A Newsletter of Earth Holding Actions in the Plum Village Tradition.

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Winter 2015 Issue 5
In this Issue: Editorial Team:
Brother Phap Ho
Heather Lyn Mann
John Freese
Joy Lam
Nomi Green

Contact Us:
Deer Park Monastery
2499 Melru Lane,
Escondido, CA 92026
Tel: (760) 291-1003
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Also Visit:
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We need volunteers to help plan issues, solicit stories, assemble and edit text, and produce Touching the Earth Newsletter. If you love Earth, if you have relevant writing experience or a desire to learn, if you can donate two- to four-hours each month, please send a short note describing your interest and skills to earthholding@dpmail.net 

“We invite our Sanghas to come together to breathe, sit, and walk mindfully for the Earth, and generate a powerful collective energy of mindfulness and compassion. This powerful collective energy is our spiritual offering to the Paris Climate Summit and the highest form of prayer for our precious planet.”
Thầy Pháp Dung
On behalf of the International Plum Village Community

Dear Friends,

On November 12, 2015, Plum Village issued a collective “Call to Action” for all practice centers, Order of Interbeing members, Sanghas worldwide, and mindfulness friends to support the Paris Climate Summit from November 29th through December 11th (read the entire communique at http://plumvillage.org/news/call-to-action-peoples-climate-prayer/). Specifically, we are invited, to join Climate Marches in our towns, fast from meat and dairy during the two weeks of the summit, wear green ribbons, attend Sanghas and help raise awareness within and beyond our community, and make commitments to live more gently on Earth.  Learn more by visiting the International Plum Village Earth Holder Sangha’s website at http://www.earthholder.org.

Stories in this issue of Touching the Earth pulse with the energy of love for Earth and earthlings; they unite us in our caring and concern for this precious planet. Marge Wurgel’s journey toward a plant-based diet (coupled with a great cookie recipe just in time for the holidays) may inspire you to join countless others in a vegan diet for at least as long as the Paris talks. The simple act of falling in love with a tree waters seeds of compassion for Earth and puts Robb Kushner’s life on a path of meaning and service. Glimpsing the creative expression of the global Plum Village community, you’ll discover new ways to participate in the worldwide tide of love by taking skillful climate action in the place where you stand.
Embracing this engaged mindful moment together,  
Your Touching the Earth Editorial Team

Some inspiring guide posts on our adventure with the Earth Holding Initiative are:

  • to practice and act out of love, not fear

  • to have togetherness and inclusiveness at the base, not separation and discrimination

  • to be diligent and aimless in our efforts to support a collective awakening and healing

Share Your Story!
Readers of Touching the Earth would like to learn about how you and your sangha manifest earth holding and protecting. We welcome story submissions of 500-800 words and we especially welcome submissions from young people and from people of diverse backgrounds. Please send your writing—along with a photo illustrating your story and a two- to three-sentence biography—to earthholding@dpmail.net Thank you. 

Earth Practice: My Move Toward a Plant-Based Diet

My Move Toward a Plant-Based Diet: Cultivating Planetary Health, Personal Health, and Compassion

Marge Wurgel
It was Cinco de Mayo, 1993, and I was enjoying a beef taco at a potluck with the staff at the health department where I worked. One of the physicians came up to me and said, “Marge, I am surprised that with your environmental views that you still eat meat.” I had just recently started to learn about the environmental impact of our eating animal foods, and I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach by this doctor. She was calling me to task for my actions and food choices and their impact on the planet, and I hadn’t fared very well. I didn’t have an answer for her, but her question led to one of the biggest changes of my life.

I went home that day, talked to my husband, Keith Mesecher, about the incident, and we spent the next week learning more about the link between diet and the environment and diet and health. I was a public health professional, but I had never learned about the ways animal foods impacted my health. One week later, sitting across the dinner table from each other, Keith and I made the decision to let go of eating animal foods, including meat, dairy and eggs. That was possibly the most powerful and joyous decision we made over the last 22 years, and while we aren’t perfect with our food choices, we’ve never gone back on that decision.
In making this choice, and with studying this issue for the last 22 years as a happy plant-based eater, I’ve discovered these reasons, among many others, for choosing this path:
  • I create dramatically fewer greenhouse gases by eating only from the plant world, and I know that is the most powerful single action that an individual can take to help prevent global warming. Greenhouse gasses drive climate change.  Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined (according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization).
  • I use far fewer planetary resources eating plants than animals, for growing animal foods uses approximately 10 times the amount of energy and about 14 times the amount of water than growing plant food. As a Californian experiencing extreme drought, I know I am lessening my impact on our water shortage.
  • By not eating animals, I care for the other living inhabitants in my environment more compassionately. Cows, chickens, pigs, and fish are also part of the earth and are treated very cruelly on production farms and when killed by the animal food industries. Daily this is the most powerful way I am able to honor the reverence for life asked of me by the 5 and 14 Mindfulness Trainings and by the teachings of the Buddha and Thay.
The other initially powerful factor in choosing to become a plant-centered eater was for creating healthier conditions for my own life. Diet is the most powerful tool I have against disease and sickness. From my own research I have found that I am less likely to have cancer, heart disease, strokes, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, kidney stones or blindness.

