wizdUUm Blogs on Social Justice

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 2: Jack Kornfeld

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 2: Jack Kornfeld
This is the second post of notes from the Livestream event held on September 15th, a fundraiser for OneEarthSangha.org and in anticipation of the Climate Strike, led by students, to be held September 20, 2019.

Sunday, September 15, I attended No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change held at Spirit Rock, and to my gratitude, Livestreamed. As it was an all day event, I took notes from numerous speakers. I will post them over the next few days so that each person's words will have space to be digested.

The following are my notes of Jack Kornfeld's talk. The words and ideas are from him, which, once again, makes for an odd blog post.

Kornfeld told of asking his old teacher in Thailand about the struggle American students had with self-love and self compassion. The venerable answered that if the students went out in the woods and prayed for loving kindness, the students would soon include themselves. He then mentioned the Buddhist response to deforestation in Thailand was to go in the forest to ordain trees. They would ordain the largest, oldest trees as Abbots of the Forest. These sections of forest were left alone.

So the question is how do we live with climate change, and how do we practice with it?

It is best to return to the four noble truths.

One. Life has suffering.
Billions of tons of methane have been released. Glaciers and icebergs are disappearing. The polar ice caps which reflected the sun, and consequently the sun's heat, have shrunk almost to nothing in the North Pole, and actively shrinking in the South. The military and the shipping industry are just waiting for the ice to melt in the North Pole to open up shipping lanes. We are experiencing the sixth extinction.

Two. Causes of suffering.
Just as in our human lives greed, delusion, and hatred are the causes of suffering. The delusion is of our separateness. Every breath we take was breathed by someone before us, generations before us.

Three. There is an end to suffering.
Waking up from the trance of separateness.

Four. Eightfold Path.
And so forth.

Kornfeld followed with a story about Christiana Figueres, the former chief of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, who orchestrated United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, became suicidal while planning and orchestrating the Paris Climate Conference. She read Thich Nhat Hanh's books, and went to Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in France, and was able to heal. She used the teachings not only to get through, but to teach others. One of the most important things was for countries to look at themselves not as victim, nor as perpetrator. One hundred and eighty six countries signed the accord.

Kornfeld emphasized, for us not to feel guilty. "Do not try to save the world out of anger, fear or guilt. Save the world as an act of love." He recommended a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken, ed. http://www.drawdown.com

This book has a list of things we as individuals and as society can do to reverse climate change, in order of importance. Paul Hawken gathered together the worlds experts on each item. The most important, are reduce food waste, rebuild the kelp forest(kelp in cattle feed causes them to pass less gas), and educate and empower women.

The earth wants to renew itself. He mentioned Chernobyl. No matter how the government tried to cover up the accident, the winds told the story. Kornfeld also mentioned Wengaari Maathi, who orchestrated the planting of fifty-one million trees, one tree at a time, [side note: by empowering women].

"Save the world as an act of love. How you do it matters."

Kornfeld finished with a Molly Ivins quote. “So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it."

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part 1: Joanna Macy

No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change Part One: Joanna Macy
This is the first post of notes from the Livestream event held on September 15th, a fundraiser for OneEarthSangha.org and in anticipation of the Climate Strike, led by students, to be held September 20, 2019.

Yesterday, I attended No Time to Lose: A Dharma Response to Climate Change held at Spirit Rock, and to my gratitude, Livestreamed. As it was an all day event, I took notes from numerous speakers. I will post them over the next few days so that each person's words will have space to be digested.

The following are my notes of Joanna Macy's first talk. The words and ideas are from her, which makes for an odd blog post.

While she was practicing walking meditation one day, recently, a minor memory replayed over and over, in her head. She heard a voice: "Just Fall in Love with What Is." She had a vision of two curtains, one uncovered the IPCC report where we have twelve years, and the other revealed Bolsonaro's election. In essence, she was being told to stop her preoccupation with herself, and accept what is happening.

Macy told us that we are entering a time of "bardo," that is a huge change in the conditions of your existence, according to Tibetan Buddhism. Climate crisis is a bardo. Enter it together. Enter from the East where the Mirror Wisdom Buddha resides. The mirror is to us and our world.

