Interbeing Activism, with Sr. Jewel

posted in: Dharma Topics | 0

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening we will enjoy a special treat. After our regular meditation period, our program will be led by Sr. Jewel (Chan Chau Nghiem), who has been a monastic in the Plum Village Tradition since 1999. Over the past several years she has led retreats for practitioners, children, artists, and activists in the U.S., Europe, Thailand, Brazil, India and Southern Africa. Her most recent focus, and the topic for this Thursday evening’s Dharma Sharing, blends practice with climate change activism. Her account of how she came to this interest is below. You are invited to be with us to consider the question: How might we engage in creating change in a way that brings us more joy, connection and appreciation of the world we have right now?

You are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

Sr. Jewel will also be offering The Art of Presence — A Day of Mindfulness for Artists this Saturday, September 6th, at Circle Yoga in Chevy, Chase, DC.

Another special opportunity will occur next month when Brother Phap Tri will join us for our annual Fall Settling into Silence Retreat at the Charter Hall Retreat Center in Perryville, Maryland, October 3-5.

Warm wishes and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

— From Sr. Jewel —

Dear friends,

On this past sabbatical year, I have been learning about climate change and have been “falling in love with the earth” in different ways. First, in December, I found the book, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, about an extraordinary, sustainable and innovative community in the uninhabitable savannah of eastern Colombia. It tells the story of the community’s 40-year journey of using simple, sustainable technology and truly right livelihood to build a happy, healthy, harmonious and environmentally sane community, in the midst of great instability and the constant warfare between guerillas, paramilitary, and narcotraficantes. The UN named it a model of sustainability and Gaviotas has invented numerous life-changing ecological technologies (like sophisticated water pumps that can be installed deep enough to access safe, clean water—pumped by children on seesaws!, solar water heaters, hydroponic gardens, and methane stoves using gas from cow manure). All of these inventions now benefit millions of people across Columbia and in other developing countries. Alan Wiesman, the author, also wrote the introduction to Thay’s The World We Have.

Then in January, I read the deeply enlightening interview with Kathleen Dean Moore in the Sun magazine, If Your House is On Fire. There I learned of the idea of a Council of Elders for the environment that might stimulate a mass, grassroots movement to boycott large oil companies, which in many ways are the principle engine behind climate change. I also read Bill McKibben’s article in the Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math. I began to work with a few others on initial steps to look at what it might take to set up such a Council of Elders. You can read the Council of Elders statement we drafted here. I gave dharma talks on the topic and sent a transcript of one of them to the Mindfulness Bell, an excerpt of which will be published in the next fall 2014 issue. You can read the whole dharma talk here.

In April, I began reading Charles Eisenstein’s, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, which I highly recommend (you can read the whole book online for free at the above link). I was reading it to prepare to interview him for an upcoming issue of the Mindfulness Bell magazine. I continue to find it very insightful and broad in its vast range of evidence on how the story of our world is shifting and the many subtle and overt ways we can help it to shift in the direction of interbeing and compassion.

In May, my dad – Al Lingo – and I attended a weekend workshop with Joanna Macy, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We Are In Without Going Crazy. It was powerful and sobering, too. It offered many tools to help us skillfully hold the otherwise paralyzing despair that is easy to fall into:

At the heart of this book is the idea that Active Hope is something we do rather than have. It involves being clear what we hope for and then playing our role in the process of bringing that about. The journey of finding, and offering, our unique contribution to the Great Turning helps us to discover new strengths, open to a wider network of allies and experience a deepening of our aliveness. When our responses are guided by the intention to act for the healing of our world, the mess we’re in not only becomes easier to face, our lives also become more meaningful and satisfying.

I’m currently reading Eaarth, by Bill McKibben, which is stunningly eloquent and direct: he states that we no longer live on Earth (spelled with only one ‘a’), that was the old planet where things functioned according to predictable, millennia-old patterns. That planet does not exist anymore. We have started something in motion that will not allow us to have that old earth back. But we can learn to live gracefully on the new earth, if we are capable of accepting this new situation and adapting to it. As frightening as it is, it is also quite hopeful.

So I keep asking myself what I can do to be most of service in this time of such need and instability. What I am most intrigued by is how to birth and stimulate change in a way that brings joy, connection, fulfillment and ease, rather than acting from a place of panic, fear, struggle and blame. How to see even the CEOs of the big oil companies as not so different from myself and to approach the challenging of this dominant story with love and the insight of interbeing, even as I say ‘no’ to it and affirm with confidence that another reality is possible and not so far out of reach. It is a koan I am grateful to return to, each time in a different way.

How might we engage in creating change in a way that brings us more joy, connection and appreciation of the world we have right now?

It is Never Too Late

by Brenda Peterson, from Singing to the Sound

It is never too late to go quietly to our lakes, rivers, oceans, even our small streams, and say to the sea gulls, the great blue herons, the bald eagles, the salmon, that we are sorry.

Falling in Love

by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Love Letter to the Earth

Real change will happen only when we fall in love with our planet. Only love can show us how to live in harmony with nature and with each other and save us from the devastating effects of environmental destruction and climate change. When we recognize the virtues and talents of the Earth, we feel connected to her and love is born in our hearts. We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love: to be at one. When you love someone, you want to take care of that person as you would take care of yourself. When we love like this, it’s reciprocal. We will do anything for the benefit of the Earth and we can trust that she, in turn, will do everything in her power for our well-being.

Every morning when I wake up and get dressed, I leave my hut and take a walk. Usually the sky is still dark and I walk gently, aware of nature all around me and the fading stars.

One time, after walking, I came back to my hut and wrote this sentence: “I am in love with Mother Earth.” I was as excited as a young man who has fallen in love. My heart was beating with excitement.

When I think of the Earth and my ability to walk on it, I think, “I’m going to go out into nature, enjoying everything beautiful, enjoying all its wonders.” My heart is filled with joy. The Earth gives me so much. I’m so in love with her. It’s a wonderful love; there’s no betrayal. We entrust our heart to the Earth and she entrusts herself to us, with her whole being.