Inter-Faith Activism, Unexpected Belonging, and Engaged Buddhism

Inter-Faith Activism, Unexpected Belonging, and Engaged Buddhism

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 26, 2019 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water friends,

At the beginning of the Montgomery County Recycling Volunteer training I was attending, one of the participants introduced herself as part of the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions.

This piqued my interest. I had recently started a recycling consulting business after five years of managing the recycling program for DC public schools. My new work with private schools had just introduced me to a previously unknown world of religion-inspired environmental activism.

I approached her during the break and said I would be interested to learn more about the group she had mentioned.

She immediately brightened and asked, “What congregation are you with?”

My mind raced. How to explain my religious background? Well my mother was raised Catholic and my father Jewish, but we didn’t really practice either of those religions so I identify with them culturally, but have never been part of a congregation. I certainly am not religious and have mostly viewed religion as, illogical, misguided, and oppressive.

On the other hand, I learned from my parents to doing the right thing and my mother is very into nature. I feel like they passed their values, if not beliefs, to me even though it is not a religion per se.

Without thinking I blurted out, “The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center!”

I almost laughed in surprise.

She didn’t even notice my confusion! She was pleased to meet me, a fellow person of faith interested in climate activism, mentioned she knew Mitchell somehow, and encouraged me to follow up with the organizer of the group, which I did.

Who would have thought this would lead to my participation in the Youth Climate Strike this past Friday as an active member of Montgomery County’s inter-faith community?

This also was the moment that I realized, after I said it out loud, that it was true. Through Still Water, I had unexpectedly found belonging in a community of practice and a spiritual home in engaged Buddhism.

I first came to Still Water because I was curious about the practice of mindfulness. I came back because of the community I found at the Thursday Sangha. I stayed because of the teachings.

When I purchased The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hanh from the table at Still Water I wasn’t expecting to read an introduction to a spiritual tradition that was entirely consistent with my worldview and that could help sustain the joyful life of environmental action that I aspire to live.

Who knew that the non-religion that I inherited from my parents could be described as engaged Buddhism, and that I could practice it with a sangha in Silver Spring?

This Thursday I invite you to reflect on the journey that brought you to the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, and in particular the role of a community of practice in sustaining your life of action.

To begin the discussion, here are some questions to consider:

  • How do you relate (or not) your practice with Still Water to being part of a “congregation,” a “religion,” or “the faith community”?
  • Do you feel like you “belong” to the Still Water community? Is there a particular moment when you realized you have come to belong? Were you surprised? Why?
  • How does your belonging to the Still Water community and/or the tradition of engaged Buddhism help you sustain a life of action?

Below is a relevant excerpt from  Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Warm wishes,

Beth Gingold

 From Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh, “Cultivating Joy”

When we practice mindfulness we’re doing something for the whole of the Earth and all its inhabitants. We’re giving back to the Earth and providing it with necessary nourishment. Our collective awareness produces joy; and joy is a food that we need and that the Earth needs to survive.

We may think of joy as something that happens spontaneously. Few people realize that it needs to be cultivated and practiced in order to grow. When we sit in mindfulness with others, it’s easier to walk. The collective energy can help us when we’re tired or when our mind wanders. The collective energy can bring us back to ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to practice with others. At first we may worry that we aren’t doing sitting or walking meditation properly and we may hesitate to practice with others for fear of being judged. But we all know how to sit and breathe. That’s all we have to do. After only a few moments of concentrating on our breathing we can bring peace and calm to our body and mind and body. We only need to pay attention to our in-breath and out-breath. Focus on that. That’s all it takes to begin to calm the agitation in your mind and body. You only need to dwell peacefully in your in-breath and out-breath for a short while and you will begin to restore stability and peace within yourself. The concentration of those around you will also support you as you begin to practice. Do this a little bit each day, alone or with others. When you train like this, it becomes easier and easier to return to your mindful breathing. The more you train yourself, the more easily you touch the depths of your consciousness, and the more easily you can generate the energy of compassion. Each one of us can do this.

Joining or creating a like-minded community is very helpful for our practice. The practice of the group helps us maintain and strengthen our own practice. We can’t heal ourselves or heal the Earth on our own.

When we practice together as a community, our practice of mindfulness becomes more joyful, more relaxed, and steady. We are bells of mindfulness for each other, supporting and reminding each other along the path of practice. With the support of the community, we can cultivate peace and joy in ourselves, which we can then offer to those around us. We cultivate our solidity and freedom, our understanding and compassion. We practice looking deeply to gain the sort of insight that can free us from suffering, fear, discrimination, and misunderstanding.

We bring ourselves back to the present moment, to be in touch with Mother Earth, and to see that already have enough conditions to be happy; happiness is possible right in the present moment. The encouragement and support of a Sangha, a community of practice, can help us enormously. When we practice together, mindfulness becomes easy and natural.


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 26, 2019