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

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Touching the Earth Newsletter


FALL 2016 - Issue 8

In this Issue:

Editorial Team:
Nomi Green
Denisse Aguilar
Susan Poulos
Joy Lam
Kenley Neufeld

Contact Us:
Deer Park Monastery
2499 Melru Lane,
Escondido, CA 92026
Tel: (760) 291-1003
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Dear Friends,
 
As our Earth Bodhisattva turns toward fall in the northern hemisphere we share tremendous gratitude for this time of harvest and abundance. The yellowing of the leaves, the slower cricket songs, and the shorter days and longer shadows remind us that everything changes. Our Mother Earth and all her children respond to the coming and going of the seasons and follow the natural rhythms that have been established for hundreds of thousands of years. And, we are aware that the rapid and unexpected changes in the Earth’s climate require our compassionate attention and mindful action.
 
Each day we are bombarded with images and stories of changes in various kinds of climates: ecological, political, social, and more. As practitioners of mindfulness, we don’t turn away, or hide from the suffering. We know how to take good care of ourselves and diligently work to transform the suffering in ourselves, our families, our communities, and our fellow earthlings. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this alone; we have our sangha.
 
A powerful step toward this collective healing recently manifested at the 21-Day Retreat in Plum Village with an Earth Holding Sangha Affinity Group. Several dozen participants from around the world gathered at the Upper Hamlet to learn about our healing community and how to get involved, and to find ways to respond to Sr. Chan Khong’s call to action to help Central Vietnam in the aftermath of the environmental disaster caused by a steel manufacturer’s massive chemical release. An early response raised $5,000 for the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation’s Humanitarian Relief fund towards providing assistance to those directly impacted by the disaster.
 
Another beautiful manifestation was the second all member Online Earth Holder Sangha practice; twenty-six participants tuned in from North American and Europe to share which of the Plum Village practices help us transform our suffering, engage our compassion, and walk the middle path as we do our best to nurture and preserve our precious planet.  Save November 11 for the next call (8-8:30 am Pacific), and watch for  more information in October.
 
In this issue Look Hulshoff Pol, from Portugal, shares insights about the 11th Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood in relationship to the environmental crisis. 
Denisse Aguilar, from Mexico, gives us deep healing that comes during walking meditation. And Laura Hunter, from Southern California, offers practices to help the sangha navigate this tumultuous election season.
 
We hope that this issue of Touching the Earth Newsletter reflects the flowering of the community’s collective consciousness.
 
With love and gratitude,
Your Touching the Earth Editorial Team
 
Dharma Sharing

Right Livelihood
by Look Hulshoff Pol 

Based on a presentation of the 11th Mindfulness Training: Right Livelihood, during the 21-day retreat, June 2016, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village. 

As we witness our dramatically changing climate, the need to stop our destructive way of life is imminent. However, with the grim future of our children and grandchildren in mind, it is easy to fall into despair and feel powerless. It might therefore, be helpful to look at Mother Earth and us human beings from a larger perspective, by looking at a timeline of the development of life on Earth. This can also help to give us insight into the nature of impermanence. From this viewpoint, we may feel less overwhelmed and more easily empowered to take action.

So let us imagine that our beloved Earth is a middle-aged woman: she is about 4.5 billion years old and has another 4.5 billion years to go before the intensity of the sun is so strong that life is no longer possible. To more easily comprehend this timeline, we can compress these 4.5 billion years into one year, beginning with the manifestation of the Earth on ‘January 1st’, and the present moment being ‘12 pm on New Year’s Eve’. 

Over the past ‘year’, life on Earth began in ‘June’ during the Archean eon. After the introduction of oxygen into the atmosphere at the end of ‘October’, there was a rapid further development of life. The age of ‘prehistoric’ dinosaurs occurred from ‘12-26 December’. It is only on the ‘31st of December’ at 11:45 pm that we, as Homo sapiens, appeared on this planet! Yet despite appearing at this very late date, we act as if we are the center of the universe and we (mis)treat Mother Earth as a commercial object. As rookies on this planet, some humbleness may be appropriate. 