There are three realities:

Business as usual

The Great Unraveling-which is accelerating

The Great Turning-Inspired by the wheel of the dharma

The world, maimed and burning as it is, is alive. You are a part of the earth. You are the earth. We cannot stop climate change to go back to what we were before. We can build a society that works within. We need to learn how to take care of one another. We need to find our way back to each other. Indigenous traditions show us how. Take stock of your response to a society in collapse so:

As I face the world collapsing, what I am grateful for is:

As I face the political economy collapsing, what I fear is:

As I face the political economy collapsing, what I will try to remember is:

Even though the economy is big and noisy, it institutionalizes the three poisons. 

Consumer, growth orientation: Greed

Military industrial complex: Hatred

Media: Delusion

Don't privatize your grief. It is a collective phenomenon. It's the other face of love. The political economy holds on to its power by pathologizing our grief.

"Thank You For Your Service"

Sometimes if feels like the Universe or Spirit (one and the same) is sending you a message. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that allows you to see a pattern that seems meaningful. Whatever it is, I had such an experience yesterday, after Sunday worship service.

 

It started with a conversation about Christianity, and how it shifted from its early form emphasizing life to one emphasizing death. Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock detail this shift in their book “Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love for This World for Crucifixion and Empire.” The symbol for the early Christian Church was a simple cross, not crucifix. And the artwork adorning first century Christian churches contain no images of Jesus’s torturous death, only that of his life healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and images of him as the risen Christ. In other words, the iconography (and theology) focused on life.

 

So what happened to change the focus? Well in short, Pope Urban II had declared a crusade (the first) against the “heathens” who controlled the Holy Land, the birthplace of Christianity. And the crusade wasn’t going well partly because there weren’t enough Christians in Europe willing to go to war and die in a foreign land. He needed willing soldiers. So he declared that anyone who joined the crusade would be absolved of all their sins. With that, the idea that suffering is redemptive took root and grew. Instead of depictions of a living Jesus, the Church put forth depictions of his bloody crucifixion. Over time, the representations became more and more gruesome, culminating in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” (I still have not seen that movie.) Instead of living to love and serve others, saints became martyrs. And the more they were tortured before death, the greater their devotion to God.

Such was the shift in theology in the eleventh century because Rome needed people who were willing to fight and die for empire. The shift did not happen overnight, but rather was gradual, might even have seemed “natural” at the time, but nevertheless it happened.

Shortly after that conversation about the shift in Christianity ended, I talked with a different member of UUSF about the anniversary of Armistice Day. For those of you who don’t know, what we now observe as Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of World War One. In accordance with the signed agreement, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting ceased. (Soldiers actually continued shooting and bombing until 10:59 and then stopped a minute later. How weird is that?) At the time, WWI was thought to be the war to end all wars. There was the belief that its end was the beginning of a lasting peace, and Armistice Day was the celebration of that peace. It remained a somber yet hopeful holiday for many years, but obviously did not stay that way.

 

In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day. Part of the motivation for the change is understandable - WWI did not end all wars. We had had WWII and the Korean War, and we were about to enter the Vietnam War. So people wanted a day that would honor all veterans, not just those of WWI. But since the name change, Veterans Day has shifted from a somber hope for peace, to the flag-waving, military-parading, glorification of war.

 

Experiencing the two conversations so close to each other, I could see that it was the same pattern. (It’s not the first time that I’ve seen that the United States is the heir to the Roman Empire.) Washington needs soldiers to fight in its endless wars, and the way to make citizens willing to fight and die in foreign lands is to lift it up as the ideal.  Instead of paintings of Saint Lucy with her eyes gouged out or Saint Sebastian with a chest full of arrows, our televisions show us images of veterans missing arms and legs while flags wave and patriotic music swells in the background.

 

I want to be clear here that I do NOT want to return to the days during and after Vietnam, when those who answered the call to serve in our armed forces were spat upon and shunned. The willingness to serve our country - ie, our greater community - is noble, and recognition and gratitude are appropriate. What I object to is the shift from hope for peace to glorification of war. On Veterans Day now, we tell veterans “Thank you for your service,” but we (collectively) do nothing to make their sacrifice less required. Nothing to lessen war. For the sake of empire, we emphasize suffering and death over love and life.

