Of Endings and Risings

In this intensely personal piece, Thanissara reflects on the events of 2018 and the unprecedented challenges to humanity they represent. She invites us to perceive their deep roots in the domination mindset and how we can, out of sheer necessity, respond with a fierce clarity of heart. With the sense of the devotional, she concludes with an impassioned poem calling for “hope beyond hope.”


A Brutal Year Ends
as Extinction Rebellion Rises

by Thanissara

This year has been brutal. Specifically because it heralded a drastic state-shift, a tipping point and planetary crossing over thresholds that should not be passed. We have stumbled from the hope of sustainability to a deeply painful reality of rapid environmental dismemberment.

We’ve seen the shredding of democratic principles and processes, we’ve been horrified by a rise in fascism, dragging its ghosts from the 1930’s/40’s, and have been appalled and enraged as billionaires flaunt and force their lethal agendas, regardless of the cost. But most devastating is the eco destruction we can no longer escape or delegate to future times. In a blink of an eye, we suddenly crossed from the assumption of human civilisation’s unbridled bright future to the dawning realisation of our probable demise.

The daily restoration of a clear, clean heart can mount a challenge free of hate and division.

This psychological shock and unremitting assault is shattering. Our overly stressed deregulated nervous systems struggle to cope. On the one hand we experience a plethora of hot reactivity and outrage, on the other a frozen stupefied, bargaining disassociation. As the ground beneath dissolves with such velocity, it feels impossible to grapple with the enormity of the threat we face.
Part of me is doing every day tasks, shop, cook, get through emails, scheduling, turning up for teaching engagements, meetings, zoom calls, planning, trying not to use plastic, buying recycled Christmas cards, while the other half is screaming as I run down the high street, through supermarket aisles (in my imagination), shouting “Wake the F#!K up people.” In my everyday (real) transactions, I lean in to figure if others are also screaming inside.

This leapfrog into our encroaching dystopia, as it stalks our night dreams, rampages through the our day world, and tears apart our fragile cohesion, has made it hard to hold normal life together. I’ve found myself dragging, sometimes strangely lost, taking hours to do a simple task as my mind swirls searching for a some kind of secure landing, some kind of sense.

Everyday, I get stuck to the latest twists and turns while resolving to unstick myself. But it’s hard to avert ones gaze as rapid ice-cap-melt cascades into rising oceans, as catastrophic floods turn cities into black mould, and as an inferno raced 15 miles in 10 minutes levelling a small town, ironically called Paradise, just a few hours north of us.

The Spix’s Macaw, recently declared extinct in the wild.

With 60% of wild life gone, insects vanishing apace, daily despotic legislation poisoning yet another river, ocean, waterway, or killing some other kind of wildlife, or stealing more indigenous land, the true magnitude of our human ignorance is desolating. When the blue macaw parrot that inspired “Rio” was declared extinct this week, and when the crowning apocalyptic IPCC Report stated “we have 12 years” or go the way of that parrot, our hearts broke all over again.

Such bad news filled with sorrow, anguish and extraordinary trepidation at the colossal challenges ahead. Yet, underneath is also a calm, steady determination building apace each day. A clarity forged as pieces of the puzzle that form the systems we live within are unflinchingly dissected in our daily reads and viewing. We understand that the Wizard of Oz, pulling all those crazy-making levers, has been outed. Our fast learning curve is into the roots of our calamity. We have to get the vastness, depth, and fullness of the truth that our economic, social, religious, and political systems, built on imperialism, unregulated capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy have to be rapidly deconstructed for anything or anyone to survive.

So, is there any good news? Well, there’s no happy Hollywood ending here. Instead, this is a clarion call to the depth of our souls. It’s the moment to listen carefully into our spirit, to what is actually important here, and what stirs at the most profound level of our being. What is felt it in our bones. For that we have to adopt a fearlessness, a great courage that breaks through our timidity, the “should’s” and “should not” in order to re-prioritise and align with the sweeping changes needed.

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. That people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.
— Greta Thunberg.

Centuries of systemic conditioning and false narratives have to be abandoned. We have to strip down the layers to stand present, open, and real in the face of this great evolutionary initiation. We should not follow authorities just because they have positions of power, but tune instead into the voices that emerge from truth, from the unexpected. Such a voice, sounding clear over the waffling response of Cop24, is Sweden’s 15 year old Greta Thunberg

Voices from People of Colour, Indigenous, and women newly elected in Congress. From youth crashing into the halls of power asking for a Green New Deal . Voices at the heart of the chaos in France protesting the vast inequities spawned by decades of neoliberalism and predator capitalism that turned humans into fodder and consumers for profit. The voices of  the long enduring unsung heroes of Indigenous peoples who by-rights and by the depth of ingrained wisdom must be vaulted and respected as guides at this time. And from the land of my birth, the galvanising force of Extinction Rebellion moving like wildfire across the globe, sparking inspiration and the allegiance of hundreds of groups, and counting.