Remarkably, after the abrupt end of the dinosaur age when most life on Earth was destroyed, believed to be a result of the impact of a meteorite in Mexico, it took only ‘5 days’ (about 66 million years) for a new, incredibly rich ecosystem to establish. This example of remarkable regeneration may be a sign of hope for future life on Earth.  If we as human beings continue to follow the path of self-destruction all the way to our end, there is more than enough time, as we can see on our timeline, for regeneration of the Earth and development of new forms of life to appear, even intelligent ones. At the same time, while we still enjoy Mother Earth with its many wonders of life, for ‘paradise’ to remain available for many future generations to come, it is imperative that we change our course. 

The 11th Mindfulness Training, Right Livelihood, directly addresses the environmental crisis and encourages us to have a vocation that does not cause harm to humans or nature. As the environmental crisis is a matter for all of us, and as all steps of the Noble Eightfold Path inter-are, it seems appropriate to substitute Right Livelihood with Right Action for those without work. Moreover, the need to change our way of life is so crucial that it goes beyond having work or no work, but is more about living in harmony with the Earth.

It is encouraging that more and more people and organizations are working to help save humankind and protect our planet. However, to sustain one’s commitment, we as students of Thay can offer an extra dimension based on these key elements of his teachings:

  • • The insight of inter-being. Knowing that we inter-are with the Earth, we know that over-exploiting and polluting the Earth is like cutting into our own flesh. 
  • • The practice of mindfulness, which gives us the clarity and stability to act appropriately and steadily. It gives us the tools to take care of any strong emotions that the environmental crisis may bring up in us, so we won’t easily feel overwhelmed and experience burn out.
  • • The insight that happiness can only be found within, and not through consumption. This insight helps to move in the direction of a simpler, happier and more sustainable way of living. Less is more!

It may be a comforting thought that, despite the environmental crisis we are facing, including the extinction of many species, new forms of life on Earth will evolve for many years to come. It is up to us however, to take care of our precious Mother Earth to ensure the continuation of present day life, including humankind, for as long as possible.

Look Hulshoff Pol (Chȃn Thệ Hải, True Ocean of Commitment), originally from The Netherlands, lives in Tavira, Portugal. He joined OI in 2003 in Plum Village, and received the Lamp from Thay in 2010. Now retired, he taught Environmental Technology at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. 

Earth Practice: Touching the Earth

Mother Nature Calls; Are You Paying Attention?
by Denisse Aguilar
 

During my teenage years I was known amongst my classmates and friends as the ‘Hippie’. I felt suffocated wearing shoes then, especially if they were closed-toe shoes, and I felt stable and grounded walking in my bare feet. I remember there was a fiesta in my school and I went to the celebration without shoes. I was called into the principal’s office the following Monday. The principal was afraid I couldn't afford to buy shoes and wanted to make sure I had shoes to wear for events to come.
 
Walking in bare feet is one of the ways I connect with Mother Earth. I breathe through my feet and every time I get confused or unclear about life, I go and take long walks on the beach and feel a deep connection with her. My first encounter with the Dharma was through my connection with nature.
 
Meeting the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village tradition gave me a solid and concrete guide of what I had been practicing in my daily life already. The First Mindfulness Training — Reverence for Life — teaches us to respect life in all its manifestations: humans, animals, plants and minerals. By deeply connecting with our breath, we can clearly look at our inner and outer ecology and make conscious connections and changes to our inner and outer earth.
 