 

The Social (In)Justice of Thermostat Settings

San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area experienced an historic heatwave this weekend, with recorded temperatures in the city exceeding 100 degrees two days in a row. To give you some context, up until this week there had only been ten 100 degree or more days since 1904. That's only ten 100 degree or more days in 113 years. Because San Francisco so rarely gets hot, most houses do not have air conditioning. In the surrounding areas, temps average 10-20 degrees higher so some homes do have AC while others do not.

The thing is, air conditioning requires power. And so long as our energy comes from fossil fuels, running the AC burns more fossil fuels, which increases global warming, which results in hotter temperatures, which causes more people and businesses to run air-conditioners, which use more fossil fuels, which will make the temps even hotter....

Yesterday, someone was telling me how their friends keep their house at 60 degrees even when they're not home so that the cat will be comfortable, and I nearly cried. I stopped myself so that my friend wouldn't feel uncomfortable, but maybe I should have wept. Who knows? Maybe I should have pitched a fit and been the stereotypical "environmentalist."

I'm not opposed to air conditioning.  I totally understand that when the mercury exceeds a certain temperature, cooling becomes a necessity, not a luxury. The single biggest weather-related killer isn't hurricanes or tornadoes, it's heat. When the temperature exceeds a certain point, people die. Children, the elderly, and the infirm die quicker. As for the rest of us, even if our lives are not at risk, we still suffer.  So I am not opposed to air conditioning at all. If we had had AC in the house on Friday and Saturday, I would have used it.

But access to air conditioning depends on your economic situation. The wealthy can apparently cool an entire house to 60 degrees so that the cat is comfortable. Others make due with fans and lots of ice cold drinks, as my family did. And still others do not have access even to fans and refrigeration. All throughout the heat wave, I kept thinking about people on the streets without shelter. Concrete and asphalt absorb and radiate heat, raising the temps even higher. How did they survive? If some folks died, would the news even bother reporting it?

Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists alike, as well as others, affirm the reality of interdependency.  Interdependency means that the thermostat in your house (should you be fortunate enough to have one) is connected to the power plant which is connected to greenhouse gases which is connected to extreme weather in many places which is connected to the people sitting in the shelters and to the people sitting on the baking concrete sidewalks asking for money.  In other words, the temperature at which you decide to set the thermostat is not just a personal choice.  It affects others.  (There are other interdependent connections too, like who suffers to acquire and burn the fossil fuels that power your house.)  And whether or not you can pay your electric bill is not the only consideration of a responsible person.  

Climate change is a social justice issue.  Its effects impact the poor (who tend also to hold other marginalized identities) much more severely than the rich. The rich (and the middle-class) can shelter themselves from the impact of climate change... by more easily evacuating areas overcome by flood and wildfires, by more easily replacing possessions lost to flood and fire, by moving, by running the air-conditioning. And the rich (and middle-class) disproportionately engage in behaviors that accelerate climate change, making life even more miserable for the poor.

Living in Non-White Whiteness or White Non-Whiteness or ...

Kathleen's 6th Birthday

"What do you like about being white?"

The anti-racism training facilitator chose me to go first. My view of myself as multicultural Latinx, with indigenous heritage and light skinned privilege, was discounted a room full of other participants. Every struggle of not being white enough, or Latina enough flew up to my throat into a knot. I could not get past the word "multicultural," because the facilitator, an African American man, kept interrupting, insisting I was white. I thought my story about my grandparents and great grandparents had explained who I was the day before. The Latina facilitator said in a stage whisper, "She's Latina." The white facilitator said in a stage whisper to the Latina, She's white!" Whispering ensued between them. The facilitator who asked the question more than once said, "Fine, let's move on. We'll get back to you." I sat in shock. The next white individual, somewhat understandably, did not want to claim he was white either.

When I had gone to a people of color retreat last summer, the speaker, Zenju Earthlin Manuel had brought up an example that made sense. In 2013, Black Girl Dangerous blogger, Janani, published, "What's wrong with the term 'person of color?'" In it, they wrote about an exercise about race in an anti-oppression youth camp in the South, in which they, along with two other Asian attendees, were put in the white group rather than the black group. Janani wrote,

I want to return to that moment of racial ambivalence, and why it happened. That moment was unsettling precisely because even if Black and Asian kids had a common experience of being racialized, we didn’t have a common racialized experience.