Once I started a plant-based, it wasn’t too difficult to continue. I realized eating is a deeply spiritual act, and the food choices I make reflect reverence for my own health and that of other beings and the earth. My food is a generous gift from the earth, and my daily experience of eating ties me directly to the earth in perhaps the most intimate encounter I have with our world - what I eat becomes a part of my body. Eating a plant-based diet allows me to honor life in a way that nothing else does, and allows me to bring into congruency my actions and my worldview of living peacefully, consciously, and gently on the planet.

I love taking this life-affirming message to other people, especially my sangha brothers and sisters. Also, as a volunteer, I teach plant-based eating and cooking classes and coach people wanting to become more plant-powered. It’s a joyous way to help friends on the Buddhist path to share in this compassionate and earth-friendly way of eating. Here, I offer this Blissfull Nut Balls recipe for a simple, delicious dessert that works wonderfully as a holiday treat. Enjoy!

Marge Wurgel was ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing in 2013 and practices with the Open Heart Sangha in San Diego, California. She has a background and education in public health and loves to promote healthy eating. Her greatest desire is to empower people to make plant-based food choices to care for the planet, promote health and vitality, and treat our animal brothers and sisters with compassion and kindness.

Blissful Nut Balls
Makes about 24 - 3/4 inch balls. A typical serving size is about 3 balls.
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes
1/2 cup raw rolled oats (old-fashioned, thick, not quick cooking)
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon water (have a little more handy in case the mixture is too hard to mix)
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted almonds (unsalted)
1 tablespoon carob powder (or 1 tablespoon cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup)
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (raw or toasted)
1/2 cup sesame seeds (raw or toasted)
(Optional, for garnish/display, 1/2 cup dried or fresh cranberries, a handful of fresh mint leaves, and 1/8 cup shredded or flaked coconut)
  1. Place all ingredients except coconut and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and mix very well with a sturdy wooden spoon. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  2. Mix the coconut and sesame seeds in a small bowl.
  3. Roll about a rounded teaspoon sized amount of main mixture into a small ball.
  4. Roll it in the coconut/sesame mixture, and place it on a serving plate.
  5. Continue with the rest of the mixture.
If you have extra sesame seeds and coconut, they taste wonderful in breakfast cereal!
Dharma Sharing: Falling in Love with Earth

Falling in Love with Earth: The Story of a Tree and its Journey in Me

Robb Kushner
A tree once captured my imagination and has never let go. This tree lives in the Arnold Arboretum, an incredible green jewel designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in Jamaica Plain, Boston.  My wife, Jill, and I discovered this tree one glorious fall morning while escaping from our studies at Boston University. Roaming the Arboretum’s undulating grounds, we had just crested one hill and were romping down the far slope when we stumbled upon a captivating scene. A massive tree had recently shed its leaves in a perfect golden circle. It was truly a vision. Almost as if harps were playing, it drew us under its branches.

Soon after discovering this spot, a craggy old man in a black cape ambled by. He seemed introverted, yet he stopped to show us some quinces he had gathered. He said if you put them in your drawer, they dry out and give off a wonderful fragrance. This guy was like out of a storybook, weaving himself into our adventure.      

One of the lower branches was very long and thick, and dipped down in the middle – low enough so I could jump up, swing around, and perch on it, just like riding a horse. So I sat up there while Jill twirled around on the ground amidst the brilliant leaves. We took some photos in black & white which captured our sense of whimsy in this moment. And I found the tree tag labeled “blue sugar maple.”

Many times, we would return but could never manage to locate our enchanted tree. Despite numerous visits we had a hazy understanding of the Arboretum’s layout. We even introduced the place to our kids - when they were old enough to help in seeking the legendary tree and just young enough so they wouldn’t think it was an uncool thing to do. Still no luck but I was buoyed by the spirit of our quest - even if the goal remained elusive.

Several years later the internet changed everything and I saw a map of the Arboretum online. Clearly, the grounds were organized by tree type. Sure enough, there was a section labeled “Maples.” I felt a spark of hope.

It was December, and I was planning to travel to Boston for a 3-day workshop. Jill came with me, and we drove up from New Jersey a day early to beat the approach of a winter storm. We settled into our B&B as the snow was beginning. The next morning, bundled up, we trod
 the thickening snow and hopped on the Orange Line of the T.

