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For the past six weeks I’ve been busy promoting my book The Burning House: a Buddhist response to the Climate and Ecological Emergency online, and increasingly in person. Last night I was at the Brighton Buddhist Centre speaking to 45 people, half online and half in the shrine-room in front of me.
I enjoyed the sense of total engagement as we explored the turbulent emotional landscape of the climate and ecological emergency. Speaking to groups is both a joy and a profound challenge to me. At times I inwardly called on the spirit of Bob Dylan to embody his eloquence and fervour.
A theme that emerged is that we seem to need a number of different qualities to navigate this landscape healthily, compassionately and effectively. I’ve summarised them as grounding, grief and gratitude.
We need grounding for various reasons. Left to our own devices(!) we can lose our heads in online information and discussions. Isolated from the natural cycles by electric lights, central heating, cars and so on, we can lose our connection to the Earth.
A simple way to get grounded is to do a body scan. Begin with the toes as they are furthest away from the busyness of headquarters. Work your way slowly up the body noticing physical sensations as you go.
When we’re scared about the world that we’re passing on to our children, we can tense up and lose our sense of belonging to the Earth. Allow the Earth to take your weight.
We need to acknowledge the grief that naturally arises when we hear about lost bio/diversity, lost species and lost beauty. As Joanna Macy observes, until we acknowledge the weight of grief that we feel, our environmental activism is going nowhere.
Do you feel grief about the planet that we’re handing on? We can create a space for mourning, rather than trying to fix it or push it away. Look at the people around you and recognise that they love this world. They know that the polar ice caps are melting and they haven’t let it kill their love of life.
If we follow these feelings of sadness back to their source, we may discover that they come from our love and care for the Earth.
Viewed from this perspective, grief is an aspect of compassion. As Zen poet and activist Thich Nhat Hanh says, ‘What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.’
Finally, we need gratitude towards the Earth. We will only act to care for and protect the Earth if we love it and feel grateful for life. What do you love about being on this Earth? When did Nature stop you in your tracks with its beauty? What opportunities has life afforded you that you wish to be available for future generations? How have you grown and developed emotionally and spiritually?
I still wish I had Bob Dylan’s eloquence and fervour.