For sometime now, I have loved the winter solstice. In these long nights, there are risks to be sure. Caution is warranted for we can slide into the depths and become hopelessly disoriented. Yet in this place of darkness, where we all spend fully half our lives, priceless gifts are to be found. Surprising courage, authentic forgiveness, every mystery and all true beginnings—these have their home in the dark. In the absence of harsh light, things lose the shape we project upon them and, if we can manage our fear and allow ourselves to be guided, this dissolution can open up the vision, perk the ear and awaken the sensitivities. How we see, hear, and touch can be altered for all the bright days that follow.
It was in the darkness several winters ago that I yielded to depression as a strong teacher. Defying the relentless call to productivity, I finally let the night have me. I gave way, not to the self-recriminating thoughts that often accompany the dark mood, but rather the call to go in and down and silent, to close my eyes and to listen. In this surrender was perhaps the trust of the renunciate who gives up not what she wants but finally gives in to the want for something deeper and truer that all the wants of daily life cannot touch. Finally available for the teaching, that winter dark revealed my narrow view of love, a view born of wounding, as something scarce, the stuff of proving and earning and re-proving and re-earning and giving only in order to receive. I had been reducing love to a transaction, making self, other, and cosmos tragically small. The truth of love was only hinted at but even in that hint it was revealed as far more: endless, self-generating, and delightfully unfathomable. A precious gift of understanding, this teaching was at once profoundly personal and yet not personal at all.
This past Friday night, on the winter solstice, as Earth’s northern hemisphere tilted into the darkest dark, the Cold Moon, fully lit by sun, held the outpost of night like an angel. It seemed to be inviting us to turn towards all that is difficult this winter, to let surface all that the light suppresses. For those that have the eyes to see, the delusion of the American story is giving way. The story of unrealized ideals with their shadow side of patriarchy and racism, of objectification, exploitation and ruination claiming people and planet, this story is hardening into a brittle shell and dissolving from within. But in the night, flags, names and borders reveal their empty nature and we who are Americans, who are Democrats, Republicans, Resistance, Antifa, and Tea Party—we have no country.
In the night, winter rain falls on the embers of wildfires whose ultimate causes are layers deep and still denied by most. The world of insects plummets nearly unnoticed in the soil beneath our feet. And when darkness overcomes, we fall to suicide at increasing and alarming rates. Meanwhile our beautiful and energetic responses, movements and countermovements, encounter their own limits, reveal their inner conflicts, going neither as deep nor as far as feels so necessary. Perhaps only the endless night can be trusted to account for all that has been and will yet be lost to how we cling to, hide in, and flee from our pain-ridden confusion. At the same time, I am nourished, thoroughly, by the certainty that innumerable hearts here on Earth are wide enough to hold this lament.
You darkness from which I come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence out the world,
for the fire makes a circle
so that no one sees you anymore.
But darkness holds it all:
the shape and the flame,
the animal and myself,
how it holds them,
all powers, all sight —
and it is possible: its great strength
is breaking into my body.
I believe in the night.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
So let us open the night shutter. Let in this winter dark. It is here for the taking and wants to be known by us. With humility and guided by deep wisdom, let the harsh shapes of our surroundings and stories and names go soft. Let their essence be revealed as empty. Let the silence and the indistinguishable have their space. Become quiet and receptive to their gifts. After all, if we don’t let our hardened concepts fall away, how can we hope to generate anything that is truly responsive and actually helpful?
Every winter, in our own way, we can follow the steps of Siddhartha whose fearsome and exquisite dance with the dark gave the world this endless gift of Dharma. It was in the night that Siddhartha became the Buddha.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
As part of “Giving Tuesday,” we at One Earth Sangha are honored and excited to receive your support. The practice of generosity comes as an especially powerful antidote in a season increasingly defined by consumerism with its associated but hidden costs to people and planet. We are therefore feel a profound sense of obligation to ensure that your support goes to support our programs and operations in the most efficient way possible.
On this Giving Tuesday, we hope to raise $1500 in just this one day. We hope you’ll help us build momentum by offering your donation here and thereby encouraging others to do the same. Whatever amount you can offer is deeply appreciated! May your generosity benefit all beings.
If you’d like to take advantage of facebook’s #GivingTuesdays matching gifts program,
you can donate here.
Throughout the day, we’ll record donations made there as contributions towards our goal.
For a donation of $400 or more, we’re offering a special thank you gift. This banner with the slogan “Embody Fierce Compassion” is approximately 2’x3′, silk screened on linen. As these are made by hand, each is slightly different. To receive your banner, be sure to fill out this form so we know where to send your thank you gift!