It seems as if it should be obvious, but upon hearing it the first time, my heart opened with more compassion for we of whom are not of the dominant culture. In our workshop, every single person had been racialized as a consequence of living in the United States. Each one is racialized based on their geography in the country, in addition to the relationships to friends, relatives, loved ones, institutions and society. Not one person's early soul tenderness was battered by racism the same way. I have no claim to the experience of being black, but navigating La Frontera, the borderlands as explained by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, is its own experience. I grew up occupying that liminal space of in between, not pale enough to be white, but without the Spanish language, unable to navigate in the Latinx sphere either. How you were treated could turn on a dime. Especially, if your name changed from European to Hispanic or back. I was punished a whole school year for a surname change and return. My mother experienced it, and my sister, who has fairer skin than mine with dark hair and eyes, experienced it.

As the daughter of a Mexican American mother with the black hair and beautiful brown skin of her father, I was the first of sixteen grandchildren with the black hair and dark brown eyes that favored him. Unfortunately, he died before the year before. As the daughter of my Irish, Scandinavian, Northern European father, I'd never quite fit in. The McGregor family loved me anyway, often pointing out how smart I was, or tall I was, even though my build was more solid, and I tended to be chubby and darker. My heart and self-esteem suffered each time others were disparaged for gaining weight by the weight and look obsessed white women in the family, or how "Mexicans" or worse, "wetbacks" were disparaged by my new German stepfamily, most often by my stepmother.

If I had been asked a different question, the rest of the workshop might have gone differently. Instead, I became the female example of white denial. The trainer said to the group, "We people of color see you as white. You are not fooling us." My shutting down served as another sign of whiteness. In truth, I was in shock. Every misgiving about not being a person of color enough, was laid bare. I did not speak out about myself, nor with anyone else, the rest of the workshop. So, was he right? In a way, yes. And in a way, no.

I have much baggage: growing up in colonialized geography, feeling less than, being a widow of a small, dark, non-gender conforming, Filipina, a raw recent falling out with a relative, being enraged by my late beloved's treatment in the world, the traumatic death and aftermath, being an outcast accused of being unfeeling because I was white, and as such, had no culture, a coopted memorial. To say anything would have sounded like an excuse, or worse, as if I was trying to divert the discomfort, to make the conversation about my feelings, or separate myself from other whites by claiming I had suffered more, or that I had my own oppression, and therefore understood people of color's experience. Diversionary tactics are not new, and I've witnessed each one more than once.

For the evening and the next day, memories of scenes in the hospital, the funeral, and the aftermath haunted me. PTSD is real. When the other facilitator discussed what ends up lost to whites for opting to participate in whiteness the next day, I still could not trust myself to speak. When she blamed herself, her white privilege and ignorance, for the early loss of her own spouse, I just felt ill. I'd just managed to work past the survivor's guilt, stopped finding reasons to blame myself for my beloved's early death.

Going in to anti-racism work the decade before, I needed to be clear in my identity. I considered myself one of the mestizaje, on the border. After much discussion with my minister of color, I took on "person of color" identity as a political statement. That meant the battles are mine. Every single day, I choose not to walk away. My liberation is inextricably woven into the fabric of all people of color. Although there are days I hate the injustice too much to be healthy, I am committed. I'm committed to being open, learning, and to defer to the leadership of those people of color most affected by the intersecting issue at hand. I'm committed for all the multiracial children who do not quite fit into either family, and do not understand why race is such a big deal. I'm committed for gender nonconforming people of color, who are the most vulnerable, the most in danger, in our society. I'm committed for queer people of color, who are nearly as vulnerable. I am especially committed now for queer and gender nonconforming immigrants .

I'm grateful to have recently married, to a partner who works with me and learns with me. Still, I have married back into white privilege. So, what do I like about being white? I like that in passing, I can use the privilege I do have to speak out, protest, agitate, and put my body on the line for those who cannot. I like that in passing, I see and hear white people for who they are with each other. I like that in passing, my privilege can be used for the common good, rather than to get ahead in the capitalist white cultural narrative.

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Acknowledgments

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