charleston, SC.


They made basic sailor mistakes on their voyage, yet reflected on those mistakes to extract larger teachings. Just as they survived despite their sailors’ errors, in spite of mistakes in over-consumption and thoughtless choices in using the Earth, we can still have a positive impact, she said.


“There is passive hope, where you sit and wish that things were different,” she said. “And there is active hope, where you are always listening to reality, being clear about the world you want, and, when you have the opportunity, act without weighing whether you will be successful or not.”


She described an incident in which her husband drifted away from their marooned sailboat in a dinghy without a motor or supplies, possibly never to be seen again. All she could do was issue mayday calls on their radio and wait. He survived. “In some ways, I was powerless, I had no influence, but I still had dominion over my own actions. I mobilized support. Evolution gave me awareness, volition and choice originating from within. These are superpowers.


“Even the tiniest deed sparked into action can spark a revolution,” she said. “We can just do the simple thing in front of us to do. Thich Nhat Hanh had already figured that out and he took refuge in the earth. It’s a giant Dharma door.


“The way we treat the planet and the way we exploit people happens because we forget we are interconnected,” she said.


Organizations are now attempting to translate science into an understanding that laypersons can act on. Earth Holders and its website www.earthholders.org was born with the blessing of the Plum Village monastics and now is about to expand to a larger community including other movements, such as climate justice organizations, she said. This communications and resource hub holds monthly online meetings, issues a quarterly newsletter and has a practice manual that covers many topics, including how to write “love letters” to government officials and giving tips on plant-based eating.


Mann began an organization called Higher Ground in Charleston to re-frame discussions about changing lives and policies of that city as coastal flooding encroaches. Her work frames the issue as not just an environmental/ecological crisis, but a spiritual crisis, as well, asking, How can we live lives of meaning during this challenge?


To speak to people with opposing views, Mann recommended finding ways to find common ground: talk about air pollution, flooding in shared communities, how we all care about the country we inherited, concerns about our kids’ futures, rather than “climate change.” She recommended reading the works of Katharine Hayhoe, a conservative Christian scientist who writes and speaks about why evangelicals should care about climate change.


Mann recommended that those concerned about climate change do the “inner work,” first getting clear that mindfulness is their foundation. She cautioned that we have to do “twice as much inner grounding” as outside work to maintain the equanimity required for the long haul. Then, if we decide to take action, we can tackle the matters that we can directly impact, rather than becoming frozen and despondent about the big picture. She recommended forming small groups using the book Low Carbon Diet: A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds, by David Gerson, published by the Empowerment Institute. It provides simple, everyday steps that individuals may take to reduce their carbon footprints, such as drive more slowly, don’t use clothes dryers, and take shorter showers.


We have to bring a “don’t know” mind to our ecological practice, constantly asking, “Am I sure?” Mann said, drawing a parallel to a judgment error that she and her husband made as their sailing venture drew to a close in the Bahamas, where they almost lost their lives. “We have to let go what we think we know. You can get swept into your predictions of what you think is going to happen in the future. Insight and meditation sometimes lets us absorb what is beyond our perceptions. The future is yet to be written. Scientific studies are weather reports, and many things can open up.


A Yale University study distills it:

1. Climate change is real.

2. It’s bad.

3. It’s us.

4. 97 percent of scientists agree.

5. There’s hope.


“In the next 25 years, things will be seesaw: wet and dry, hot and cold, fewer storms but more intense, flooding will occur in coastal states. Our brothers and sisters in island nations, most of Africa, polar regions, the deltas of Africa will be on the front lines. Pope Francis says we have a debt to the poor, not to wallow in guilt but to create a world with more fairness going forward. How can we breathe in the sensations of discomfort and breathe out compassion and the possibility that we can build a completely different route going forward? What simple actions can we manifest today as a life mantra, as a mindfulness practice?


“Turn to your beginner’s mind and look at reality. We must stop ourselves from leaping forward. Stay in the present moment. Notice what’s right. Let go of notions about politics -- no judgment, no blame -- empowering yourself.


“Our response to the climate challenge should not be rushed. This is the time to stop and consider how to influence things within our reach. They don’t have to be big and grand, just within our reach.”


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