This was our first winter visit and exploring the grounds as the snow fell was magical. The map did the trick. Before long, we spotted a tree we suspected was “it” - but in such an altered landscape it was hard to be sure. We walked around it several times wondering “if this really the one? Is our old friend still here?” And slowly but surely, it became clear we had indeed found it. After thirty-four years the tree was still standing strong and we were reunited with our friend. This time, we noticed a tag dating the tree to the 1880's and this helped me see our time with the tree in a much broader perspective. How wonderful to think about this grand old being who grew and thrived as we got married, started careers, and raised two kids (now graduated from college). Our time together was just a fraction of its lifespan.      

I’ve come to realize my deepening love for the natural world was kindled by time spent roaming the Arboretum. This love has taken me down many paths of sustainability and spirituality in my adulthood, including: promoting greenways for non-motorized travel; pursuing more walkable neighborhoods; studying well-designed public spaces; preserving and creating farmland, pocket parks, and rain gardens; exploring permaculture and organic farming; walking mindfully through woods, healing gardens, and labyrinths;  transitioning to renewable sources of energy; promoting green buildings; working to stop climate disruption; contemplating the interconnectedness of all species with Mother Earth.

Now, from the vantage of middle age, I see this tree symbolizes something very dear to me. Roaming the Arboretum’s emerald hills awakened a deep connection with and appreciation for nature—an appreciation that had been lying dormant. This tree is the centerpiece of a journey that continues to unfold.

Robb Kushner is an OI Aspirant and co-leader of the Sun of Awareness Sangha in Jersey City, NJ. He recently discovered he is a renaissance soul. Robb taught his family how to juggle and taught himself how to ride the unicycle at age 45. 
Sangha Action: COP 21 Climate Summit in Paris
The Plum Village Community is continuing the teachings of our dear  teacher  by taking skillful action during the two weeks of the COP 21 Climate Summit in Paris (November 29-December 11). From Plum Village, a group of monks and nuns traveled to Paris to represent the four-fold community during the talks. They took us with them and are holding all of us in their hearts.

The week before their trip, Plum Village monastics made hundreds of green ribbons to hand out to people they met in Paris in a positive show of solidarity, awareness, and connection   with the Earth. During the Interfaith Celebration Day, which took place the day before the summit began, the monastics offered a guided meditation with Earth. During the summit, the group plans on representing the international community of Buddhists—in Thay’s name—during the interfaith panel proceedings.

Local Sangha members are flooding the inboxes of this newsletter’s Editorial Team with their plans to build peaceful awareness about the climate crisis concurrent with the Paris talks. We offer here a taste of what’s happening:
  • Monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women are organizing to participate in the 350.org Climate Rally in San Diego. Practitioners in Los Angeles will sit together before walking mindfully in the SoCal 350.org Climate Action March. In Denver, Thay’s students will gather forty-five minutes before the local rally and Climate march to practice mindful walking meditation
  • The Honey Locust Sangha in Omaha, Nebraska is joining with the Methodist and Church of Christ Communities in a prayer/meditation time on Thursdays, once a month, from now on
  • During the two weeks of the Summit, Midleton Sangha in Cork, Ireland will host a pair of earth-themed evenings. They are also joining several Sanghas in the region to walk together in their local People’s Climate March
  • The Desert Rain Sangha in Santa Fe, New Mexico organized a silent flash meditation.  Eighty people attended.  Sangha members and other Buddhists and faith traditions sat together silently when church bells rang at noon—in the public plaza. Signs read: “We are meditating in support of the Paris Climate Summit. Please join us!”
  • The Laughing River Sangha in Pennsylvania is scheduling a multi-faith prayer gathering mid-way through the World Summit. Music, thoughtful reflecting, and sitting and walking meditation will shape the event. Participants will wear green ribbons
  • Over the course of two evenings, the Charleston Community of Mindful Living will explore Earth holding as a Dharma door. Members will practice a guided meditation on Climate Change, sign the Earth Peace Treaty, and study The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Members of the True Peace Sangha in Toronto Canada will walk to City Hall to meditate, express care for Mother Earth, and take part in a candle vigil to express planetary concern
  • The Huron River Sangha in Ann Arbor, MI will lead Dharma Teacher John Bell’s Beginning Anew with Mother Earth Practice
  • In solidarity with the World Summit, the Really Beneficial Sangha in Escondido, California will host a vegan potluck, produce a YouTube video on how to make the dishes, and publish a mini cookbook from the event. They will also practice Three Touchings of the Earth.
This is a small sampling of Plum Village community activities happening in solidarity with the COP 21 Climate Talks.  

Earth holding and protecting in our tradition is larger than the two-week Paris event. The Wake Up International Movement’s Forest of Interbeing Project is a good example. For almost two years, young people took concrete action to restore and protect the biologically diverse land of the Los Tuxtlas region of Veracruz, Mexico because this most northern tropical rain forest in America was largely destroyed by cattle ranching. Look for the Spring issue of Touching the Earth to learn how the Wake Up International Movement is making a difference.  
Copyright © 2015 Earth Holding Initiative in Plum Village Tradition, All rights reserved.

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