Demonstrators on Westminster Bridge in central London on Saturday, November 17 (Photo: Extinction Rebellion/@ExtinctionR)

So where do you and I land in all this? Here we are, in the midst of a colossal global and civilisational transition from the era of oil, which is not only burning up the planet but is a deeply false and failing economy. With France imploding and yellow jackets showing up beyond its borders, with Egypt banning the sale of yellow jackets, and with Britain wobbling in the vortex of an arrogant elite cannibalising its own. As Russia, the USA, and Saudi Arabia go rogue on climate action and Australia remains silent, it is clear this is not going to be a nicely negotiated, peaceful transition. It’s going to be a slogging match, a devastation for parts of the globe, one already forewarned by Syria, Yemen, Puerto Rico, displaced migrants and the Pacific Islands disappearing under the ocean. So how do we find our way in all this?

For myself, self care and resilience has to be primary. This is going to be a long haul. Let’s try and stay well, balanced, loving. The tending to close relationships, family, is also primary, we need beloved partners and true friends. The reaching out to build community, alliances, networking, sharing. All that is implied.

The daily restoration of a clear, clean heart that can mount a challenge free of hate and division. The daily surrendering of pettiness and grudges. A forgiving heart that cleaves to love over and over. Practices that reclaim the sacred, that establish mindfulness, that free and nurture the body. Choices made, food eaten, products used, and actions taken that understand consequences and renounce harm.

Street art featuring the Extinction Rebellion symbol

As all this swirls in my being as we race toward the end of this calamitous year and as everything is devolving into tangles of complexity and impossibility. However, the heart itself speaks in simple terms. It has its own true voice if we care to listen. When you hear its prompting, trust it. Follow the guidance. Relish its undaunted, diamond-like clarity. Know that it knows all is resident within its conscious awareness. In the swirl of shadows and the ranting cries of our dismembering times, there is a mystic thread, a trail to follow through the jungle of confusion.

When you follow that thread, you will not tie yourself to the waning light of unreal hopes that come crashing down. Instead, you will claim your full empowered truth that rises to shine its undying light on your pathway forward. You may stumble, but you will know, in the passionate, disciplined, focused, flamenco-like dance that the heart is, you will know how to be. You will know where to go. And you will know when to leap.

HOPE Beyond HOPE
Between this thought and the next
hope awaits its constant song
that angels murmur within our longing.
They breathe a shinning into our uncertain pathway
their voices lilting high over fields of desolation
saying,
“We are the holders of your dreams,
the whispering seed
planted in all cells.
The remainder of your journey
through the darkest of all times.”

But when hope vanishes
and things that can’t be hoped for
disturb our waking night.
Then
in that ripe hour
distant bells summon
our hallowed ascension
with jaws soft and hands open,
prayer turns to a new dimension.

The movement beyond city voices
a gentle wind that blows so quietly
a silent singing from this turning earth
a calm knowing of your life’s worth.
Our timeless core unfolding
the easy swing of an opening gate
as the terror of separation
fades with an early bird song.
It is a dream only, of the fevered night.

This deep sleep of remembering
reveals a knowing
within each breath
that keeps a holy world gathered
within spheres of our communion.

Here we always are
moving in the ancient stillness
with fluid steps
tracking a silent song
through the halls of our creation.
This timeless breath with you my love.
It’s been a long, cold, lonely night.

Garden of the Midnight Rosary – Poems by Thanissara, 2002.


Thanissara, from London, was a Buddhist nun for 12 years and teaches meditation retreats with her partner Kittisaro since 1992. Together they founded Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat in 2000 in South Africa and co-authored Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism. She is also author of Time To Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth, and several poetry books. Thanissara and Kittisaro recently launched Sacred Mountain Sangha, a California based Non Profit that hosts the Dharmapala Training, a two year, seven module training. This piece was originally published on Thanissara’s blog.

4 Comments on “Of Endings and Risings

    • Yes! While difficult, it is refreshing in that way. There is no suffering that this practice cannot meet… it forges a heart wide enough to embrace both the smallest jealousy to global climate change. Thanissara often reminds me of this basic most understanding.

  1. Thank you Thanissara for your words of encouragement.
    YES, Engaged Buddhism is What needs to happen now.

    Look at our Fear, but don’t let it stop you!!

    We need to join the local, grassroots movement occurring in RED states…Walking door to door, having conversations. This is How RED states were turned to Democratic BLUE during the Midterms recently. Walking the Talk. Feet on the ground!! Moderation in our efforts so to take time for our own well being.
    RISE UP! JOIN OTHERS. 2020 Presidential election is Critical to change the leadership, to save our world, change Climate policy.
    Do it for All the animals, children.
    Even putting yourself out there ….sacrificing your comfort.
    May We be Free from Inner and outer harm.
    May We be safe.

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