I was semi-vegetarian (I was eating fish sporadically) before encountering Thay’s teachings in 2011. It was not until 2013 that my body’s consciousness started to reject the consumption of fish;at first I forced myself to continue eating fish, but my body was rejecting it, so I listened to my body and stopped eating fish. In 2014 I was on a tour boat viewing the beautiful and clear turquoise beaches off the coast of Oaxaca in México. The boat crew caught a magnificent big fish; its wonderful vibrant colors of bright blue, green and yellow shimmered in the light. It was one of those wonders of Mother Earth. This fish was fighting for its life, moving from one side to the other as one of the crewmember showed it around for all to see and take pictures. I asked a crewmember if the fish would be released back into the ocean after the photos. “No, we are going to eat it,” he said. In that moment, for the first time in my life, it became clear to me that what we call animals have feelings just as we humans do; and that humans have animal instincts too.
 
Yes, I was a vegetarian, I took care of mother earth, I was reaching out to others in need, I was not polluting the atmosphere by smoking or using my car every day, I was taking care of natural resources by turning off the lights when I was not in the room, not using a heater or electrical appliances. Yes, I was aware of all of these things, but it became clear to me in that moment with the fish that we inter-are with all of Mother Nature’s beings; we are not that different from one another. We all have the right to live on a safe, peaceful and clean planet.
 
We came from Mother Earth and we are going back to her. We are one with her, we breathe with her, our hearts beat in unison with hers. We cry when she is crying and we suffer when she suffers. It is no coincidence that when she feels ill, we hear it clearly and directly: tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts – these are only some of the ways she speaks to us. But do we hear her? Do we pay attention to, and are we present enough to hear her callings? And if so, what actions do we take to protect her? What do we do to live in harmony with her and all her wonders?
 
Walking meditation on the beach gives me an opportunity to have a deep connection with Mother Earth and witness her suffering. When I see on the beach a carpet of red baby lobsters lying on the sand hardly moving, Mother Nature is talking clearly to me and to all of us asking for help. I pick as many baby lobsters and take them back to the ocean and soon many others follow.
 
Denisse Aguilar, Awakening Lotus of the Heart, is from Tijuana, México, and co-facilitates a Sangha in her hometown. Inspired to make Thay’s teachings available to Spanish-speaking communities, she interprets for Sangha events, and transcribes and translates interviews for Wake Up/Vivir Despiertos.




 
Sangha Action

Election Season Offers Many Opportunities for Practice

by Laura Hunter

In democracies, elections are a part of life. They are the time when nations come together and, sometimes for better or worse, decide priorities for the next many years. There are always very real issues at stake that will impact many people. Many times, election cycles can be filled with unwholesome energies. Campaigns, slogans, and advertising can water many negative seeds in ourselves, our sangha, and our society. Engaged Buddhists and Earth Holders feel it is important that people learn about the issues, do not turn away, and vote in elections. In fact, we have much to offer in this excitable time.
 
To respond and help relieve the suffering of many people during these final days of the election cycle, I offer a few ideas that I have done to bring together my extreme politically active nature and profession and my ‘Interbeing’ practice. It can be hard for sure. Politics are made easier, but not better, with a good/bad, right/wrong, perfect/disastrous categorization.  Politics can, as I’ve seen in my own sangha, separate people and build feelings of alienation between people who view an election differently.
 
Fortunately, there is a lot an individual and sangha family might do to offer solidity and peaceful means during this volatile time. Although our practices state that we are not to turn our Buddhist community into a political instrument or to engage in partisan conflicts, it does not mean that, as voters, we don’t choose candidates or positions or even support them actively. There are ways to offer our position and our ethics in a way that uses language that is healing and inspires hope. I make this modest offering of how I have, or seen others practice with these energies.
 
Deep Political Listening Session: Convening of the Pumpkin Party
One year, the World Beat Sangha combined our sangha gathering, pumpkin carving party and a Dia De Los Muertos celebration with a sharing about the upcoming election. We called it the convening of the Pumpkin Party! It was a presidential election year and there were lots of stress-inducing issues on the agenda. We did not have a goal of deciding on who people should vote for, we just had a goal of sharing information and insights. We adhered to Dharma Sharing rules too. By setting expectations in advance we had a successful event. 
 