Your donation will appear on your credit card statement with the name of our fiscal sponsor, Insight Meditation Community of Washington or “IMCW.” 100% of your donation will go to support the work of One Earth Sangha. As IMCW is registered as a tax exempt, non-profit religious organization with the State of Maryland (tax ID #52-2016933), your donation is fully tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.
We look forward to being in ever more engaged practice with you.
Together with a broad range of faith and non-faith partners, we are launching today a new sustainability initiative and encouraging your participation. The core of this campaign is an invitation to, in the context of supportive community, face the difficulty of our unsustainable personal and household carbon emissions and then, grounded in our deepest values, commit to meaningful response. Specifically, the campaign is calling for
- Commit to reduce
Dharma teachers, Sangha leaders, Sangha members, experienced meditators and brand new practitioners are invited to commit to reducing personal / household carbon emissions in three specific areas, transportation, diet and home energy.
- Courageous, compassionate sharing
To build community, learn from one another and normalize these efforts, we invite participates to share their experiences with keeping commitments, the challenges, rewards, beautiful surprises, vexing frustrations, spiritual insights and logistical roadblocks encountered along the way.
- Affirm Goodness
Join people within and across spiritual communities in local events celebrating our efforts to Live the Change during Earth Care Week, October 7 – 14.
Earth is a blessing. She supports life and is the basis of all our economies. She conveys beauty and evokes our recognition of something greater than ourselves. She is our temple, our mosque, our sanctuary, our cathedral. Our home.
— Living the Change campaign
GreenFaith and our funding partners believe that people can make and sustain significant changes in their lives when they are grounded in their deepest values and supported by communities of meaning. In this energized collaboration, One Earth Sangha is honored to represent Mindfulness and Buddhist communities in partnering with The Bhumi Project, representing Hindus; the Global Muslim Climate Network; Hazon representing the Jewish faith, The Global Catholic Climate Movement, Living Witness, representing Quakers; even the World Evangelical Alliance representing Evangelical Christians and more. In a time when divisiveness is on the rise, we are deeply inspired by this diverse set of organizations in beautiful cooperation, each sharing both the particular gifts and challenges of our Paths, in this project to honor and protect life.
So Many Questions
Together, we’ll be exploring the beauty and the very real challenges in this campaign in the coming weeks and months. Even in our own conversations, we wrestle with difficulties and want to open these up with you. Questions like,
- Isn’t this a distraction from the real change we need in public policy and checks on corporations? Don’t we all need to keep our focus on systems change?
- Even if they are not a distraction, at this stage, do household sustainability measures really matter?
- What about the unsustainable behavior of communities, organizations and governments?
- Do people really change their behavior and if so how?
- How can we break the deafening silence on climate without alienating others or isolating ourselves?
- And anyways, what does all this have to do with my practice, Dharma or Mindfulness?
The first of these is articles comes out tomorrow: Déjà vu, Recyling 2: Haven’t We Been Here Before?
Connect, Connect, Connect
The campaign is just underway. We’re hoping you will be able to participate in the following support events, which are all about making connections, and even organize your own.
- Join our Living the Change webinar on July 26, 12:00 – 1:00 pm US Eastern with Susie Harrington and Lou Leonard. Registration opens tomorrow.
- Get inspired by people actually working together across lines of difference in multi-faith collaboration at LivingTheChange.net.
- Call for leaders at all levels to make, keep and increase their reduction pledges by joining a local People’s Climate Movement’s Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice event on Sept 8.
- If you live in Northern California or will be in the Bay Area for the Global Climate Action Summit, join us for a day of inspiration and practice at our daylong, Loving this Earth: Engaging Mindfully in the Healing of Our World at Spirit Rock.
- Pledge and share your pledge. You’ll soon have the opportunity to pledge your own commitments to reduce personal emissions and then share that with one person, a few friends, your sangha or social media followers
- Engage your community: Share this initiative, develop pledge buddy and other commitment support ideas and start planning your celebration events for Earth Care Week, October 7 – 14 ( potentially followed by the fall EcoSattva Training series!)
Finally, while on the topic of Earth Care Week, just like in previous years, the final Sunday, October 14 of Earth Care Week marks the opening to this fall’s EcoSattva Training with a community webinar. Registration and more details coming soon, but you might want to start gathering interest and planning your meeting times!
One Earth Sangha is honored to work on this initiative, organized by GreenFaith, with our partners from Mindfulness and other spiritual traditions.
Are you inspired, concerned, skeptical, excited, nonplussed? Great. We want to hear from you in the comments below!
May our collective efforts nourish the potential for a new way to flourish, a diverse, justice-oriented and sustainable way, that protects and respects beings, similar and different, near and far, born and unborn.