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Going as a River: 2018 Earth Holders' Retreat at Camp Courage, Minnesota

03 Sep 2018 1:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to Andrew Rock for this sharing

This past week FCM members Carol Green, Nancy Natilson and Andrew Rock were among the 140 practitioners at the Earth Holders Retreat at Camp Courage on Clear Lake, Minnesota. The retreat was organized in fruitful and generous collaboration by the Earth Holder Community’s Caretaking Council, three local Minnesota Plum Village sanghas, and monastics from Deer Park Monastery. Four monks and four nuns from Deer Park led the retreat. It was inspiring and joyful to be with the monastics, each of whom manifested their practice and happiness in her or his own unique way of speaking, singing, walking, eating, and sitting.

As with other Plum Village retreats, we spent most of our days in mindful silence, beginning in the meditation hall with sitting meditation and chanting, and guided meditations, or sutra readings. We also had a Touching of the Earth and a reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Letter to Mother Earth. After breakfast we sang outdoors in a circle, followed by wonderful group meditation walks along the beautiful paths of Camp Courage, through cool green forests, along the lake and across wooden walkways over little streams. Each day my body and mind felt more peaceful and easy, each step on the earth truly a miracle.

The daily Dharma talks given by the monastics were a true continuation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and presence, delivered with clarity, wisdom and humor. In a talk on the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Brother Phap Ho spoke of how mindfulness helps us to make choices better aligned with our aspirations and to practice happiness and gratitude for the conditions we already have. If we want to address climate change and the suffering it brings, we can become more aware of the afflictive habit energies we still carry that lead to patterns of consumption that are toxic for us and for the world.

Each afternoon we met in small family groups for deep sharing and deep listening, each group facilitated by a monastic and named for a Minnesota river in keeping with the retreat’s theme, “Going as a River.” As in the retreat generally, groups were a mix of new and old practitioners, many from the Twin Cities area and the Midwest, and members of the Earth Holder Community that was founded in 2014 by lay and monastic members of the Plum Village community. We shared how our minds were gradually calming as we silently sat, walked and ate our tasty vegan meals in mindful community, and the happiness we felt as we became more attuned to the nature around and within us. We also shared about our challenges at home and in practice, our fears and even despair at the degradation of our environment and societal discourse.

As the days passed and our minds settled, we spoke more of how our practice of nurturing openness, peacefulness and compassion can contribute to our individual and collective engagement with the world in a way that is skillful and even joyful. And as the retreat progressed we saw that we were part of a kind, caring community, and that we were truly present for one another and for Mother Earth and all her children.

By the end of the retreat I felt that I had found peace with a question I had obsessively pondered and struggled with for the last few years: what does engaged Buddhism mean in the context of accelerating climate change and the suffering it brings? Is the practice of meditation and mindfulness sufficient, or should I – and other practitioners who wish to help heal Mother Earth and her children -- place equal emphasis on action?

I had understood intellectually that the answer, at least for me, is both meditation and action, that the practices of calming and opening, concentration and insight would organically lead to actions appropriate to the situation. I had heard our teacher Fred say that we could not hope to have a more peaceful world if we were not peaceful people, or a more just and kind world if we ourselves were angry and judgmental. But I nonetheless continued to resist, to feel uneasy about what I saw as an imbalance between practice in the meditation hall and action in the world.

Now I have finally realized and accepted that the real question is whether we can show up in life the way we want to, with equanimity, compassion and openness. As Fred recently said, “Life is where we practice, but the cushion is where we learn.” When we are truly present, we can see what is unfolding, and we will know how to be and what to do.

The 2018 Earth Holders Retreat ended with a beautiful and moving ceremony. Standing in a circle by the lake, the community was invited to each find a one or two word aspiration to take with us from the retreat. One by one around the circle, each of us shared our aspiration as we poured a bit of lake water from a pitcher into a big bowl. When we were finished, Brother Phap Ho carried the bowl down to the lake, and mindfully poured it in, to go as a river with the waters that would ultimately flow into the mighty Mississippi.

May our collective aspirations truly go as a river, carrying our practices of mindfulness and community, understanding and compassion, happiness and healing into our communities and our world.

Andrew Rock

True Collective Healing

Sept. 1, 2018


  • 03 Sep 2018 8:49 PM | Anonymous member
    Bowing deeply to you for sharing your reflections on the 2018 Earth Holder's Retreat. Your insight into "the real question" gives me courage to trust the learning on the cushion and know that clarity will come. mj
    Link  •  Reply
  • 04 Sep 2018 7:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Dear Andrew,
    Thank you so much for this reflection. I felt I was there with all of you, going as a river, opening ever wider.
    Link  •  Reply
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