One question on the ballot was the legalization of medical marijuana. It was difficult and everyone struggled. There were good reasons and cautions on both sides. The unfairness of the criminal justice system, brain development in youth, medical symptom relief, mental health issues…we covered the gamut. It was great to hear from our mental health professionals and others on this issue. We did not share how each of us would vote, but asked ‘what does our practice lead us to do?’. We never knew who voted which way, but we all were more educated in our final choices.
 
Offer Physical Presence and Support
I often offer physical presence for issues important to me and try to do it in a calm and steady way. It has been wonderful to be present in recent climate marches and our local gay pride parade with our monastic sangha. There are so many ways to do this. My sangha sister shows her support by wearing a Black Lives Matters button everywhere and it touches people a lot. Another brother wears his ‘Vegan’ shirt to political rallies so people knows he is there for animals too. Jayna, our Care-taking sister, has offered abell at the beginning of a big rally in Portland. There will be lots of opportunities during this election to generate peace, love, and the insight of Interbeing. Find one near you!
 
Practice Healing Social Media
Facebook can be a dangerous place for me in the political season. I can get easily angered and reactive reading various social media feeds. A Sister at Deer Park suggested that we all look deeply into ourselves and see what issues we can engage on and for how long before we get caught or swept away. I know now that there are some issues so close to my heart I can only participate for about 5 minutes before I start getting overwhelmed. Our Sister’s suggestion that we can look very deeply into our own practice of engaging on social media and see if our intention, energy, and language ‘promotes healing and hope’ in what we write and how we respond. It may be that our energy on a certain set of issues is too high and we should avoid those conversations on social media if we can’t handle our emotions. I try only to post messages that reflect understanding or a positive path forward—or I don’t post—well, most of the time anyway. J
 
Support Candidates
I host at least one simple event at my house for a candidate I support. These events last about two hours, are simple to produce, and great for candidates to have the opportunity to talk directly with voters in a way that is more direct and intimate. I just invite all of my friends and neighbors (of all political persuasions) and we have snacks.  I let the candidate know I am a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and about the kind of society I am working toward. They are always interested in learning about that. I make it very safe for them to be as compassionate as they’d like and I don’t water divisive seeds in them.
 
Laura Hunter, True Ocean of Teachings, lives in Escondido, California. She ordained into the Order of Interbeing in 2011 and has been a member of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation Board since its inception.  She sits with the Really Beneficial Sangha, a group of practitioners who support Deer Park Monastery.  She has a deep commitment and experience with promoting diversity in organizations, mobilizing and activating communities to speak and act for themselves, and protecting our beautiful and wonderful planet and all her inhabitants.   
 
 
Becoming a Member of the Earth Holder Sangha
Become a Member of the Earth Holder Sangha by taking the Six Earth Holder Pledges:
  1. I aspire and pledge to study, observe, and practice the Five or Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings
  2. I aspire and pledge to move in the direction of more simple and compassionate living by signing onto the Earth Peace Treaty and committing to transform three unwholesomehabits
  3. I aspire and pledge to eat a plant-based diet at least one day per week
  4. I aspire and pledge to participate in at least one Earth Holder “Global Call to Action” per year
  5. I aspire and pledge to introduce at least one “Earth Holder Guideline” to my individual or local sangha practice
  6. I aspire and pledge to attend semi-annual Earth Holder Sangha conference calls and participate in sangha decision-making
Email George Hoguet (George.Hoguet@gmail.com), to make your pledges known and become a Member of the Earth Holder Sangha. Tell us of your personal commitment so we can welcome you and include you in future Sangha correspondence.
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 newsletter@earthholdersangha.org. Thank you. 
Copyright © 2016 Earth Holding Initiative in Plum Village Tradition, All rights reserved.


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